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Video_Sales_Letters_body.jpgby Robert Lerose.


The surge in online videos for business is continuing unabated. Forrester Research found that video-enhanced websites are 53 percent more likely to appear on the first page of Google search results, while Eloqua reports that press releases containing a video clip generate 500 percent added views. Video sales letters, which combine the power of the written word with the heightened audio and video capabilities of the web, have become a new tool for both lead generating and direct selling efforts.


Apply classic selling strategies

In a video sales letter, a narrator reads the entire copy of a sales promotion while the text appears on the screen one sentence at a time in exact synchronization. "The combination of being able to see the words and hear the words at the same time is almost hypnotic," says Tim Genster, owner of WebPowerLocal, a Trumbull, Connecticut-based marketing company. "You simply have to watch and listen, and that's very engaging."


Unlike web series that rely on continuing storylines and recurring characters to make a sales pitch in an indirect or low-key way, video sales letters are more straightforward. They adhere to the same kind of structure and selling techniques found in a direct-response sales letter. "I always tell people to build three tips into video sales letters," says Genster. "It demonstrates your knowledge of whatever the problem or challenge you're helping your customer with. Then, simply communicate the solution you can provide and include some proof."


For example, Genster wrote a 40-minute video sales letter that identified the problem of chronic lower back pain and offered a breakthrough solution for alleviating it—a classic direct mail formula. For the direct sale of digital products that cost $100 or more, Genster allots about 35 to 40 minutes to tell the story and issue the call to action.


"Videos are inviting, easy for the consumer, and rank higher in search results," Genster says. "If your website doesn't have a video sales letter but your competitor does, chances are that you are not going to get the business. They're that vital."


Write a strong script

After you decide on the purpose of your video sales letter and the action that you want the viewer to take, the next step is to develop a logically structured, compelling script.


"You've got to know what you want to sell first—the benefits and the unique selling proposition—then focus on fleshing out that script into something that [the marketer] would be comfortable saying face-to-face with one of their prospects," says Eric Wagner, co-founder of i7 Marketing, a Rogue River, Oregon-based marketing company. "Then you can bring the visual element into it."


For small businesses that want to produce their own video sales letters in-house, software such as Camtasia Studio can help even first-timers produce simple but effective pieces. Wagner warns that it's critical to avoid rookie mistakes, such as not synching the audio and visual elements or forgetting to put in a clear call to action.


Marketers need to find a speaker with the right amount of enthusiasm to make the script come alive and sound natural. "You really want to make sure you're capturing the excitement for whatever product or solution you're presenting," says Brandy Hughes, i7's marketing coordinator. "You want the listener to walk away thinking, 'Why would I not buy this?'"



Marketers can also recycle portions of their video sales letters to generate more interest. For example, Hughes says that snippets can be put on your business website or highlighted in the company e-zine with a link to the complete video. Wagner and Hughes have found that a video sales letter generally pulls $3 to $4 in sales for every $1 that a static page produces. "A video sales letter really provides the avenue for a closer connection with your prospects and customers than other email or traditional advertising methods might provide," Wagner says.


Control the message

With print and email sales letters, the prospect decides whether to skim or read your message word for word. But in a video sales letter, the marketer is in charge of the experience. "You're able to lay out your sales argument in a way that [the prospect] is not able to control," says Russ Henneberry, director of editorial for Digital Marketer, an Austin, Texas-based online entrepreneurial community. "They can't stop or pause or fast forward or rewind the video."   


Henneberry says that video sales letters generally do better when they begin automatically—the so-called auto play function—rather than making the viewer push a 'play' button, and that 12 to 24 minutes is an ideal length. "In a 20-minute video, the 'buy' button might not pop until 18 minutes in," Henneberry explains. "We found that things convert better when you wait until you've made all your points and built all your social proof and then you're ready to make your offer."


If a prospect decides to leave the video before it has finished, Henneberry will occasionally have a pop-up box appear with a sales argument that doesn't appear until later in the video or news about a bonus that is revealed toward the end of the sales message—anything that might hold the viewer and keep them watching.


"We think the reason that video sales letters are beating traditional sales letters almost every time is because you can control the sequence of the message," Henneberry says. "There's something rhythmic and comforting about watching words go across the screen."


Equity_for_Cash_body.jpgby Iris Dorbian.


It's the classic conundrum for small business owners when meeting with investors: How much equity should they offer potential backers? Further, how do they calculate this figure based on business valuation?


For startups that lack profit margins or a set revenue model, this can be a formidable challenge. The problem here, says Panu Keski-Pukkila, CEO and co-founder of Caktus, a startup that recently netted $200,000 in seed funding, is determining a fair market valuation of a business that's still early-stage.


"It's more like an art form than a by-the-book process," explains Keski-Pukkila whose business provides solutions to help people drink enough water. “Neither startups nor investors often have a solid, fact-based number for the valuation. Investors who have done several seed investments have a gut feeling as they compare the startup to the ones they have invested in. Early-stage startups often have no customers or revenue, and that is why much of the evaluation is based on the team, idea and market opportunity.”


Establishing the equity stake might boil down to simple mathematics, notes Ben Hertzog, president and CEO of Procyrion, a Houston-based medical device startup that recently received $2.9 million in funding.


"What's the valuation that's going to support attractive returns for that investor?" he asks. "And how long is it going to take to do that?"


How then can small business owners meeting with investors decide how much equity to offer that would be worthwhile to both parties? Below are some tips.


Decide on how much you need

Before you phone a potential backer asking for a meeting, determine how much capital you need and for what purpose. Whether it's for product development, personnel hiring or any other incentive, it's imperative that you settle on a figure that will help you achieve these critical milestones. Scrutinize your expenses and your cash flow and then set your funding target. That should give you an idea of the percentage stake to offer investors.


Equity_for_Cash_PQ.jpgKeski-Pukkila agrees, offering a hypothetical example:


“If the valuation is $2 million and I need $400,000 to build the product, then I need to give out 20 percent of the company,” he explains. “It might sound like a big chunk, but I need to make it clear that usually the first round investors get the biggest bang for their buck. If things start going well, the valuation will be higher in the next round and I don't need to give out that much equity to get the same or even bigger amount of funding.”


For entrepreneurs worried about giving away too much equity early on, Keski-Pukkila has a caveat.


“Entrepreneurs need to accept the fact that they will get diluted, no matter what,” he says.


Hertzog concurs, adding that entrepreneurs need to be realistic about their options when negotiating equity stakes with investors.


“Put yourselves in the shoes of the investor and think about the risks,” he urges. “What are the returns that make sense? In our world, for instance, the venture investor has a portfolio and I think a lot of them subscribe to the belief that a third of their deals are going to fail outright—they won't get any money back; a third of their deals they may get their money back but little return and the last third of their deals they'll make a good return.”


Don't inflate your business valuation

When meeting with potential investors, it might be tempting for anxious small business owners to inflate figures to help score funding. That would be a mistake with far-reaching consequences, insists Keski-Pukkila.


“If the company does not perform up to the expectations the valuation demands, it will have problems raising the next round,” he cautions. “If the company is valued at $2 million in the seed round but during the next funding round, seasoned investors value it below that amount, it means the company will have to settle for a "down-round,” [which is when businesses receive investments at a lower valuation than previous funding rounds]. That's why pushing inflated valuation figures will come back to haunt the entrepreneur eventually.”


To avoid this strategic error, Keski-Pukkila advises business owners to listen to interested investors.


“Start negotiations from the number they state,” he says. “Often investors try to ask a valuation figure from the entrepreneur first. This is because they'd like to get an idea of whether the entrepreneur is in the ballpark with his figures. Also, it's a nice opportunity for the investor if the entrepreneur significantly undervalues their startup.” Still, good investors don't typically try to undervalue a company since they want to provide incentive for the entrepreneurs as well and make a fair deal, he adds.


Determine if you really need the funding

Do an appraisal of your company's fiscal health. Is your business in a state where you feel comfortable offering investors a significant stake in it?


Also, determine if an equity stake is really the proper way to raise money. If the need for significant cash is urgent, then perhaps offering equity to investors is a viable proposition. But be careful. If your business is doing well, you might not want to surrender equity so easily.


“I heard an investor once say that when startups have a sufficient amount of money, equity should be treated as really valuable,” recounts Keski-Pukkila. “It's the last thing they want to give out.

Disclaimer: Since the details of your situation are unique, you should always seek the services of a qualified professional for advice specific to your business.

Using_Recommendations_body.jpgBy Erin O’Donnell.

A satisfied customer is one of the best marketing tools around. Small business owners can harness the power of positive word-of-mouth by asking their biggest fans directly for a recommendation.

The best testimonials are created with good timing and specific questions about your customer’s experience, say small business experts. The most effective results come from putting them where they can influence potential new customers and clients.

“It helps every kind of business to have a real person in front of you saying, ‘These guys are the real deal,’” says Paul Schwada, owner of Locomotive Solutions, a business consultancy based in Chicago.

Testimonials work for the same reasons that social media helps brand awareness and loyalty: people trust recommendations from other customers more than the company’s own marketing. That’s what Forrester Research found last year in a consumer survey about branded content. In that poll, 70 percent of respondents—U.S. adults who go online—said they trust brand or product recommendations from friends and family. Just under half (46 percent) trust online reviews written by other consumers. Only one in 10 said they trust online advertising.

Don’t be afraid to ask

The good news is that recommendations are not difficult to get. Every business has its cheerleaders—top customers, clients, and admirers who would be happy to recommend its services or products.

“If you’ve built a rapport with clients, you know which ones are approachable,” says Maciej Fita, director of search engine optimization for Brandignity, an inbound marketing firm in Naples, Florida.

Fita says he likes to ask once and let a client consider the request. If he doesn’t get a response, he doesn’t push. But Schwada recommends soliciting testimonials when customers are at the peak of satisfaction.

“The moment they recognize the satisfaction and the value of your company is the best possible moment to ask,” he says. “It could be a bouquet that they loved, or a service that worked right.”

And businesses should have a mechanism in place to collect that feedback right away, Schwada adds. If you’re on the phone with a client when you ask for a testimonial, send an email at that moment for them to respond to. Or direct them to an online survey.

In person, it can be even easier to get an immediate response, which you can then reshape into a testimonial. Schwada recommends having a smartphone recorder ready when asking a customer to explain what they appreciated about their experience with your company. It’s better, he says, than bothering them to write it down.

Fita says video testimonials are growing in popularity, too. Try asking clients or customers you see regularly in person if they would sit for a short video interview.

Using_Recommendations_PQ.jpgListen for positive comments that could be cultivated into a testimonial, Schwada says, and be sure to coach your employees to do the same. When a customer says something positive, ask if he or she would be willing to have their comments crafted into a testimonial. Track positive comments on Facebook and Twitter and consider reaching out to those consumers as well.

You can also offer a premium, such as a free consultation, gift, or coupon, in exchange for a testimonial. Fita says even though it’s more like a transaction, it’s unlikely that a displeased customer would give false positive feedback.

The more detail, the better

Once you’ve figured out how to ask, the next step is figuring out what to ask. What aspects of your business do you want the testimonial to promote?

Business coach Katya Barry, who specializes in working with female entrepreneurs, advises business owners to craft a few questions that will get clients thinking in specifics. “People are often open to doing them but don’t always know what to say apart from ‘You’re great, and I’ll recommend you.’”

To elicit a richer recommendation, consider asking:

  • What was it like before you used my service or product?
  • Why did you choose to work/shop with me?
  • For services: what progress have you made during our time together?
  • What specific feature did you like the best?
  • What were your results from using our product/service?
  • What was it like working with me? Feel free to describe my personal and professional qualities.
  • How would you recommend my services or products to others?

These interviews can also give you insight about how well you’re achieving your own business goals, Barry says.

It’s okay to reshape what your customer says so that it reads well. Just be sure to keep it in his or her voice, or it won’t sound genuine.

George Aspland, president of eVision, a web marketing and design firm in Connecticut, says a well-placed testimonial can have a direct effect on sales. “They can make a difference in the conversion rate on a website, particularly among people who may not know anything about you other than what’s on the site,” he says.

Aspland recommends placing testimonials on website pages where customers are deciding whether to buy a product or use your services. He also recommends asking top clients to serve as references for your company.

“A big part of our sales process is to have a prospective customer talk to one of our happy customers,” Aspland says.

Don’t overlook online reviews

Aspland says online reviews can drive people to your website in two ways. Good reviews on sites such as Yelp can produce leads, and getting customers to review you on Google+ can improve your search engine rankings.

Fita says Google+ reviews are especially good for driving traffic to brick and mortar businesses through local search results. Business pages with reviews are ranked higher in search results, he says. And if your business has received negative feedback online, the best response is getting people to post positive comments that show up ahead of the negative ones.

A caveat: if you solicit online reviews, ask for only a few at a time, Aspland says. The review sites may flag a batch of reviews that come in all at the same time as inauthentic.

Aspland recommends business owners ask for either a testimonial or an online review, but not both. Determine which suits your strategy better, and then start identifying whom to ask. It’s a simple and effective way to turn satisfied customers into ambassadors for your brand.

Using_Video_body.jpgBy Jennifer Shaheen.

Nearly everyone knows that the world’s biggest search engine is Google. But which company is in the No. 2 spot? Many people are surprised to discover that honor belongs to YouTube.


Digital Sherpa, a content marketing agency, has done research that reveals a third of all time spent online is spent watching video. YouTube reports that more than one billion people visit the site each month, viewing more than six billion hours of video.

“These numbers can be both exciting and overwhelming for the small business owner,” says Karyn Buxman, who researches, speaks, and writes about the impact of emotional states on physical health and effective leadership style. “On one hand, there’s obviously a huge interest for video. But with so many out there, how can the video you’re making to promote your business possibly stand out?”

The odds are seemingly rough enough to make any small business owner think twice about trying video marketing, but that’s a mistake, according to Buxman. “Strategically creating and sharing videos takes effort, but it’s worth it,” she says. “Video content is memorable. It helps you or your products take up some prime territory in your customer’s mind—especially if you use humor.”

Brevity is critical for video marketing success

If you want people to watch your small business videos, keep them brief. “Viewers have short attention spans, so keep your videos as short as possible, preferably under two minutes,” says Jonathan Stefansky, co-founder and CEO of, a company that produces call to action and email forms that can be embedded in video marketing campaigns. “Marketing videos don’t need to be professionally produced to be effective, but it is important that they are entertaining, educational, and that the quality is as good as possible.”

As a rule of thumb, the longer the video is, the higher the viewer’s expectations of production values will be. Camera shake and less than perfect focus might be intolerable in a six-minute YouTube video, but go completely unnoticed in a six-second VINE video.

Using_Video_PQ.jpgCreate strong Calls to Action

”As a business owner, you should have specific goals you’re trying to reach with your videos,” says Buxman. “There’s an entire journey you’re taking your viewers on. First you have to capture their attention, then you show them something compelling, leading them to the point where they want to do business with you right now.”

Strong calls to action are essential, according to Stefansky. “Having people watch your video is nice, but if your viewers don’t take action afterwards, then you’ve lost an opportunity to make a new sale or lead.” Be sure to end your video by telling viewers what you want them to do next, he says.

For instance, if you want them to call and book an appointment, put that phone number front and center, advises Buxman. “If you want them to buy a product, give them an easy way to do that,” she adds. “Simplicity sells.”

Be sure to promote your video

The final component to effective video marketing is effective promotion. What movies are box office hits? “Often it’s the ones with the biggest ad campaigns,” Buxman said. “When you’re asking someone to give you three minutes of their attention, they want to know that it’s going to be worth it.” The most compelling form of video promotion is the number of views a video already has, she adds. “If 25,000 people have watched a video, you’re going to get viewers who watch it simply to see what the fuss is all about.”

“Be sure to share your video across all your social media networks, on your website, and with your email list,” advises Stefansky. Over 40 percent of all videos are watched on mobile devices, which makes social media one of the most logical places to promote your videos. “Consider running ads on Facebook or YouTube to promote your video to your precise target audience” Stefansky says. Both Facebook and YouTube ads can be targeted by age, geographic location, and interests.


“Finally, don’t be afraid to reach out to the people in your networks,” Buxman says. “Ask them to watch your video, and if they like it or find it to be of value, to share it with their friends.” She has found this approach to work particularly well in professional networks, such as LinkedIn. “When you give people the chance to be the source of useful information, or at least a few laughs, they’ll take advantage of it by sharing it with their friends.”


Davis_QA_body.jpgby Robert Lerose.


Providing useful, relevant content to your prospects and customers is a key strategy for building loyalty and igniting sales. But partnering with other marketers and going after the same audiences jointly can take your content strategy to new heights. In his book Brandscaping, Andrew Davis—co-founder of Tippingpoint Labs, a Newton, Massachusetts-based company that develops strategic content for all kinds of brands—shows how unconventional partnerships can help small businesses break through information overload and open up new markets. Business writer Robert Lerose spoke with Davis about how shared content can become the new currency for acquiring and retaining customers and strengthening brands. 


RL: You define brandscaping as "a marketing methodology that enables you to leverage content as an asset instead of treating it as an expense." What is the difference between this and content marketing?

AD: The main difference is that you can leverage the content of others and you don't have to do it yourself. Most content marketing today is treated as if the organization has to create it on their own to be successful. There's so much content out there already. Brands could do more to work with other content creators that already have access to the audiences the brands are looking for.


RL: How does a small business partner with outside content creators?

AD: It's really about reaching out to those people on a very personal level and building a relationship with them, even in the offline world. For example, if somebody has a blog about best places to eat or is creating a YouTube video about home improvement and they're touching on topics that your audience should have access to, the best thing you can do is lead your audience to that content to show that you value it.


RL: You say that the solution for information overload is to deliver higher quality content that is relevant to your audience. How do you do that?

AD: First, think about what you can do today that makes you more relevant to your audience. Second, think about the times in your audience's life when you can really make an impact and provide them with one piece of relevant information at the right time. Emails are an under-utilized and overlooked tool. If you can send your audience one piece of valuable information once a week that makes their lives better, you're going to be much more successful in the long run than just bombarding them with commodity content that can be found anywhere or isn't relevant to your brand.



RL: Some businesses send a weekly or monthly ezine with a mix of articles and a short plug for the business at the end. Is that a good example of relevancy?

AD: It might be, but generally those things are too broad and aren't clear about exactly why they're relevant. Most email newsletters [have] a series of links to content that your audience is supposed to consume, but they're really not that valuable. They're not targeted to make a big enough impact.


RL: So it might be better to send a regularly scheduled email with one good actionable idea rather than an ezine with five short pieces that jump from point to point?

AD: Yes. For example, if you can send your audience an email every Friday at lunchtime that they find valuable—maybe it makes them a better employee or a better person or a better homeowner—you're going to cut through that information overload and be part of the information your audience wants to consume. You brand the emails in a way that the audience knows what to expect. Taking an audience first approach is much more successful.


RL: You say that each business should have a core value statement. What is that? How does it differ from a mission statement?

AD: I always think of a mission statement or vision statement as corporate focused. You can even fill in the blanks: "At our company BLANK, we believe that BLANK. That is why we BLANK." A core value statement is audience focused. I just met a small business owner in Tulsa, Oklahoma who installs siding on houses. His value statement says that he believes the homeowner should know what's going on at their house every day he's on the job. So he sends a video update every single day to let the homeowner know what he's doing. All of a sudden, the value to me as a customer is very clear.


RL: It's almost like talking about benefits rather than features.

AD: Yes. Too many people talk about features and functions when it comes to their business and marketing. Consumers don't care about the features and functions unless they understand that you're solving a real problem in their lives. Think about any housework you've ever had done. Your unstated concerns are: "There's going to be five people in my house while I'm at work. Can I trust them? What are they working on? Did they even show up today?" So this small business owner in Oklahoma positioned himself as someone who is addressing that unstated concern and differentiating himself in a unique and smart way. The core value statement really shines through.


RL: How do you work out a compensation agreement with partners? Is there a standard model?

AD: There are two different kinds. One easy way is to ask yourself: Who has my next customer as their current customer? Let's say you're working with another company who already has access to the customers you think might be a good source of new leads or new business. [Tell that company] that you create great content that you think their audience would like. Share that content so you both have something of value to add to the audience's lives. You trade content as a commodity instead of currency.


RL: And the second model?

AD: If you're going to talk about money exchanging hands, it comes down to the value of the audience—even if it's only 10 people—minus the content. For example, if you sell a $1 million widget and having access to those 10 people might net you $10 million, then all of a sudden that audience is very valuable and so is the content. [What are you willing to give up] for access to that audience? There's no hard and fast rule. The best brandscapes work when it's a commitment to the long-term success of both partners and you're working toward growing both of your businesses in a real concrete way.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Relocating_SB_body.jpgby Iris Dorbian.


When Kreigh Knerr decided to relocate his then two-year-old SAT and ACT student tutoring service (which he'd later brand Knerr Learning Center) from Massachusetts’ North Shore area to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 2009, he was motivated by one urgent factor—market  competition.


"While I had many competitors in Massachusetts, because top test scorers flock to universities there, such as Harvard and Northeastern, I had very few in Wisconsin," says Knerr, a former teacher. And because expenses are comparatively lower in Wisconsin as opposed to Massachusetts, Knerr found it much easier to transition his business to a brick and mortar model.


Six years later, Knerr says his business is thriving. He operates two offices in southeastern Wisconsin and has the support of another regular staffer and five contractors. Also, without the constant worry about local rivals he has been able to concentrate on developing and launching SAT and ACT prep mobile apps. 


Knerr's relocation of his small business was a strategic decision that ultimately improved his company's bottom line. But such a bold move might not be right for every small business owner. We spoke with some entrepreneurs who have relocated their businesses to see how they’ve fared. Read on for their advice if you're seriously contemplating making your own move.


Consider the market where you want to move

Just as Knerr carefully thought through the advantages of relocating to a different market, so too should you if you're mulling over the possibility of a move. Don't be impulsive and pick a destination without weighing the pros and cons. Not only will the change affect your business but also your personal lifestyle as well.


For David Landis, owner of, an ecommerce site that sells rock and roll-inspired apparel and accessories, the decision to move from Los Angeles, where he had lived for 19 years, back to his hometown of Albuquerque earlier this year, was a simple decision.


With the standard of living being far less expensive in Albuquerque than in L.A. “it made sense to relocate,” explains Landis.


But there were other factors at play behind the move.


“I'm comfortable being in Albuquerque not just because I'm from here but because there's a good feel here for what I do,” he continues. “There is a clientele here for what I do based on the fact that I've gotten quite a few orders from this area.”


And, with Albuquerque being a far smaller market than L.A., there is less fierce competition and more opportunities to establish visibility in the local market.


“I am reaching out to work with some businesses locally, which is a lot easier to do in Albuquerque than it is in L.A. because there everything is corporate owned,” he says. “Albuquerque isn't like that. [For instance], I was able to approach a radio station that's fairly new to the market and it's just a really good fit. We're working on doing some co-branding stuff where RockerRags can co-brand [with the radio station] and they can promote RockerRags to their audience.”



Do your research

Just because the town or city you're eyeing for a possible move seems, on the surface, less expensive than your current location, doesn't automatically mean it will be a good fit. There are some questions to ask first: Is there a need for your product or line of business in the area? Also, is it receptive to small businesses? Does local press do an effective job covering small businesses? Does the town or city offer small business tax incentives?


Over 20 years ago, Dr. Vanessa Weaver, CEO of Alignment Strategies, a small management consulting firm with a then five-member staff (now it's 10), relocated from L.A. to Washington D.C.. Weaver was intent on growing her business, and identified the federal government as a new and viable market with significant revenue potential.


“Given the complexities of contracting with the federal government, it was determined that Alignment Strategies would need to relocate to the hub of Washington, D.C. so that we could invest in cultivating relationships within those federal agencies targeted for business,” she relates. “Also, our analysis indicated that most of our clients were either based on the East coast or in the Midwest. Thus, it made the logic for this decision even more compelling since it facilitated quicker and cheaper access to our clients.”


In hindsight, Weaver hails her decision to relocate as “one of the best business decisions I made.” Since the move, Weaver says she has even coached and consulted with clients, both small and large, when it comes to relocating their businesses.


Expect delays or initial setbacks

You may be confident that the new geographic location of your business is ideal based on careful scrutiny of the market's standard of living and culture, but don't presume the move will be seamless or come without hurdles. Just because you have acclimated to living and working in a new area, doesn't mean your vendors and customers will immediately adapt to the change. Be patient. Expect some glitches early on.


Even though his business is online, RockerRags' Landis still had to contend with a few snags after he moved from L.A. to Albuquerque.


“[During the transition], the biggest issue was getting the orders fulfilled quickly,” admits Landis. “I had to keep reminding myself and my vendors not to send them to the L.A. address, although a couple of them did go there. Inventory would sometime be delayed and have to be rerouted. But other than that, business just continued its natural ebb and flow because the website never came down.”


For Knerr, the immediate effect of his move from Massachusetts to Wisconsin was far more profound and unsettling. According to him, he experienced a significant (over 50 percent) drop in clientele during his first two years in Wisconsin. Knerr attributes the slump to his industry being based on word-of-mouth referrals. “I moved from a region where everyone knew about my company's value to one where I had no professional reputation,” he recalls.


However, business eventually rebounded to the point that Knerr now says his company has a waiting list for its services.


"I turn away as many as 200 clients a year," he says. "So, my business has more than doubled, and the mobile apps, which the move allowed me to develop, made up 25 percent of my fourth quarter income in 2013."


Whether it's getting an edge in market competition, taking advantage of lower costs and taxes, or opting for a more suitable lifestyle, relocating your small business could be the key to further growth. However, before you pack up your belongings, do your due diligence to determine how a move can benefit your business in the short- and long-term.

It is so easy to get caught up in all of the latest and greatest marketing strategies that you might forget the tried-and-true. Sure, social media marketing is powerful and affordable, and yes, mobile marketing is the “Next Big Thing.” But that said, digital marketing is not the only game in town. Plenty of small businesses still use good, old-fashioned advertising to get business.


That’s because it works. Whether it is an advertisement on television or radio, a billboard, or an ad on a website, advertising remains one of the great ways to get people in the door.


However, that’s only true if you do it right. If you don’t, it can be a big waste of time and money. I once consulted for a company whose Director of Marketing put a full-page ad in a national magazine – without consulting his partners. That $100,000 ad almost put them out of business.


So, let’s avoid avoidable mistakes. Here are the top five:


1. Not properly targeting the market. Who is your target customer? If, for instance, you own a skateboard shop, that is an easy question to answer. It might be tougher, however, for an auto body shop.


But both still have to answer the question. Many small businesses have a vague notion of whom their customers are (age, income, schooling, and so on) but without really knowing the answer, all advertising efforts will be nothing but a crapshoot.


On the other hand, if you know that your desired demographic is, for example, new moms aged 24 to 39, then that gives you a huge advantage. You can then find media sources that cater to that exact demographic and advertise there. The likelihood of getting your message in front of the right person dramatically increases the more you can specifically identify that person and then zone-in on the media outlets that target them.Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png


2. Not having a large enough budget. One of the great things today is that there are many ways to advertise on the cheap. Pay-per-click ads are a perfect example.


But, if your strategy is to advertise in more traditional media, then let me tell you the key to success: Repetition is the key, repetition is the key, repetition is the key.


The only way to get that repetition in advertising is to buy it. It is a waste of money to play small ball in this case. You simply must get your message out there often enough that it sinks in.


The other thing to consider is that there may be other, “hidden” costs when it comes to advertising. For instance, you may have to hire a graphic designer to create the ad, or employ a photographer or videographer. So the important thing is to budget appropriately.


3. Having a bad headline. Make your headline pop. This is, of course, the first thing that people read, hear, or see.


So, you have to come up with an initial pitch (the “headline”) that is catchy and clever, and makes people want to know more. That’s its job. Just think - “The Lazy Man’s Guide to Riches” would have a lot more pull than “The Expert’s Guide to Direct Marketing Success.”

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


4. Creating a bad ad. Once your headline pulls them in, your ad must create some sort of desire on their part; a desire that your business can fulfill. That is why “Sale!” is so effective in advertising; people have the desire to save money. Or eat organic peaches. Or go to Hawaii.


A good ad will make people seek out your business, product or service.  


5. Having no compelling call to action. A great ad makes people do something – check out the website, find the store, make a call, etc. That comes from the so-called “Call to Action.” A call to action can be found almost anywhere in the ad, be it the headline or in the last line. Whatever the case, the point is the same: It makes people take action. For example, a call to action might be


  • “Quantities are limited.”
  • “Mention this ad for a 15% discount.”
  • “Sale ends Sunday.”


I think the best way to remember what a good ad looks like is to remember “AIDA”: Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action. First you grab their Attention, then you get them Interested in what you are selling and get them to Desire it. Finally, you have a call to Action.


If you create an AIDA ad and avoid these five mistakes, the results should indeed be profitable for you and your business.

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

Outsource_Social_Media_body.jpgBy Jennifer Shaheen.

Social media is an increasingly important and effective marketing tool to connect with today’s customers. But is it better to handle this function of your business in-house, relying on your team’s creative and communication skills, or is it better to bring in a third party to handle the job?

Answering that question depends a lot on your business’s needs and your team’s capabilities. Here are some factors to keep in mind while you’re making your choice:


Advantages of outsourcing social media

One reason to outsource your social media marketing is to get better results. “Business owners don't always understand how to leverage social media to grow their businesses,” says Susan Payton, president of Egg Marketing & Communications, a content marketing and social media management firm based in San Diego. “Outsourcing means these businesses get professionals who understand the medium and can build a strategy around it.”

Crystal Dempsey, owner of From The Hip Communications, a content and social media marketing company based in Charlotte, North Carolina, says that as a small business owner, she realizes she can’t do everything herself. “I use contractors to do my taxes and to handle graphic design,” she says. “A smart social media marketer will put the small business owner on the right channel and develop strategies and use tactics that will increase sales, enhance customer loyalty, and grow brand awareness.”

One of the most common reasons business owners choose to outsource social media is the lack of time to devote to the job. Managing social media can be incredibly time consuming, explains Julia Campbell, founder of J Campbell Social Marketing, a nonprofit communications and digital marketing consultancy based in Beverly, Mass. “It involves research, writing, editing, formatting, finding photos and videos, developing content, posting, monitoring, measurement, and reporting,” she says. “If you are a small business owner overwhelmed with the day to day of running your business, you may want to trust an outside person to manage this for you.”

Outsource_Social_Media_PQ.jpgAdvantages of keeping social media in house

The three primary advantages of keeping social media in house are creative control, cost savings, and responsiveness. “No one knows your business better than you do,” says Dempsey. “Also, doing it in house allows for nimble moves. Say, you own a dog grooming salon and on Tuesday afternoon, you notice that you have a lot of openings and plenty of staff on hand for Thursday. You can use social media to try to fill that appointment book with a special offer for that day.”

When it comes to posting something fun about your business on Instagram, you might find that it takes an outside person 24 hours to post a photo, even though it's always best posted in the moment, says Campbell.

Try a mixed approach

One thing the experts do agree on: Social media management doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing endeavor, where you either do everything yourself or hand off all responsibility to a social media management company. “There's always a middle path,” Payton says. “I know business owners that want to Tweet when they have something to share, but rely on social media professionals to maintain consistency and stay on point for strategy.”

One area to consider keeping in house is customer service, according to Dempsey. “If you have a social media presence, customers will use it to praise, ask questions, or criticize. The business owner and employees know how to work with their specific questions.”

Do your homework before hiring a social media professional

If you choose to hire a company to handle some or all of your social media management, be selective and take the time to research the company before you commit to a working relationship.

“You should never hire someone who says they are an ‘expert’ or a ‘guru",’ warns Campbell. “Social media and online community managers realize that the field is changing so rapidly that none of us can seriously be experts. We can have expertise and experience, and we can know what we are doing.”

Another important aspect of hiring is making sure the person has social media expertise in your industry. “Different industries use different platforms, and the ways they use them may vary from one field to another,” Payton says. “It's one thing to get people to follow you. It's another thing entirely to get the right people following you and then visiting your site.”

Make sure your prospective social media management company is capable of listening to you. “You want someone who is asking you a lot of questions about your business, your customers, your long term and short term goals, successes, challenges, and competition,” Dempsey says. She also recommends getting three references. “Call these people, don't email them,” she says. “References provide more information and nuance in a phone call.”

Mobile_Businesses_body.jpgby Erin Perry O’Donnell.

Lunch isn’t the only thing you can buy from a truck these days. Entrepreneurs are taking retail and services to the streets, too.

Clothing, shoes, jewelry, even haircuts and flowers are now available from a growing fleet of mobile boutiques, also known as pop-up stores. The American Mobile Retail Association (AMRA) estimates more than 500 non-food trucks are in business nationwide—about five times more than there were in 2011.

The overwhelming majority of these mobile businesses sell clothing, shoes, and accessories, but others deal in vintage items, pet products, kitchen and housewares, beauty products, and novelty gifts. There are some very narrow fashion niches, too. On the East Coast, the Arden Reed Tailor Truck totes around a 3D body scanner to custom-fit men’s suits in less than 10 minutes. Mobile shops for bathing suits and shoes are popping up, too.

AMRA co-founder Stacey Steffe says mobile businesses are more than a trend—they represent a new business model. The average startup cost is relatively low, around $20,000, and so is overhead. All you need to process transactions is a tablet or smartphone. And mobility makes it much easier to target customers, Steffe says.

“I’ve been able to take my own truck into locations I could never afford to have a brick and mortar store,” Steffe says. “I get to have a presence in these areas but not have to pay the premium.”


Hitting the road

Steffe started her business, Le Fashion Truck, in Los Angeles in January 2011 with partner Jeanine Romo. They met as fellow vendors at an arts and crafts market. At the time, food trucks were all the rage, and the partners thought that also seemed like a good template for selling clothes and accessories. Soon their little pink truck was rolling through Los Angeles selling clothing by emerging designers, handmade jewelry, handbags, and accessories, most with price points under $100. Steffe says she keeps her prices affordable because shoppers don’t expect to pay much for items they’re buying off a truck.

“We were all so new at the time that a lot of events didn’t know what to do with us,” Steffe says. “We had tried joining a food truck association, and they denied us because we weren’t selling food. We liked what they were doing, so we banded together.”

They also inspired other vendors across the country. Emily Benson had been working in merchandising for a number of years when she was laid off in 2011. By June, she was piloting The Fashion Truck through the streets of Boston.

About half of mobile retailers are first-time business owners like Benson. The truck seemed like a reasonable risk, she says. “I was scared to open a brick and mortar store,” Benson adds. “But I figured a truck would be more doable because I wouldn’t have to find a location to rent.”

Mobile_Businesses_PQ.jpgSetting up shop

Retail trucks have flourished at special events and open-air markets. They’re also in demand for booking at private parties and corporate events. Steffe says the first thing mobile merchants must do is learn the law for every city where they plan to do business. In L.A., for instance, retail trucks cannot park on public streets. In nearby Santa Monica, they can, but only if they have a peddler’s permit.

Jenifer Kaplan sets up The Flower Truck outside hospitals, graduations, and even real estate open houses in the Los Angeles area. The Original Mobile Barbershop, also in southern California, sometimes arranges to park near military bases.

Benson says the novelty factor drives a lot of business. When people see the truck, she says, they feel compelled to stop in before she drives away. “The truck is super targeted. My customer is already there. She doesn’t have to try that hard to come in,” Benson says.

Kaplan, who sells fresh-cut bouquets from The Flower Truck, says she looks for areas with a lot of foot traffic. She started on Valentine’s Day in 2011 with a 1971 Dodge truck she bought for $1,000.

“Out of the gate I had an unbelievably positive response,” she says.

Social media plays a critical role in mobile retail. Customers rely on Facebook and Twitter updates to find the trucks. Steffe says mobile retail is highly visual, and business owners use a lot of photos to promote the arrival of new merchandise.

Collaborative effort

As they gain a following, some trucks are able to set up a “residency,” parking in the same spot on certain days, to make it easier for customers to find them. Steffe says many trucks benefit from doing this as a business-to-business collaboration. Setting up outside a salon or hotel, for instance, can help those businesses draw customers and raise the truck’s profile at the same time. Le Fashion Truck has a regular event every second Friday of the month in West Los Angeles. Last year, Benson had a standing weekly arrangement in Boston’s financial district.

Many mobile merchants have also discovered the benefits of banding together with other trucks. Steffe says most trucks are so specialized that collaboration is complementary, not competitive.

“It creates a fun shopping environment,” she says. “Customers say, ‘I’m going to buy something from every single truck.’ I love when trucks collaborate; we’ve done that ever since another truck came out in our town.”

Branching out

Some mobile retailers have used their trucks as a springboard to launch a broader brand. Kaplan offers licensing for other entrepreneurs to start their own version of The Flower Truck. The turnkey package comes with an outfitted truck, use of The Flower Truck trademark and brand identity, online marketing, and a social media presence.

Others have parlayed their success back into a traditional brick and mortar store. Benson admits she had mixed feelings about it. “I didn’t want to be stuck in one place,” she says. But a space opened up at a location she loved in her hometown of Westford, Massachusetts, so she debuted The Fashion Truck on Main last November.

The boutique is a different income model, Benson says. She can stay open more days a week, but there are days she doesn’t make any money. Still, she likes that she can spend more time with customers in the store to help women style their look. On the truck, she sells something every time she goes out. That’s how she built the capital to open the boutique, a goal that many mobile merchants have from the start. But Benson says it also gave her something else: “I needed the truck to give me the confidence that I could have a store.”

Second_Acts_body.jpgby Robert Lerose.

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said, "There are no second acts in American lives." Yet there are countless examples of people who have encountered major setbacks in their careers, overcame those early derailments, and achieved new victories. Many entrepreneurs who have gone through the fire often say that they gained greater insights from their failures than their successes. We talked with three business owners about how to emerge triumphantly from defeat and the hard-won wisdom they acquired.


Look for shared values

After working with the Clinton Health Access Initiative on vaccines in Rwanda and Malawi, Kathryn Minshew co-founded a networking site for professional women. Minshew took no salary as CEO and bankrolled the small payroll with her own money. Less than one year later, the situation turned "toxic" between Minshew and some founding members of the leadership team as they began to have divisive disagreements about the direction of the company.


"When you go into business with people, I think first-time business owners take a lot of things on faith," Minshew says. "You assume other people will react the same way that you do. As long as the agreement is clearly in writing—even though you don't have a legal contract for everything—all parties will stick to it. I saw that not everyone in business operates with the same values and ethics that you do."


As things deteriorated further—the company website was moved and team members were locked out of their email accounts—Minshew felt like she had let everyone down. After some soul searching, she and one of the original founding members decided to leave and try their business concept again. The entire staff from her "failed" venture who supported Minshew during the breakup of the leadership team went with them.


In September 2011, they launched The Daily Muse—known today as The Muse—an online career development platform that gives career advice, job listings, and company profiles. The reboot has garnered positive media attention and has over one million monthly users. Not surprisingly, the sobering experience informed Minshew's perspective and management style.


"As a [first-time] business owner, the biggest mistake I made was not having most of the arrangement drawn up by a lawyer," Minshew says. "It changed the way we deal with people and enter into partnerships now. We're much more careful about not working with people for whom there is a sense that we don't share values."


Be candid about failure

There is a natural tendency to forget about a failure and simply move on—but experts say that acknowledging a setback and analyzing it in the open are essential steps before preparing for your next venture.


"It may be talking with other business owners and getting feedback from them by asking: 'These are some of the things I did. Do you notice anything I did incorrectly?'" says Jeremy Oms, president of New Blood, a California-based company that helps businesses grow through Internet technology.


Being candid with customers—admitting that your product or service is not performing as expected—and soliciting feedback can result in both their support and a potential solution. For example, Oms worked with a client who had created a new deck of high-quality playing cards. But when they came back from the manufacturer, the cards did not live up to the promises of the advertising and generated negative comments from customers. The client was preparing to abandon the product when Oms recommended owning up to the problem and asking customers for their opinion. After one customer suggested tighter quality control, the client followed suit and relaunched the product to great success.


"The one thing to remind yourself is that you're not alone," Oms says. "Even though an idea failed, [failure] has happened to countless other people. Every business idea you have is a great learning opportunity that you can take from and try again."



Have patience and move forward

Many entrepreneurs who have faced failure also have an unshakable belief in themselves and the fortitude to never give up. Case in point: Chris Miles was a successful Utah-based businessman who was able to retire at age 28. Six months later, he came out of retirement and started a company with other self-made entrepreneurs to educate people on financial strategies, primarily real estate investors. Miles and his co-founders were also heavily invested in the real estate market.


By 2008, after the real estate sector imploded, Miles was losing $16,000 a month, eventually accumulating $1 million in debt. Unable to access his equity, which was tied up in property, he began selling off his assets, such as his Mercedes, and wondering whether he could make his mortgage payments.


After a neighbor complained to him that he was having trouble with his own finances, Miles got an inspiration during an early morning jog. "I remember thinking about what I would tell him about how to find money," Miles says. "I ran home, went to my computer, and typed up a two-page document of a dozen ways about how to free up cash flow."


Six months later, Miles became more active in putting the new business on its feet. Today, Money Ripples teaches small business owners about ways to become financially independent. Miles has paid back about $900,000 of his debt and says that his business is profitable.


"I learned to really have patience and faith—faith to move forward, to never give up—and to have patience that things can turn around," Miles says. "I learned the importance of self-discipline and controlling your emotions. Those things have been invaluable to me. Even when times look bleak or tough, there is less fear when I encounter challenges. I'm a lot more calm and I'm able to move forward."

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