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Text_Marketing_body.jpgBy Jennifer Shaheen.

Text message marketing is one of the fastest growing ways to communicate with your customers. However, many business owners are more comfortable with email marketing and therefore overlook this opportunity to reach current and potential customers. We spoke with some experts to figure out how best to reach your audience.

Understanding the technology

There are two terms you’ll hear as you explore text message marketing: SMS and MMS. SMS stands for Short Message Service and refers to the familiar text-only text message. MMS stands for Multimedia Message Service and refers to text messages that include images and video. Both types of messages can include clickable links, allowing your customers to go directly to your website.

MailChimp, one of the largest providers of email marketing services, provides a chart explaining the open rates of different industries when it comes to email. Most categories fall somewhere between 12 percent and 25 percent. Retailers, for example, come in at 23.16 percent, which means that slightly less than one out of every four emails are opened.

Text messages, by comparison, have an open rate of nearly 90 percent. “People are in love with their phones and they have them with them constantly,” says Saeed El-Darahali, CEO of SimplyCast, a company that helps business owners automate and coordinate their marketing messages over several platforms, including text, email, and phone contacts. According to the Pew Research Center, the typical smartphone user checks his or her phone over 150 times a day.


“Ninety-seven percent of the texts that are opened, are opened within seconds of receipt,” says Steve Gordon, co-founder of the Gordon Partnership Group, a business communications coaching and consulting firm based in Connecticut. “Text messaging is the most immediate form of communication. It puts your business’s message directly into your customer’s pocket.”

Text message marketing is entirely opt-in

As with email marketing, text message marketing is entirely opt in. “Business owners choose a keyword that’s relevant to their business. Something short, memorable and to the point,” Gordon explains. “Customers text this word to a specific number, and they receive a follow up text that confirms they want to receive your messages.”

Customers can opt out of text message marketing at any time by texting the word ‘stop’ to the sender. However, opt-out rates are exceptionally low. Both El-Darahali and Gordon put the opt-out rate at less than five percent; email unsubscribe rates hover around 50 percent.

Text_Marketing_PQ.jpgUnderstand what makes text message marketing successful

“Many business owners shy away from text message marketing because they’re worried it will be seen as some version of spam,” Gordon says. “However, these aren’t random people you’re texting. They’re your customers who have opted in and want to hear from you.” The most important point is to keep it relevant. The car wash owner who texts customers with an offer of “Wash one car, get your second car free” immediately after a big snow storm gets good results because it’s immediate and relevant, Gordon explains.

Timing is also critically important when sending text messages. Because text messages are typically opened immediately, they’re great at prompting impulse buys. Sending a text about your Happy Hour specials at the end of the work day will be more effective than sending that same text at 9 a.m.

You have to think about what your customers are likely doing at different points of the day, El-Darahali says. For instance, “don’t send texts when your customers are likely to be sleeping.” He recommends that small business owners use a service that allows them to create their text message campaigns in advance, sending each message at a specific time that will be convenient to the customer.

Frequency is another important criteria. “Even though we’ve had cell phones with texting capabilities since the early 1990’s, few businesses have used texting as a marketing channel,” El-Darahali says. “As a result, texts are still seen as a pleasant surprise by the customer.”

Maximizing the value of text message marketing

Text message marketing can do more than prompt a buy. “Text messages can be forwarded,” Gordon points out, “and customers do that in order to share good offers with their friends.” This makes text message marketing a relatively inexpensive way to acquire new customers. Text messaging can also encourage customers to engage with you on other platforms, such as Facebook or Pinterest.

Text messages can also include contests and surveys., a client of Gordon’s, ran a text message contest where people could vote for their favorite kind of wine and win a gift card. Not only did this contest get a lot of participation—boosting the number of customer names in the database—but it is now possible to segment that customer base by their favorite wine, Gordon explains. Now when wants to run a special on Cabernets, for example, they have a list of customers who voted for Cabernets and can target their messaging directly to them.

Promotion of text message marketing is essential

“For text messaging to be a successful part of your marketing mix, your team needs to promote it and encourage customers to sign up,” says Lori Gordon, of the Gordon Partnership Group. While people can be encouraged to opt in via signage, your website, and even through TV and radio commercials, she feels that in-person recommendations from business owners and employees is the best method. “If you’re reluctant to promote your text messaging service, it won’t work,” she adds. “Train your sales team to talk to every single customer about it. That’s how you build a database of people who will appreciate and respond to your text messaging campaigns.”

Reporting-Thumb.pngThe transition from manual to automated reporting can present a challenge for any size company—a challenge that can be particularly daunting for small business owners who already have their hands full. But once you get past the initial investment of time and human resources, automated reporting can improve your ability to assess the company’s performance. If you can manage its implementation, the conversion may strengthen your company’s ability to compete and grow.


Click here to download our guide "The Pros and Cons of Automated Reporting"

David-Solis3.pngby David Solís.


Would you have considered depositing a check from your phone five years ago? The capability wasn’t even possible, let alone the security worry.


Today, we’re seeing small business owners in particular dive right into the mobile revolution. In fact, 66% of small business owners (SBOs) say they could not survive without their mobile phone.


Last year, Bank of America reached the milestone of having one million small business customers become mobile banking users. Many of our small business customers use their smart phones or tablets to do mobile check deposit, but there are tons of ways you can turn your phone into your own personal assistant if you want to. This will allow you to be more available to your customers, be more productive, and be able to focus on the thing that is most important to you – your business.


If you own a small business and you are not leveraging the power of mobile, you’ll soon find your competition is. So what are some of the ways to do this? Here are a few things your small business peers are most interested in when it comes to mobile banking, and you should be too:

  • We’ve seen an increase in our customers using their phone or tablet to manage business accounts. Popular features include checking balances, transferring funds between accounts for payroll or supplier payments, and tracking transactions.
  • SBOs are particularly big fans of the mobile notifications security feature where irregular account activity is flagged and alerts are sent automatically to the owners. The convenience of these alert features cannot be overstated; it’s like having real-time security right in your pocket.
  • Marketing over mobile is also gaining popularity; 73 percent of small business owners say they use devices to conduct social media marketing, while 71 percent said they use their device to do email marketing.
  • Small businesses are increasingly turning to digital to make payments securely and with greater speed. Tools like MasterCard’s MasterPass digital wallet platform are delivering on this promise by enabling small businesses to accept credit and debit cards payments.


Overall, mobile banking is helping small businesses compete by leveling the playing field with their larger counterparts – the size of your business no longer matters, just how connected it is. So get on board and experience the freedom of heightened accessibility.

Data_Protection_body.jpgBy Jennifer Shaheen.

Recent headlines about the Heart Bleed bug have business owners worried about the safety of their data. Yet one of the biggest risks to your company’s security comes from a source much closer to home: your employees and the way they engage with your data. Whether it’s simple carelessness that results in a laptop full of your customer’s financial information being stolen, or the deliberate destruction wrought by a disgruntled former employee, there are steps you can take to protect yourself.

Allen Falcon, CEO of Cumulus Global and specialist in cloud data security says, “The number one best practice for data protection small business owners need to know about is don’t rely solely on free services. When you use free services, you’re sacrificing security for data storage.” Below, he shares some other best practices for data protection.

1. Employment agreements must address data security

Spell out your expectations regarding data handling and technology use from day one with comprehensive policies that employees are required to read, sign, and abide by as a condition of employment. “Make it clear that any data that resides on the company’s computers is company property, and the company can access it at any time,” Falcon advises. Knowing that the boss is watching can discourage employees from doing things like downloading client lists prior to leaving the job.

A policy that ensures they’re obligated to either return or destroy any company data they have on their own personal devices is also essential. “You can make the payment of any accrued vacation time, severance packages, or other compensation contingent on complying with this policy,” he adds.

2. Grant access to data on a need-to-know basis

The easiest way to prevent your employees from doing anything untoward with your data is to never give them access to it in the first place. “Give access and permissions to work with data based strictly on job function,” Falcon says. “Limit the scope of what they have access to to the data they need to do their job and no more.” Giving employees limited access—for example, the ability to view a document, but not edit, print, or share it—is a viable option to keep your operation moving and your business secure.

Data_Protection_PQ.jpg3. Require passwords for every device

“Every computer and device used in or for your business needs a password,” Falcon says. “Whether that’s the desktop computer, a smart phone, or a tablet—all of these devices need to be protected.” Strong passwords are at least eight characters long, contain upper and lower case letters, and at least one number or special character. “Using a single sign-on system allows your employees to access all of your individual systems by logging on once,” he added. “This makes managing your data easier and more secure.” Passwords should be changed every 60 to 90 days.

4. Consider data wiping tools

Unprotected mobile devices are one of the leading causes of business data loss. “All your employee has to do is forget their smart phone in the cab for you to have a real problem,” Falcon says. If your company needs to comply with HIPAA or SEC regulations, for example, or your customers’ personally identifiable information is on that device, the ability to remotely wipe the data is essential. Check the functionality of the tools you may already be using, such as Google Apps, as data wiping abilities may already be built in.

5. Go to the cloud

Cloud storage is rapidly becoming the gold standard for business data. Because data that is stored in the cloud doesn’t live on any device you or your employees may be using, it doesn’t matter if that device is lost, stolen, or destroyed. No one will be able to access your data without logging into the cloud-based system. Falcon recommends combining cloud storage with a virtual desktop service, such as iDisplay Desktop for Windows or AT&T’s Virtual Desktop, to leave absolutely nothing–not even document files—residing on devices where they can be accessed without your permission.

6. Immediately suspend employee accounts upon termination

When an employee leaves, on good terms or bad, change their passwords immediately. Changing the password prevents your former employee from resetting their password remotely and being able to access your data for their own ends. As the business owner, you may need access to the data that is stored in those accounts, so you don’t want to delete them prematurely.


Webisodes_body.jpgby Robert Lerose.


The amount of videos posted online continues to grow with seemingly no end in sight. A recent study by Cisco predicts that by 2017, videos will account for 69 percent of all consumer Internet traffic—a 12 percent jump from 2012. Webisodes, or web series, will certainly be part of this upswing in viewership. Like scripted broadcast or cable programming, webisodes can have an ongoing story and intriguing characters—but instead of merely entertaining viewers, they can also build awareness of your brand, forge stronger ties with your customers, and provide content that is relevant and useful.


Frame them like stories

Although webisodes are often used as part of a business strategy, experts warn that they are not commercials in disguise. Customers and potential buyers will not sit still for watching a long sales pitch spread out over multiple segments. "Entertaining, engaging content is always king," says Curt Mercadante, president of Charleston, South Carolina-based Gravina Online Strategies. "Webisodes are like a TV show where people are left wanting more."


Webisodes can tell stories through different dramatic formats to stoke viewer curiosity and keep them involved with the storyline. For example, Mercadante has partnered with a firm called Feed.Us that develops web-based content management applications. Instead of a hard, direct pitch about the features and benefits of their products, Feed.Us produced webisodes about two of their technicians who answer customer problems over the phone, "but they built [it around] this soap opera of webisodes that has a funny romance," Mercadante says. "They filmed the webisodes at their desk. Sometimes a grainier look is better because it has that human feel."


Some webisodes have recurring characters or an ongoing plot, but others can center on a common theme. Mercadante produced webisodes for the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform called Faces of Lawsuit Abuse. While these looked like mini-documentaries or news segments, they also tell stories of victims of lawsuit abuse. "The [institute's] product is lawsuit reform, but it is rarely mentioned in any of the videos," Mercadante explains. "It's less about selling the action and more about telling the story about being real life victims."


Like a morning talk show

Some businesses are comfortable producing webisodes internally. Others find that using a familiar talk show format and a seasoned interviewer can bring out and capture the essence of their business and the personality of the business owner in a more accessible way.


"The video needs to be professional if they want the business to look professional," says Bella Shaw, a former anchor for CNN who now does videos for the BzS business webisode series. Shaw begins by doing a pre-interview with the subject and using questions before the filming to draw out key points, such as: What makes you the star of your own business? What sets you apart from the competition? What success stories can you share? What is something people would be surprised to know about you? Shaw will also send out an in-depth memo that covers everything from what the subject should wear to how to use simple language and stories to make their points.


"A lot of people are nervous in front of the camera, but I tell them that this is a conversation," Shaw says. "The nice thing is, it's not live. I know when I have my sound bite. If I don't get what I need, I rephrase the question in a way that we can get that."


The interview takes place on a set that looks like a morning talk show, with footage of the subject at their business or doing something unexpected edited in later. "You have to have good visuals," Shaw says. "We did a video of a company called Ladyface Ale, a brewery in Calabasas, California. We showed the owner taste testing and walking around the plant. Anything moving makes really good video."


Taking it on the road

Webisodes provide great flexibility and versatility for involving viewers in a storyline. Just ask Jacob Ballard, self-proclaimed grand pooh-bah of  iWebXpert, an Asheville, North Carolina-based company specializing in Internet marketing.


In April 2013, Ballard and his brother, a company vice president, took off for a two-month road trip across the United States for the purpose of interviewing small business owners, pushing the benefits of entrepreneurship—and marketing their own company as well. They edited the videos into a series of webisodes called Big Town Small Business.



Some of the interviews were set up in advance, but others were more spontaneous. "We had a wireless Internet card that we would use to research some unique creative companies while we drove," Ballard says. "We didn't get a 'yes' from everybody we reached out to, but we got a pretty good response from the people we were able to interview."


Eight videos were posted on the iWebXpert website, each about eight to 10 minutes in length. "Along the trip we got three clients from some of the businesses we actually interviewed, which was not intended," Ballard says. "The expense of the trip was made back in less than a month upon returning."


Creating videos for clients has now become a major source of new business for Ballard. For small business owners who want to produce their own web series, Ballard offers this advice: "First, you need to be consistent [in your format]. Second, provide great content. Third, plan out the strategy behind your webisodes and how it's going to help your business. Videos are a win from every angle you look at for your website, for telling your story, and for marketing."

The thing about being in business for yourself these days is that it is not enough to simply be a good entrepreneur. Now you need to be incredibly tech savvy as well.


Yet, as one seasoned business professional recently mentioned to me, “small business people generally are late adopters.” Essentially, he meant that small business owners are so busy running their shop, they usually come late to change, especially technological change. That makes sense of course, but it is not always the wisest course. With technology becoming so important in our lives, businesses, and society, not using it to your advantage can be a big mistake.


Here are the most common tech mistakes that small business people make, and how to avoid them:


1. Looking small: Back in the day, everyone knew how big or small a particular small business was. That is not the case today. Sure, you may be a really small business offline, but if you do big work, you should look big. Online, you can look every bit as big as your biggest competitors.


So go ahead, and get that gorgeous new website, or update your dated website. It is easy and affordable. Using tools like, or Wordpress, you can get a beautiful, powerful website. While you are at it, give your business a robust social media presence too. If you make your online presence look as professional as you really are, no one ever needs know that you run your business out of your spare bedroom (unless you want them to!)


2. Not taking advantage of social media: Yes, we know you have a lot more important things to do than spend your time playing around on Facebook. However, social media is truly a revolutionary breakthrough for small businesses and it would behoove you to understand that and take advantage of it.


If you want to succeed in business, you have to go where your customers are. Nowadays that means on social media sites. Beyond that, social media costs you nothing but time, and while of course time is money, the fact that it does not actually take cash to use social media is pretty incredible. You would be hard-pressed to name another medium with such a low cost of entry.


Finally, social media is the word-of-mouth of today. When someone “Likes” your Facebook page, retweets you, or endorses you on LinkedIn, that is how they tell their friends about you.


3. Not taking advantage of the tech tools available: You probably don’t realize it, but large corporations spend an inordinate amount of time and money trying to understand and please you. Small business is actually big business to them, so they create all sorts of tools to sell to you to help you succeed.


Whether it is an online collaboration tool like WebEx or GoToMeeting, or accounting software like QuickBooks, or an app that allows you to do business on the go, the fact is, there are a lot of tech tools out there that can help you run your business better.

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


4. Not doing proper backups on your systems: You know the drill by now – back up, back up, back up! But do you? Many small business people still do not, or at least not regularly. It’s not a problem, until it is, and when that happens, it is a very big problem indeed.  You can now schedule remote backups, so that means you have no excuse to not backup ever again.


5. Not having proper security software installed: According to McAfee, more than half of all computer crimes now are directed at small businesses because we are easy targets, and 60% of the time when a small business is hacked, the business ends up going out of business.


6 out of 10 times.


The solution is incredibly simple: Install a professional grade software security system. That will keep the bad guys out of your system. You lock your doors at the end of the day, don’t you? Well, now is the time to lock your system too.

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

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