Category — Small Business Advice
If you’re doing business on the Internet, you have a whole new world of ethics to deal with. That means legal issues, copyright concerns, pricing guidelines, and linking to questionable sites. There aren’t any clearcut “rules” for dealing with many of these issues, but there are plenty of pitfalls, especially when you start dealing with social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
One big no-no is violating copyright laws. Just because something is on the Internet doesn’t mean you have permission to use it on your website. Let’s say you’re selling something, and the manufacturer of the product has some great information and photos on their website you’d like to have on your site.
Are you allowed to copy it? Most probably the manufacturer will be happy for you to use it, but you can’t make that assumption. Legally and ethically, you need the manufacturer’s permission, so ask first.
Or perhaps someone has interviewed you and written about your business in an on-line or print publication. If it’s a favorable article or a really great photo, you might want to reprint it on your website.
Stop! In most cases, either the author or the publication holds the copyright, and violating that copyright can lead to really big fines. Get permission, in writing, before you copy anything to your website, even something that someone has written about you.
If you write about a product or service on your website, be sure you can back up what you say. Consumer protection laws are clear: although you can put a marketing spin on what you write, whatever you say must be the truth.
Let’s say you’re promoting a new cleaning product. You can say something like, “We have the best product for getting your carpet clean.” But you can’t make a claim such as, “Guaranteed to remove 100% of harmful bacteria,” unless, of course, you have scientific evidence to back that up.
That’s a bit of an extreme example, but you get the idea: some “puffery” is acceptable and even expected, but don’t make a measurable claim unless you can prove it.
What about criticizing a competitor or competing product? The situation here is pretty much the same as with making a claim about a product. You can’t write anything that’s disparaging or dishonest about your competition. However, you can compare and contrast products, websites, or businesses, as long as you’re fair about it. Here again, don’t say anything that’s unfounded or that you can’t prove, because that can get you into trouble.
The important legal and ethical concept here centers on the word “deception.” Both legally and ethically, deception is when you purposefully misrepresent something in order to cause damage to someone else. Get permission before you use anything someone else has written, and be honest about what you write, and you’ll stay out of any ethical or legal trouble. It’s all about doing and saying the right thing.
April 29, 2011 No Comments
Every day, more and more businesses are realizing the power of the world wide web as a means to find more customers. Setting up a web site takes little time and money, and in some cases, you can be online in a matter of minutes. Despite this, taking your business still requires planning in order to maximize its marketing value. Here are some key components you must incorporate to your small business website.
1. The Lead Capture Page
As the name implies, the lead capture page is the place where you attract potential customers to buy into your business. Often, a lead capture page will include a short sales copy that provides a detail of what your business does and how it can help your customers. Also, and more importantly, it should include a sign-up form asking for the name and e-mail address of the potential client. The purpose of the sign up sheet is for you to update clients on the latest news, tips, and other pertinent information related to your business. In online marketing lingo, this is called E-mail marketing. Many consider E-mail marketing as a powerful tool for businesses because of its ability to maintain clientele relationships.
Any business with an online presence will need a blog, regardless if its hosted on the mother website or on a separate server (i.e. Blogger.com blogs). Like e-mail marketing, blogs help businesses establish and maintain ties with their clients. In addition, it is considered cost-effective because it allows businesses to cut their expenses on some things, such as customer service. Businesses can use blogs to answer common queries about their products and services without having to pay too much on customer service representatives. The ability of blogs to capture comments and suggestions provide businesses with a good idea of what their client base needs.
3. Social Media Widgets
With millions of people wired to social networking accounts, it is no surprise that social media has taken on such a powerful role in the online marketing strategy of many businesses. Social media builds communities and provides businesses with a loyal base of customers. Often, social networking sites will have ready-made html codes that you can copy and paste onto the code structure of your website.
4. Mobile-Friendly About Page and Contact Information
Improvements in the integration of Internet technology with mobile devices has resulted in the increased influence of cellular phones in driving the engines of E-commerce. As a small business owner, you can capitalize on this trend by creating mobile-friendly webpages. Forget the fancy pictures and the elaborate designs on your contact page. Just stick with the basics. All you need are a few simple information such as your business, a phone number, email, and address.
The components listed above are just the basics. If you can, get creative. The web is filled with all kinds of tool tools which you can use at your disposal to create a more powerful and personalized online presence for your business.
April 28, 2011 No Comments
Social media is now one of the primary platforms to get the word out about your business. Most social media accounts such as Facebook and Twitter are free to set up and the target marketing campaign through Facebook is rather inexpensive. This is a great way to test your marketing message and get your marketing campaign rolling.
Often, small businesses are face with challenges in adequately marketing their business. We are inundated with information and distractions from our various media devices. We live in the days of spam and useless information so people crave valuable content. By educating people about your industry, rather than having a direct advertising angle, you will be set apart from the rest. If you blog, tweet and share information about topics relevant to your industry, you can attract viewers to your web page and establish credibility in your market.
Whether you are selling candles or computer applications, you more than likely have a great deal of information and expertise that can be shared with potential clients and customers. You can author how-to articles or create educational videos about your products or services and market them online. Keep in mind that each and every bit of content that you create and post online has the potential to create awareness about your brand and drive search engine results and traffic to your site at an unbelievably low cost, if any cost at all.
Sites like You Tube are often overlooked by small business owners. In reality, You Tube is an excellent platform for creating high impact content at a low cost. Typically the only investment that may be required is that of a quality camera and editing software. With proper preparation and time to learn the basics of video creation and editing, you can create a video that could lead to big time exposure.
Social media has changed the medium and message for small business owners. Years ago, the most common form of advertising a small business was print advertising. Unfortunately, this form of advertising is also costly. Unfortunately, many small businesses failed because they were unable to afford to get their message to their market. Now, you are able to not only get your message out, but can also use social media to maintain control of your company’s image. The key to getting the word out about your business is by cultivating super users and targeting your market. Super users are individuals who are already fans of your brand or product and are interested in sharing their positive beliefs on the web. It is possible, on Facebook to create a fan page, where you can attract potential super users. From your Facebook fan page, you can provide valuable information about your business and also add in a call to action to prompt all those interested to contact you or view your page for further instruction and information.
Before jumping into the social media scene, you must be sure you have an effective website for your business. Your website should describe your product or service. Once your website is complete, you will need to attract as much traffic as possible. In addition to sites like Facebook, Twitter and You Tube, you should also consider setting up a blog. Small business owners who blog have realized they can attract a new audience by writing in a style that exposes the human side of their business. Pod-casting is also new and simple technology that will help you build credibility and awareness of your brand. For some, a voice, rather than target words can convey the personality they need to become interested in your business.
As you can see, there are unlimited methods that can be used to market your small business. They key to success is having a well thought out marketing plan where your target market has been clearly identified. Once you have identified your market, you can use the many forms of social media to inexpensively and effectively build your business and obtain success you never imagined possible.
April 13, 2011 1 Comment
I’ve just spent thousands on my website, and now I need a mobile app? Small business owners once balked at the costs and necessity of developing a branded mobile application. Smartphones and mobile commerce pace the digital parade. And, until recently, bootstrappers weren’t invited to the party. The explosion of mobile apps have driven developers to level the playing field with an affordable solution – in some cases, free.
A simple strategy and a nominal investment can extend any business into the hands of today’s educated and discriminating buyer. Ideating, building, and growing an app is not cost prohibitive. And just like your website, mobile apps will soon become an integral part of all digital marketing plans.
Pick a Platform
Two options exist: open the vault and hire a developer, or side step sunk costs by using a shared platform. Your business can invest heavily – up to $100K – in original programming and support from a custom shop, or choose a “do-it-yourself” application, with less functionality, from a myriad of online software programs. Plan B’s speed-to-market and enormous cost savings gentrify the decision.
Simple programs requiring no coding experience reduce start-up costs and development windows. Scan the market and align your app needs with a worthy software partner. Some are free, while others charge a monthly fee. This do-it-yourself avenue represents a strategic approach for testing the mobile market, with minimal investment.
Find Your Functions
The best mobile apps adopt a “less is more” strategy. Focus on two key functions core to your business and maximize their impact. A simple, elegant interface screams “user-friendly” and is more likely to be adopted. Formulate and strategize your mobile app like a new product launch.
Canvass your customers and uncover pressing needs, wants, and desires for engaging you outside the office. Sketch a plan around your products, people, and vision, broadcasting your story to a wider audience. Isolate a customer service pain and fix it with a function. Then, strike a balance between fun and utility and you’ve got a stealthy marketing tool.
This new model – easy and affordable – also packs a punch. Browser-based programs transfer web content and social media feeds, driving your message directly to the source, the smartphone. Some offer interactive media platforms capable of audio, video, and motion graphics. Mobile ad integration allows small business to quickly monetize their app. Pick your functions and OS options and then launch your app. Development is measured in hours, not months.
Three distinct OS platforms battle for supremacy: Apple, Android, and Blackberry. Apple pioneered the app world and gate-jumped the competition. Android, Google’s contribution, has swiftly closed the gap, using its industry leading smartphone to ignite mobile app sales and downloads. Blackberry’s RIM OS is losing the race, but not backing down. If possible, get your new app approved by all three.
Mobile apps are like a virtual street team, finding new customers, nurturing existing ones, and evangelizing your brand. Now you can afford one.
April 8, 2011 No Comments
All small businesses have some financial hurdles they have to overcome. But by following these proven tips and techniques, most every small business owner can start to save substantial amounts of money in operating his business.
Establish an Online Business Presence
No matter what type or small business an individual is involved with, whether it’s product or service oriented, he needs to immediately establish a strong website to make potential customers aware of his very existence and to help increase sales. Even a brick-and-mortar shop needs to establish a powerful online presence. The best way to do this is to have a website professionally designed. If money is tight, there are many very low cost sites online that easily walk the website owner through a streamlined process of building a website. Make it look as visually attractive as possible with nicely worded text and attractive, colorful icons.
Buy Items in Bulk
All small business owners in order to save money must learn that one of the best ways to do so is to buy all of their products in bulk. Buying the products on a small, individual scale is very costly, so it’s necessary to find bulk suppliers of the type of product the business owner sells. He’ll find that the price per item will be dramatically reduced in terms of his cost when he buys in bulk as opposed to buying in small retail batches. All businessmen can obtain excellent value and prices when buying inventory at bulk purchase rates. Shipping rates overall will also be much lower when buying items in bulk.
Establish Orders on Credit
To conserve cash, which is usually in limited supply for new small business owners, simply try to establish credit orders from all the vendors that the small businessman deals with. It can be something as straightforward and common as 30 days net payment after delivery. Buying on credit buys time to utilize the cash for other business aspects such as payroll and overhead operating expenses such as rent and utilities, which businessmen can’t pay on credit. That’s why it’s essential to get credit extended on every single vendor a businessman is involved with, from his major product suppliers to his advertisers. Most companies will be very open to this because they also want to increase their revenue share of their target market.
Shop at Discount Supply Stores
Another superb way to conserve cash is by spending much less for a businessman’s products at major discount chain stores. These are the major shopping clubs that have physical locations around the country. They have such a wide variety of products in stock for sale that the small businessman can even purchase and save on office supplies such as printer cartridges and reams of photocopying paper. These discount houses stock everything at the lowest possible prices, including electronic products, apparel, technical devices, food supplies, and even a wide range of pharmaceutical products that the small businessman can purchase for him and his family at tremendous savings so specific business funds don’t have to be used for that.
April 6, 2011 2 Comments
Every small business owner and home based business owner dreams of being an international bigwig with offices in Cairo, Sydney, London and Rome. In his dreams, he sees himself talking on three phones simultaneously, buzzing his personal assistant for a mocha latte while having his hair trimmed and notifying his pilot of a trip to the Bahamas in the company Leer. Time management won’t affect him at that level of business, but it sure does affect him in the beginning. When will he find the time to manage his accounts, reply to clients’ emails, blog himself into the bigtime or even grab a sandwich for lunch?
Luckily for this business owner, there are resources on nearby pages for doing just that. Time management in the beginning is crucial to the small business owner and the home based business owner. Making a list at the beginning of the business day is essential for keeping organized so that little details don’t fall by the wayside. Those little details, such as emails, outsourcing some of the workload, managing vendors and clients and such are the difference between staying in business and losing his clients. Software is available for such organization, as well as automated response software, outsourcing software, customer relationship software and much more.
No business owner can handle all that himself or he’d be in the office 24/7. That’s where time management skills come in. Trusting the software to handle the nitty gritty every day is easier to do when he understands what it is, what it does, when it does it and what the results will be. Tutorials on just such software are available along with pricing and hardware requirements. When the business owner chooses the right software for him and the level of his business, he can better manage what’s left to do, such as marketing, follow-up and vendor relations.
Not only that, but this business owner has a life, or at least that’s the theory. When will he have time to take his wife to dinner, see the kids play lacrosse or indulge in his hobby on his basement worktable? The small business owner and the home based business owner needs time to himself to unwind from the pressures of work or he’ll be no good to anyone. A relaxed, smiling business owner is attractive to his clientele which will bring them in more often, making his business better.
In today’s economy, small business owners and home based business owners are the example others try to emulate. Since we’re all in this together, providing a good example to those who, through financial necessity, look to begin their own business, means showing them how good time management works. Success breeds success, which will lift this economy out of the pits and back up where it should be. And then, who knows, maybe all the small and home based business owners can meet up in the Bahamas and learn how to manage some leisure time with those little umbrellas in drinks.
March 30, 2011 1 Comment
Study The Target Market
Marketing planning is an essential part of every small business. A study of the target market should be the first step in any marketing plan. Relating the findings of this study to sales and marketing helps define plan implementation as well as creating links to the best methods for small business promotion. In-depth knowledge of target markets has other benefits such as networking for business referrals through business associates and contacts.
Building Small Business Roots
A small business is not unlike a tiny seedling that can grow to massive proportions with the right amount of care and maintenance. Too often, through the breakneck speed of daily business transactions, the fundamental care and maintenance of a small business operation is overlooked. The small business growth phases from start-up to stable revenue should be considered carefully. A solid start-up with an energized propulsion for growth usually determines continued success.
Build roots from business start-up to insure the best promotion. These roots can begin locally or with a core group of business associates and client prospects. This may mean involving your business in a more diverse plan of promotion in order to cast the widest net. Though the net cast may be wide, small businesses need the security of discretionary choices of promotion. Advertising professionals know that small businesses with consistent, rather than sporadic, advertising visibility enjoy a healthy saturation of their products and services in their business community.
Know Your Business Promotion Style
With full knowledge of the target market, determining service or product saturation is less complex. The methods used to infuse the target market with the initial offering of services or products should reflect quality, consistency and reliability. Offering services or products in a unique style of promotion reduces competition for the same sales and marketing territories. Determine the style of promotion so it reflects business image as well as intent. Promotion style quickly becomes a formidable method of business identification and branding.
What To Do With Product or Service Saturation
Know the limits of saturation of the business offering. Acknowledge the point of saturation and effect a consistent method of maintenance for the saturated area to insure continued revenue. Recognize the saturation point as an opportunity to extend business roots beyond that particular region or domain. In addition, there’s a secondary opportunity to creatively reinvent promotions, advertising and presentation to suit the needs of the prospective clients in the newer sales and marketing territories.
Practicable Methods To Stable Revenue For Small Businesses
The small business composite of planning includes:
- In-depth knowledge of target markets
- Solid start-up with energized propulsion for growth
- Building business roots through business associates and contacts
- Discretionary sales and marketing promotion
- Create a unique promotion style
- Know service or product saturation limits
- Maintain saturated areas for continued revenue
- Utilize points of product or service saturation to extend sales and marketing territories
In addition to these mechanisms for growth, be vigilant of changes in market trends.
March 28, 2011 No Comments
All business owners want their business processes to be completed as smoothly as possible, this is especially true for small businesses that are just starting to operate. If you are a business owner looking for ways to help your business obtain a smooth start then keep on reading.
Save Some Money, and then Save Some More
While SBA loans are an advantageous financial tool to lean on when starting a business, saving one’s money should always be the first thing listed on one’s business-starting checklist. There are too many people that believe they can take out a business loan and start repaying it immediately with the profits their business brings in; however, for most businesses it takes several months (sometimes even a couple of years) before profits are gained. So, for the first several of months a business is in operation a business owner should remember that loan repayments will probably have to come from their own personal savings.
All business plans should include a way for the business owner to make the first year’s loan repayments, while at the same time keeping in mind that personal living expenses will have to paid too. Most small business owners find it very helpful to first save up enough money to pay loan repayments for a year and also have enough money saved to pay their living expenses for a year; this helps them to keep their financial stress levels down, enabling them to focus on expanding their business, which helps them to begin enduring profits as soon as possible.
It is always important for small business owners to remember to think small when first opening their business. While renting a huge workplace and hiring on a number of full time employees may seem very adventurous, it is not realistic for most small businesses when they are first beginning. Employees should never be hired on until they are absolutely necessary. In fact, there are a large number of temps that can be hired on until full time work becomes available.
Most small business owners that start out small endure less harmful consequences when they make mistakes, and any early screw-ups they make most times do not lead to harmful debt issues.
Understand Your Legal Business Entities
Many small business owners have learned the hard way that any business debts they incur become personal debts if they are not protected in the proper manners. A large number of small business owners find it financially wise to open their business as a corporation or LLC; this helps them avoid becoming personally liable for any debts that are incurred during their business operations.
Watch Who You Hire
There are a large number of job seekers in today’s society that are perfect candidates for small business operations. Instead of hiring average, competent employees, small business owners should hire employees that have special training in the job duties they will be performing.
March 24, 2011 No Comments
For the small business owner and the home based business owner, getting people to the on-ground store or the website is paramount to staying in business. Everyone knows about business cards and fliers, but what else can these owners do to catch the attention of potential clients? Since people respond to visual stimulation, small business owners can do three things immediately at little cost to stimulate that recognition and get some foot traffic going on. If the business owner knows of a dollar store nearby, it will have most of what he needs to get started.
Chains use uniform tops to identify their employees which are usually worn over black or khaki pants or skirts for the ladies. These uniform tops are embroidered or sport a name tag with the company logo on them. If the business owner can go to a dollar store, T-shirts, ball caps, stencils and children’s finger paints. Paint the company name using the stencils onto the ball caps and shirts. If you’re not the artiste type, companies that embroider logos and company info onto uniform tops have specials for everyone from beginning business persons to those already established. Wear the T-shirts and ball caps everywhere and just listen as people wonder and ask where you got that great T-shirt.
Windows On The World
Shrink plastic that adheres to glass has been used for many years for holiday decorations. How many windows have you seen sporting scary stuff on Halloween, snowmen and Santas at Christmas and bunnies and Easter eggs at Easter? Well, why not letters? Why not spell out the name of the business and/or its website at home and the rear window of cars? Asking the owners of buildings just built but not rented yet or buildings with space for lease if you can use your letters in the windows until the space is rented, upon which removal would be required might help as well. Seeing your letters in windows might stimulate someone with a business of his own to rent the space, so you’d be helping the landlord or owner of the building to market his space.
Have you ever noticed when you need something, such as a junk removal or the lawn mower repaired, there’s a yard sign advertising it just when you were looking for it? If you’ve been looking for a jazzercise class or learning to kickbox, there’s a yard sign for it. It works for them and it will work for the small business person, too. Just a white sign with your company name and address or your web address is all you need and they’ll run to check it out.
These are ideas for when the business is young and needs recognition. When revenue increases it will be time for Internet marketing and SEO, blogging and forums. Freebies in this area are all over the web and can be utilized by the small business owner. For now, get out there and visualize more clients.
March 22, 2011 No Comments
Small businesses often outsource various important functions—such as IT, payroll, and accounting—because that is the only option they have. However, it is important to realize that outsourcing provides many other benefits in addition to helping the business owner run a smooth operation. They include the following:
- Outsourcing is a cost-cutting measure because it releases funds that can be used in some other investment in the business by changing fixed expenses into variable expenses. It also helps startups to forego large expenses at a time when they can least afford them. In addition, your company will attract more investors if you outsource because you will use more of your capital for activities that are income-producing.
- Any small business that does not use outsourcing will have higher advertising, distribution, and research and development expenses, along with others, which causes them to raise prices. With this in mind, you may be ahead of competitors in your industry if you decide to take that step.
- With outsourcing, there is no need to hire temporary employees for short-term projects and seasonal activities, and your staff will be free to devote all of their time to conducting regular business.
- A reliable outsourcing company will have the resources you need to begin a project immediately. Without their help, you might spend a considerable amount of time trying to find the workers you need and giving them the necessary training to do the job. Also, if the project calls for a major investment of capital, that can result in further delays as well.
- With the benefit of outsourcing, managers can focus on the company’s main mission and satisfying customers without having to worry about being distracted by the peripheral issues that vie for their time and attention
- Outsourcing levels the playing field for small businesses, because it enables them to provide the support services that large corporations offer to their customers with expertise, efficiency, and impressive economies of scale.
- Competition, market conditions, the state of the economy, technology and government regulations often change rapidly and create a certain element of risk for any business. A good outsource provider will assume the risk you are facing, and as a rule, they are quite adept at knowing how to lessen and avoid it. They should also provide systematic reports as a sign of their effectiveness and accountability.
- Some functions that are part of your company only have to be done on a part-time basis. For example, if you need someone to spend a few days each month to take care of payroll, that would be the time to think about outsourcing the task, as opposed to paying your employee a full-time salary to do the job.
March 4, 2011 No Comments