Marketing-Guide.pngAs a small business owner, you need to market your company to its full potential. But in today’s fast-paced and ever-evolving landscape, that can be challenging. Find out how you can get the most out of your advertising dollar with our new guide, Successfully Marketing Your Growing Business.

 

Click here to download the guide "Successfully Marketing Your Growing Business"

Marketing-Effectiveness-Thumb.gif As a growing business, you are in the perfect position to reach the right audience at the right time and in the right situation. Find out how to make the most of every advertising dollar you spend in “Marketing Effectiveness,” the fourth guide in our “Leveling the Playing Field Against Larger Corporations” series.

 

Click here to download the PDF guide "Leveling the Playing Field: Marketing Effectiveness"

 

 

Click here to read all four of the Leveling the Playing Field Against Larger Corporations guides.

Competition-Thumbnail.jpgWant to compete with larger businesses? In our upcoming series of guides, we’ll help you make the most of your opportunities in these four areas:

  • Attracting and Retaining Top Talent
  • Business Operations
  • Supply Chain Operations
  • Marketing Effectiveness

 

Click here to view the Leveling the Playing Field Against Larger Corporations infographic.

This article was originally posted by Iron Summit Media Strategies.

 

social-media-mosaic.jpg

Greetings Bank of America Small Business Community. My name is David Miller and I am the owner of a small digital marketing agency based out of Orlando, Florida. We get asked about effective social media marketing a lot, and decided that we would share some of our tips with the community. This was originally posted to our blog, but we repackaged it specifically for the BoA community forums. We hope you get some value out of this article, and if you have any questions you can feel free to contact us through our website.

 

It has been shown that using social media as a way to promote your business can be very beneficial. A strong social presence can do many good things for a business such as: building and maintaining brand awareness, improving search engine rankings,  increasing brand loyalty, bringing in referral traffic, and much more.

 

Since social media is such a hot topic in today’s marketplace, we wanted to share with you some helpful tips that will help you enhance your business with social media. The following tips are things that we share with our very own clients, and if followed, are the beginnings to a top-notch social media marketing strategy.

 

Tip #1: Have Consistent, Properly Sized Profile Pictures and Cover Photos

 

When it comes to your company profiles, make sure all of the images are sized property. Having stretched out or squished profile pictures and background photos portray a negative image.

 

If you’re having trouble making the images look good, the best thing you can do is resize images properly before you upload them.

 

We use this handy cheat sheet for sizing up photos social networks, and we recommend that you use it too!

 

If you don’t have the know-how or correct program to re-size images on your own, find someone who does. Maybe someone on staff, a friend, Or a hired professional can help!

 

good-social-example.jpg

- An example of a well-built Facebook profile

 

 

Tip #2: Never Stop Building Connections

 

With social media, the ‘if you build it, they will come’ mentality is a flawed way of thinking. Just because your handful of company profiles look great doesn’t mean potential customers will come flocking to your pages.

 

In order to succeed in social media, you need to have connections. Building connections can be difficult at first, but you need to get creative with it, and you need to keep doing it. It helps if you’re already active on a social network personally, that way you can leverage your current connections as potential connections for your new business profiles.

 

After you’ve tapped out any source of connections, keep looking for new ones. Have links and sharable content on your company website, promote your social profiles in your store, on your products, and on printed materials, and provide incentives for people to connect with you. Here is your chance to get creative: offer deals, hold contests, and most importantly – create awesome content that is worth viewing/sharing.

 

Once you’ve built up a good number of connections on any network, don’t stop!

 

Okay, so I’ve built my social media profiles, and I have some connections, now what?

 

Tip #3: Utilize Social Media by Posting Useful, Interesting, and Engaging Content

 

851581_371114989659302_1663619632_n.pngWe touched on this in the previous tip, but this the most important aspect of making social media work for a business. When it comes to posting content, make it useful. Here are some examples of useful content:

 

  • Sharing information about an upcoming deal/sale
  • Responding to a customer who posted on your profile or mentioned your company
  • Helping a client with a problem (feedback)
  • Something interesting that promotes your product/service (funny, exciting, thought-provoking)
  • Sharing important updates about your product/service (i.e. introducing a new product line)
  • Communicating a change in your company to customers (i.e. special holiday hours)

 

Whatever you do, don’t beg your fans or followers to share your content, and don’t guilt them into doing anything. This is a great way to lose customers.

 

If you are using your social pages to promote your business, communicate with customers, attract new business, and promote repeat business, then you will begin to unlock the value in social media marketing. A common pitfall for many companies is that they go into the social media world with the plan to setup their profiles and then build connections, but they don’t have any plans after that.

 

If you don’t plan to utilize your social networks as a marketing channel, setting them up in the first place won’t be worth the time investment.

 

Tip #4: Be Careful with Controversy

 

social_hero.pngThere are a few examples where companies have benefitted from taking sides on a controversial issue, but we generally recommend (especially for small, local businesses) that you stay away from controversial topics. In your personal life you may feel strongly about something, but using your business social profiles to take sides on an issue can do more harm than good. If you’re ever in a position where you want to leverage your business connections to promote a controversial viewpoint, ask yourself if you’re willing to lose or alienate an entire consumer demographic. Be careful.

 

Tip #5: Track Results

 

There are a number of tools that you can use to track the results of your social media initiatives. Some tools are built-in, like Facebook’s build-in analytics tools. Google Analytics can show you how many website hits you are getting from social media referrals. There are also some free tools like SharedCount that can give you some sharing statistics. Use data to your advantage! Track the effectiveness of your posts, and test out new ideas!

 

Closing Remarks

 

Social media can be a powerful tool for promoting your business, but only if you go in with a plan in mind. Sure you can build a great looking profile, and get a bunch of followers, but if you don’t use it as a tool to communicate with customers then all of the work you put in will be for nothing.

 

If you aren’t utilizing social media at all, it is worth putting in some time to learn the ropes, at least to understand what is going on. After that, if you plan to tackle the social media beast yourself then there are a tons of good resources out there for you to take advantage of. Otherwise, there are plenty of professional companies, like our digital marketing agency, that can manage social media marketing for you.

 

David Miller is the co-founder of Iron Summit Media Strategies – an Orlando based digital marketing agency.

Recently, Steve Strauss (the community’s resident Small Business Expert) conducted a live Twitter event titled “The Power of Networking”.  We thought the rest of the Small Business Community would find this information useful and informative as well, so below is the complete transcripts from this live Twitter event.  Enjoy!

 

Steve-Strauss-in-article.jpgTWEET FROM: BOFA_NEWS

The Power of Networking #smallbiz chat is starting now w/ #BofA and @stevestrauss. Use #sbcommunity to participate

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

Welcome to the Power of Networking Twitter chat brought to you by Bank of America’s Small Business Community #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

I’m Steve Strauss, a contributor to #BofA’s Small Business Community and small business subject matter expert #Spon #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

My co-host today is Mary Bintz who will be tweeting from the @BofA_News handle #sbcommunity #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: FRANCHISEKING

Hello @SteveStrauss! #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

Great to see you Joel @franchiseking! #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: RIEVA

Excited to be joining the #sbcommunity chat with @stevestrauss & @bofA_news starting NOW.

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

I am now on the #sbcommunity chat with @stevestrauss & @bofA_news starting NOW. Use hashtag #sbcommunity to join!

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

Hi @Rieva - Great to see you #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

Over the next hour we’ll discuss how networking amongst small business owners can help your small business succeed #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: FRANCHISEKING

Hello @barrymoltz #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: ADELEWHIT

Hi everyone. #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

In addition we will talk a bit about the new Small Business Community bought to you by @BofA_News #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: FRANCHISEKING

Hello @Rieva ! #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BOFA_NEWS

Welcome @rieva @franchiseking @barrymoltz - thanks for joining the chat #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: ADELEWHIT

Im tweeting from my office at Whitaker's Landscaping http://t.co/15jGmzyM

#sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: RIEVA

@FranchiseKing hey Joel. Steve #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

@BofA_News great to be here, thanks for having me #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

We’ll also share networking best practices and tips for what might help your business #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

And hello also to my pal @BarryMoltz - thanks for joining us today

#sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

@SteveStrauss thanks for having me Steve #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: FRANCHISEKING

You got it. I'm now an active member on your community site. Answering #franchise questions @BofA_News #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

To interact with us during this chat – and to answer questions that we are asking – please use the hashtag #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: FRANCHISEKING

Hey @ramonray #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: RIEVA

@BofA_News Thanks. glad to be here today #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

Additionally Mary, tweeting from, @BofA_News and I will be happy to answer any small business-related questions #sbcommunity #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

@FranchiseKing good to see we have the best for #franchise questions #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: ADELEWHIT

  1. Great......always looking for great ideas to help our business #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

And hello also to @RamonRay #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

Let’s get started with our first topic – understanding your current networking practices!

#sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: RIEVA

@barrymoltz can you call me after the chat? See we're networking #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BOFA_NEWS

Let’s get started! Take it away @stevestrauss with our first topic – understanding your current networking practices! #sbcommunity ^MB

 

TWEET FROM: SOCIALSITEMEDIA

Hello Everyone! #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

Question #1 – Do you currently network with other small business owners to share share/offer industry best practices? #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

I really think that networking is a skill you and your business can’t afford to be without. #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BOFA_NEWS

A peer group can act as an informal board of directors and an opportunity for real-world experience sharing. #sbcommunity ^MB

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

@SteveStrauss A1. yes, I think social media makes it easy to share best practice info links and ideas #1 #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

@BofA_News A lot of people have formal or informal mastermind groups #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: FRANCHISEKING

Since so many things are online now, there's "virtually" no excuse to not network, @SteveStrauss #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

Social media has changed so many things, including best practices #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

@FranchiseKing I agree Joel #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

Barry - you have a mastermind group as I recal, is that right? #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: RIEVA

Q#1 I think networking is so important. both on a local, national & global basis #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: HOOVERS

@barrymoltz Yes. 87% of SMBs say SoMe is somewhat or very helpful to their org. @Vocus @ducttape study #sbcommunity

 

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

@Hoovers yes so easy to network with SHARE buttons everywhere #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BOFA_NEWS

Welcome @ramonray - thanks for joining #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

The thing is - no longer is networking just handing 1 business card to 1 person - its handing 1tweet to 1000 people #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: RIEVA

.@SteveStrauss Social media does make it easier, but some use that as an excuse to not GO somewhere #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: LENNTV

#sbcommunity virtual networking is great, but in my experience it's just as important to meet your clients face to face whenever possible.

 

TWEET FROM: BOFA_NEWS

SBOs can use #BofA’s Small Business Community to learn how to improve their biz from other SBOs http://t.co/mdFvhPhj #sbcommunity ^MB

 

TWEET FROM: BRANDONSONOFOLE

@Rieva Completely agree. I fall into that same habit or mindset. #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

@SteveStrauss so does it mean that our networking has to be more deliberate cuz its amplified by SoMe? #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

That is an interesting statistic @Hoovers. Where did you get that? 87% is high, and great #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: RAMONRAY

a firm hand shake or more is the best way for genuine - know, like, trust #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: FRANCHISEKING

Social Media has made it possible to have folks like @Rieva @BarryMoltz @RamonRay IN my network. Important- we've met in person #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

Nope nothing replaces this! RT @Lenntv: #sbcommunity virtual networking is great, but it's as important to meet your clients face to face

 

TWEET FROM: HOOVERS

@Rieva Interestingly enough, SMBs aiming to build a large but unengaged audience think SoMe is most helpful. @Vocus @ducttape #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

I think the power of networking online is that you can meet people you would not normally meet. @Rieva taught me that! #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

Easy mistake RT @Hoovers: @Rieva SMBs aiming to build a large but unengaged audience think SoMe is helpful. @Vocus @ducttape #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: RIEVA

We all do. It's hard to drag yourself to an event, but it's really important. Face 2 face counts @BrandonSonofOle #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: ADELEWHIT

but networking and social media is a great way to get your name out to so many more people #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

Nothing replaces face to face RT @tomfrancoeur: RT @ramonray: a firm hand shake is the best way for genuine - know, like, trust #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

And the thing is, another important thing is to turn that online biz connection to a business relationship - as @RamonRay says #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: ADELEWHIT

then when you get to have a face to face with the customer #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

Topic/Question #2 – Do you find more success when networking with SBOs locally or on a national/international scale? #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: RIEVA

Yes, THAT was fun @SteveStrauss #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BOFA_NEWS

#BofA’s SBC can connect you with SBOs nationwide – it’s a great way to expand your daily face-to-face networking #sbcommunity ^MB

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

@SteveStrauss A2 I think the best success is using SoMe or email to start or extend the relationship #2 #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: HOOVERS

@SteveStrauss: Link to @Vocus @ducttape #SMB social media study: http://t.co/rexjahYt #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: FRANCHISEKING

Networking used to be 85% local. Now, it's only 10%. My clients are all over the US and Canada #2 #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: OGOING

Why are most small business owners reluctant to network, market and promote? How do we change this? #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

@FranchiseKing yes, with @SmallTownRules geography is meaningless ! #2 #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

Yes @adelewhit, in the end, you have to meet face to face, although I didnt meet my editor at usatoday for 5 years #sbcommunity

 

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

Linking up with other SBOs willing to offer advice, no matter where they are, is important when sourcing new opportunities #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

@SteveStrauss after a relationship is started, it really can be strengthened IRL #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

@SteveStrauss SBOs and all of us are afraid of rejection! #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: FRANCHISEKING

And, meeting the @USAToday editor in person still worked out? LOL @SteveStrauss #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: LPT

@barrymoltz @rieva @ramonray @shashib - ditto on the #sbcommunity chat comments about F2F. Met all of you online 1st, but mtg offline was +1

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

I think for many SB owners, they do what they do and it takes time to network or learn something new, what do you think? #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: RIEVA

for me natl works best but it depends on what you do, where your customers are @SteveStrauss #2 #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: FRANCHISEKING

Welcome to this powerful chat, @shashib #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BRANDONSONOFOLE

Gr8 question! RT @Ogoing: Why are most small business owners reluctant to network, market and promote? How do we change this? #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: FRANCHISEKING

Welcome to the chat. Thanks for your support, @TheWindowGenie #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BOFA_NEWS

Don’t forget to think about networking locally before you network nationally & globally – take care of your base! #sbcommunity ^MB

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

@LPT I rmember the great food in Austin with you! #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

I saw a statistic from the B of A Small Business Owner Report that said that 75% of SBOs find networking as their best tool #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: SOCIALSITEMEDIA

A2: In today's economy, people prefer local IF they are gonig to get the best product/service. Can't forget where you started. #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

and word of mouth too. Word of mouth is so different these days - a retweet is word of mouth today #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: HOOVERS

@SteveStrauss @Ogoing SMB owners wear a lot of hats--it's hard to find time to network. The reason for increased SoMe interest? #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: RIEVA

I think part of it is making the time. @SteveStrauss @barrymoltz #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: SHASHIB

@FranchiseKing Yes as soon as I saw my bulb glowing without switching on I knew #sbcommunity is a powerful chat

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

Yes @Hoovers, online networking can save a lot of time - OR waste a lot of time! #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

Very True!@ RT @SocialSiteMedia: A2: people prefer local IF they are going to get the best product. Can't forget where u start. #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: SHASHIB

@LPT Greetings! Hope you are doing well #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: OGOING

@SteveStrauss Yup. Busy running their business. But few realize that they have to grow. May be they are content with profits? #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: FRANCHISEKING

Good one! #green @shashib #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: RAMONRAY

I find many small biz are focused on the NEXT SALE they don't think of long term relationships - #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

@Ogoing they get trapped in doing the work, but not having a systematic marketing strategy #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: OGOING

@barrymoltz How do we change their thinking? Many consider marketing as an unnecessary expense, and are not willing to spend. #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

Its like the e-myth wisdom - you need to work ON your business not just IN your business #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: FRANCHISEKING

Truthat @ramonray #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: RIEVA

Some people are shy too #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

They need to get unstuck #barrymoltz #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: RAMONRAY

"systematic marketing strategy" - that is the key @ducttape and @Infusionsoft preach this all the time #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

@SteveStrauss yes, I call it Breaking the Double Helix Trap #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: HOOVERS

True that! RT @SteveStrauss: Its like the e-myth wisdom - you need to work ON your business not just IN your business #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

@SteveStrauss yes, we all get stuck now and then! #barrymoltz #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

Joel -is this true for franchisees too? @franchiseking #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: FRANCHISEKING

Franchisees need to focus on local. Period. @SteveStrauss #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

@FranchiseKing interesting how some people are more shy online than IRL #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

Topic/Question #3 – Having a business mentor is a great way to get ahead. Who do you turn to for mentorship? #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: LPT

@Hoovers @SteveStrauss @Ogoing - just used that "lots of hats" analogy in my post earlier today! http://t.co/nCS6yevn #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

Mentors have made a huge difference in my business. Some of the folks here have mentored me in fact #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: GETHOOPLA

So true! RT @ramonray: I find many small biz are focused on the NEXT SALE they don't think of long term relationships - #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

@SteveStrauss If you talk to folks about your biz, mentors I believe come forward to help! #3 #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BOFA_NEWS

In my experience, mentoring through #BofA’s SBC has proven effective and rewarding. http://t.co/SkU8dpkG #sbcommunity ^MB

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

I have had different mentors at different times. but it alsways seemed organic. I never planned it. You? #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: ADELEWHIT

times have changed and if we don't adapt we will disappear. #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

Source: twitter.com, Posted on: Sep 20, 2012 06:25 PM by barrymoltz

A3 I am lucky to have @Rieva as one of my mentors! @SteveStrauss #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: RAMONRAY

MENTORS: @normbrodsky @yacovw - they have helped me grow - one by reading him the other by frequent meetings #sbcommunity

TWEET FROM: HOOVERS

A3: A great mentor teaches us to ask all the right questions. #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

But I also know that finding a mentor can also come by having the chutzpah to ask someone whom you admire to mentor you #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: RAMONRAY

There is a difference between MENTORS and PEERS - both are important yet different - #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

@Hoovers a mentor helps us also question our answers #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: SOCIALSITEMEDIA

A3: Mentor(s) are everywhere...you need just one. Reading industry blogs are a great way to find knowledgeable info. #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

@ramonray can a mentor be a peer? I think so #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

How did you get those mentors @RamonRay? #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: RIEVA

Aw shucks. RT @FranchiseKing: RT @barrymoltz: A3 I am lucky to have @Rieva as one of my mentors! @SteveStrauss #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: ADELEWHIT

@SteveStrauss I agree a good mentor opens your eyes to many possibilities

#sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: SOCIALSITEMEDIA

A3: **don't need just one. Oops! #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

I know someone who uses LinkedIn to find both mentors and business. All you have to do is ask sometimes #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: OGOING

Here's a small business owner, an experienced Los Angeles Tax Attorney, who is networking and growing. http://t.co/Shqf0oXX #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: HOOVERS

"A mentor is someone who sees more talent & ability within you, than you see in yourself, & helps bring it out." ~ Bob Proctor #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: HOOVERS

+10 RT @barrymoltz: @Hoovers a mentor helps us also question our answers #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: OGOING

@Rieva @FranchiseKing @barrymoltz @SteveStrauss Cool! Rieva rocks #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BRANDONSONOFOLE

Would you say that's cuz they're truly interested in our success? MT @barrymoltz: A mentor helps us also question our answers #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: ADELEWHIT

Source: twitter.com, Posted on: Sep 20, 2012 06:29 PM by adelewhit

does anyone use the sight http://t.co/Ph2CZbew? #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

How have mentors helped you? For me it was both how to look at things AND introductions/advice #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

@BrandonSonofOle mentors question us because it is hard for us to do it honestly ourselves #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: RIEVA

  1. Thanks. I so appreciate that @Ogoing #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

welcome @LN_Bikes to our chat! #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: SHASHIB

He knows me well RT @FranchiseKing: RT @Rieva: Some people are shy too - Like @shashib #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

@SteveStrauss mentors help me look at things I am uncomfortable looking at #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: FRANCHISEKING

Mentors have helped me by offering suggestions that are way, way, out of box. #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: OGOING

@SteveStrauss @BrandonSonofOle @barrymoltz @Hoovers How do you find that really good one mentor? It's hard to find that person. #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: RIEVA

@shashib you are the LEAST shy person #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

That sounds like my wife! #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: SOCIALSITEMEDIA

A3: Mentors are so important to SB owners. It's scary out there and mine has always done a good job of keeping me focused. #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

@ramonray I am a fan of @Normbrodsky #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: TOMFRANCOEUR

@stevestrauss Strategy. That's where I've gotten the most help from mentors. #sbcommunity.

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

I also find that mentors open doors #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: RIEVA

or nag RT @barrymoltz: @BrandonSonofOle mentors question us because it is hard for us to do it honestly ourselves #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: ADELEWHIT

Mentors helped me realize that I have good ideas and helped keep me focused

#sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: HOOVERS

@Ogoing Determine what you're looking for in a mentor (expertise, geo, experience, influence), research candidates on LinkedIn. #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

Question #4 – Do you use social media sites to network and learn from other small businesses? #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BOFA_NEWS

Don't be shy about asking someone you respect to be your mentor. You can also consider using SM to connect, ie LinkedIn #sbcommunity ^MB

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

@SteveStrauss A4 yes all the time, SoMe opens up access that would not otherwise be there #4 #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

Among other things social networks can help you find the proper talent for your small business #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: SHASHIB

#sbcommunity Having a Small Business Advisory Board is also a good idea for a small business #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

@BofA_News yes, but you have to get the free vs fee thing straight with a mentor early on #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: ADELEWHIT

yes and it has opened my customer base #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BOFA_NEWS

The recent Small Biz Owner Report showed only 28% of SBOs used social media to connect w/ other small biz #sbcommunity ^MB

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

Check out @Aileron_org RT @shashib: #sbcommunity Having a Small Business Advisory Board is also a good idea #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: RIEVA

Yes, Twitter is my personal favorite @SteveStrauss #4 #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: ADELEWHIT

@BofA that is crazy #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: SOCIALSITEMEDIA

A4: @SteveStrauss Everyday! That's the beauty of social media; it's one big, open community just waiting for you to interact. #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

The recent Small Biz Owner Report showed only 28%of SBOs used social media to connect w/ other small biz #sbcommunity ^MB #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: LPT

@SteveStrauss - even advice I disagreed with from a mentor was helpful once. helped me solidify my own career philosophy. #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: OGOING

@SteveStrauss Our business is social media. We use it for networking, marketing, learning and growing! It works! #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: HOOVERS

A4: Currently, there are 6,874,850 small-business professionals networking on LinkedIn. (LinkedIn data) #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: RIEVA

28%? Wow that's shocking--and stupid. C'mon biz owners--social media is key to so much @BofA_News #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: FRANCHISEKING

I'll listen to anyone that wants to be a mentor-if they're ethical people. #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: HOOVERS

Right on! RT @Rieva: 28%? Wow thats shocking--and stupid. Cmon biz owners--social media is key to so much @BofA_News #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BOFA_NEWS

@adelewhit May be surprising, but true. We expect that number will rise in the future. #sbcommunity ^MB

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

I know of a woman who started a biz, joined LinkedIn, participated a lot, and got 50 people to volunteer for her Bd of Advisors #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: ADELEWHIT

I would hope it increases, what a waste of resources.

 

TWEET FROM: THEWINDOWGENIE

#sbcommunity A great mentor does not have all the answers, they challenge you to find them or create your own and apply that

 

TWEET FROM: RAMONRAY

Also EVERY business owner should himself/herself be a mentor to others - #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: OGOING

@Hoovers Ogoing is trying to grow the social media network. It's very hard! We are up to 5K members now. 10K barrier is huge #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BOFA_NEWS

It’s important when pressed for time to remember that social media helps keep your networking alive #sbcommunity ^MB

 

TWEET FROM: RAMONRAY

I overheard a young man tell someone else I was HIS mentor and I did not even know it - #sbcommunity (and I almost started crying)

 

TWEET FROM: SHASHIB

Of course! If you have @FranchiseKing as a mentor you run the danger of expanding your business #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: OGOING

@FranchiseKing Agreed! #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BOFA_NEWS

Interesting b/c 75% of business owners have been

‘put off’ by a company due to their poor use of social #sbcommunity ^MB

 

TWEET FROM: RIEVA

true RT @ramonray: Also EVERY business owner should himself/herself be a mentor to others - #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: SHASHIB

@SteveStrauss Thanks Steve. Great insights in your tweets and articles #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

@ramonray yes pay it forward! #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

Given that networking and word of mouth are key for SB marketing, one would think that the online option would be higher #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: FRANCHISEKING

Thank you so much @shashib You are truly a Royal Subject #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: HOOVERS

@Ogoing I hear you...When you do social media, leave your longing for instant gratification at the door. Keep on keepin' on. #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: SOCIALSITEMEDIA

  1. Shocking. RT @BofA_News: The recent SB Owner Report showed only 28%

of SBOs used social media to connect w/ other small biz #sbcommunity ^MB

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

@shashib yes, @SteveStrauss literally wrote the bible on #smallbiz #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: RAMONRAY

Sometimes mentors don't even give you ADVICE per say but they open their network to you aka @shashib a true GIVER #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: THEWINDOWGENIE

@ramonray Everyone has something to offer to another person. If teamwork is strong the end result will be #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: CLICKBRAND

@Hoovers @Ogoing social media is definitely a marathon, not a sprint.. it takes time #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: FRANCHISEKING

And, 28,455 of them follow you on #in @SteveStrauss #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: RAMONRAY

SOCIAL JERKS only share their own (or their own company's) content - SOCIAL GIVERS share all relevant content #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: HOOVERS

@Ogoing Also remember you don't have to be active on all platforms. Go where your audience is--where they want to engage w/you. #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

@Clickbrand yes unfortunately most #smallbiz owners have a short term view #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: SHASHIB

@barrymoltz I actually won the Small Business Bible by @SteveStrauss as a prize at an event and still cherish it #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

Topic/Question #5 – Tell us your story – when has networking helped elevate the visibility of your company’s brand? #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: FRANCHISEKING

I looks like @BrianMoran has entered the room #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: OGOING

@Hoovers Ogoing has created a dedicated social network for small business. http://t.co/XXPb0yWW This is taking long to grow! #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BRANDONSONOFOLE

Plus, despite wealth of resources to turn to for support, majority of SBOs say they feel alone: http://t.co/yrgbKSqd #emp #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BOFA_NEWS

Business networking is one of the most effective marketing and prospecting tools you can use to grow your business #sbcommunity ^MB

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

I know that for me, networking has taken my brand to a whole new level #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

@SteveStrauss A5 My relationships with many corporations started on Twitter #5 #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

Hi @BrianMoran - great to see you #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BRIANMORAN

@barrymoltz @franchiseking Just a quick drive by to retweet some very smart #smallbiz people. #sbcommunity. Off to a meeting now.

TWEET FROM: FRANCHISEKING

#5 I have met people from all over the world that I never would have met by networking-on @Twitter #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: SOCIALSITEMEDIA

A5: Online networking earned me my very first client in 2009. Taught me a great deal about how important an online presence is. #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: ADELEWHIT

networking helped me tell people who we are, what we do and let people get comftorable with who they are dealing with #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

Networking and branding go hand in hand because you never know what connection leads to what opportunity #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BOFA_NEWS

Welcome @brianmoran thanks for joining #sbcommunity ^MB

 

TWEET FROM: ADELEWHIT

for us an important this is all our employees are DOJ background checked, it help us sell ourselves before we even meet. #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BOFA_NEWS

The SBC is an opportunity to make connections that can potentially elevate a brand. http://t.co/mdFvhPhj #sbcommunity ^MB

 

TWEET FROM: ADELEWHIT

@SteveStrauss I never knew how true that was before. #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

I bet you have made some great connections for your biz and brand via networking @franchiseking - true for many people here #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

@SteveStrauss A5 I am meeting @BofA_News for the first time today even though I have followed their #smallbiz work for awhile #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: OGOING

Ogoing members primarily join through networking and engagement on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook & Google+ Social Media rocks! #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

Networking, esp. online, extends your name to a vast, whole new group of people #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

I got my column at USATODAY via networking, and that changed everything #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: ADELEWHIT

@SteveStrauss agreed #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

Source: twitter.com, Posted on: Sep 20, 2012 06:52 PM by barrymoltz

@SteveStrauss A6 I owe my entire business as a result of networking #6 #sbcommunity

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

Topic/Question #6 – Finally, and perhaps most importantly, when has networking benefited your business’s bottom line? #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: SHASHIB

Have you heard @RamonRay speak? You don't have to eat for a year after - you will get that much energy #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: TDSBIZ

@SteveStrauss that's great! It's nice to hear the #SBcommunity can help out!

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

It is so easy to spend time online and not see an effect on the bottom line - keeping your ROI in mind is critical #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: RIEVA

Networking benefits our bottom line every day. Clients, connections & firends @SteveStrauss #6 #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: OGOING

How do you develop and establish trust when you network online? There is a bit of unease for most small business owners. #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: RAMONRAY

@Ogoing I think TRUST can only be established over time - #sbcommunity - people have a mask online

 

TWEET FROM: FRANCHISEKING

Take baby steps at first. @Ogoing #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

@ramonray Don't rush trust! #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

"How do you develop and establish trust when you network online?" - send folks to your site where you post testimonials #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: RIEVA

it's like marketing it's exposure. people will get more comfortable w. you the more you interact @Ogoing #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: ADELEWHIT

A6 every day I am benefited by networking. #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: PEOPLEFUNDATX

Peoplefund owes a lot of its grants to relationships built from networking. @SteveStrauss #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: ADELEWHIT

@SteveStrauss testimonials have been a big part of new customers. #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: OGOING

@ramonray True! Most online networkers are quick to jump the gun though #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

the 80-20 rule applies here too - post 80% of your content about THEM. 20% about you #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: HOOVERS

@Ogoing To establish online trust, be consistently honest & sincere. Build your reputation by helping others build theirs. #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: OGOING

@SteveStrauss Agreed. Objective testimonials always help. On the website or on reviews sites. #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: ADELEWHIT

when a potential customer can read a testimonial from another client it establishes a sense of comfort #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BOFA_NEWS

Share your tips and best practices with the members of the Small Business Community http://t.co/mdFvhPhj #sbcommunity ^MB

 

TWEET FROM: ADELEWHIT

agreed 80-20 if you share so will others #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BRANDONSONOFOLE

@SteveStrauss That's what I tell my franchisees #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: OGOING

@barrymoltz @ramonray Couldn't agree more! This is the essence of social media and networking. To know when to close #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

Testimonials are key to establishing credibility online. People know zip about you when they go 2 your site the 1st time #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: HOOVERS

@SteveStrauss Interesting that sharing news about org/products is the most popular way SMBs use SoMe. Inside-out promo. @Vocus #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

Agreed, testimonials create a comfort and trust level #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: SOCIALSITEMEDIA

Great advice! @Hoovers: @Ogoing To establish trust, be honest & sincere. Build your reputation by helping others build theirs. #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

@SteveStrauss yes no one wants to be the first! #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: ADELEWHIT

exactly and testimonials make you more credible to potential customers #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BOFA_NEWS

@tdsbiz @SteveStrauss We'd love to have you check out the Small Business Community http://t.co/mdFvhPhj #sbcommunity ^MB

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

Well, that's about it #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

Thank you everyone for participating in our conversation today and thank you to chat co-hosts @BofA_News #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

We hope that you picked up a few tips on how networking can be beneficial for your #smallbiz #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

@SteveStrauss @BofA_News thanks for having me! Great #tweetchat #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

Please tweet me directly, using the hashtag #sbcommunity, to let me know about the connections you made today! #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: ADELEWHIT

thank you all #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BARRYMOLTZ

@SteveStrauss great to be in the same room with @ramonray @Rieva @FranchiseKing #smallbiz #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BOFA_NEWS

Thank you everyone for participating in our conversation today and thank you to our co-host @stevestrauss #sbcommunity ^MB

 

TWEET FROM: OGOING

@SocialSiteMedia @Hoovers What a great advice indeed! #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: HOOVERS

@SteveStrauss Will #sbcommunity be a regular chat? Do you have another one on the calendar? #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: RIEVA

Thanks @SteveStrauss #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

And please join the #BofA Small Business Community to continue to network with other SBOs! the URL Is #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: SOCIALSITEMEDIA

Thanks @SteveStrauss and @bofa_news! Great chat. #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

http://t.co/DUBRhzJK #sbcommunity #smallbiz #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: HOOVERS

Glad to connect with all of you! Thanks for sharing your wisdom, questions, and honesty with me! #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

The Small Business Communityu URL is http://t.co/DUBRhzJK #sbcommunity #smallbiz #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: FRANCHISEKING

Lots of tips. Thanks for having me @SteveStrauss @BOFA_News #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: STEVESTRAUSS

Thanks so much to everyone who participated today. Great info and tips! #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BOFA_NEWS

Thanks everyone, enjoyed the chat! #sbcommunity ^MB

 

TWEET FROM: OGOING

@SteveStrauss @ramonray @Rieva @FranchiseKing @Hoovers @barrymoltz @tomfrancoeur @SocialSiteMedia @Ogoing @BofA_News

@adelewhit #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: BRANDONSONOFOLE

@SteveStrauss Thanks for hosting a great chat. Lots of great advice! #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: LN_BIKES

@SteveStrauss Thanks! such great info #sbcommunity

 

TWEET FROM: LPT

Thanks for RTs @FranchiseKing @Rieva @barrymoltz - good conversation today on #sbcommunity @BofA_News!



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.


Staying-on-message.pngby Sherron Lumley.

 

Who, exactly, are you? Amidst a veritable sea of sales pitches that consumers must navigate daily, that’s the essential question they are trying to answer when it comes to your small business. But if your company’s message is muddied or constantly shifting, connecting with potential customers in a way that reinforces trust and credibility becomes difficult, if not impossible.

 

“The world has changed,” says Sander Flaum, former chairman of Euro RSCG, one of the world’s largest advertising firms. “The whole concept has to be a unified one, because you look like an idiot otherwise. The marketing message has to be consistent. You can’t have one message for one channel and a different message for another channel.”

 

Pull-Quote.pngStaying on message means articulating a single passion or vision across all of the different platforms that your small business uses to advertise or promote itself—everything from Facebook to the phone book, from the graphics on your homepage to the signage on your front door. Keeping the content and appearance of your message consistent builds awareness, reinforces credibility, and fosters customer loyalty, while enabling you to reach multiple target audiences through the medium and style that they each prefer.

 

Many digital channels, one human voice.

 

Photographer and small business owner David Lutz, of Portland, Oregon, recently started promoting his events on Facebook. As one of the top commercial photographers in the Northwest, he understands the value of local marketing, but he also wants to position his business at the cutting edge and push it into larger markets. “Large companies have the resources,” he says, “but how does a smaller business do it?”

 

According to a recent social media survey from Social Strategy1 and Office Arrow, nearly nine out of 10 small business owners recognize social media does or will impact their ventures, yet half still say there’s too much social media to manage. Additionally, 44 percent of small business owners are concerned that social media can feed an “information overload,” and negatively impact a business’s image. While these fears aren’t completely unfounded, social media remains a powerful way to bundle and multiply the effectiveness of a small business’s integrated marketing strategy.

 

To marshal his marketing forces and keep his message consistent, Lutz’s company website, blog, and Facebook pages are all linked. He also has the ability to simultaneously post to Twitter and LinkedIn, making communicating that single message via all of these channels as simple as posting to one.

And as social media giants like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook have struck deals and formed partnerships, communication between the different applications and platforms has gotten even easier for users.  (For a quick and easy how-to, check out Mashable’s articles on syncing social media, such as this one: “Twitter to Facebook, Five Ways to Post to Both.”)

 

Whereas Lutz’s previous methods of reaching customers mostly included art shows, galleries, and direct mailing, he says his new marketing focus is mostly digital, with an emphasis on his website, online store, and PDF versions of his catalog. “My goal with all of the social media is to drive people to my website home page, from where I get business,” he says. And while his Facebook page lets him showcase frequent photo updates, his business’s website is more content-rich, with consistent images.

 

Match your message to your market

 

“Your marketing and PR is meant to be the beginning of a relationship with buyers, and to drive action such as generating sales leads,” says market strategist David Scott. Here’s the rule: “When you write, start with your buyers, not with your product.”

 

Ernie Valdez, of Ernie’s Paint and Body Shop, in San Marcos, Texas, says with a wide range of customers from ages 16 to 80, his company’s slogan, “Just take it to Ernie’s,” works well because it solves a problem. Rather than selling any particular product or service, Valdez likes the idea of giving the customer a simple, reassuring answer to an age-old question: “How will I get my car fixed?”

 

For years Ernie’s advertising has included occasional TV commercials, billboards at the nearby college stadium, and local little league sponsorships. Now, with an increasingly saturated market, Ernie’s is expanding its marketing channels by adding an online component, highlighting its 25-year history and expertise on the company website, while also positioning the company as a trusted cornerstone of the community.

 

This tactic of sharing with the world your business’s expertise and developing messages that your buyers want to hear is a wise move, says Scott. Small businesses gain credibility and loyalty with buyers through content, he adds, so smart marketers will deliver messages targeted directly at their audience.  When the message and image are consistent, such as with Ernie’s, the reward is a loyal customer base.

 

In marketing, it pays to sweat the small stuff

 

Consistent marketing also involves choosing psychographic symbols that trigger a repetitive recognition in the customer. These brand standards can encompass something as small as an email signature or as broad as a musical melody (think Intel’s distinctive “bum-bum, bum-BUM”). The four most important elements are: logo placement and sizing, consistent graphic symbols and shapes, specific font styles, and, finally, color, which is perhaps most important because of its link to memory retrieval and emotions (think red for Coca-Cola and brown for UPS.) A good starting point for finding a cohesive color palette is Color Scheme Designer, a free online tool used by graphic design professionals.

 

Once the brand standards and marketing message are set, some companies stand by them forever, but they don’t have to be etched in stone. “When a company begins to lose market share, this is when it’s time to change the message,” says Flaum. As a cautionary tale of strategy and marketing gone awry, Flaum cites one of the world’s top brands: Ford. After losing market share and dropping from the 30th to 41st most valuable brand in 2007, he notes that Ford acted quickly to refocus its operations and simplify its image—killing off its underperforming mid-range brand Mercury and selling off its expensive, luxury marques Range Rover and Jaguar.

 

Nowadays, a small business may reach its customers through a retail store, a website, social media, direct mail, email, or even text message and online chat, making it possible to tap multiple market segments and socio-economic groups of consumers. However, to build the trust and loyalty essential to strong customer relationships and long-term success, all of those various marketing channels must speak with a unified voice, so the customer can answer that key question “Who are you?”

White-in-article-portrait.jpgby Iris Dorbian.

 

It’s the first lesson of Business 101: If you want your company or product to be a success, you must know your target audience, and more specifically, your customer demographics. Too often a business can struggle and even fail because its corresponding marketing efforts didn’t understand the who, what, when, where, why, and how of their customers make their buying decisions.

 

Ask Important Questions

Four years ago, when Derek Christian bought My Maid Service, a small independent cleaning service based in Cincinnati, his immediate goal was to grow the existing customer base. Christian, who previously worked as an account executive for Proctor & Gamble’s commercial products group, decided a good way of defining his target audience was to ask the company’s existing customers several questions. Some of these were fairly intuitive, like “Why were they hiring a cleaning service?” but others might seem pretty far afield, such as “What were they looking for in life?” and “Where do they shop?”

 

Pull-Quote.pngThe answers Christian received not only gave him keen insight into his clients’ psychographic profile, they helped him recognize three specific demographics within his customer base: new parents, pet owners, and young urban apartment dwellers. Once these three groups were clearly defined, My Maid Service, which currently has 50 employees, began a campaign push to market to them.

 

“For example, new parents care deeply about not only having spotless floors, but also what chemicals we are using to clean those floors because their baby is crawling on it and putting their hands and feet in his or her mouth,” explains Christian. “We make sure our people know child safety laws and we make sure we don’t arrive at nap times. It’s not just about cleaning.” As a result of targeting these three specific groups, Christian was able to grow the company’s annual revenue from $250,000 to $2,000,000—quite a coup for a small business during a recession.

 

Zeroing In

Now that you know identifying and understanding your customer demo can play a big role in improving your business, how do you go about it?

 

Try asking yourself the following questions:

 

  • Who is your best current customer?
  • What is their age range?
  • How about their income level? Or education level?
  • Where do they live?
  • How do they spend their money? Are they frugal, extravagant, or in-between spenders?

This type of additional detail is essential if you want to flesh out the customer profile of your company or product’s target. “The objective is to close in that person,” says Lou Rubin, a seasoned marketing and advertising professional whose career includes an 11-year stint as an executive director at ad agency Doremus. “Once you know everything about how they interact with you, you can seek similar customers.”

 

Mine for more data

Other tips:

 

  • Utilize your local Chamber of Commerce and state Commerce Department to find additional statistics, like census data, on a subgroup you’d like to target within your community. Be insatiable in your appetite to learn all you need to know about the customers you want to attract.
  • Leverage resources such as Experian, a credit-reporting agency that provides information on consumer online purchases, to your benefit. Doing so will give you a clear-cut idea on your demo’s purchasing behavior as well as the history of any interactions they may have with your brand.
  • Get first-hand information directly from customers. One good way is through detailed, one-on-one interviews. Your marketing or research department, if you have one, can do this using a customer database. Or if you have the budget, hire an outside firm that specializes in gathering this data for companies. If your marketing is more the shoestring variety, you can do exactly what Derek Christian did after taking over the reins of My Maid Service: Simply ask your target customers a few questions. Offering a discount on a future purchase is usually enough of an incentive to get people to participate in a short marketing survey. (To get started, check out the questions at this free customer survey library.)
  • Another best practice—examine the competition. How are they engaging with your audience? Are they using old-fashioned direct mail, e-mail, or SEO marketing? Or are they engaging with your shared customer base via word-of-mouth? What innovative solutions are they offering your customers that you are not doing? What are their aggregate strengths and weaknesses? Are they leveraging social media to their advantage or not?
  • And speaking of social media, how is your business using it further its brand and heighten audience engagement? Have you set up Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn accounts? In this dizzying 24/7 digital age, it behooves you to do so. The give-and-take of customer interaction on these sites will not only help you promote your message, but act as a catalyst in gaining insight into what makes your target audience tick.
  • Also, go to events or conferences that cater to your target audience(s). For instance, because Christian’s My Maid Service targets new parents, the company frequently participates at trade expos aimed at new parents. If they’re not going to come to you, then you go to them.

 

Remember information is power and knowing your demo is critical to maximizing your chances of realizing your goals and achieving success. 

White-in-article.pngMany small businesses forego formal annual employee evaluations. But, you should think twice.

 

By Sherron Lumley.

 

For many small business owners, employee reviews rarely get a second thought, and when they do they all too often fall into one of two versions—“Way to go!” or “What were you thinking?” For some, their reticence to formal reviews involves the time required. For others, it’s the potential for confrontation and an uncomfortable employer-employee relationship. And then some believe they’ve already identified their top-quality and sub-standard performers, so why bother? However, the reasons for doing a formal year-end evaluation outweigh the drawbacks.

 

Performance management is the way a small business owner takes his or her goals from strategy to reality by communicating with employees. One of the most important elements of this is the annual employee evaluation. It’s a vital opportunity for feedback that promotes better teamwork by motivating and encouraging employees and offers insight for improving the business. Put simply, it aligns your day-to-day operations with the larger goals your company aims to achieve.


“Employees always want to know what management thinks of their performance,” says Harvey Baron, founder of Remantech, a custom manufacturing technology company in the Pacific Northwest. “It also lets the employer know why some departments are doing well and why others are not.” 


Callout3.pngHere is a look at three of the key objectives of the formal year-end review process:  better outcomes through two-way feedback, increased employee satisfaction and retention, and documentation of employee performance and achievements to support compensation decisions and for legal purposes.


Improving employee performance through two-way communication

“If the criticism, if any, is constructive there should be a marked improvement in the employee’s attitude and work,” says Baron. “Sometimes an employee doesn’t even know everything that’s expected of them,” he says, noting that employee evaluations are valuable because they establish measurable goals for the employees and provide an opportunity to review the job description.


And to really make the most of it, Baron recommends thinking of the review process as a two-way street.  “When I allowed my folks to also evaluate their immediate supervisor, I was able to get a more complete picture of the employees’ performance,” he says. 


Today, the big trends in evaluating employees involve comprehensive performance management and two-way communication, building commitment, and enthusiasm. It’s a way to decrease turnover, motivate self-improvement and develop trust, says Barry Silverstein in his best practices book, Evaluating Performance.

 

Increasing employee satisfaction and retention

BayView Building Maintenance employs over 80 part-time and full-time employees who provide janitorial and building services to high security commercial office and medical facilities in Oregon and Washington. The company’s high rate of employee retention is a selling feature to their security-sensitive clients, who count on seeing the same familiar service staff year-round. The employee performance evaluation process contributes to Bay View’s success by promoting a positive and rewarding environment where attractive compensation is directly linked to better performance.

 

According to founder Denise Coy, listening to the employees is important for several reasons. Not only does it tell us how they feel about their job and if they are happy, but it also lets us know if they have any questions,” she says. “It tells us if they are right for the job and if they can advance,” she adds.

 

Creating a paper trail

Discount Fabrics in San Francisco is a family-owned business founded in 1967. “For several years, things were very comfortable and business was easy,” says owner Linda Blake. “Because the stores were run by either family or people that had been with us so long they were treated like family, most employees were long-term and there were not evaluations or written schedules and very little was put into writing.”

 

But now that Discount Fabrics has grown to include three stores, many more people are working for the company and it experiences higher employee turnover. Consequently, the three-generation family business has begun conducting written performance reviews. Documented schedules, time cards, evaluations, and write-ups became a necessity.

 

“Truly I feel the written evaluations are much more helpful to management than to the individual employee,” says Blake, who says it is an important part of a comprehensive employee file, serving as a record of an employee’s performance and history with the company to support management decisions. The year-end review establishes a paper trail for legal purposes and is also used by Discount Fabrics to fairly determine employee bonuses, benefit eligibility, and compensation.

 

 

Free employee evaluation resources:

Microsoft Office Employee Evaluation template.

Microsoft Office (short) Employee Evaluation form.

Inc’s (long) Employee Review template.

SBC Team

Rainmaking From Online Clouds

Posted by SBC Team Dec 14, 2011

White-in-article-square.pngBy Sherron Lumley

 

Bringing in new clients, improving cash flow, and finding new sources of capital are a perennial challenge for every business—for small businesses even more so. But now, thanks to the Internet and social media, entrepreneurs have access to many of the same powerful marketing tools, business networks, and customer groups that were once the private domain of Fortune 500 corporations. The trick, of course, is how to use these new tools correctly.

 

The first step on this road to increased prosperity, however, often proves to be the most difficult—getting buy-in from the business owner. But according to Mitch Joel, author of the book Six Pixels of Separation, a company that foregoes its online potential is missing a big opportunity. “Use the cloud,” he emphasizes. “The Internet can and should be one of the most powerful channels to convey your ideas and thoughts.”

 

Pull-Quote-Tall.pngSo what is so different and important about tapping into groups of people gathered together online in places like social media groups?  The answer is like-mindedness, trust, and among other things, engagement—it’s the idea that these people already want to interact with you and your business. 

 

Michael Stelzner, author of the 2011 Social Media Marketing Industry Report says that over the course of the last three years, social media has moved from an uncertain strategy to a permanent fixture to, now, a primary tool of businesses of all sizes. “Almost all marketers find that social media helps them stand out in an increasingly noisy marketplace,” Stelzner points out. In fact, the study found that 88 percent of respondents said social media helps get them increased exposure. Additionally, 72 percent of those surveyed saw increased traffic and subscriptions as a result of social media.

 

Online networking

 

Malena Jackson is the founder of the Global Association of Family Travel, in Valencia, California. It’s a business she relentlessly markets through social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, as well as through traditional methods such as local Chamber of Commerce meetings.

 

While Jackson acknowledges that face-to-face customer interactions still hold more value, she remains committed to online networking even though only five percent of her business currently comes from social media contacts. Approximately four times a week, Jackson sends out Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter messages to her clients, which include hotels and resorts around the world who want to know more about capturing the family traveler market. “I’m always planting seeds,” she explains. 

 

She also uses YouTube and Facebook to post short, three-minute videos that touch on family travel topics and consistently communicate her marketing message. “Social media allows you to be the expert if you do it right,” she says. When it comes to interacting online, Jackson says it’s all about letting people in and having a two-way conversation with customers and colleagues. “They want to be a part of your world.”

 

Online prospecting

Stephan Laenen founded his graphic design company, Image Creation, in Atlanta 10 years ago, later relocating to the Pacific Northwest. However, like Jackson, his customers come from far and wide. And he attributes some of his recent success in connecting with potential new clients to following up on LinkedIn after real-world networking events.

 

Laenen says when people come to his business via a social media site such as Facebook or LinkedIn, they are 80 percent bought in to your business because they trust the people who referred them. That makes converting them into real-life customers that much easier, he points out.

 

“When you do cold calls or advertising, you’re throwing a lot of work out there and the customers may or may not come,” Laenen says. “By nature, I’m not a sales person, I’m more of a customer service type. It’s easier for me if they are sold already.”

 

Online funding

Crowdfunding is another innovative way for a small business to use online resources to their benefit. So how does it work?

 

According to a recent Wall Street Journal profile, these online financial aggregation sites “provide platforms for entrepreneurs to get funding from various contributors, often friends, relatives and members of their community.” Best of all, the article notes, “the funds don’t need to be paid back because they’re not loans. However, many entrepreneurs give their contributors some of the products or services their start-ups sell as a way to show appreciation.” There are now several of these sites, such as Peerbackers, IndieGoGo, RocketHub and Kickstarter that let entrepreneurs tap into like-minded souls for relatively quick cash.

 

In New York City, Charles Hobson, founder of Vanguard Documentaries, is a veteran of the documentary film making industry and of fundraising. But for his current project, a film about the historic Flatiron building in New York, he created a Flatiron Film page on Kickstarter. For various amounts starting with as little as five dollars, people could become backers of the new project and, in return, get mentioned in his film’s credits. And though Hobson fell short of his official goal of raising $25,000 in three months, he was still able to contact the nearly 50 volunteers who did sign up and get them to directly contribute more than $5,000 to help create his film.

 

Calling it an “excellent vehicle,” Hobson says he would definitely try rainmaking through online crowds again, despite his initial, mixed results. “This is a good way for you to connect with people,” he says, adding that this is especially true since “in this economy, it’s more difficult to raise money.”

In-Article.pngBy Sherron Lumley.

 

Frank DeSantis, owner of DeSantis Photography, has spent 15 years in Philadelphia and Portland building small business alliances to move his commercial photography business forward. “It’s perseverance really and it’s not instant gratification. Business is about developing relationships. I’ve always known that and been open to experimenting,” DeSantis says.  

 

The relationships he refers to amount to a series of informal collaborations, where two or more companies work together toward mutual objectives, sharing both risk and reward. Working with a core team of small business owners can create a synergy where the sum of the whole exceeds what each individual business can do on its own.

 

These alliances tend to come in three flavors. The first type resembles David-and-Goliath proportions, where a smaller company joins forces with a much larger strategic ally, with the intended benefit of adding credibility to the smaller organization. Then there are the informal partnerships between two very large, but non-competitive companies, which often come together to co-market or cross-promote each other’s complementary brands. And finally, in what might be called David/David alliances, two smaller companies, both with limited resources, come together to leverage off each other’s strengths on a peer-to-peer basis.

 

Pull-Quote.pngFor example, the traditional way to promote a business, through the channels of marketing, advertising, and public relations can be prohibitively expensive to even mature small businesses. But by teaming up with other similarly sized companies in a David/David kind of arrangement, the costs can be shared, helping the companies to overcome an otherwise insurmountable financial barrier to entry.  But it’s not just about sharing expenses and saving money, forming an alliance is also a way to strategically grow sales contacts, cross-pollinate expertise, develop new markets, gain distribution channels, and build new technology and manufacturing. 

 

Build cross-industry strategic alliances through networking

 

“Networking takes a lot of time,” says DeSantis, “and even though you may think it’s a waste of time, it’s not. Nothing will come out of it that day, but week after week, month after month you’re befriending other people in the business community and earning their trust. Eventually it comes through,” he says.

 

DeSantis has shared direct mail campaigns, web blasts, and events, as well as formed alliances with hair stylists, jewelry makers, graphic designers, web designers, printers, and marketing professionals. “Then I put myself out there to doctors, doing portraits for their websites and pictures of procedures,” he says.  Next, he is considering an alliance with lawyers. 

 

DeSantis joined Business Networking International when he moved his business from Philadelphia to Portland several years ago. “One of the people I met at that networking group refinishes floors and that led to doing photography for him that moved his business up a notch,” he says. DeSantis then joined the Oregon Remodelers Association and the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, which led to more business. “Whatever it is that you want to be doing, that is where you need to go,” says DeSantis, who specializes in architectural photography.

 

“Real entrepreneurs understand the fundamental power of networking—connecting to like-minded individuals and helping them connect to others,” says marketing expert Mitch Joel in his book Six Pixels of Separation. “You network to build your circle of influence by adding value to your community and helping others get value they want.” The idea, he says, is to become the go-to person for the community.

 

Join professional trade organizations

 

The best strategic alliances result from a cooperative culture and spirit among the participating small businesses. These bonds lead to trust, resource sharing, and a friendly chemistry among the parties, says strategic alliance consultant Andrew Sherman in Grow Fast Grow Right

 

Ken DeLoria, owner of DeLoria Technical Services, runs a professional audio business specializing in live sound for musical concerts as well as high-profile TV events such as the Super Bowl, the Grammy Awards, and the Academy Awards. “I network as much as possible to stay on the radar with event planners, production companies, and sound rental companies,” says DeLoria, who is a member of the Audio Engineering Society (AES), the professional trade organization for his industry.

 

“The pro audio business lives and dies on relationships,” DeLoria says. “Almost every day of my life I’m sharing information and contacts. It’s a never-ending thing,” he says. It’s a tactic that has served him well. “In my business, it’s a combination of being technically competent, easy to work with, likeable, skilled, and sharp that results in trust and confidence in our advice on a major sound system that will cost millions of dollars,” he says.

 

Co-promotion can be a fast track to brand recognition

 

Establishing brand awareness can seem like a daunting task for small businesses, but those companies aiming for rapid growth can defray the heavy costs involved by sharing the expense with other businesses. “Strategic alliances bring added value, economies of scale, and broader customer recognition to the small business involved,” writes Sherman.

 

For instance, 17 years ago, DeLoria expanded his business from sound production to designing custom sound systems, which he commonly promotes at major industry trade shows across the country. But he found that shipping these large pieces of sound equipment—which often require a semi truck to accommodate them—can run as much as $30,000 or more. Thanks to the strategic alliances he’s since built with industry manufacturers, however, he’s able to defray these costs by using the sound equipment they already have on-site at the trade shows. DeLoria then cross-sells those same equipment brands in his trade show pitches, lending those products an air of being an expert’s choice.

 

Does an alliance require a contract?

 

For informal business alliances, a binding legal document might not be necessary, although talking over the arrangement with a lawyer is nonetheless a good idea as he or she may point out unforeseen consequences of the venture. However, if your company will be licensing the use of its patents, trademarks, or intellectual property rights and, conversely, if your business will be promoting those same rights from another business, the American Bar Association recommends seeking legal counsel. Of course, for formal business alliances, such as joint ventures or partnerships, it’s a must to have a thorough legal review and to put any agreement in writing, where it should be spelled out to all parties what is being shared and what is not, and how the process for exiting the alliance will work. And if strategic alliances, even informal ones, lead to doing business in other states or countries where you’re unfamiliar with the local laws and regulations, it’s a good idea to talk to a lawyer as well.

White-in-article-portrait.jpgBreakeven Analysis, Pro Forma Forecasting, and Growth Strategy.

 

by Sherron Lumley.

 

New Yorker Douglas Tausik is thinking outside of the box. In 2007, he founded Tropix Technology, a business that sells laptop computers to the East African market, specifically in Uganda. His big idea came from a visit to the area and a discovery that fewer than two percent of the Ugandan population owned a computer. “Our ultimate goal is to provide doctors, teachers, and students with computers,” says Tausik.

 

So far, Tropix has sold 50,000 computers in Uganda, a good start toward bringing computer literacy to the country via affordable computers that are made in China. To stay on track, Tausik relies upon several financial planning tools to help him answer three vital questions that every small business owner must ask:

  1. Will the business be able to make money?
  2. How long will it take until it’s profitable?
  3. How will I know if the business is meeting its goals?

 

Breakeven analysis, forecasting, and cash flow projections—these are the things small business dreams are made of. Each tool provides a strategic starting point for making the envisioned future a reality.  

 

Breakeven analysis

In Tropix Technology’s case, profit expectations and expenses are kept to an absolute minimum in order to make the computers affordable to Ugandans, lowering the breakeven point. To break even is a simple enough concept: at a certain point, expenses will be covered and the business will start to make money. Breakeven analysis means calculating all expenses the business incurs and determining how much product or service must be sold and at what price to make a profit.

 

For Tropix Technology, one of the main expenses is providing after-sale service and repair in Uganda, a benefit that has never been available before. “We had to analyze how many units to sell per month to operate the service center,” says Tausik. Some of the elements that go into a breakeven analysis include raw materials, labor, utilities, fuel, marketing, fixed costs such as rent, and variable costs such as shipping, selling expenses/sales commissions, and taxes.

 

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) offers a link to preparing a break-even analysis provided by Nolo.com, a legal publisher in Berkeley, California. Nolo also provides information on its website on preparing a profit and loss forecast, a cash flow projection and estimating start-up costs.

 

Pull-Quote.pngPro forma forecasts and cash flow

“We are definitely involved in forecasting and do cash flow projections,” says Tausik. “We have to fund the manufacturing of the computers, then we have to ship, then collect funds, so we have to analyze the cash requirements. Our commitment is never beyond the actual shipment because we do not do the manufacturing. We gather the orders, then when we have enough, we place the order in China,” he says.

 

 

The Latin term pro forma (as a matter of form) in business means projecting the future status of the company based on current performance, without including unusual and non-recurring transactions. Pro forma financial statements are similar to regular financial statements, except that they are educated guesses of what will happen in the future, based on the goals of the company and what is known right now. A pro forma balance sheet will include assumptions of future cash flows, assets, and liabilities. A pro forma income statement includes expected sales revenue, cost of goods sold, losses, operating expenses, equipment, depreciation and taxes. A pro forma statement of cash flow will predict inflow and outflow of cash to the business and give insight on potential shortages.

 

Realistic pro forma forecasts can be helpful to a small business by providing insight into needed course corrections. To make a forecast with any degree of accuracy, some actual data is needed, such as prior revenues and expenses from a known period of time. Typically, three to five years of data is considered a healthy period for discovering trends, but when the market is in mid-swing, a shorter time span may be more appropriate.

 

 

Growth Strategy
Just two years ago, Internet service became available in Uganda via a high-speed optical service built by China. The Internet Service Provider (ISP) sector is growing slowly, but in time will develop Internet access for more Ugandans, the majority of whom are still subsistence farmers. With this in mind, Tropix has plans for expansion. “It is an underserved market,” says Tausik. “Currently 30 to 35 percent of the population work in non-farming professions,” he notes, “and there is already reliable Internet service available in the capital city of Kampala.”

 

Tropix’ initial sales to the civil service sector was met by great enthusiasm from the Ugandan government, which provided a sales office for the company at no cost. Now, attention is focused on the country’s doctors and teachers, with a goal of 80 percent computer ownership. Additionally, there are thousands of incoming Ugandan university freshmen each year with no computers, so students will be an important target market as well. To reach the 80 percent goal the company will need to sell a total of 400,000 computers over the next five years. “We forecast the amount we have to sell each year to reach that goal and then make a marketing effort that corresponds to that,” Tausik explains. Part of the marketing effort is mobilizing a group of teachers to go from school to school.

 

Becoming familiar with breakeven analysis and pro forma forecasting is essential to meeting small business goals. With the knowledge of expenses and sales, a small business can calculate its breakeven point, forecast future cash flow, plan for profit, and create a growth strategy.

 

 


 

Additional Resources

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) provides a free online business planning course and business plan template that includes breakeven analysis, pro forma cash flow and a full list of items to include in a complete business plan. To learn more, follow the links below to other online resources.

  • A breakeven analysis will show you where your company begins to make a profit.
  • The breakeven point determines whether expenses, sales, or prices need adjustment.
  • Cash flow projections help prepare for shortages that can derail a small business.
  • Forecast realistically by using recent data considered in the context of the current market.
  • Pro forma calculations have many uses beyond the initial business plan, including planning for strategic growth.

Whether your business leans toward luxury or low-cost, setting the right price for your products is critical to success.

 

by Sherron Lumley.

 

In the exclusive realm of artisanal furniture, Steven Garfield, owner of Steven Garfield Fine Furniture in Stanton, New Jersey, is among the most elite in the country. “When you’re dealing with luxury, it has to be as perfect as humanly possible,” says Garfield, who is currently working on a custom dining suite for the Johnson family, of Johnson & Johnson fame, a commission that “could be in the $100,000 range.”

 

Pull-Quote.pngStill, even in such a high-end market, Garfield acknowledges his company is not immune to robust discussions about price points. “We debate it all the time,” he says. Perhaps that’s not surprising since hanging a price tag on a one-of-a-kind piece of custom furniture can be difficult. “I don’t like to think about money,” he says, but it’s a necessary evil for someone who admits with a chuckle that “if I were to keep a time log, there are times I would be making less than a dollar per hour.”

 

“Most of a business’s customers are relationship or value-based, but by focusing mainly on price, you run the risk of converting them to price-based customers,” explain price consultants Reed Holden and Mark Burton in Pricing With Confidence: 10 Ways to Stop Leaving Money on the Table. The authors urge that companies consider value-added pricing, which focuses on the total value delivered to the customer, rather than more traditional cost-plus pricing, which tallies the cost of the product plus a set mark-up.

 

Whether operating in an upscale or cut-rate market, getting the price right can make or break a small business. A price strategy is step one in getting to that profit sweet spot, the point that keeps customers happy and demand high, while still stoking business growth. Each business is unique, and strategies must be tailored to demand, the market, competitors, customers, perceived value, actual value, and cost. A look at three strategies for small businesses follows: premium pricing, competitive pricing and product differentiation.

 

Premium pricing

 

There are a limited number of pieces that Garfield and his staff can create in a year. The furniture is made from old-growth trees that have fallen naturally at the end of a 100 to 200-year life span. Each piece is handmade in a process that can take several years.

 

“I feel more confidence in the higher price point. A life is going into it,” says Garfield.

 

Premium pricing is appropriate when there is something unique about a product or service, and luxury, exclusivity and high quality are all associated with perceived higher value. Premium pricing strategies may mean a longer sales cycle, but better margins and higher profits will result from a smaller revenue base.

 

CFinding_Price.pngompetitive pricing

People are more price-sensitive about the necessities of life and less price-sensitive about the niceties. Whereas fine furniture is a luxury, children’s clothing is a necessity. On the other side of the country and the other end of the price point scale, Cristina Berry is the owner of Pipsqueak Resale Boutique, in Vancouver, Washington, a name-brand children’s clothing resale shop. Baby and children’s clothing at Pipsqueak starts at $1.50 per item and peaks at $15.00. The store also carries new and resale baby gear such as strollers, mobiles, and bouncers.

 

“I’m a mom of two kids and I know the economy is tough right now,” Berry says, “You have to be priced right or customers will go somewhere else.”

 

The more competitive the industry, the less flexibility there is on price. Even so, having the lowest price is not necessarily the best strategy. Finding the right price point starts with evaluating the competition based on the full package of products and services offered.

 

“Compared to our competitors we are low to medium priced,” says Berry. “We add value by offering better quality and service.” The merchandise at Pipsqueak Boutique is put through a triple-check process including steaming and sterilizing before stocking the sales floor, something her customers know about and appreciate, she says.

 

Customer care is another way to add value. “I want people to know that I care, and hope they will get a more personable feeling when they come into my store than they would at a larger competitor,” she says.

 

“If your product is a necessity, you need to focus on the value of your product compared to your competitors,” writes Laura Lake in her book, Consumer Behavior for Dummies. “You need to prove why consumers should spend their hard-earned money to purchase your product rather than your competitors.”

 

Product differentiation strategy

“You want to be sure that the market you’re targeting has the buying power to purchase your product,” Lake writes in her book. “When evaluating buying power within your target market, consider providing several quality levels of the same types of products that match the buying power and the demand in a given sector of the market.”

 

By carrying both new and used items, Pipsqueak’s is, in effect, pursuing a differentiation strategy, offering products at different price points.

 

The differentiation strategy applies to luxury goods as well. For those who admire his work but are not prepared to drop six figures on fine furniture, Garfield has more attainably priced pieces in the collection starting at $7,500 for tables and $1,500 for chairs.

 

White-in-article.jpgPrice testing

It’s not always the lowest price that pulls the best sales. But how do you find that perfect price point if your business isn’t a discount house or a premium outfit? Sometimes no amount of pencil-to-paper calculations or estimates of customer perceived value will lead to a specific best price. At this point, some actual information is needed—real data, not just theory. Testing different prices to discover what customers are willing to pay is the purpose of conducting a price test.

 

In an ideal price test, identical items would be priced differently at the same time in the same market to discover which price delivers the best results, but in a solo retail shop, this isn’t going to work. The next best scenario is to use different prices on similar pieces of merchandise. For small businesses selling online, the new era of real-time Internet pricing, where prices can change from minute to minute, makes online sales the ideal testing ground.

 

The price is right

Once the right price has been established, stand firm. “There is only one way to present your price,” says Tom Reilly in Value-Added Selling. “Use these three words only: ‘the price is…’ Anything other than that creates doubt in the buyer’s mind,” he says, adding, “The time to exude complete confidence is when you’re asking people for money.”

in-article.pngBy Sherron Lumley.

 

Even though a business might be considered small because of its relatively tiny staff, it can still have grand ambitions in today’s global marketplace. Just ask Mark Hilden, president of Dateline Exports. His company, based in the small, rural town of Aurora, Oregon, only employs 18 people, yet it nonetheless exports steel, timber, electrical materials, lighting, and underground utility piping to island countries spread all across the Pacific Ocean. “Our territory is anywhere beyond the International Date Line,” Hilden says.  Increasingly, other entrepreneurs are sharing Hilden’s strategy of selling his small business’s wares on a large, geographic scale. In fact, according to the Small Business Administration (SBA), 70 percent of all U.S. exporters have 20 or fewer employees and small businesses now account for more than $1 billion, and growing, per day in exports. 

 

Small businesses that achieve an export foothold also tend to have better long-term growth. According to the U.S. International Trade Commission, exporting small businesses averaged 37 percent revenue growth between 2005 and 2009, compared to a decrease of 7 percent for non-exporting small businesses. So, it’s perhaps no surprise that the federal government launched an unprecedented focus on expanding the role of small businesses in international trade last year. Known as the National Export Initiative, the project’s goal is to double all U.S. exports by 2014.

 

Breakout.pngCreating personal business relationships abroad

Still, whether a business is selling to a customer down the street or halfway around the world, creating personal relationships remains critical. Word of mouth and referrals helped grow Dateline Exports in the early years, and today, of the company’s 18 employees, five employees travel overseas frequently, four to six times per year for business. In addition to these face-to-face meetings, local agents, who are paid a commission on sales, have been established in each country to provide more immediate service and communication to customers.

 

“We’re out there to help the customer and the reward is that we are helping people in other nations to build up their infrastructure with quality products,” says Hilden. But the fundamental lesson is this, he says: “It’s all about people.”

 

Kamal Kirpalani, Vice President at the Internet e-commerce firm TouchCommerce, agrees. After more than a decade of providing online solutions to help U.S. businesses expand internationally, Kirpalani says overseas business relationships are fundamentally the same as domestic business relationships, with a few notable exceptions.

 

“The communication is a lot more challenging,” Kirpalani acknowledges. “In addition to a language barrier, you need to take into account sometimes significant cultural differences. This leads to more possibilities for misunderstandings to arise and means that you sometimes need to over-communicate to make sure everyone is on the same page.”

 

Of course, email has made communicating instantly around the world nearly effortless, but there are times when a disconnected digital handshake just won’t suffice. International travel is seen as a perk to some and a time-consuming obligation to others, but meeting in person may be necessary, Kirpalani notes.

 

“In the U.S., web-based meetings like WebEx and GoToMeeting are increasingly common and accepted and it is possible to get a lot done without having to travel,” says Kirpalani, who is based in Paris. But in Europe, although virtual meetings are slowly gaining some acceptance, Kirpalani claims that almost all meetings still take place face-to-face.

 

Don’t get lost in translation

To successfully sell in foreign markets, a small business must make a commitment —both in resources and time—to bolster communication at every step of the process. Without such an effort, a small company’s export efforts are likely headed for a steep and possibly expensive learning curve.

 

So, whether you’re staying put or traveling abroad to meet clients, an important early step in building an overseas relationship is to properly translate your company’s marketing materials into the local language or dialect. An experienced translator will understand the target language within the local cultural context and can help to avoid an unintended public relations disaster. When it comes to legal documents, take the time to find a certified translator whose work will be accepted by courts and government agencies in the U.S. and abroad. (To find a certified translator check out the American Translators Association website’s “Find a Translator or Interpreter” tool.)

 

Go big or go home

Going global will lead to new business relationships requiring as much or more time than what a small business is already handling at home. Offering up excuses in the face of supply snafus, mixed messages, or inadequate customer service will displease overseas customers as much as it does domestic clients. 

 

“My most important advice would be to not pursue international expansion half-heartedly,” Kirpalani says. “Cultivating international relationships will probably take longer than expected to pay off.”

 

Hilden has heeded this strategy in his approach. Dateline Export’s in-country sales agents not only help with customer service, they collect payments as well as handle other customer or product-related issues. “One of the biggest challenges is educating customers,” he says, which is an important element of cross-cultural customer service.

 

Where to begin?

The Small Business Administration provides an International Business Plan Workbook at the end of “Breaking Into The Trade Game, A Small Business Guide to Exporting.” And to start your foreign market research, try perusing the U.S. Commercial Service Market Research Library, which contains more than 100,000 industry and country-specific market reports that are available to U.S. companies, students, and researchers for free.

 

How to fund it?

There are new SBA programs in place for small businesses considering exporting: the Export Express loan program, the Export Working Capital Program, and the International Trade Loan program, to name a few. The SBA website has more information about financing and insuring small business exports.

 

Other helpful resources

The U.S. Export Assistance Centers, which are staffed by professionals from the SBA, the U.S. Department of Commerce, and other private sector and public organizations, can answer many import-export questions. The American Association of Exporters and Importers and the Export-Import Bank of the United States are two more good resources. And prior to actually importing or exporting goods, it’s a good idea for any small business owner to check out the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, “Tips for New Importers and Exporters,” which is available online.

 

 

Additional Resources
Books:

Cross-Cultural Selling for Dummies, by Michael Soon Lee and Ralph R. Roberts, 2009.

Going Global, An Information Sourcebook for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses, by Susan C. Awe, 2009.

Import/Export for Dummies, by John J. Capela, 2008.

Start Your Own Import/Export Business, Entrepreneur and Jennifer Dorsey, 2007.

The Small Business Bible, by Steven D. Strauss, 2008


Web:

American Association of Exporters and Importers: 

http://www.aaei.org

American Translators Association

http://www.atanet.org

Customs and Border Protection

http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/trade/trade_outreach/diduknow.xml

Export-Import Bank of the United States

http://www.exim.gov/

International Trade Administration, U.S. Dept. of Commerce: 

http://www.trade.gov

National Export Initiative:

http://export.gov/nei/  

Small Business Administration Office of International Trade

http://www.sba.gov/about-offices-content/1/2889

U.S. Commercial Service Market Research Library

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Subscription-business-article.pngby Robert Lerose.

 

Magazine publishers have known for years that their best source of reader-generated income comes from renewing current subscribers rather than acquiring new ones. Renewal series are cheaper to mount than new subscriber promotions and provide a steady stream of instant cash. More and more businesses in different sectors are discovering that this same subscription-based model makes sense for them and for their bottom line, too. Netflix, Amazon, and even unorthodox companies like Zipcar, have used this model to dominate their niche.

 

“The relationship between people and businesses, and the products and services they use, is no longer a one-time event,” notes Tien Tzuo, CEO of Zuora, a Silicon Valley-based subscription billing company. (For a list of other subscription billing and service companies, like PayPal and Chargify, check out this blog post.) Tzuo was formerly chief marketing office at Salesforce.com, a company that shook up its industry several years ago when it chose to offer lower-priced, monthly software subscriptions to its clients instead of charging them high, one-time licensing fees upfront. Going forward, Tzuo says modern companies should find similar ways to build long-term relationships with their customers. “And with these long-term relationships come a recurring, predictable revenue stream,” he says. “That is the subscription economy.”

 

Pull-Quote-Tall.pngBut you don’t have to be a Goliath to take advantage; almost any type of business can put together a subscription plan. For example, online business guide Investopia explains that subscription plans—which are also known as passive income streams—“could incorporate a low monthly fee for on-demand customer service or maintenance, subscription access to exclusive coaching, or a newsletter with interviews, book reviews, and market analysis on your industry.” Combine any of these options with a customer’s fondness for the certainty that a subscription plan provides and you wind up with a near perfect way to keep the money flowing, even in an uncertain economy.   

 

More predictability for business and customer

Red Hat, the leading provider of Linux and open source solutions, adopted a subscription model almost 10 years ago because of its convenience and high customer value. “A subscription model is incredibly simple and predictable for customers,” says Lars Herrmann, director of strategic marketing for the North Carolina-based company. “They know exactly what they have to plan for, exactly what they have to budget for, and what they get at any point.”

 

Red Hat’s offerings are enormously flexible. In the case of Red Hat’s Enterprise Linux program, for example, subscribers get access to the software channels and the customer portal where they can download the products, along with available updates and fixes. In addition, they can choose from a variety of support tools, depending on the subscription plan they buy.

 

Building brand loyalty is another key feature of the subscription model. To that end, Red Hat constantly seeks ways to expand its portfolio of products in order to provide more choices for customers and more revenue streams for the company. “The subscription model forces the vendor to deliver a great experience every day because the money is not made upfront at the sale,” says Herrmann. Instead, he emphasizes, “the money is earned every day.”

 

Generating a predictable revenue stream helped Red Hat maintain a robust bottom line during the current financial crisis. For the completed 2011 fiscal year, the company took in $773.4 million in subscription revenue—an increase of 21 percent over the prior year.

 

Red Hat focuses on giving great value to the customer, Herrmann says. “We are not depending on new license fields every day in order to report fantastic numbers to our shareholders. We depend on delivering great service and driving customer satisfaction.” At renewal time, customers receive an automated notification that their subscription is about to expire with instructions on how to renew. They can choose to renew their subscription as is, or upgrade or downgrade it. The feedback from customers, Herrmann says, has been extraordinarily positive.

 

“They love the subscription model. It’s easy to handle from an accounting point of view. The customers know very well which services they get. They have the flexibility to move their subscription from one system to another and they like the simplicity of managing it. If they don’t want to have a renewal event every year, they can avoid it by buying into a three-year subscription.”

 

Building long-term relationships means higher customer retention

Boutique firm Kroll Bond Rating Agency may be only one-year-old, with just 24 employees, but it rates nearly 18,000 entities, from savings and loans and insurance companies to credit unions and the top 1,000 corporations. In its first year, the company has already seen good results from its subscription offerings, says Kroll managing director and head of the subscription business, Tawanda Seifert.

 

“Most of our clients like the subscription model because they know what they’re going to get, they know the product, they know the timing,” says Seifert. And she emphasizes the important role a subscription model plays in maintaining good customer relationships. “Client satisfaction is an implied or unstated component of the subscription-based model. They know that they can call and ask questions and we’re going to answer the phone”

 

By using a subscription agreement that lasts for the lifetime of the relationship, Kroll has been able to retain about 90 percent of their clients so far. That certainty takes a lot of the anxiety out of planning for future budgets—for both Kroll and its clients.

 

“You’re not asking are we going to do 15 deals this year and how much revenue will that bring us? I think you have a more constant stream” of revenue, Seifert says. “There are months when our invoiced amounts are less and then there are months when our invoiced amounts are very high. Since you know these cycles, it helps you plan and budget your income statement or your P&L.”

 

Replacing uncertainty with predictable revenue and brand loyalty is just one reason that subscription-based business models may be the best arrangement for you and your customers in an unpredictable economy.

Digitally-Dressed-Article.jpgMake sure your website and other digital tools are as effective as possible

 

By Sherron Lumley.

 

Nowadays, the morning commute may be a sideways roll out of bed, then a flex of the index finger to power on the computer. We can attend a conference call in pajamas and chat online with a client over a bowl of cereal.

 

So what does it mean to be dressed for success when we don’t necessarily have to get dressed? The nature of interaction between businesses and customers has changed in the digital world, but the one thing that hasn’t changed is the power of a first impression, a three-to-seven second event. A typical website visitor stays about 44 seconds then moves on unless this first impression presents a reason to stay longer.

 

“I call that short attention span theater,” says Stephen Goebel, Creative Director and owner of ToeShark Visual Communication in Henderson, Nevada. “Marketing must be crystal clear to engage people instantly and keep them around long enough to continue the conversation,” Goebel says.

 

Dressed-Sidebar.pngKnow Your Netiquette

In the 1975 bestseller Dress For Success, author John T. Molloy popularized the concept of power dressing to convey authority and competence. Today, this competitive edge is just as relevant as it was then. “Your site can help position you as an authority—and you should aim for that,” says Drayton Bird, author of Commonsense Direct and Digital Marketing. “Since most people seek information on the web, those who seem better informed are seen as better.”

 

Although content is fundamentally important, the brevity of website visits means that the visual element is crucial. An effective website is visually digestible, clean, simple and clear. It is focused and includes a value statement, so people know what the message is. “The human mind loves order,” says Goebel, who holds a masters degree in Visual Communication from the Pratt Institute in New York.

 

Beyond the Website

Although a company website is usually the most significant element of the digital marketing mix, as in all marketing plans, the medium should fit the objective. “I am all about results and top line revenue, more people through the door, more calls on your phone,” Goebel says. However, not all of his clients need or want a website. There are other digital resources available that are increasingly mainstream and easy to use.

 

“Social media is imperative now. I drag my clients into it. Setting up Facebook and Twitter is a must, and then you have to use these tools,” Goebel says.

 

Charles Hobson, founder of Vanguard Documentaries, has seen numerous technology changes come and go over the last four decades, but that has not changed his underlying love for documentaries and storytelling. His award-winning company has launched a website, Facebook page, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts and he regularly uses Skype for phone calls and videoconferencing and Google Docs for digital document sharing.

 

“I was always into technology,” Hobson says. “I’m what’s known as an early adopter.” Nowadays, he uses Skype’s free videoconferencing and Google Docs to communicate with colleagues abroad and he currently has about 1700 followers on Twitter. “My phone is always beeping,” he says. Twitter is a viral marketing medium, the modern day word-of-mouth, so it’s important to keep in mind that digital communication is not a one-way street.

 

Encourage feedback

In The New Handshake, by Joan C. Curtis and Barbara Giamanco, the authors talk about how to properly toe the netiquette line. “Do not talk constantly about yourself or your business,” they write. “Online, you listen by responding to other people’s Tweets and by joining a conversation in the LinkedIn discussions,” they say. Being able to listen to customers is one of the most useful aspects of interactive media. A company can know, practically instantly, customer response, and from this a business can learn and improve.

 

This consumer participation is what makes digital marketing so revolutionary. Therefore, providing an opportunity for interaction is going to be a top desire of a successful web strategy. The Vanguard Documentaries Facebook page features a preview of a work-in-progress documentary about the Flat Iron Building in New York. Visitors can watch the short film, make comments, send a link to others, and if they want, become backers of the film for as little as five dollars. The page is linked to Kickstarter, a funding platform for creative projects.

 

Figure as a rule of thumb that the annual marketing budget for a small business should be ten percent of the gross revenue for the year. To get in the game with a professionally designed website of eight to ten interlinked pages will cost about three thousand dollars.

 

When hiring a professional to design a website, it pays to shop around. To check credentials or find a website designer, head to the American Institute of Graphic Arts website.

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