Category — Small Business Advice
Small business may be the heart of our economy, but anyone who owns one can tell you it’s hard work. Many small business owners do everything themselves, from janitorial duties to operations to marketing and accounting. If you want your business to grow, but your budget doesn’t compare to the big boys, what is a little company to do?
Have you tried networking? If you have never heard of this skill, there is no better time to learn than now.
Networking means getting to know lots of people, treating everyone with dignity and respect, and working together so you both benefit. It really is that simple. If you master this talent, you can build business exponentially.
How does it work?
First, be social. Attend business events, seminars, SBA training workshops–anything that offers you the chance to meet new people. It can even be a bowling night for you and your family so long as you also encounter new people.
Some are intimidated by the idea of having to actively seek out new acquaintances, but there is a simple solution in these numbers. Remember the code: 3-2-3. Meet three new people, learn two things about them, follow up three days later. There is no need to hunt for a new best friend; simply shake hands, exchange a few facts about yourselves, and then send an email or note later to say you enjoyed meeting that person.
Why meet all these people? Because you now have a network of contacts who do all kinds of things, know all types of information, and who can help you when you need it. Further, you are advertising your own business free of charge!
Now that you are expanding your network, you are getting to the heart of commerce. Most businesses keep tight budgets, and they can’t always write a check for what they need. This is the time to pull out your address book and see who can trade services or the occasional favor. You both get something you need, and you both keep your cash flow under control.
Last, seek first to give, and second to receive. People know the difference between working together and being used. Always offer help first before asking for it back.
Once you start, you will learn that networking is simple, fun and profitable. You might even end up with a few great friends.
July 19, 2010 No Comments
Online businesses and websites are getting free traffic from search engines every day. Search engine traffic is where you can find visitors who are looking to buy a product or service. For example, if someone was looking for the best prices on lawn mowers, they would likely type “cheap lawn mowers” or “lawn mowers on sale” into a search engine. That is the type of visitor that will likely buy a product. When websites rank for keywords that that indicate an users intent to purchase, they will see more purchases than when they rank for keywords that might indicate a shoppers intent to compare prices or features.
So how do you get your website to the top of search engines for phrases like “cheap lawn mowers”? Well you have to know how search engines work. Search engines will rank websites based on their authority. Authority will come from links pointing to a website. If a website links to your website, then you will have more authority with the search engines, thus, they will start to rank you higher in the results. The key is to get links with the correct anchored text. In the example, you would want the link to say “cheap lawn mowers”. This tells the search engines what your website or page on your website is about. They will then start to rank you higher for that phrase and other phrases that are similar to that.
What it boils down to is keyword anchored links pointing to your website. The more the better, and the better quality of the links the better. A quality link is one that comes from an authority site to your site. A link from a friends blog that has nothing to do with lawnmowers will not help as much as a link from the John Deere website would. John Deere has good authority with the search engines and is relevant to your website. The more quality links you can get, the faster you will rise in the search engines rankings.
If you are in a niche industry that has pretty low competition in the search engines, then you can get only a few links and probably rank well in the search engines. One way you can get links to your website is through article directories like:
Those websites allow anyone to post an article. In exchange for the free content you are giving them, they will give you links to your website. This comes in very handy because you can choose your anchor text of that link. The more links you have to your site, the higher the search engines will rank you.
July 12, 2010 No Comments
If your business isn’t on Facebook, you are missing out on a huge advertising opportunity. Facebook boasts over 400 million users. There is a good chance that your customers are logging into the social networking site everyday. When you create a Facebook Page you have an opportunity to reach new customers and connect to those you already have.
Go to Facebook Pages and follow the simple sign up procedure. It is free and very similar to signing up for a personal Facebook account. Once your account is activated, be sure to make your page by adding your logo and product images.
Now that you have your business page, you need fans. People become a fan by clicking a link at the top of your page. It is important that you have a personal Facebook page with a few friends. Become a fan of your own business page. Your friends on Facebook will see this on their news feed. They will be given a chance to become a fan. When they do, their friends will also see a message on their Facebook feed and will be given the option to become a fan. Additionally, you can send an e-mail to all of your business contacts letting them know that you are on Facebook. Putting your Facebook link on your business cards and website is another great way to gain fans for your page.
Facebook gives you an excellent way to establish your brand’s image. It is highly unlikely that your customers visit your website everyday. However, over 50% of Facebook users log into their account daily. Post a daily status and this will appear on your fan’s news feed. Use creative status updates instead of blatant advertising. For example, if you are a flower shop, post a status that says, “ABC Flowers carriers hundreds of different flowers…What is your favorite?” instead of “ABC Flowers 25% off today”. This will create an open discussion and people will think of your brand more favorably.
A Facebook business page is a free advertising opportunity. Your link will show up in search engines which means more and more people will be able to locate you on the web. In this competitive world, there are not many opportunities for this kind of exposure. Get on this trend now and watch your profits rise!
July 5, 2010 2 Comments
For owners of brick and mortar stores, keeping things from seeming stale can be difficult. One creative way of making the store appear new and fresh is by rotating stock often – bring those goods that may be on back shelves to the front. For instance, if you are in the clothing business, changing up the displays will create a new look and feel to the business. The same concept applies with regard to your Internet store front. Keep changing things up, switching around the product and constantly striving to have a fresh look – your customers will appreciate it and may even notice something that they missed the last time they shopped.
How do you know which products were rotated and when? It can be a daunting task to constantly be moving inventory and shifting products since most small businesses do not have the staff or resources to make things happen. There is a fairly simple recipe for the success of moving product if you have a brick and mortar store: color code everything (For those on the internet, Google trends may help you figure out what products should occupy that enviable spot on your homepage during certain times of year).
For instance, all products introduced in January could be coded with blue dots. When February rolls around, switch out products and color code those for February with red dots and so on. At the end of the year or a six-month timeframe, if the blue dot merchandise hasn’t sold, consider marking it down for “clearance” because the odds of selling it now are diminishing, especially if it is seasonal merchandise.
Change is a very good thing for any small business, especially when the perception of your customers is that your inventory is fresh and evolving. Change implies movement and folks like to do business with a company that is on the move.
If your small business cannot afford to constantly be introducing new goods and services, take heart! A little change in your appearance will dazzle your customers – just make sure to have a whole lot of dots on hand so you’ll know where you have been and where you need to be.
How do you give the appearance that your store is constantly fresh and provides a wide offering of merchandise?
June 7, 2010 No Comments
More people every day are turning to the web for shopping. Sooner or later every small business entrepreneur will hear the question: “Do you have a website?” and a yes answer is becoming a real necessity. This situation has a variety of problems.
- Mom and Pop have always done business by word of mouth, have no idea how to get started on the web, and aren’t even sure it’s necessary.
- All the jargon is complicated and can be really scary for the novice.
- Traditional do-it-yourself websites require computer skills and expensive software.
- The alternative of hiring a professional designer is even more expensive.
For Joe’s Shoe Repair, the situation can be overwhelming. He doesn’t want to promote his service on the global market. He doesn’t intend to sell online at all. His only requirement is to extend his word of mouth advertising onto the web for his town. Joe’s Shoe Repair just needs a web presence, so that when people in his local community search online for a place to get a heel repaired, they will find him.
If you fall into Joe’s category, there are solutions to the problems. There are many reasonably priced hosting companies that provide online software for building a website yourself as part of the package. Companies such as GoDaddy have packages starting at less than $5 per month. Most of them also have customer support teams to help with setup.
However, the quickest, most straight forward way to get a website is to register with a blogging service. You don’t have to have any software except your browser. Several organizations provide free space if you are willing to include their name in your web address. There is a slight learning curve to get things operational, but anyone who is capable of running a business can learn to use a blogging dashboard.
Take your time, no one but you has to know it is there until you have it fixed the way you want. The software for most blogs is very user friendly and they all have good help pages. WordPress, the most widely used blogging tool, even lets you set up a static homepage and turn off comments so that you can leave it alone until you need to let your customers know about new developments. Then you simply sign in to access the dashboard and make changes.
<b>Do you have a website? Where do you host it? Who built it?</b>
May 31, 2010 No Comments
- Stick to simple business card designs – they usually cost less than premium designs.
- Use a smaller format, plain rectangular card if you can. Often a card that is smaller will remain in a wallet for longer anyway, so are less likely to be discarded.
- Consider using recycled card stock. It can have triple benefits! It can often save business owners money, help save the planet, and customers may get an improved perception of one’s business, as it shows care and attention to the environment. Some businesses have won new business or received sales leads, simply because they made an ecologically friendly choice.
- Don’t buy into “bundled” solutions – these are often top-heavy, in both price and unwanted extras. If one has the type of business that does not led well to being openly promoted by the consumer (such as a sanitary product), those extra refrigerator door business card holders will likely end up in the trash can!
- Order embossed print on plain cardstock. This is just as eye-catching as a gloss finish card, which is, in fact, harder to read. Embossed print against plain white or colored cardstock lends a classy look, and can save considerable printing costs.
- Make sure that any information one intends to print on the card is going to stay valid for an extended period of time. Changing a cell phone number the month after cards have been printed is going to be either require a costly re-print, or the business owner will suffer the indignity of correcting them all by hand!
- Choose a business card supplier carefully. High volume printers charge a lot for small runs. Match the printing batch size to a mid-range card supplier/printer.
- Order in sensible batches. Having 1000 unused business cards in a desk drawer is the same as putting un-spendable dollar bills there. Figure out roughly what might be used in a six to twelve month period and order accordingly.
- Shop around on the internet – as usual, a little time spent studying the market can pay dividends in real savings!
- Check out promotional freebies at sites such as Vistaprint.com. They offer 250 free cards and a host of ready-made designs. Other, similar competitors can easily be found through Google by typing in the following search phrase, “cheap business cards”. The ad sponsors found at the top and the right of the search results page should provide numerous leads for low-priced business cards.
Where do you get your business cards? And if you’ve got a picture of what they look like, post a link.
May 17, 2010 2 Comments
Owning a small business and trying to grow and maintain your business can often be a daunting task. You have just a certain amount of dollars each month that you are able to spend on marketing and advertising. The key to successful small business ownership is keeping your business in the forefront of everyone’s minds.
There are several easy win-win suggestions to help you maintain profitability and contribute to the welfare of your community in the interim.
What are the not-for-profits in your area of influence could use a helping hand? Is there a food pantry that serves your local community? Contact them and offer to be a collection point for a particular month. Oftentimes, the local community newspapers will write editorials for the non-profit organizations, even full-length features, and this translates into free media exposure for your small business. This is an endeavor that could save you hundreds of dollars in advertising fees in exchange for your time and talents to benefit the needy in your midst.
This works extremely well for almost any small business type in just about any community. Whether you act on behalf of the local ASPCA to collect blankets, food, toys or dollars for the rescued animals or just collect clothing for the local chapter of the American Red Cross – most of these organizations will even recognize your small business on their own websites as well as the local media attention you will receive.
You can even sponsor a teddy bear drive for the local police force. Collect teddy bears from your customers to give to police officers to place in the trunk of their vehicles. The bears can be given to children who are involved in motor vehicle accidents to help lift their spirits during a traumatic event in their young lives until the situation is resolved. The police will be forever grateful for your contribution and again, another media event as you present the police force with your loving gifts.
Another small business consideration would be to adopt a local school team event or sport. For the investment of a small donation to purchase uniforms or t-shirts, your small business will benefit from the team’s exposure at school events and your business name will be reflected in the school’s programs. A very worthy and smart business investment with a return on investment that is priceless.
Aside from the free media exposure, your small business will be making a huge impact on the community and the community will respond to your business. This is called “Good Will” and it is invaluable to any business to continually provide good will through community efforts. The value-add to your business can never be measured in terms of building relationships and driving the integrity and values of your small business name.
Think outside the box, but give within the community and you will see your business benefit from it.
May 10, 2010 No Comments
A few days ago DollarDays was featured on Retargeter blog for our stellar banner ads. Maybe you’ve seen them. They liked our ads’ clean look and use of white space, our concise messaging, and clear call to action.
For big and small businesses alike, these banner ads can be hugely effective. So, we thought it would be a good idea to hand off a few tips on how to put together a successful ad campaign.
- Clear, short messaging Writing ad copy is a bit like writing headlines. For the intelligent, creative writer, there is oftentimes the desire to put way more information in an ad than they should. For whatever reason, it might be better to say “Wholesale Pricing” than it is to say “Wholesale Pricing on more than 20,000 items”. But it also might not be. Which brings me to my second point…
- Test…test…test… Sometimes you’d be surprised what works and what doesn’t. Pretty banners can sometimes reduce clicks. Sometimes pretty banners increase clicks. Either way, you won’t know until you test your creative.
- Include a Call to Action For savvy marketers, this is obvious. But most of us are not savvy marketers. You might be surprised how much better an ad performs when you write the words “Save Today” or “Start Saving” or “Call xxx-xxxx for more information”. Make sure to include some sort of descriptive action in your ads.
May 5, 2010 No Comments
1. Tell us about your company and why you started it.
The Hippo Free Press is an unnewspaper. We publish weekly and are a more news magazine format with a large calendar and food section. We answer the vexing question of what to do and where to go in southern New Hampshire as well as address quality of life issues in the region, from traffic to the environment in an accessible fun way. From a very basic P&L standpoint, Hippo was started to provide advertising options for small businesses in the southern New Hampshire market. Looking over the market in 2000 we saw daily newspapers catering to national advertisers and large retail and auto customers. Similarly radio too focused on the national market. Many of the independent restaurants, retail and service businesses either didn’t advertise or felt their advertising was ineffective and expensive.
2. Describe the kinds of articles you publish, and who your target audiences are.
We tend toward quality of life type stories. We want readers to use our publication to get the most out of living in southern New Hampshire. We write about interesting political figures, new restaurant openings, and trends in live music. A recent issue explored the unusual life of birds in urban areas of southern New Hampshire. Our target audience is affluence, educated and active between the ages of 25 and 65. Most of our readers own homes and are married. This reflects the suburban nature of our market.
3. Describe the growth you’ve experienced over the years. Why do you think your publication caught on?
We started as a shoe-string operation with no employees, a few thousand weekly copies and 16 pages. Today we average 72 pages per week have the second largest circulation of any newspaper or magazine in the state and have 25 employees and 30 plus contributors. We have purchased a few other publications recently that are different from Hippo, but utilize our backend.
4. Most print newspapers that rely on paid subscriptions are dying out. What role is there for a free print newspaper in the digital age? What is your niche?
I’m not so sure I agree that paid papers are dying out. Clearly they face some daunting challenges in the classified arena, but many hold strong advertising positions in their areas of influence. And that I think is the key. It’s not as important what distribution model a paper uses, as finding a clearly defined advertising base. In the previous years daily newspapers tended to have a large base of classified advertising customers. Those customers have been moving toward more database driven models, such as craigslist or Monster. This has upended the paid daily business model. As for the role of free newspapers’ role in the digital age, I see free newspaper struggling with finding digital revenue streams just as much as the paid papers have struggled. The bottom line is you can’t earn enough revenue of a local audience online though banner ads. However, I do think that free and paid papers can use their digital platforms to create more value for current customers and maybe even use digital to break into new markets. Our niche from a customer perspective is small independently owned businesses with a touch of community banks and education.
5. In general, what are your thoughts on the death of the traditional news media? Why is it happening and how is this creating new opportunities for entrepreneurial journalists?
The term death is overused. People still watch the 6 o’clock news, they still listen to talk radio and, yes surprisingly, they even buy daily newspapers. True, some of the largest daily newspaper companies in the country have declared bankruptcy, but those bankruptcies are related to highly leveraged buyouts. In reality, large metropolitan dailies have created business models around a book of business that either doesn’t exist or that is moving to database driven avenues. If dailies are to survive they need to re-learn how to serve a local advertising base. That said, any business model upending creates plenty of business opportunities for entrepreneurs. People’s easy access to the Internet allows journalists to go after large affinity groups and create online communities that advertisers will pay to reach. I also see an opportunity for a one-person site to reach a large enough audience for that journalist to support themselves. The Internet lowers the cost of entering publishing but doesn’t mean it’s easier to be successful. Compelling content still needs to be created and an audience still needs to be reached. Both of these things are tough to do.
6. Who are your competitors and how have you succeeded where they failed?
We complete against several paid dailies, a few radio stations, cable, google and some glossy magazines. We’ve been able to pull a substantial number of advertisers out of the dailies’ weekly entertainment tabs. Most of those tabs offer very limited local content. We’ve also been successful against radio, which has seen a dramatic loss of audience and advertisers. Overall, on the business conversion side, we’ve been successful because we focus on small local businesses. More than 400 local businesses place display ads with us each month more than any of our competitors. On the audience side of the business we’ve been successful because we create compelling local content that isn’t available anywhere else. We keep standards high and keep advertising and editorial completely separate.
7. Do you have plans to expand?
We do, but not in a geographic sense. Last year we expanded our offerings to included commercial printing. We now sell most of our customers business cards, post cards and brochures. We can design, print and deliver those products very inexpensively with our current infrastructure. We also started a fan club to identify our most ardent readers.
8. How are you different than or similar to other free papers in other cities?
We’re not as youth oriented. Our market is more mature so we are too. We offer a large children calendar section and events for kids. We don’t have personals and don’t permit sex ads.
9. How has the recession affected your company and your competitors?
In some ways, the recession helped. We’ve seen many businesses that were once satisfied with their level of business start advertising to bring in new customers. Many unemployed or under-employed folks have decided it’s a good time to open a business. In the last year more than a dozen new restaurants have opened in our area. Almost all of them have some on board with us. This recession has really hurt those media outlets that rely on national advertising. Specifically radio and television stations have seen a steep decline in ad revenue. They have responded by trying to focus on the local market with lower rates to limited success. The dailies too have tried to attract more local customers by lowering rates. Both of these groups fail to realize it’s not the price of the advertising that’s the problem, it’s the value to the customers.
10. What lessons do you think your company’s story holds for small businesses in other industries?
Quality and focus. You just produce a good quality product and you need to have a customer base in mind that is large enough to support your business. We spend a lot of time and money creating compelling content so people will pick up our paper. This translates into a large audience with specific demographic traits that a certain group of local businesses need to reach. The key is “need.” If we didn’t exist how would the local cafe reach people? That’s how you know you have a solid place in the market that will survive recessions and changes in how people use technology.
April 1, 2010 1 Comment
Dropshipping is a rather contentious topic amongst the legions of online sellers. There are those who love it and swear it’s the panacea for anyone interested in starting their own ecommerce business and then there are others who don’t believe in it as a distribution channel. Our opinion on the matter is slightly more moderate: dropshipping is a great way for small and medium sized companies to source products to sell online for a profit, however you can’t just slap a bunch of products on a website and expect the dough to start rolling in. Like any successful business, an online store requires a sound business plan, a well thought out marketing strategy, excellent customer service and some good old-fashioned hard work (and this holds true regardless of whether or not you support dropshipping).
So is using a dropshipper the right choice for you? Well, to ensure that everyone is on the same page, let’s define dropshipping first. In a nutshell, dropshipping is a supply chain management technique where when a customer purchases a product from an online store, the retailer passes the order information to a wholesale supplier and then the supplier processes and ships the order to the end-customer – hence the term dropship supplier.
For many new businesses, partnering with a reputable dropship supplier offers a way to sell a wide variety of products without the cost of carrying that inventory. Also because the supplier isn’t paid until after a product sells (and you’ve been paid), it’s a low risk way to test new products or to just start an online store.
Working with dropshippers offers other advantages to the online store owner. Since you don’t have to place an order with a supplier, wait for the inventory to arrive at your store and then start selling it, you can get the jump on hot products and new trends much quicker than a retailer who does not employ a dropshipper. In fact all you have to do is stick the product on your website, promote it, and wait for the orders to start coming in.
Most importantly, using a dropship supplier allows you to focus on your core competencies. More likely than not you got into online retailing because you enjoy the marketing, the selling, and the customer relations side of owning a webstore. That’s also what you’re good at. Using a dropshipper means you get to focus the majority of your efforts on this piece of the business and let the dropshipper focus on order fulfillment. Ultimately this leaves you more time to make more sales and more money.
These are just a few reasons why you’d want to consider using a dropship supplier. The best advice we can offer is for you to do your research and locate a reputable dropshipper that supplies the products you want to sell. They’ll be able to answer your questions and you can decide whether or not this is a business strategy you wish to pursue.
For more dropship and eCommerce tips visit the Shopster blog
Shopster offers a suite of Dropship and eCommerce solutions for small to medium sized businesses. Thousands of online merchants from around the world rely on Shopster as it simplifies the complexities of online retail, allowing merchants to manage their store, transactions, and supply chain relationships in one easy to use place. Shopster is an official eBay Solutions Partner.
Guest Blogger: Suzanne Lucas – Communication Manager of Shopster eCommerce Inc.
April 1, 2010 1 Comment