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QAlisapanarello_Body.jpgby Matt Krumrie.


As founder and CEO of New York-based Careers Advance, Lisa Panarello provides professional development coaching, branding services, and training programs for individuals, small businesses, and corporations. She has inspired more than a half-million students, parents, and professionals nationwide through keynote speeches, interactive workshops, and dynamic presentations. In 2010, Panarello was a Top 9 Finalist (out of 30,000 participants) in Toastmaster’s International World Champion of Public Speaking Contest. Writer Matt Krumrie spoke with Panarello recently on how better public speaking and pitch skills can positively impact a small business.


MK: What are some misconceptions about public speaking that small business owners may harbor?

LP: I think the misnomer is that when people hear public speaking they assume it is someone who stands in front of a podium speaking to 1,000 people, or it’s the president of the company who has to address their entire staff. That's one form of public speaking. But public speaking is actually speaking in public, whether it is at a networking event, over coffee with an existing client, or through a client presentation where the business owner has to pitch a particular service to win that client over.


If you attend a client meeting, Rotary Club meeting, networking event, staff meeting, or industry seminar and are talking, formally or informally, then you are speaking publically. These are all areas where you can make an impact for your business.


MK: You've had success and benefited from being part of Toastmasters. What are some other ways to improve as a public speaker/presenter?

LP: Toastmasters is a great organization to give you a platform for delivering and practicing any speech on any topic that you want to talk about, but there are other ways to improve. First, it's having the desire to improve. We are better than we think, but we don't always know where we fall short and where we're actually good. There are so many elements of speaking—body language, the facial expressions, hand gestures, eye contact, vocal projection.


Whenever you are given a speaking engagement, such as through small group training at your office for your staff, or delivering a presentation to a group of clients, if it's possible, videotape yourself. Once you watch the video you can see what you need to improve. Am I saying ‘umms’ and ‘uhhs’ and ‘likes,’ Am I speaking clearly or audibly? How is my body language? Am I smiling?

QAlisapanarello__NEW_PQ.jpgMK: How can small business owners reduce fear before making a pitch or delivering a presentation?

LP: It's really not about being a phenomenal speaker. Having the courage to get up there and speak will prove to someone else that this person believes in what they are saying and has a reputation to uphold. 


Preparation is the key to any success. Whenever I’m meeting new people, presenting or working with a new client I need to prepare as much as possible. It's not about being perfect or knowing everything there is to know in your industry, but it is about knowing as much as you can about that client, what their needs are and what you bring to the table to help them.


MK: If you are presenting and suddenly, nerves or fear set in and you lose your direction, what can you do to restore calm?

LP: That's natural. What I have been trained on as a public speaker is to embrace the pause. That allows your brain to think and it also allows the audience to digest whatever it is you are saying. Sometimes we are so nervous we're like a train wreck, we just run through the presentation because we want to get through it and sit down. Don’t be afraid to pause.


MK: What are some unique ways your business benefitted from an opportunity to speak?

LP: I was involved with a group called Business Over Books. It was organized as a networking meeting where like-minded professionals talked about a book and shared ideas. There were 12 people who showed up and the moderator had us go around the room and tell us about ourselves. It was very informal, and I gave a three-minute elevator pitch talking about my business. The very next day I received two calls that led to new business and a connection to another business opportunity. So, talking about myself for three minutes in an informal setting led to business. Those are the types of opportunities business owners need to prepare for and embrace.


SBC newsletter logo.gifMK: What is the best piece of advice you were given when speaking/presenting?

LP: Forget about yourself. We are so wound up on wondering what we look like, what we sound like, and we forget that the audience is there to get your information. Whenever you are presenting, remember it really is not about you. It's about what your audience needs and what you can deliver. Focus on your audience.


MK: What else would you like to say to small business owners out there?

LP: Developing your speaking talent does take time. Nothing is an overnight success. I was not an overnight speaking success but I enjoyed the journey. I embraced the opportunity to learn and develop. Give yourself time to grow, don't give up and it will happen, you will succeed.


This interview has been edited for length and for clarity.

PRbudget_Body.jpgby Heather Chaet.


We all know that famous adage about how there’s no such thing as bad press. Perhaps a better way to think about publicity comes from writer Oscar Wilde, who said, “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” Fortune 500 companies devote a lot of money to creating publicity for their brand. But how can a small business build buzz without that same cash flow or manpower? Many small business owners and entrepreneurs rely solely on Facebook or Twitter, yet there are other low-cost ways to generate PR and get people—and potential customers—talking about your company.


Become an expert

You’ve sent out press release after press release with not-so-great results. Many media outlets—from local news to national online sites—need content. Go beyond the traditional “here’s my company” pitch and become a source for stories already in the works. “When you see something important happening (nationally or locally), reach out to the media and offer to be an expert source,” suggests Dave Manzer, founder of Dave Manzer PR and Marketing, an Austin, Texas-based PR firm. “I was interviewed in Austin about Lance Armstrong's interview with Oprah because I had a good relationship with the ABC News affiliate, and they wanted a PR expert to talk about how the interview could help/hurt Armstrong.” 


Samuella Becker, CEO and founder of TigressPR, agrees. “I'm biased toward editorial coverage versus paid advertising to gain creditability and drive new business. Think about the knowledge you possess that can be passed along to others, which will brand your expertise,” says Becker. She says to offer know-how in an engaging way that people can use. “For example, a photographer may contribute tips on the most flattering clothing to wear when taking photographs to be used for an article in the local newspaper,” says Becker.


PRbudget_PQ.jpgEmbrace the calendar

Think about holidays. Sure, the ones that come to mind are circled on the gigantic dry erase board in your office, but how about centering a campaign on those not-so-huge holidays. A Groundhog Day Spectacular is sure fire-way to stand out, and get a bit of local buzz going. “Every day and every month, there is a celebration of something: National Ice Cream Day, National Bird Feeding Month, even National Cheeseburger Day,” points out Manzer. “Find a clever way to celebrate the special occasion and let the local TV news know about your plans. You could win a studio interview or get a film crew to come out to your event.”


Becker says to find an angle that works for specific holidays, even if it seems to not be a not-quite-exact fit. “At Halloween, many parents worry about the candy-laden trick-or-treating holiday and its sugar-overload effect on their kids,” suggests Becker. “If you are a dentist, you may want to team up with a nutritionist to provide recipes for delicious and healthy Halloween treats for your patients and community as a whole. Beyond posting the recipes on your respective websites, reach out six weeks before the holiday to the local parenting publication, the local food editor for the newspaper or the affiliate TV stations—and offer to appear in a make-and-bake segment on camera. On Halloween, offer these same treats for those who stop by your business in costume.”


Partner up

Sometimes it is not what you do, but whom you do it with. “Striking strategic alliances with other small businesses for special events can build outside testimonials,” as well as new customers, notes Becker. “A skincare specialist could team up with the local farmer's market or grocery store to demonstrate homemade facial mask recipes using fruits, vegetables, and everyday ingredients found in a typical kitchen.” Becker says to use social media (Twitter, Facebook, even LinkedIn) to announce your guest appearance to generate foot traffic.


When you team up for an event around a worthy cause, you achieve that common goal of helping others and introduce a different side of your company to the public. “Find a way to partner with a local nonprofit,” suggests Manzer. “You get attention for the nonprofit’s cause and how you're encouraging innovative business partnerships.”


Hop onto a trend

Mustaches. Anything in leopard print. Grumpy Cat. All of these are trends that have made people take notice, talk, and spend money. Mike Beck, marketing consultant and senior manager at the Chicago Sun-Times, suggests an easy way to build buzz. “Find a current pop culture trend and make it work for you,” says Beck. “One great example is an outdoor gear e-commerce retailer I consulted for in 2012.They wanted to create buzz around their technical packs, outdoor equipment and survival gear so we generated a campaign that tagged onto the zombie pop culture phenomenon.”


The end result? The campaign got picked up in multiple regional and national publications and websites, including Uncrate, Business Insider, and MSNBC. “It also helped that we purposely set one of the promotions to an extraordinarily high price point, helping it garner that aura of publicity-worthy content,” Beck says.


Create an event

The “Grand Opening” sign or “Big Anniversary Sale!” banner are so commonplace, no one notices anymore. To really capture attention, create another way to get folks talking—and not just the press, but customers too. “Do something in such a way as to attract not only reporters and editors, but the public as well,” says Will Kruisbrink, account director at Chicago-based PR firm Walker Sands Communications, “For example, say you're opening a new gym in town, you could leave boxes of brand new sneakers in hidden places all around the area and spread the tips via social media so people can find them. Make sure you identify local influencers beforehand, as you need the campaign to catch. Chances are if you get enough viral juice [for an event], reporters in your area will hear about it and want to write about it.”

Retargeting_Body.jpgby Jennifer Shaheen.

Retargeted ads—the custom-tailored Internet ads that start showing up as you cruise the Internet or social media after visiting a retailer’s website—are nothing new. Big brands, most notably Zappos and Levis, have been using retargeted ads for years now with great success. But is the time right for small business owners to try this marketing tactic?

Advantages of retargeted advertising

“When people shop online, they don’t visit a site and buy immediately. They shop around, compare price, and sometimes just get distracted,” says Adam Berke, president of Adroll, a retargeting firm. Retargeting allows advertisers to re-engage potential customers who’ve visited their website with precise ads across the web and Facebook. Berke adds that retargeting is unlike other display advertising that is typically based on interests, demographic or inferred behavioral trends. “Retargeting zeroes in on those already interested in your brand or products—those most likely to make a purchase—and gives them the extra nudge they need to seal the deal,” he says.

Using retargeted advertising to reach out to customers who have already visited your website can be a cost effective sales strategy. Ryan Derrow, CEO of Empower MediaMarketing, says “site retargeting can have a 10-times lower cost per acquisition than tactics targeting consumers that haven’t yet interacted with your site.”

Retargeting campaigns are not ideal for all small business, but if your small business website fits into the criteria of attracting at least 1,000 unique website visitors per month this may be a strategy to consider. The cost of retargeting varies by provider. Adroll puts their pricing at $1-$2.50 CPM. They have a Retargeting Evaluator tool on their site, where business owners can enter their website and, based on their existing website traffic, receive a recommended monthly marketing budget. Retargeter charges a flat $1,500 per month, which includes 30,000 unique visitors targeted, for up to 525,000 impressions. Additionally, this price covers analytical reports, and back end customer support services.

Segmentation is the key to success

“When you are running site retargeting, you should be segmenting your website according to logical consumer paths,” says Arjun Arora, CEO of Retargeter, a retargeting firm. “A user who comes to your homepage but doesn’t head to your products page is probably not as far along in the funnel as someone who spends a significant amount of time on your pricing page. Similarly, someone who visits your careers page is probably not in the market for your product.”

To maximize the impact of a retargeted advertising campaign, Arora recommends thinking through how your customer interacts with your website, and customizing your ads accordingly. “A homepage visitor can be served general branding messaging, while a pricing page visitor can be served ads with a limited-time discount or two-for-one special,” Arora adds. “You should always align your retargeting campaigns with where a user lies in the purchase funnel.”

Retargeting_PQ.jpgDisadvantages of retargeted advertising

While retargeted ads have proven to be an effective tool for some brands, not every small business owner is convinced that they’re a good idea.

Michael Bishay, owner of Doggie Chop, a purveyor of specialty raw dog food, says privacy concerns have kept him from using them. “They make me feel uncomfortable, like I'm being watched everywhere I go online,” he says. “If I don't like it, chances are my customers won't like it either. I don't want them to associate that uncomfortable feeling with my brand.”

Customer opinion regarding retargeted ads is mixed. Joseph Turrow, a professor with the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, says that a significant percentage of customers are reporting they find the ads unsettling. However, unsettling doesn’t mean useless.

“At first I found them unsettling; now I find them better than the generic ads online. With the targeted ads I'm usually seeing things I might actually want to purchase, as opposed to products and services that actually offend me. In fact, sometimes the ads remind me of something I want to remember to buy online,” says Jennifer Heise, a consumer from New Jersey. “What I hate is that the targeted ads tend to slow down the experience because instead of posting generic stuff they are checking my cookies and then loading ads.”

The code that is added to your website as part of a retargeting campaign is extremely minimal and will have no impact on your own site’s load speed. However, it’s important to understand that you have no control over the load speed or user experience on other websites your customer visits. This is one of the reasons it is difficult to predict how your customers will react to retargeted advertising. If you do choose to make retargeted ads part of your marketing mix, make sure to periodically test how the ads are working, both in terms of messaging effectiveness and overall conversions. If the ads are not performing well in either capacity, you’ll want to adjust your campaigns and talk to your provider about how to get the most from this tactic.

“You want to be dynamic,” Berke says. “You improve relevancy by ensuring the ad served to a potential customer is tailored to his or her browsing history on your site. It’s better to present previously viewed products and other related products than, say, presenting a logo and hoping for the best.” To contain costs, small business owners may want to prioritize creating ads for their most popular products or categories of products.

EmbedEthics_Body.jpgby Erin O’Donnell

Every one of QCI Direct’s employees and customers knows the company’s motto: “Sure, no problem.” It’s a guiding principle for the Rochester, N.Y., mail-order catalog company. Need to return something? “Sure, no problem.” Before Christmas, everyone on the staff of 110 pitches in to pack orders in the warehouse—even CEO Jane Laurence. “Sure, no problem.”

Last year, QCI Direct won the Rochester Business Ethics Award for a mid-sized company. Spokeswoman Kyra Mancine says it was because of the motto, and how the company backs it up. “We’ve won other honors, but this was Jane’s absolute favorite, because it tied into that motto. It meant so much to her.”

Mancine says the CEO’s belief in doing the right thing—being ethical—is so strong that it carries through the entire staff, from management to the call center. That kind of leadership is fundamental to developing and embedding ethics in a small business, ethics professionals say.

“Not only are the leaders doing the right thing, but all members of the organization are empowered to do the right thing,” says Christina Solomon, a financial forensics expert.

However, the 2011 National Business Ethics Survey concluded that the Golden Rule has lost some of its sheen in the American workplace, calling ethical cultures in business “at their weakest point since 2000.” The survey found, compared to 2009, that the percentage of employees who felt pressure to compromise their standards in order to do their jobs climbed five points to 13 percent. The struggling economy and the rise of social media share some of the blame.

So how can a small business foster a culture of doing the right thing? It starts with setting good examples internally, and wearing your values on your sleeve publicly.

Cultivating an ethical reputation

Solomon, a partner in accounting firm RubinBrown, specializes in forensic accounting analysis and fraud investigations. She says leadership is probably the greatest influence on whether an organization puts integrity first. If it doesn’t, real dollars are at stake. According to a 2012 report by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), the median loss of a fraud event was $147,000 for firms with 100 or fewer employees.

“Small businesses continue to be the most common victims of fraud,” Solomon says.

Without a strong ethical commitment, businesses also risk losing public favor and, eventually, customers. “For a small business, their word and their reputation is incredibly important in the eyes of customers,” Solomon says. “Doing the right thing isn’t always about fraud. Is it the right thing to do for our customers? Does it send the message that we’re shady people? Is it going to leave a bad taste?”

EmbedEthics_PQ.jpgThat’s what drove QCI to keep its word when a Facebook promotion unexpectedly went viral. The company was giving away lemon-infused cleaning cloths via a Facebook post, which directed people to email Mancine. Although it was intended to boost QCI’s Facebook fan numbers, the giveaway was picked up by a website for freebies, and Mancine’s inbox was flooded with orders.

Even though the offer said “while supplies last,” QCI’s leadership agreed that they should honor the giveaway for everyone who sent a request. As a result, the company had to buy thousands more cloths than expected, but Mancine says it was more important not to alienate customers. “It also showed our employees that we’re going to stand by our word,” she says. In the end, the company gave away about 11,000 cloths. “It smelled like lemon around here for the longest time,” recalls Mancine

Greg Finkle also believes that clients want to do business with companies who are consistent in their decisions and behaviors. As a partner in Finkle | Williams Architecture in the Kansas City metro area, Finkle and his staff sometimes are approached by clients competing for the same bid. They try to handle such conflicts as transparently as possible. He explains that sometimes his firm pursues a project with more than one client, with full disclosure to both parties. Other times, if a choice must be made, company policy is to go with the client who approached them first.

“Although it doesn’t always result in winning a project, in the long run I believe this goes a long way toward gaining and maintaining the trust of our clients,” Finkle says.

Instill your values in your employees

There are four items on the Finkle | Williams statement of values. The first three mention trust, integrity, and a “servant attitude.” Only the fourth one mentions profitability.

Core values statements like these are essential to infusing ethics into your firm, Solomon says, but only if they’re discussed and referenced often. Put them in the employee handbook, but also on the wall. Ask your employees for input on when you create a statement of values, and then make it a habit to ask them for examples of how the company or their coworkers are fulfilling them.

Consider the differences among the generations in your workplace, too, and how they approach ethics. The ACFE found that Millennials appear to be more likely than their older counterparts to report wrongdoing. They’re also more likely to model ethical behavior and take those messages to heart when they come from immediate supervisors and peers.

“It might stay top of mind more if it’s coming from someone in the organization whom they perceive as a good role model, rather than strictly from the CEO,” Solomon says.

Finkle says he also looks for people who are “obsessed” with doing the right thing. “Technical skills are valuable, but people with a good moral compass are invaluable,” he adds.

S.T. Billingsley, owner of Steve's Auto Repair & Tire in Woodbridge, Virginia, wants to position his shop as the one people can trust. He’s all too aware that his industry often suffers from a reputation of being less than honest, and he combats it by hiring workers he can trust. He starts by asking job candidates their thoughts on writing up repair estimates. Billingsley says he doesn’t just listen to their response; he pays attention to how long they take to respond. With trustworthy employees on board, he says he can give customers an honest evaluation the first time, so that there will be a next time. 

“You have to have employees that understand that relationships are being built for the long term,” Billingsley says.

Getting in front of fraud

Employers can’t be shy about protecting their investment, Solomon adds. It’s critical to create an environment where whistleblowing is encouraged and protected in case of misuse or misconduct.

“Tips are by far the most prevalent way fraud is detected, no matter what your size is,” Solomon says. She recommends establishing a tip-line, such as a phone number or website, and making sure everyone in the company knows about it. (Find more guidance in the fraud prevention checkup from the ACFE.)

Just the presence of a tip-line has been shown to increase the chances that a problem gets reported, she says, especially if employees are empowered to talk without fear of retaliation.

That’s an important piece of the ethics puzzle, because retaliation is on the rise, according to the National Business Ethics Survey. Retaliation can take many forms, from getting fired to feeling excluding from meetings, opportunities, or promotions.

In 2011, the NBES reported that 45 percent of U.S. employees observed a violation of the law or ethics standards at work over the previous two years. “Reporting of this wrongdoing was at an all-time high—65 percent—but so too was retaliation against employees who blew the whistle: more than one in five employees who reported misconduct they saw experienced some form of retaliation in return,” according to the report.

Can someone vouch for you?

A number of online resources now allow businesses to be “whitelisted” for good behavior. Websites such as Angie’s List use the power of positive reviews to boost businesses with reputations for good service and practices. Check around in your industry to see if there are similar services. For instance, a website called exclusively vets carpet cleaners, in response to an expose from ABC News show 20/20 on unethical practices in that field.

Consider joining a professional association that provides ethical guidelines for your industry. Or apply for accreditation through the Better Business Bureau, which turned 100 last year.

Even with someone to vouch for you, the standard that matters most is the one you stay faithful to, Finkle says. “People have short memories,” he says.“Our most valuable asset is our reputation, and one missed step can undo years of consistent, ethical performance."

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