Tuesday, November 30, 2010
There's nothing quite like the local service industry. I love using my local electricians, plumbers, mechanics, carpenters, etc. etc. Service with a smile, first name basis, relying on the old fashioned Word-of-Mouth advertising, I know all about service industry, because I am one myself. While it was easy for me to decide to go digital, seeing as I am a site designer, repair technician, etc, but what about you? Have you considered having a web presence for your company? Here's how I look at it, not only is a web site a great advertising method, but I try to make a website try to make at least one facet of your business more automated.
Let's say your business has you on constant service calls. You're out working with a customer and your cell phone rings. You stop and answer the phone only to have the caller ask for your hours, your rates, what you do, some examples of your work, etc. Quite annoying isn't it? Now imagine you have a basic 5 page website with a home page, FAQs, Contact, testimonials, and portfolio. Instead of getting these little calls, they could instead go to your site and get this information.
A website also opens you up to local searches. Here's a test go to Google and search for your industry in your area. How many companies come up? How many of them have web sites? Are you on that list? Where are you on that list? All of these questions really impact your visibility as more and more people are looking for local businesses online as opposed to traditional means, i.e. phone book, 411.
Your company makes the best widgets you've ever seen. You're proud of your widgets and know they are a hit. They will make the world so much easier and help make whatchacallits run so much smoother and last longer. All of this may be true, but with no website, how will you get the word out about your widgets? I often tell people in every line of business not having a website today is like not having a phone in the 60's. It's the way business is done now.
I maintain a website for a small, local manufacturing company. I knew when we started his product was so specific, that he wouldn't get more than 50 hits per month. So instead I streamlined his ordering and payment process to make it easier for him and his customers. His existing customers love the convenience and as an added bonus, he has entered the market in China, Russia, Brazil, and Canada.
A website also gives you contact information, pricing information, as well as a showcase for your products.
If you own a shop that sells items locally, you may not think that you need a website. Once again, I offer you the phone reference in the above section. Also, what makes a website so great for your business is that it is a great advertising method. Think of it this way; I pay around $60 a month for a business card sized ad in our local paper. Our paper comes out once per week. So I pay $60 for an ad that someone will see once, turn the page and won't see again until next week. The best I can do is hope they have PC problems right then, or that it sets a small seed in their memory for a PC problem in the near future. A website, on the other hand costs a small monthly maintenance fee, (my fee is $40 for a list of services) that keeps your "ad" visible 24/7/365 that also doubles as a catalog. Pretty neat, huh?
A website helps you keep your business on patrons minds. You can spend a few hundred dollars every month to send out a monthly newsletter, or use your website to send out one per week if needed. An e-newsletter costs usually a few dollars per month (the maintenance fee covers one from me) and you can keep your customers up-to-date on sales, coupons, new products, etc.
A website also opens your business up for social networking. No one can deny the power of social networking, but it isn't fully customizable. If you have a website and a social networking page, you can link the two and keep many customers up to date with your company. Anytime you update on your networking site, place a link to your website, esp. the specific page. If you have a sale on product A, update your page to say "Great sale on Product A", then place the link to Product A's page. Place a link to where they can join your network on your website in key locations, so that they can easily join and follow you. A social network also allows you to connect with your customers on a more personal level, which I love about small local shops. If they ask you about a product on your network, go ahead and set it aside for them so that when they get there it's ready to go, it shows you care and listen to your patrons.
This article is only scratching the surface of this important decision for your business. A lot will go into your thought process, as my next few articles will touch on. I open this up for questions or comments and you may use my contact information if you would like to ask questions for a more personal answer.
Lowry's PC Services
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Technology has rode shotgun with trends. Twenty years ago, most people didn't own a cell phone. Today, it's rare to find anyone over the age of 13 that doesn't own a cell phone. Twenty years ago if you wanted to find a local business, you either picked up a Yellow Pages or called directory assistance. Today, you use your cell phone or GPS to perform the same function. Savvy business owners, managers and executives have recognized the changes in trends and technology and have set up their companies to take advantage of business tools and applications that are now available.
Today, nearly everyone in the world has heard of Google and Facebook although neither company existed 15 years ago. A lot of businesses are currently spending a lot of time trying to improve their Google rankings and SEO performance but are not spending as much time crafting out their social media strategy. Many people may be surprised to hear this but Facebook currently gets more traffic than Google. 50% of the 500 million users on Facebook sign in every day. Do you use Google every day? People spend more time on Facebook than any other website in the world. Facebook can't be ignored any more than Google can be ignored.
Are you keeping up with technology and trends? Can I find your business on my cell phone? Are your customers or clients tweeting about the good (or bad) service from your company? Your customers and clients are keeping up with technology and trends even if your business isn't.
Monday, November 29, 2010
Make Your Small Business Memorable with Customer Testimonials
By Dave Ramacitti
The one overriding goal of a small business’ marketing efforts, especially for a start-up, is to be noticed, is to be memorable in the eyes of customers or potential customers. You achieve being memorable by finding something your customers or potential customers can identify with, an image that you can own. Then you deliver that image --- your marketing message --- in a unique and memorable way, that is, in a way that is different from your competitors.
One way you can present your marketing message in a unique way is to use customer testimonials.
One of the great things about using testimonials is their flexibility --- they are be effective in TV or radio ads, print media ads, even brochures and fliers.
There is always something compelling about a real person delivering a real story about how a product has helped him or her in some way. A good example is the blues great B.B. King, who is a diabetic, demonstrating the value of the One Touch Ultra testing equipment --- no finger sticks to interfere with his guitar playing.(Dave Ramacitti is co-founder and chief content developer for Marketing Over Easy, a new website dedicated to helping small businesses be smarter marketers. To receive a free copy of our special report "58 Free and Low Cost Ways to Promote Your New Small Business" visit us at www.marketingovereasy.com/signup Excerpted from The All-Important Stuff You Gotta Do First to Effectively Market Your Small Business © 2009 by David F. Ramacitti)
In a recession, now is a good time to look at those expenditures you've taken for granted. Renegotiate with suppliers for better terms, shop your insurance coverage, pay less for advertising, which leads to the next point.
I said pay less, not cut. In a down economy, you've got to get your name out there more. Look for alternative ways to do so. For the right business, a creative and strategic social media campaign can give incredible results at a fraction of the cost of traditional media. At the very least, a business should be able to renegotiate better terms with their existing marketing partners.
Lastly, form new 'partnerships'. Give other people and businesses a reason to promote you. Who has a vested interest in your company's success? What other companies out there are constantly looking for the same kind of client you are? Forming a strategic alliance with them can decrease your marketing costs while increasing its effectiveness.
Furthermore .... gaining a reputation for exceptional service is one of the primary keys to success in this economy.
Managing your costs, regardless of whether the product you are providing is service or hard goods, is critical.
Determining the optimum price point for your product or service, such that your customers and clients feel that they are getting “real value” for what they are spending.
… and I know that this is a 4th point, but …
Small business owners need to be adaptable to change in customers needs or wants, unless you are fortunate enough to “corner the market” on something unique or that is a necessity ... but that usually has a limited "shelf life". Whether you can influence the change in your customers needs or wants through being innovative in what you are providing, or whether it is the market that you are in which is changing, being proactive or responsive quickly to changes may be critical.. A small business cannot survive, even by providing the very best of service, if the “product” they are providing is no longer “relevant”.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Choosing Growth Over Failure
As solo business owners, we have so much on our plates. During the first year or two it may be okay to do most of the tasks ourselves and sometimes even flying by the seat of our pants may work. But if we are committed to growth and increased revenues we must be open for change.
First, we must grow as individuals before our businesses can grow. Learn from mentors, trainers and books.
Second and this is the most challenging for some of us. We have to let go of controlling all of the pieces our self. One way to begin this process is to take the assessment offered in the book Strength Finders 2.0. Once we have identified those strengths we should let go of the activities we are doing that do not fit into our strengths. Now this is just the first step in letting go.
Third, we can catapult our success by becoming great at creating and putting systems in place in our businesses instead of doing things haphazardly. This means looking at our foundation and ensuring it is solid. Then examining our business and marketing plans to make sure we are consistent and persistent in our marketing activities.
Certainly, business growth is optional and unfortunately many never survive beyond year two because they refuse to do things differently. That fear of change keeps them stuck. Remember if we continue to do things the same and expect different results, we will be disappointed. Look for the opportunities for growth within you and your business..
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Successful start ups do not not just happen. They are planned and the plan is executed for success.
CHALLENGE 1 ....
The organizational culture springs from a simple, yet precise mission statement for the enterprise.
CHALLENGE 2 .....
From the mission statement objectives are derived for the culture. An objective is an interim step or milestone by which one measures progress toward the goal. There are usually many objectives in a business plan, hopefully measurable ones, quantitatively and in time. The goal (mission statement) and objectives are specified in the first two sections of the business plan.
CHALLENGE 3 .....
The remainder of the plan contains the details for achieving the objectives in route to the goal, thus achieving the enterprise mission.
**Keys to Success
**Products and Services
**Market Analysis Summary
**Strategy and Implementation Summary
For guidance through SCORE on how to meet each of the above challenges please see the first two links below. You may also wish to download the Biz Info Library Article, "Are You Prepared to Succeed in Business" from the second vertical Box Net Reference cube in the left margin of the third link below. It is an excellent discussion of strategic vision and planning.
* Write A Business Plan
* Sample Business Plans
* Small To Feds
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
The photo above shows a remote village in Oghna, India that changed my life.
In the fall semester of my junior year in college, I went to India through a School for International Training (SIT) program. As part of that trip, I had a "homestay" for 3 nights with a village family. We spoke with the villagers in Hindi and through translators, shared meals with them and helped them to dig an irrigation ditch under the hot sun with rudimentary shovels and tools. We also danced alongside them at night, played with their kids and babies, laughed at the goats and helped them shuck corn. Pretty much we lived the same way people there had been living for thousands of years. Except that their lifestyle and village were under serious threat.
The village needed the irrigation because they had had three years of severe drought. In addition, their river was drying up because of a dam project to provide electricity to a nearby city. Their corn crop was so dry that they were down to only eating one meal per day. But still they would feed us first and refuse to eat until we said that we had enough.
This is why I care about the water issue. Because I've seen first hand what living without sufficient water is like.
When I returned to Duke in the spring quarter, I realized that there were real problems out there. Problems that have solutions. Problems that need people to work on them and that can be solved if only people cared enough to do something. That's why I got involved in the first start-up that I worked like crazy for - Sun Dance Genetics. A professor at Duke, had created a technology that could create drought resistant corn. We had the seeds sent through the UN to drought regions of Africa and India. It was the first time I had a real impact on solving problems in a significant way. And I was hooked ever since . . .
So this year, I'm giving my birthday up.
Dec. 4th, I'm turning 31 years old, and instead of asking for gifts, I'm asking for $31 or more from everyone I know. It's not going to me, though. All of it is going to build freshwater wells for people in developing nations.
A billion people in the world are living without clean water - but how much are they really living? Millions contract deadly diseases from contaminated water. 45,000 people will die this week alone. The lucky ones won't, but still walk hours each day to get dirty water to give to their families.
My birthday wish this year is not for more gifts I don't need; it's to give clean and safe drinking water to some of the billion living without it. I want to make my birthday matter this year.
Please join me. http://mycharitywater.org/chuck
please note: Because of charity: water's unique model, 100% of all donations go directly to direct water projects costs, and each donation is "proved" and tracked to the village it helped when projects are complete.
Facebook is also a highly cost-efficient advertising medium as you can run highly targeted campaigns that have a high ROI as it has been proven that social media audiences have a higher conversion rate than organic traffic.
Additionally, you can also use Facebook Events to drive sales and increase brand awareness.
By Dave Ramacitti
The single prevailing goal of your small business’s marketing efforts, especially when you are just getting started, is to be noticed, is to be unique and therefore memorable to your customers or potential customers. You achieve that uniqueness by delivering your marketing message in a way that is different from your competitors.
And one way you can present your marketing message in a unique way is to use a jingle or musical signature. Jingles for national products like Coca-Cola --- “I’d like to teach the world to sing” --- and Kodak --- “Memories” --- became so recognizable they even successfully made the transition into popular songdom. You can get a professional jingle written and produced for around a thousand dollars.
Now this might seem like a lot at first, but consider that you will likely use that jingle for several years --- five years, more likely 10 or more --- so the investment on a per year basis is really quite small.
And while having a unique jingle written just for your business is the ideal, there are some much less costly alternatives. For example, there are generic (non-copyrighted) music themes --- sort of like musical clipart --- that are available for no cost through various websites. They are suggestive of many musical styles --- hard rock, soft rock, jazz, big band --- so you should be able to find one that fits your business’s personality. They are usually only 15 or so seconds long, but that’s enough to provide a musical signature to your radio or TV ads.
The disadvantage is that others may also use these themes, since they are available to everyone. So it’s important to select one that is not being used in your marketplace by someone else (i.e., a competitor).
The real secret to the success of a jingle is to use it, and use it, and use it, time and again, over a long period --- think many years here. For example, I’d be willing to bet that most of you can easily fill in the rest of this very famous jingle: “Oh, I wish I was an…”
Indeed, now that I’ve gotten you singing it, I’ll bet that jingle is going to be knocking around in your head for the rest of the day. And that’s the point here: A well done jingle (A) becomes absolutely your unique musical signature; and even more importantly, (B) becomes embedded in the minds of your customers and potential customers (i.e., is unforgettable).
(Dave Ramacitti is co-founder and chief content developer for Marketing Over Easy, a new website dedicated to helping small businesses be smarter marketers. To receive a free copy of our special report "58 Free and Low Cost Ways to Promote Your New Small Business" visit us at www.marketingovereasy.com/signup Excerpted from The All-Important Stuff You Gotta Do First to Effectively Market Your Small Business © 2009 by David F. Ramacitti)
Monday, November 22, 2010
eMarketer recently reported that many of the smallest businesses in the United States don’t believe that their customers can be marketed to on social networking sites.
Yet research also shows that social sites are being used to find local businesses, especially by younger customers.
So how should a small business approach Twitter? These are my top tips:
©Philippa Gamse, 2010.
Philippa Gamse is a Web strategy expert helping her clients maximize their ROI in their Web and social media presence. Learn more at www.WebsitesThatWin.com
Most of small businesses evolve an integrated view of the expense reporting challenge. Someone in the accounting organization has to make the expense reporting become a reality in the general ledger and close the books to apply the data.
Getting the data from the individual that incurs the cost to the one who must process it and obtaining the necessary review and approval along the way are generally the process drivers.
Many small firms simply develop a template expense report in Excel or a similar spread sheet format that has built in formulas to easily total expenses by category required by accounting. The form sits on line and is reviewed and approved by the authority necessary in the company and then passed to the accounting process.
Box Net and free, controlled applications in a networked setting are software storage and access tools that work well for this type of process. But the process and the design of the process must come first. Your format and your situation are paramount in the design of what is stored and processed.
If you try try to pigeon hole your operation into software tool that does not fit your operation you will create more work than you save.
For more information try these resources .....
Small To Feds
Sunday, November 21, 2010
No matter what industry you’re part of, I’m sure that you have encountered ideas and concepts that are misunderstood. Business planning….ummmm…..planning for success is like that too. Many people say that their plan is in their head. And what there is of it may well be, but there are usually many missing elements. Just by articulating it and getting it onto paper, you provide yourself with the opportunity to read it back to yourself and see if it makes sense to you. This gives you the chance to improve on it, before mistakes are made and bad decisions have cost you a ton of money and time. No one wakes up and says. “Today I am going to make bad business decisions.” Yet, if you don’t actively engage in business planning…..ummm….planning for success….in a committed fashion, you have elected to make ill-informed decisions that may be devastating to your business.
Another misconception is that a business plan becomes a doorstop when it’s completed, or that it gets put onto the back of a deep dark shelf somewhere never to see the light of day again. Still others think that once the plan is completed that they must follow it exactly. Neither of these is correct. A businesss plan….ummmm….plan for success…..is a living document, just as your business is a living entity of its own. Going through the process of developing a plan gives you a process to follow again in the future as you consider new products, services and markets. Reviewing your plan quarterly allows you to spot variations in your projections. This gives you the time to evaluate whether your initial assumptions were off base, and if so what else is affected as you move forward. If your initial assumptions were correct, you can determine what is needed to get back on track. And as time moves forward the environment may change in ways that couldn’t have been predicted (September 11, for example). This is a good time to redirect your plan accordingly.
After you’ve been through the business planning….ummmm…planning for success process once, you’ll appreciate the new contacts and resources that have become acquainted with. You’ll also know what steps to take when you are considering complicated business decisions in the future. With a step-by-step process, you can build a solid foundation for your business and take the first steps towards success.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
It is difficult to recognise where your weak points are. But in order to grow your business and avoid frustration it is useful and might even be a necessity.
Once a weak point is identified, small businesses run into another problem, money. Small businesses, certainly in these days of global recession cannot afford to spend any more than absolutely necessary.
There is a solution that combines both these issues an still lets the small business come out on top. It is called a virtual assistant. Virtual is only the name. It is a real assistant delivering real work and real results.
Virtual assistance is a business that has really come into its own over the past few years. Although some virtual assistants have been doing this since the mid nineties, the growth of the use of internet has seen a growth of the virtual assistance business.
What is a virtual assistant? A virtual assistant is a professional service provider. An independent business owner providing assistance in a virtual environment, from a home office. The fact that the virtual assistant is a business owner is important. Your challenges will be understood better than by an employee.
There are many types of virtual assistants. Coaches, PAs, web designers, marketing experts, real estate professionals, financial experts, bookkeepers, graphic design experts, administrative assistants and many more.
Virtual assistants understand what it is like to own a small business. They are willing and able to help your business succeed by contributing their knowledge against a per hour rate. Because you pay per hour and only for work done and delivered you can make sure that you stay within budget and still get what you need.
So next time you encounter a challenge in your business, think of a virtual assistant. To find the right one for your business, visit www.virtualassistantforums.com or contact us at email@example.com. We might not be the right fit, but we can certainly find the right fit for you.
Hilde van den Braak has been a Personal Assistant for over 28 years and has worked in a variety of roles, latterly as PA to one of the most senior managers in a multinational company. For family reasons she has recently moved from The Netherlands to Spain. This has been a major lifestyle choice. The move has been the impulse to start her own business www.hildeandsusanne.net together with her sister, supplying world class personal assistance in a virtual environment.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
The one overriding goal of your small business’s marketing efforts, especially during a start-up phase, is to be noticed, is to be memorable in the eyes of customers or potential customers. You achieve being memorable by finding something your customers or potential customers can identify with, an image that you can own. Then you deliver that image --- your marketing message --- in a unique and memorable way, that is, in a way that is different from your competitors.
One way you can present your marketing message in a unique way is to use an exclusive and recognizable professional spokesperson. For example, everyone recognizes the voice and look, if not necessarily the name, of the white-maned Menard’s guy. You don’t even have to hear the name of Menard’s to know what’s being advertised.
There are many professional spokespersons that by contract will agree to be your exclusive spokesperson in your marketplace. They include “characters” like down home country types, business suit / CEO types, cute ingénue types, sophisticated world-traveler types, motherly types, and so on. Yes, they will cost something. But how valuable is this investment in uniqueness over time, particularly if you’re a new business trying to establish yourself in an already crowded marketplace?
(Dave Ramacitti is co-founder and chief content developer for Marketing Over Easy, a new website dedicated to helping small businesses be smarter marketers. To receive a free copy of our special report "58 Free and Low Cost Ways to Promote Your New Small Business" visit us at www.marketingovereasy.com/signup © 2010 by David F. Ramacitti. Excerpted from The All-Important Stuff You Gotta Do First to Effectively Market Your Small Business © 2009 by David F. Ramacitti)