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Effective_Networking_body.jpgby Robert Lerose.


Small business owners have heard that one of the best ways to drum up new business is to attend networking events. It's true that these activities should be part of your prospecting efforts, but many business people find them uncomfortable or just don't know how to leverage them.


Alice Heiman, a Reno, Nevada-based sales trainer and author of Connecting Your Way to New Business, recommends these effective strategies for making the most of networking events.


1. Network with a goal in mind.

Make a plan in advance about what you want to accomplish at a networking event. Do you want to meet 10 new people? Make personal contact with the speaker? Zero in on a particular member? Decide on one realistic goal and pursue it.


2. Get someone to introduce you.

Attending an event for the first time and trying to connect with unfamiliar people can make anyone nervous. To make it easier, show up with a current member that you already know and let them take you around. Otherwise, call the head of the organization hosting the event and ask them if you could attend as someone's guest. Get in touch with that member beforehand and explain that you'd like them to introduce you to the members.


Effective_Networking_PQ.jpg3. Ask questions and listen.

When you meet someone for the first time, focus the conversation on them and their business—then listen attentively. Look for areas of common interest. Heiman suggests these questions to break the ice: "Have you attended these meetings before?" "I am new to this group. What do you like about belonging?" "Tell me about your business? What do you enjoy most about it?"


4. Have your elevator pitch ready.

Be prepared to describe what you do in 30 seconds if someone asks. Rehearse your answer to sound natural, not scripted. "You need to say something that helps people understand what you do and engages them," Heiman says. For example: "Hi, I am Ben from ABC Bank. I make it easy for small businesses to do their banking." Follow it up with a short success story.


5. Be proactive about staying in touch.

After the event, sort through the business cards you collected and throw out any that aren't relevant. Add the others to your database. Put the name and date of the event and any notes on each card. If you promised to follow up with someone, do so promptly. Stay in touch with potential customers regularly. Sending them a pertinent article or other genuinely useful content—along with a note from you about wanting to work with them—demonstrates your interest in their success.


Following these strategies can help turn a networking event from a burden to an opportunity.

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media Inc. to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media Inc. is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media Inc. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.


Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.


©2015 Bank of America Corporation



Charitable_Giving_body.jpgby Robert Lerose.

With the holiday season upon us, small businesses will once again find their mailboxes overflowing with charitable appeals. A recent report by Blackbaud, a software provider for nonprofits, found that more than one-third of all charitable giving happens in the last three months of the year. That giving really adds up: According to Giving USA Foundation, American corporations and businesses gave over $16 billion in charitable gifts last year. Obviously, every small business wants to ensure that the dollars they donate are used wisely, but how can they evaluate a charity's efficiency? What's a sensible way to choose good causes to support? We asked some fundraising experts to give us their perspective on how small businesses can make informed judgments for doing good.   


Donate your services

While charities are still happy to accept monetary donations, they are also open to other forms of support. "Businesses can think about ways that can bring their own expertise to a particular charity," says Michael Nilsen, vice president of public affairs for the Association of Fundraising Professionals. "I think most charities would love it if an organization came to them and said that they'd like to get more involved."


For example, Nilsen says that many charitable organizations would welcome an overhaul of their website or someone to help them with their social media efforts—services that a small business could provide. Nilsen explains that large national charitable organizations are doing well, but that smaller charities are still recovering from the economic downturn and can use help in many different forms.


Nilsen recommends zeroing in on the issues that matter deeply to the business and to the employees and then find charities that support them. "The charity process gets better when there are more engaged donors and engaged volunteers—as opposed to trying to figure out what's most efficient or most effective—because there's no easy way to measure that," he says. "You could have five different charities working on the same issue and they're probably doing five different things, whether it's research or program implementation. Figure out what's most important to you and focus your giving on that. Find out from employees about organizations that they like, so you've got that engagement started already.”


Use outside ratings agencies

There are a number of services—such as Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, GuideStar, and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance—that provide information about a charity's functions, management, finances, and policies. While some of these services are free, others charge both site users and the charities themselves to be rated.


Charitable_Giving_PQ.jpgSandra Miniutti, vice president of marketing at Charity Navigator, which provides information without charge, recommends looking at three broad areas when investigating a charity. First, see if they spend the bulk of their finances on programs compared to overhead costs. Charity Navigator uses a 75 percent to 25 percent ratio, although smaller or newer charities will likely be spending more to build their support base. A charity that generates more money in each succeeding year and that also maintains a rainy day fund are also positive indicators of a well-run operation.


Second, see if there are outside independent voting members on the board and whether an impartial audit is done annually. Third, look for charities that are making an impact and are willing to share their results in specific metrics.


"When you call them, you want to go beyond just numbers," Miniutti says. "You don't want to just hear that 10 people got placed in jobs this week. You want to know: how long are these people keeping these jobs? How can the charities scale up? What challenges do they face? You want to probe a little deeper beyond just one heartfelt story about one person being helped. We would always encourage donors of any kind to open up a dialogue with a charity. For small businesses, that can be critical because if you give the development staff person a call, they may have ideas about ways that you can work together to both further your company's goals and further the charity's goals."


Get involved

Appeals that turn up in your mail can also tell you something about the impact of the charity. For example, an organization that delivers food to elderly shut-ins could say how many meals each donated dollar will provide. To make those dollars go further, some small businesses will match employee contributions up to a fixed amount or even make charitable giving part of their culture. Case in point: Lautman Maska Neil & Company, a Washington, DC-based fundraising agency, that practices what it preaches.


"Instead of giving gifts to each other at the holidays, we support one of the local chapters of Volunteers of America," says Lisa Maska, partner and owner. "They always have lists of things needed by families. We get about three families, maybe 12 to 15 people. We get their wish list and we each volunteer to buy the things that they want. Someone will buy the clothes and someone will buy the toys. We gather everything together and VOA picks it up.” Maska also recommends that a small business can find a charity locally that they feel connected to, get to know them, find out what they need, and how that business can help.


And how trustworthy are telemarketers? Maska says that the overwhelming majority are legitimate, but a skeptical donor can always ask the telemarketer to send them printed material through the mail that they can evaluate themselves. They can also follow up directly with the charity to see whether a telemarketing campaign is underway.


"So much press is given to charities that maybe aren't doing things the way they should be, but most charities in my and the industry's experience are extremely well-run, accountable, and have incredible ethics," Maska says. "They just want to provide the best support to their constituents."






Icon-sm.gifUp to 40% of annual sales can come during the holidays, so we’ve compiled some simple ideas, tips and best practices to help you have the best season possible.  Click here

Instagram_Advertising_body.jpgby Jennifer Shaheen.

Instagram is an important social media network for small business owners who are trying to reach young adult customers. According to the Pew Research Center for Internet, Science, and Technology, more than half of people aged 18 to 29 use Instagram; half of those people log in at least daily.

Advertising opportunities now exist on Instagram, but to be successful, ads must blend seamlessly into the platform’s unique aesthetic and prevailing cultural norms. The goal is to have an ad that looks like native content—in other words the type of post other Instagram users are posting for fun. This can place some demands on you, creatively, but when done correctly, can be worth it.

Why advertise on Instagram?

Amanda Connolly, writing for The Next Web, reports that Instagram is in its “Golden Age”—a period of time equivalent to the first days of television, where viewers truly appreciated all of the content presented to them, even commercials. Ads on Instagram are seen as less invasive and more personal than those encountered on other social media platforms. These factors, combined with the relatively novel nature of ads on Instagram, has resulted in click through rates nearly twice as high as what similar campaigns were achieving on Facebook.

Instagram_Advertising_PQ.jpgRobust advertising tools

Instagram is owned by Facebook, and as such, has a shared advertising interface that offers small business owners a number of formatting and targeting options for their campaign. To get started, you’ll need to link your Instagram account to your Facebook account. This is accomplished by going to the settings tab on your Facebook Business Page and clicking on Instagram Ads. There you can then link your Instagram account.

All Facebook accounts include access to the Power Editor. There, you have three types of ad objectives to choose from: click to your website, watch a video, or install an app. Ad types to achieve these objectives include image, video, and carousel—a series of images displayed in succession. Each comes with a call to action button keyed to your desired objective.

Ads can be targeted by location, gender, income level, and more. Additionally, using popular Instagram hashtags like #TBT (Throwback Thursday) or #MotivationMonday can boost the number of interested users who come across your ad while they’re exploring. Instagram posts do better organically when you use 11 or more hashtags so keep up with your Instagram best practices.

Instagram advertising works best when it enhances and extends your existing Instagram presence. Focus on building rapport with followers there. Creating ads that are in alignment with what those users expect from your small business brand can help boost the effectiveness of your marketing and attract more followers.

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media Inc. to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media Inc. is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media Inc. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.


Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.


©2015 Bank of America Corporation



Social_Mobile_Sales_Growth_body.jpgBy Jennifer Shaheen.

As a percentage of total sales for businesses, purchases made through Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other social media platforms are relatively small. However, those numbers are increasing at an eye-opening rate. For 2013, sales made through social media sites surged 26 percent to $3.3 billion, according to AddShoppers BI Intelligence. Among the features driving consumers to make their purchases this way: the launch of “Buy Now” buttons that make it easy for customers to shop without leaving their favorite social media platform.

Top consumer brand Unilever recently told Ad Age that social media buzz absolutely translates into sales. According to their research, one in 1,000 TV commercial impressions resulted in a sale, while four in 1,000 social media impressions led to a purchase. When social media advertising was targeted, that conversion rate grew to 40 in 1,000.

Social media sales aren’t exclusive to big brands. Small businesses can leverage social media effectively to boost their bottom line. Critical steps include understanding the impact social media has on in-store traffic, making use of Facebook’s established and emerging sales tools, and getting prepared to make mobile part of your marketing mix.

Social media creates in-store traffic: Research firm Business Insider Intelligence reports that social media outperforms all other online channels, generating the biggest increases in retail traffic, to both online stores and brick and mortar locations.  E-commerce referrals attributable to social media grew 200 percent between 2014 and 2015. This is definitive proof that social media has a crucial role to play in the sales process.

Social_Mobile_Sales_Growth_PQ.jpgFacebook leads in social sales: Facebook is currently responsible for more than two-thirds of all social media sales and half of e-commerce referrals. This may be in part attributable to the older, more affluent nature of Facebook’s user base being highly responsive to display ads and promoted posts. Facebook recently announced, and began testing, a shopping section for mobile users, which is expected to increase the number of younger consumers making purchases on the platform. It’s important to note that Facebook also owns Instagram, which is currently in the process of developing its own sales tools.

Mobile presents a growth opportunity:

The majority of sales made through social media still occur on desktop computers. Mobile device purchases remain relatively miniscule due to several obstacles, most especially the checkout experience, which can be difficult to navigate on the small screen of a smartphone. However, research firm Juniper recently stated in a report that fast growth in mobile sales rates is coming. They project that U.S. mobile sales will reach $707 billion by 2018, up from $182 billion today. Mobile shoppers also demonstrate a strong preference for making their purchases via a mobile website, rather than through an app.

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media Inc. to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media Inc. is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media Inc. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.


Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.


©2015 Bank of America Corporation



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