Skip navigation

4 new Pinterest tools to try

Posted by Inc. Feb 28, 2013

by John Brandon

If you're not yet tracking your performance on Pinterest, you should. These useful tools can help.


Want to get more out of Pinterest? Start analyzing your success: Find out who is clicking and repinning your images and track the results. Check out these four new tools designed to do exactly that:


1. Pinfluencer

This analytics tool is indispensible. It shows you who is clicking on which pins, and can help you refocus your Pinterest campaigns. Instead of randomly guessing which pins are working, you can track who is pinning the most and what kind of following they have. (A similar tool for Twitter, SproutSocial, allows you to track who is retweeting what you say and can gauge your influence.) Like, you can also compare your pinboard to another to analyze which one generates more traffic and why. The new Promotions Platform helps you create contests and sweepstakes to attract customers.


2. Viralheat

Like many analytics dashboards, Viralheat lets you to track mentions of your brand. With Pinterest integration, the service goes beyond basic search data. You can track searches by specific pin name, keywords, descriptions, image name, domain, link text, and board name. You can see who is a "hot pinner" not just by searches but through multiple search avenues--the number of total pins, the pinners total reach, their unique pins, and their average number of likes. "Business owners can reach out to their top influencers and develop a relationship that can help with sales," says Courtney Kettmann, the community manager at Viralheat.


3. PinLeague

Tracking your followers on Pinterest might seem easy, but seeing trends is harder than you think. PinLeague puts some muscle behind the numbers. You can track repins from top followers, check your overall pin activity across your brand, and see who is following you (and follow them back). More than just a dashboard, PinLeague also lets you create marketing campaigns a la MailChimp to target top pinners, then track your success as it correlates to those campaigns.


4. Pingraphy

Ask any social networking guru what the secret is to making connections, and they will start telling you about scheduling. Most of us forget to pin new products every day, but Pingraphy lets you schedule your activity in advance. That way, you can make sure you have an active pinboard. You can also perform bulk pin uploads, see metrics on clicks related to uploads and schedules, and track follower counts.

Article provided by ©Inc.

TradeShows_Body.jpgby Robert Lerose.


With many small businesses tracking their marketing dollars closely, attending a trade show may seem like an ill-considered indulgence at first glance. Registration costs, travel and hotel accommodations can easily run into a couple of thousand dollars per person. If you exhibit, the total cost could be five to 10 times higher.


In spite of these daunting figures, experts say that trade shows should be part of your overall marketing program. The in-person, face-to-face nature of industry events provides key advantages that social media, print advertising, and even direct response marketing can't match. And with at least 6,000 trade shows going on in the current year, according to Trade Show News Network, ample opportunity exists for small businesses to make valuable contacts and nudge the sales process along when they're approached correctly.


Plan first

"Trade shows are one of many arrows in your quiver," says Andy Birol, owner of Pittsburgh-based Birol Growth Consulting. But if you expect to show up at a trade show and have lightning strike automatically, think again. Getting that face-to-face meeting time with a customer or prospect takes planning.


Birol likes a multi-step strategy that begins with understanding how your customers and prospects make their buying decisions. Then, when you know what their buying process is, come up with your own selling process that matches it. For example, if you know that a buyer looks for suppliers with a heavy online presence, then your website could have a lot of relevant content. Or if their buying process involves reviewing third-party endorsements, you could bring your testimonials to their attention.


"If you've qualified yourself to the buyer and you've gotten the buyer to qualify themselves to you through a lot of upfront work, then it would be highly worthwhile for you to [meet them at] a trade show," Birol says. "Make sure you have a list of potential buyers, establish a conversation, and simply ask for a formal, 60-minute face-to-face meeting with them back at their office."


TradeShows_PQ.jpgMost of all, leads must be avidly followed up when the trade show wraps up. "Your target is to attain a 60-minute conversation with an interested qualified prospect who has the time, need, authority, and money to hire you," Birol concludes.


Watch the little details

A number of seemingly small things—such as dressing inappropriately—can have a dramatic impact on your success at a trade show.


"I've gone to some trade shows where people look like they were going out to cut their lawn instead of to a national trade show, and I think it's a huge mistake," says Jay Goltz, CEO of Goltz Group, and a small business blogger for The New York Times. "People look at you when they come in a booth and they draw a conclusion. If you look like a serious buyer that's dressed professionally, I think you're going to get a higher level attention than if you're wearing shorts and a printed T-shirt."


As someone who has both attended and exhibited at trade shows for years, Goltz has seen this mistake over and over again. In a related vein, exhibits that are poorly designed—specifically, exhibits that don't clearly communicate what you're selling within a few seconds—can mean lost sales. Another mistake is not getting out on the floor and talking with the prospects. Too many people sit behind their exhibits and read their phone screens, Goltz notes.


Interestingly, Goltz has discovered that many trade show booths don't have a system in place to process orders—another mistake. He recalls going to one conference where Xerox was a sponsor. He and his friend were both prepared to buy a Xerox product on the spot, but the Xerox rep referred them to their local sales distributor instead. In the end, Goltz didn't place the order.


"I got some [lame] follow-up from a guy two weeks later," Goltz remembers. "Xerox lost two sales. Don't send your marketers to trade shows. Send your salespeople and have a vehicle in place to catch [buyers] when they're hot."


Ask for a meeting

"If you come back from a trade show and you're not exhausted, you didn't work it," says Curtis Greve, the managing partner of Greve-Davis. Founded in 2008, the Pittsburgh-based firm works with retailers, manufacturers, and third-party service providers to help them improve their customer returns and excess inventory capabilities.


Even smaller conferences can draw several hundred people. Without a plan—such as giving a speech or hosting a cocktail party or simply setting up meetings in advance—you could easily squander your time walking around the exhibit hall fruitlessly. Greve finds trade shows a cost-effective way to meet his existing customers and prospects, but he's careful to do prep work.


For example, he'll get in touch with customers and prospects to see if they're attending an upcoming event. If they are, he'll ask to meet them for breakfast or during a networking break. For a trade show he attended in mid-February, he set up five meetings in advance. "Each one of those meetings would probably cost me between $1,000 and $2,000 if I had to go see them individually," Greve explains. "Trade shows bring industries together."


Trade show staffs have gotten better, too, in hooking up prospects and attendees. At a conference a few years ago, Greve wanted to meet with a rep at a company that he hadn't met before. So he asked one of the conference coordinators if they could make the introductions. By the next day, the coordinator had brought Greve and his party together.


Approached thoughtfully, trade shows can be worth the investment for any small business. "The three big lessons: prepare before. Perform there. Follow up like a superstar," says Birol.


Other resources

Trade Show News Network offers a list for sale of approximately 6,000 trade shows in the U.S. with the contact information of the event coordinators and other useful details. To find out about trade shows in your particular industry, get in touch with the professional associations serving your niche. You may also want to check these sources:


Events in America


National Trade and Professional Associations Directory

SMRoulette_Body.jpgby Erin McDermott.


You’ve got important information that you’re ready to start sharing with your customers and prospective clients on social media. But how do you decide what’s the best way to announce it?


Each platform has its own language, technology protocols, and unspoken etiquette, which can be daunting. Is this message crucial to your operations? Are you chiming in about developments in your industry, or spreading something more emotional or inspiring? Are you looking to engage your customers and drive more traffic in person and online?


Bottom line: What is your goal?


“With clients, my goal is often to help them use social media to get traffic back to their websites,” says Jennifer Shaheen, social-media consultant and president of Technology Therapy, in White Plains, N.Y. “You need to balance that presence with the fact that you’re trying to get people to a tool that you have more control over.”


It’s also about finding your social-media personality and expressing it in the right way, to the right audience that’s hopefully ready to receive it and react. Here is a look at a few major social media sites and why you might consider using each to communicate about your business.



There are a billion reasons why your company ought to be on it. But which messages are smart for your business to share here? Facebook is the place for getting personal—without getting too personal.


What’s right? Sharing a news or blog link that’s informative for your customers. (For a coffee shop: A new study on the health benefits of a daily shot of espresso. For an exercise studio: A feature on Zumba instructors who build a following because they’re also great DJs.) Think emotions: Pictures of employees getting noteworthy awards (and tag them, too) or at community-service activities. Snapshots after a severe weather event, striking photographs of the view from the office, or a nostalgic shot of your business’s hometown from the 1980s. Enticing menus or comfort foods in advance of holidays or significant events, all of these are engaging for Facebook browsers, giving them not only information but also a conversational starting point, helping to humanize your enterprise for clients new to your world.


Ruth Wiesner, founder and CEO of RAW Marketing, a social-media management and online marketing consultancy near Chicago, likes Facebook for service-oriented companies because it draws instant feedback. “You really have to listen to where your clients are and where you’re finding the best conversation is happening, and then focus in on that,” she says. “For some people, it’s one location, for others it’s three locations. It depends on where they’re getting the most response.”


What’s not OK? Stay away from anything political, partisan, or insensitive, or anything that can come across as just plain bad taste.  



Two words changed many peoples’ perceptions about the importance of Twitter: Hurricane Sandy. While traditional media swooned and people went powerless for weeks in the storm’s aftermath, Twitter not only stayed up and running, it thrived, becoming the go-to, real-time communications tool. Information about outages, closures, rescue and recovery efforts—social media became the backup for numerous companies forced offline.


“Social media should be part of your disaster-recovery plan,” Shaheen says. “But one of the big mistakes companies make is they only use these tools for important information and haven’t built the audience there that could use it.” And it’s not just natural disasters, she says. Think about those unexpected emergencies. Shaheen points to the Web-hosting and domain-registration company Go Daddy, which suffered a major outage in September 2012 that threw millions of small companies’ sites offline.


Yet a recent Wall Street Journal article and survey showed that, for all the buzz, the platform carries surprisingly little weight among small business owners, with a mere three percent saying it held the most potential to help their companies. Yes, it’s intimidating—witness the stream of newsmaking tweets about users’ off-color posts, advertising is relatively sparse, and pictures are limited. But the potential is immense: 500-million registered users, sending 340-million messages a day, by some estimates.


For small businesses, it’s a savvy spot for staying abreast of industry discussions and news—and getting your own business on the radar for that conversation. If you’re already observing the flow and feel and are set to enter the fray, keep your own 140 characters-or-less message succinct and on-point, and link to your own site or work. It may be a bit time-consuming, but regular worthy appearances will earn you followers organically, creating a built-in audience of your own and an aura of an industry expert.



The other news in that Wall Street Journal article: the popularity of LinkedIn, which 41 percent of survey participants cited as potentially beneficial to their small businesses. The career-networking social-media site is intuitive for anyone who’s ever written a resume or networked and it’s a low-effort way to stay in touch with contacts. And if you’re keeping an eye on the competition (or maybe hiring away a knowledgeable hand), it’s a subtle way of keeping tabs on another staff’s comings and goings. When you’re not playing social-media James Bond, LinkedIn is an excellent place to post articles you’ve written or been mentioned in, a keen way to show off your insights, and possibly keep your talents fresh in the mind of a future client.


“Especially for B2B, I think, done correctly, LinkedIn is a fantastic tool,” Wiesner says. “The downside is that it wasn’t really built as a B2C social network.”



If what you do has a nice visual element to it, here are the spots for you. While Pinterest gets most of the attention because of its popularity among its largely female user base, it’s the higher-brow Instagram that’s been generating buzz (particularly after Facebook shelled out $1 billion for it in 2012) and clicking with talented mobile-camera photographers. If you’re a florist, designer, chef, baker, or anything remotely visual, these two platforms are a no-brainer, but they also require a higher skill set that includes artistic abilities. “I believe clients with a highly visual product really benefit from these,” Wiesner says. “Restaurants, bakeries, food trucks—customers of these are the kind of audience that love to scroll through to look at the pictures and get ideas. Instagram is the Pinterest for the mobile. You can lose hours going through pictures and following different people.”



Yes, yet another platform to have to think about—and here’s why. If your business uses YouTube—to edit how-tos, demonstrations, or other video content—the search giant now requires you to link to your Google+ page and not an outside website, Shaheen says. A dark horse in social media, Google+ has more than 100-million users worldwide—still a fraction of Facebook’s masses—but the service has its fans, with many citing tighter, focused groups and better privacy.

by Hollis Thomases

Here's a basic checklist to quickly make sure your social media tactics are on the right track.


As a digital marketing advisor, my job is to help you avoid waste and self-sabotage. Look at this list below as audit points against which you can check your own efforts.


1. Secure your brand name for your account.

Don't let someone else squat on your brand name just because you're slow on the uptick. Get your branded social media account!


Furthermore, don't just let your account default to an unmemorable, cumbersome URL--on any social media--if a "vanity URL" is possible instead. For example, CBS in Baltimore signed up for this branded Facebook URL while ABC in Baltimore has this complicated, easily forgettable one


2. Set up complete profiles.

All social media profiles enable you to give a lot of rich, useful information about your company. You can't rely on traffic coming to your in-depth website these days. Be sure to get the basics down on all your social media profiles, too!


3. Interact with your followers.

Too many businesses just use social media to push their own agenda--their news, special offers, event promotions, and the like. But that's not what social media is about. Not only will one-sided posting not do much for your marketing efforts (unless all your customers are bargain hunters), but it will turn most users off.


Here's an example of what you don't want to do:

4. Vary your posts on various channels.

Yes, there are social media management tools that now help you push out your message and content across multiple social media platforms, but if all you do is post the same exact content at the same exact time to all platforms with a push of the button, you will diminish its value on all of them. You could also potentially cause harm to your brand if such a push is triggered automatically, and no one is paying attention to the circumstances surrounding it.


5. Use discretion.

I often tout the 10-second self-censor rule. Before you--or anyone on your team--presses any button to upload your social media content, take another 10 seconds to review it and make sure it does not offend anyone or harm your brand.


6. Mind the ship.

With social media, you can't "set it and forget it." Social media requires constant care, feeding, and attention. An account that hasn't had any activity in weeks looks lame. And, if no one is paying attention to your social media footprint, a single negative post can turn into a firestorm before you know it.


Article provided by ©Inc.

TwitterParty_Body.jpgby Heather Chaet.


Are you an avid user of the 140-character social media tool to spread the word about your upcoming products and news? Do you tweet links to articles you stumble across, and thoughts on almost everything? Are you feeling pretty confident about your Twitter skills? Then take the next step and host a Twitter party—a virtual meet-up where you, as host, choose a cool topic with an awesome hashtag and invite folks to chat via Twitter at a designated time. Sounds simple enough, but the dance of the Twitter party can be tough to learn. We have your guide to throwing a successful Twitter party—in eight easy steps.


Step 1: Do a bit of research.

Before you jump right in, participate in a few parties to see how they work. “Attend as many as you can. See what you like and what you don't. There are many ways to do a Twitter party, and you will get some great ideas,” suggests Nika Stewart, co-founder and CEO of Search who you follow, see who may be hosting one—and offer to be a guest. Becoming knowledgeable and comfortable with the flow of Twitter parties can help yours be even more successful.  


Step 2: Figure out if you should throw one and why.

Why should you as a small business owner throw a Twitter party? “It's a creative, fun interactive way to spread your message, launch your new book or product, attract media attention, and develop profitable alliances,” says Stewart, “When you do it right, you can get in front of more than 100,000 accounts, and it generates buzz and excitement.” Taylor Aldredge, the Ambassador of Buzz at Grasshopper, a virtual phone system designed to help entrepreneurs stay connected and sound professional, emphasizes that, before you begin, be sure you know who your audience is and what they care about. “A Twitter party is a quick way to get your audience involved in a meaningful conversation, even if they're not all physically located in the same place. You need to know that the audience is there, that they talk on Twitter, and want to engage about a certain topic,” says Aldredge.


Step 3:  Pick a great topic and an even better hashtag.

“The most important thing is the party hashtag. This is probably the most crucial part of a Twitter party,” says Aldredge. “The hashtag is a phrase or keyword that tweets can be aggregated around. Think of it like a pseudo chat-room. The room isn't private, but the hashtag allows for all the tweets to be part of one big conversation with everyone else that's participating.” You are the host, but you don’t want to come off as self-serving by selecting a topic or hashtag that is directly related to and only promotes your product. To choose a solid hashtag, search Twitter, and see what your followers—and who you follow—are interested in. For example, a jewelry designer shouldn’t host a Twitter party focused directly on her new product line. Rather, she could host a Twitter party on the most stylish accessories seen on the red carpet at the Academy Awards (possible hashtag: #BestOscarBling).


TwitterParty_PQ.jpgStep 4: Invite everybody…and a few special guests.

Once you’ve decided on your topic and hashtag, get started promoting your event. Just like a party in the physical world, you need guests to attend. “You, as the host, have to keep letting people know when the party is [happening] and under what hashtag. You should be doing this on every medium you use—email, Facebook, LinkedIn, all of them,” says Aldredge. Also, reach out to a few industry leaders to see if they will attend, answer questions, and offer their insight. “The best parties I've seen operate like panel discussions with a host and a couple of select people to talk about the topic. It’s a good way to keep things organized and relevant to everyone else,” notes Aldredge.


Step 5: Get organized.

“The goal is to create order out of chaos. The more organized [the Twitter party] is, the better the information, and the more people will talk about what a great Twitter chat or party they just attended and who hosted it,” reminds Aldredge. Use tools to pre-load some tweets. “When organizing a Twitter party, you definitely want to use a Twitter management program because the Twitter website is not robust enough to manage and keep up in real-time,” says Aldredge. “Prepare all the questions and answers beforehand,” agrees Stewart. “This way, you don't need to spend time typing the questions or the answers and can enjoy the spontaneous conversation that happens during the party.”


Step 6: Have fun, but remember you are the host.

Just like a dinner party in your home, you are there to make sure your guests have a good time and to keep the conversation moving along. “Everyone can chime in, obviously, but it's the host’s job to manage everything and propose the questions for people to answer. I think a free-for-all gets hard to follow if you're looking for good information,” says Aldredge. Stewart suggests offering your attendees prizes to keep the participation quotient at a high level. “Hold mini-challenges throughout the party. Have them find [a bit of information] on your web page or answer a trivia question. Then randomly choose one correct answer for a prize,” she says.


Step 7: Don’t forget the follow-up.

After you have created some good buzz, don’t let it fizzle out. “Whether it's a quick tweet or an email, follow up with everyone. Staying relevant after a [Twitter party] is the key to building new relationships,” notes Aldredge, “Use it as an opportunity to directly engage with your customer-base or industry professionals. These types of events are more about seizing opportunity than they are about having fun. How often can you say that you took an online relationship and brought it into the real world? You'll begin to love the phrase, ‘Hey, I think I know you from Twitter...’” Use other social media tools to spread the word about the Twitter party—write a short recap on your website, mention it on Facebook, or include a sentence or two in your weekly email blast.


Step 8: Do it again.

Consistently hosting Twitter parties not only increases product awareness, it can vault you and your company to a better level in your industry arena. “It's a great way for any small business to set up a quick way for the customer base to engage directly with the brand and build awareness for the company. Creating a concept and brand identity that aims to help everyone is way better than being a brand that just pushes products in my mind,” notes Aldredge, “[Twitter parties] allow you to move from small business owner to thought leader.”

by Kevin Daum

LinkedIn is a great tool if used with skill and purpose. Not every one does. Here are seven tips for getting a good return on your efforts.


While the longevity of commercial value with Facebook and Twitter continues to be questionable, there is no question that LinkedIn is here to stay.


It's perfectly reasonable. LinkedIn is designed for professionals to connect, so they can do business. Still, many struggle with using this amazing tool effectively. People gather connections like colorful Easter eggs and never actually have any sort of meaningful interaction. They join groups and never engage or read the feeds. Others are just intimidated by the volume of feeds, groups, endorsements, and constant interactions.


You don't have to be a social media maven to benefit from this (mostly) free gift of modern technology. Follow these simple tips and with little effort, make LinkedIn your new power broker for success.


1. Have clear purpose


LinkedIn is a tool and like all tools it serves a specific purpose. If you don't know what you're trying to accomplish, then the tool will be useless. You have to drive the process. Decide if you want to expand your network inside your industry or beyond. Are you looking to explore new careers or create new business development opportunities? Perhaps you are looking for mentors or peer groups? It's okay to want all of this, but the more you focus your efforts, the easier it will be to get a specific and successful return.


2. Refine your profile


Would you walk into a sales meeting telling your buyer that you are job hunting? Not unless you want them to believe you have no confidence in your company and will be leaving soon. Yet, this is the sort of inconsistency that appears in every LinkedIn profile that sounds like a job application.


Your profile is public and should send a message consistent with your description on your company website. It should demonstrate your background and experience in a way that exudes confidence and opportunity for people who might engage with you. It should be brief, engaging and accurate. It should show that you cared enough about it to fix the typos, post a thoughtful picture and be grammatically correct. Your profile is a first impression for many, and for those of you who don't take care it will be certainly be the last.


3. Pick groups that matter


There are three good reasons to join a group. First, to stay in touch with peers you are already connected to through organizations like fraternities, service, or alumni. Second, to learn about an area of interest. This could be academic, social, or trade. Lastly, to stay abreast of happenings in a particular industry or area of commerce.  Joining a group in hopes of promoting your services will be a waste of time and often offend other members.


There can be value in discussions, but any group has discussion hogs that clog the feed. It takes effort to sort through the noise; so don't spend a lot of time trying to keep up. Select truly relevant groups, set your digests for weekly and weed them constantly. Then you can spend 20 minutes on Friday and engage where you feel it's appropriate.


4. Use your network


Being on LinkedIn and having 500+ connections does not make you a networker. Solid networking is still done through face and voice contact. But LinkedIn can be a great tool for enhancing those lunches and meetings. Before your next lunch meeting, review the connections of the people attending and identify two or three of their connections you would like to meet. Ask your lunch-mates for introductions and watch the fun start.


They'll be pleased you took the time to explore their profiles and may be surprised at the people you mention. (Be aware, they may not actually know them.) Offer to connect them with anyone they find in your list as well. Make sure you both have specific purpose in mind and report back any benefit received.


5. Dig deep into your connections


Count how many meaningful interactions you have initiated with your connections. Every week, identify five connections out of your list that can bring you real value, and send them a brief but personal message to connect by phone. Look for ways you can help them in their journey. If they are local, grab a drink, or lunch and do what networkers do best, connect and create mutual benefit.


6. Personalize everything


Yes, I understand. Everyone is busy. It's nice that LinkedIn provides an auto-phrase for interactions, but it simply conveys you are too busy to be a meaningful connection. When requesting a connection, review their profile and tell them why it's worth their time. If accepting someone's invite, review their profile and suggest a simple way you can help them. You wouldn't be effective at a networking gathering playing a recorded, canned message. Don't do it here.


7. Be generous in your interactions


The upside of social media tools is that it's easier to connect than ever before. The bad news is that marketers have bombarded the channels with noise that makes everyone cynical. Be a giver in the community. Don't spam. Share information that truly has value to your connections. Ask yourself "Would I consider this to be thoughtful, relevant and presented with care?" If not, don't post it. When approached to connect, give of yourself selflessly and abundantly. If you can't, then don't connect. Build a manageable, deep network that you can service and cultivate, then the benefits will come back tenfold.

Article provided by ©Inc.

MobileFriendly_Body.jpgby Susan Caminiti.


Few small business owners would question the value of having a company website. But for customers, the web isn’t just about what they see when they’re in front of their computer screen. The Internet is increasingly being accessed through an array of devices, such as smart phones and tablets—and that means your business’s website needs to be mobile friendly, too.


In fact, a report published by Google in September 2012 revealed that 67 percent of the 1,088 smart phone users surveyed said they were more likely to buy a product or use a service when visiting a business’s mobile-friendly site. What’s also interesting to note is that an equally large group—61 percent—said if they don’t quickly find what they’re looking for on a mobile site, they’ll move on. (It’s a safe bet that means they’re going over to your competitors.) And even if someone likes a business, 50 percent of those surveyed said they will shop at a business less often if the website isn’t mobile friendly.


The dilemma, says James Sherrett, vice president of marketing for Mobify, a mobile commerce technology company based in Vancouver, Canada, is that most small business websites are still designed with a desktop or laptop computer in mind, even as a growing portion of their web traffic is likely to come via mobile devices. The result is that customers wind up zooming, squinting, and pinching their mobile screens to access the information they’re looking for.


“Mobile screens are smaller and many are touch screens,” he says. “That creates a much different user experience than when a customer is coming to your website from the computer on their desk.” To make sure your website is mobile friendly, here are some of the factors that Sherrett and other experts say to consider:


Keep your audience in mind

Understanding what your customers want when they visit your site while using a mobile device is step one in creating something useful and easy to navigate, says Tim Murphy, senior marketing manager at Keynote Systems, an Internet and mobile cloud testing and monitoring company. “If you run a retail store, chances are your customers aren’t really interested in seeing your blog on the first page,” he says. “More likely they want your address, hours of operation, and a navigation button that gives them the ability to call you.” If there’s too much stuff to get through or if it’s taking 30 seconds or more for your site to load, the customer will be gone, he adds.


If you’re not sure what information these potential customers value most, Sherrett recommends accessing Google analytics to see what mobile visitors to your website are actually searching for. “You can then use that information as a good guide when creating a mobile friendly site,” he adds.


MobileFriendly_PQ.jpgHave a consistent look

Yes, your mobile site should be streamlined and clean, but that doesn’t mean it should look radically different from what folks see when they’re using a desktop or laptop computer. “It’s important for your mobile site to have the same colors and design of your website,” says Nicole Dansereau, director of sales and corporate marketing for Strategic Edge, a marketing firm that specializes in the medical profession. That might mean having fewer photographs and less text, but the overall feel and look should still echo what customers see when they access your website from their computer. If you hired a designer to create your business’s original website (and are happy with the results) there’s no reason why that same person can’t design your mobile site as well, Dansereau says.


Consider responsive design

Ever wonder why when you visit Starbucks or Disney from your mobile device the sites look just as good as when you’re on your computer? The answer is responsive design—a method by which you can create one design that will adapt to any device a customer chooses to use. So for instance, says Sherrett, when a customer uses a responsively designed website, the site knows the constraints of the user’s device and automatically reconfigures and reorganizes the layout and navigation features for easier viewing.


However, there are some drawbacks to consider before making the switch, he cautions. While responsive design will enable your site to look good no matter what the device, you will have to rebuild the template for your original website to accommodate responsive design, and that can cost time and money. If you simply choose to create a mobile-specific website, you won’t need to do anything to your original website, but understand that your search rankings will be split between your regular website and your mobile site. Even so, most experts suggest that responsive design is the smarter choice.


Of course, if you do go ahead and create a mobile site it’s important to test it out to make sure it, in fact, does look good and function well on a variety of devices. Keynote Systems offers a free testing tool that allows you to see just what your customers experience when they access your site from a smart phone or tablet.


“For small businesses, the name of the game is being discovered,” says Keynote’s Murphy. “If a customer is doing a search and your name comes up, you want to be sure that when they come to your site they’re able to find exactly what they’re looking for.”

by Hollis Thomases

Hiring someone to manage your company's social media? Don't make the same mistakes everyone else is making.


These days, it seems like everyone's looking to hire someone to manage their company's social media presence. That kind of demand can lead to poor hiring decisions. Why? Well, you may be impressed when you see someone's extensive Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest presence. But just because someone can use social media for personal benefit doesn't mean they know how to manage it for a business.


To help business owners better identify what to look for in a  social media job candidate, I recently interviewed William Ward, social media professor at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. According to Ward, these are the seven most common social media hiring mistakes.


1. Don't conflate personal and professional. Ward says smaller businesses commonly make the mistake of confusing personal social media fluency with social media professionalism, and there's a notable difference. A social media professional should be able to describe how they select, curate and/or create content; how, who and why they select followers and connections; and how they integrate social media initiatives with other media.


You should ask what kind of professional social media training and certifications candidates have. Candidates with proper training and who demonstrate maturity, Ward says, make better hires.


2. Don't take their word for it. Instead of drawing assumptions about a candidate's social media experience, Ward stresses that you want them to log into their social media accounts with you--have them show you what they do professionally. "Do not rely on their word of mouth or resume," cautions Ward. Instead, have candidates walk you through the social media management tools they use and justify why they choose them. (Ward's program, for example, uses HootSuite to manage many of his students' social media activities).


3. Don't ignore inconsistencies. Ward advises employers to check out both the professional and the personal social media accounts of candidates you're considering; if you see breaches in social media etiquette or inappropriate conversations, posting or updates, that's a red flag. If someone is going to represent your business online, that person should also be able to demonstrate restraint and decorum in their personal social media accounts as well.


4. Don't shun mistakes. With the public nature of social media, it's almost impossible for someone experienced to not have made a least a minor mistake along the way. Ward says that every candidate should cop to some kind of faux pas, but more importantly, be able to explain what she learned from that mistake. What you learn from the confession can also help you, even if you don't hire that person.


5. Don't forget the point.  A social media professional should know how to track and translate their efforts into real world actions, how to measure the impact of these efforts, and how to refine initiatives based on performance. Ward recommends that you ask social media job candidates to describe campaigns in detail: which of their activities drove actions or sales and what their specific plans and outcomes were.


6. Don't forget the strategy. The person who runs your social media will bear large responsibility for the public voice of your company. It's up to you and other company leaders to establish the appropriate criteria and boundaries for your social media specialist. Don't just give your social media hire free reign to do whatever he wants. Your social media strategy should align with and support your business objectives, which this person will need to understand in order to develop and execute a strategy. "I'm not a big proponent of 'do not's' as much as I am of 'do's," says Ward.


7. Don't turn your back. If you expect a social media hire to perform to a certain standard, it's up to you to tell them what your campaign and job performance expectations are and what the consequences will be if they don't reach them. "To achieve this, you'll need to routinely monitor the activity your social media hire does on your company's behalf and have regular communications with him or her," explains Ward. In other words, don't just turn a blind eye and expect everything on social media accounts to run smoothly without your oversight.

Article provided by ©Inc.

InOutMarketing_Body.jpgby Iris Dorbian.


To help grow a small business and build awareness around it, marketing is essential. If customers and prospects do not know of your company’s existence, then revenue will not be generated. Such a dismal proposition could cripple an established business or render stillborn a startup before it has a chance to mature and prosper.


However, as a small business owner, with a limited budget, you also want your dollars to give you the most value. When it comes to your marketing needs, that means making a choice between hiring internal staff or outsourcing to a third party. Either alternative can reap considerable benefits; but they also offer drawbacks as well. Following are several pros and cons for each option that small business owners ought to consider when deciding how their marketing needs will be met.


Outsourcing can be more cost-effective

Hiring an in-house marketer or marketing staff can be far more cost prohibitive than farming out marketing solutions to an external firm. Although some marketing consultants might charge higher by the hour rates, in the long run a small business owner may find adding permanent staffers more expensive due to giving employees a variety of benefits, such as health care and sick pay.


Also, outsourcing can often provide a shorter turnaround for a marketing task. Couple that with overall expenses and a small business owner might find it a boon to hire an agency or consultant rather than using in-house personnel.


Rebecca Wood, a marketing consultant who works with a number of small business clients, including Ata Retail, a provider of impulse merchandising, offers this example:  “Recently, a client needed an ad for a magazine,” she recounts. “I did the copywriting and initial layout, and outsourced the final design to a graphic artist. We completed a very professional ad from beginning to end in under three hours of time at a cost of $300.”


But as effective as outsourcing marketing can be, it also has some inherent disadvantages.


In-house marketers care more and know your business better, unlike outsiders

Because they’re not on staff, it stands to reason that a consultant or outside firm that you hire for a marketing project may not have as much of a vested interest in your company’s growth and branding unlike an insider. For outside marketers, the job you give them is just that—nothing more, nothing less—an assignment to be completed within a certain timeframe before going on to the next job for a different client. An in-house marketer will rarely feel as detached.


InOutMarketing_PQ.jpgRyan Connors, marketing manager for Apptegic, a startup based in Somerville, Massachusetts that collects and analyzes customer behavioral data, agrees. “While short-term decisions tend to encourage outsourcing, having a team in-house enables growth and consistency of the company,” he explains. 


Connors, whose company currently has a team of 15 employees, describes how before he started there, Apptegic had contracted an outside marketing firm to execute and deliver a Facebook business page design.  Although the job was performed in a week’s time, in the end it was “unusable” because of Facebook’s update to its timeline feature.


“The contractor likely knew what he or she was doing, yet getting the check was a higher priority,” says Connors who adds that Apptegic’s marketing department is comprised of a marketing director and himself. “The lesson learned here in marketing is that, like most businesses, some companies are there to help their customers whereas some are there to use them,” he says. “Maybe outsourcing didn't cause this problem, but I'm willing to bet that with more internal focus there would have been heightened awareness to [Facebook updating its] timeline, which was all over the news.”


Outsiders are more impartial than insiders

On the other hand, outsiders who have no personal or professional stake with your business do offer a strategic advantage when brought to the table.


“An outside consultant can be far more objective than in-house people who fear losing their jobs should they take an opposing position,” says Susan Tellem, a Los Angeles-based small business owner who has been running her own marketing firm Tellem Grody PR for 30 years. “We have thick skins.”


They also can bring a fresh perspective to a marketing solution for a project, jolting some permanent staffers out of their complacency. “[When you outsource your marketing], you’re seeking information outside the company culture, giving people enmeshed in that world an ‘a-ha’ moment,” explains Fern Dickey, owner of Backburner Projects, which provides administrative and marketing services to clients that include several small businesses. “You’re giving them things to think about.”


In-house marketers are more accessible

When a person is not working under your watch, he or she may not be as reachable as an employee. Consequently, consultants or outsiders working on a marketing project are more difficult to manage because they’re not part of the regular 9-to-5 corporate culture; they are not subject to a client’s whim any time of the day.


Modern technology can trump the obstacles in this equation. “That’s why God invented Skype, cell phones and e-mail,” jokes Tellem whose staff size is five.


External marketers might have a richer, more diversified skills set

An in-house marketing staff or team might be more accessible or manageable, but they may not have the skills set that an external marketing firm might possess. These skills can run the gamut from writing a carefully targeted, SEO-friendly press release to performing social media outreach.


Mohan Ramchandani, owner of the 40-year-old New York City-based Mohan’s Custom Tailors, a small business that specializes in creating custom clothing for men, feels that outsourcing his company’s marketing needs is an avenue that offers the best-of-all-worlds options.


“It is important to recognize your areas of experience and those areas in which you do not excel,” he says. “We use an outside advertising agency to place our ads in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal; an outside public relations firm to create news about our business and to keep Mohan’s Custom Tailors top of mind with potential clients; and an outside social media expert to handle social media outreach. By using outside firms, our team is able to focus on what we do best and the outside firms are able to bring us the recognition we need to secure new clients.”


Choosing whether your business will handle its marketing in-house or outsource may be more complex than simply calculating costs. Ultimately, whatever decision you make should hinge on what best fulfills your needs and goals as you grow your business.

by Karl Stark and Bill Stewart

These three avenues will help you focus on the core while capturing new growth opportunities.


Every business we know struggles with the tradeoff of investing in and maximizing the core business while trying to take advantage of growth in new, adjacent markets. It's generally easier (and more profitable) to focus on your core business. That's the place where you have all the advantages--key customer relationships, brand recognition, strategic assets like equipment or offices, and more assurance that growth investment will pay off.


However, every business that creates super-sized growth does so by extending its advantages into new, adjacent markets--new geographies, new product segments, new customer segments, or new sales channels.


How do we typically solve this dilemma? We try to balance a healthy mix of investment in the core and exploration and experimentation in new markets. Unfortunately, it's hard to build an organization that does both well. Which is why we typically segment the business (and individuals' roles) into one of three trajectories: maintaining business as usual, maximizing the potential of the core business, and investing in new adjacent markets.


Business as Usual

In any company, it's important not to take your eye off the core business. Each business should be expected to maintain a healthy growth rate--usually at or above the market growth rate--which extends the growth the business has comfortably achieved in the past. We call this the "business as usual" growth rate, because it represents growth the business could achieve without significant investment. Note that it's not a "manage for cash" position; the business still funds investment that is necessary to maintain growth. Put a team on this that is responsible for delivering "business as usual."


Maximizing the Potential of the Core Business

What would it take to get more out of the current core business without moving into new markets? This might result in achieving a certain level of market share in core markets with targeted profitability. There is likely some significant investment required to get there, above and beyond "business as usual" investment. Assign a team to execute this investment and make them accountable for achieving the growth above the business-as-usual growth--likely over multiple years.


Investment in New, Adjacent Markets

Every company has opportunities to create growth outside of its core by leveraging its key strengths and strategic assets. This might translate into entering a new geography or adding a new product line. Make a team accountable for this growth, distinct from the rest of the business. Let them focus on experimentation-style growth over a period of time, where investments are trialed and tested. It's important that you separate this investment from the rest of the business; otherwise, it's too easy for these funds to be poached for investment in the first two areas.

Breaking your forecast, mindset, and organization into these three distinct pieces will ensure that you balance investment across each of your growth horizons, giving you the best chance of maximizing growth of the overall business.


Article provided by ©Inc.

FiringSalesReps_Body.jpgby Iris Dorbian.


After a halting start, your small business is finally on an upswing. It’s attracting a healthy stable of clients and generating revenue. The timing is good to hire a sales rep that will increase your product distribution and/or business presence.


However, months or years later, you are finding out that what began as a promising arrangement is not working out due to a variety of factors, some of which you may not be able to control. Do you stick it out and hope that more time, or some additional training, will help? Or do you let the sales rep go? At some point you need to decide that it’s time to cut your losses. Here are some reasons why:


#1: The sales rep is not meeting your quota

Of all the reasons to terminate a sales rep, this is arguably the most popular and understandable. You have a small business to run and goals to meet in order to pay your bills and generate income. If your sales rep has not been able to meet basic sales goals per a specific schedule (i.e. daily, weekly, monthly), then you may have to reassess whether he/she is the right fit for that position.


Questions you need to ask yourself to ascertain whether your rep is meeting his or her quota, according to Mike Schultz, president and founder of RAIN Group, a sales training firm that frequently services small business clients, are:


  • How many prospects should enter the rep’s pipeline?
  • How many of them should turn into opportunities for new business?
  • How many leads should close within a certain timeframe?
  • What is your company’s pricing and profit criteria?
  • What should repeat business rates look like?

Sometimes, even the most capable sales rep could flounder on the job by not knowing the answers to these questions. “The key for small business is that they don’t know what the criteria for success should really be,” explains Schultz.


Yet letting a sales rep go and doing it in a way that respects the work that he/she has done can be a difficult chore, particularly if the employee has shown dedication and diligence and was one of the owner’s first hires.


Jeff Goldberg, a sales trainer and consultant who often works with small business owners and runs his own business, Jeff Goldberg & Associates, faced a similar predicament years ago when he was working as the national sales director of a market research company.


“I had an inside sales rep that was a great guy, very likeable and hardworking,” he recalls. “However, he never hit quota. He would sometimes come close but never hit his numbers. Other reps were hitting the same number, so I knew the expectations were realistic and reasonable. I worked with him regularly for nearly 30 days, observing his work habits and listening to his phone

conversations with prospects while offering advice. I believe he was doing his best, but it wasn't good enough. My strong feeling is that if I've done my best, and the rep has done their best, and they still can't succeed, I'm not doing them any favors by keeping them as an employee.”


FiringSalesReps_PQ.jpg#2: The rep is displaying inappropriate behavior with clients/customers

Your sales rep has finally snagged a coveted appointment with a potentially lucrative client. Unfortunately, the meeting implodes due to the rep’s unorthodox or unsettling conduct. That scenario makes termination something of a no-brainer. Sometimes, though, the behavioral infraction may not be so obvious. As the small business owner, it will be up to you to define what constitutes an acceptable standard of conduct for your sales reps to uphold when dealing with clients or prospects.


Cammie Scott, president of CK Harp & Associates, a 17-year-old insurance agency based in Springdale, Arkansas, offers an example of a rep she hired to assist clients with insurance claims. 


“She was going through a divorce and had a number of personal issues,” recounts Scott, who oversees a staff of 10. “When someone came in expecting help, she would begin to cry and could not contain herself. This was not what clients wanted. They wanted a compassionate person who could point them in the right direction.”


After several conversations with the rep about her unprofessional behavior in front of clients, the rep was let go and given two weeks of pay to “come and go as she pleased to help get another job.” The rep did find another job soon after and according to Scott, has referred numerous potential customers to Scott’s insurance agency.


The experience proved to be a compelling best practice on how to terminate employees without tarnishing your reputation in the process. “The moral of the story is even if a person is not the right fit for your position, make sure you don't burn any bridges as they will be right for another position,” counsels Scott. (For tips on how to execute this termination process smoothly, see sidebar below.)


#3: The sales rep is dishonest

In this instance, it doesn’t matter how many leads the rep has generated or how much revenue he/she has brought into the funnel; if he or she lies or fabricates, then it’s time to let the rep go. It will not benefit you keeping such an employee on your payroll; it may even harm your business if you continue to do so after the sale rep’s deceptive behavior has been exposed.


#4: The economy or sales cycle has become too sluggish or uncertain

Although sales cycles can fluctuate depending on the time of year (e.g. holidays), if they stagnate or dip indefinitely due to a bad economy or other factors, then a small business owner may be forced to let an otherwise high-performing sales rep go to keep costs down. In the wake of the recent recession, layoffs were endemic in corporate America.


Letting a sales rep go is never an easy undertaking. But if an employee’s behavior or lackluster performance is preventing your business from advancing to the next level, it may be your only viable option.


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and interviewees.  You should consult a qualified HR professional to assist you in developing and implementing sound personnel policies and practices.



How To Fire a Sales Rep Without Tarnishing Your Reputation

You’ve tried your best. You’ve counseled the sales rep about his or her lackluster performance or questionable conduct and have put him or her on probation for a few months. Yet it’s still not working out. What you are about to do is something every employer, from the smallest mom-and-pop shop to the largest institutional brand, has had to do. But how do you let your sales rep go in a manner that will be civil without incurring undue harm to the business you’ve built from the ground up? Following are a few key best practices:


  • Do not engage in personal attacks. Treat your outgoing sales rep with dignity and respect. “Remember this is a person,” advises Cammie Scott, president of CK Harp & Associates, a small insurance agency located in Springfield, Arkansas. “How would you like to be treated if this were happening to you?”


  • Be detailed about the reasons for termination. “Make sure that you refer to specific goals that were not met,” says Kelly Daugherty, managing partner and co-founder at Smashing Golf & Tennis, a small business that manufactures golf and tennis clothes for women and was launched in 2011. “Do not just say, ‘You aren't growing the business enough.’ What were the goals laid out for them? What was the timeframe?
  • Make sure you heed all legalities beforehand. If you fire a sales rep without due cause or if you do it in a manner that runs afoul of labor regulations, you may risk opening up yourself to a lawsuit. Such a dire scenario could have negative repercussions on the survival of your small business. To avoid this, “consult a labor law attorney to make sure you are complying with all laws and doing everything legally,” notes Scott. “There are lots of new laws and lots of changes to laws. It is better to be safe than sorry.”


  • Do it face-to-face. Firing someone via e-mail or on the phone is neither professional nor an effective way to preserve your reputation. “If being face-to-face is not possible, use Skype or some other video service,” suggests Daugherty.

Filter Article

By tag: