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The Secrets Of Strategy – Part 1 Of 2

The Secrets Of Strategy – Part 1 Of 2

The Secrets Of StrategyThe Secrets Of Strategy – Part 1 Of 2. A step-by-step guide to creating a growth strategy based on your current situation and future possibilities.

I’ll bet you think you already have a strategy.

And well you may, but strategy as a concept is just like love: much used and little understood. Many businesses (and that includes small entrepreneurs, large corporations, non-profits, community organizations, governments, NGOs…the works) neither know what strategy really is, nor how to get one. The Secrets Of Strategy – Part 1 Of 2

And even if you do, in fact, have a strategy — is it the right one? The best one? This is so important — marketing guru Jay Abraham says — and I agree — a superior strategy badly executed will beat a bad strategy well executed, any day.

It’s easy to say, “This is big company stuff. We know what we need — why should we do all the extra work.” While a “strategy-less” group of marketing tactics may work well and produce good results, is it taking your business in the best direction? You may be making money, but are you making the most money possible? Could another suite of tactics implementing a superior strategy produce far better results? 

Which brings me to the point of this two-part article: how to formulate strategy. In the next 1500 words, I’m going to present the first half of a basic system for identifying high-impact strategies in your business. (Just the first half? Yes. While I strive to make this as simple as possible, it still takes a bit of explaining, and editors and readers alike detest long articles!) So Part 2 will finish the outline, and in future articles, I will discuss each system component in finer detail. 

Let’s begin with a working definition of strategy.

Strategy is the guiding principle on which are based a series of interlinked decisions regarding the selection and deployment of resources and tactics, whose purpose is realizing a vision and achieving decisive objectives in a competitive and changing environment. The Secrets Of Strategy – Part 1 Of 2

This definition tells us a few things:

* The purpose of all strategic decisions is achieving your vision and “decisive” or critical-to-purpose objectives.

* Strategy is about selecting specific resources and tactics to get the desired result.

* Strategy is not static; it is decisions in a series, and evolves continuously over time.

* Strategy is broad and all-encompassing. With that in mind, here are the 8 steps in formulating strategy:

1. Set your vision

2. Gather environmental and competitive intelligence

3. Take stock of your organization’s strengths and weaknesses

4. Select your “grand strategy”

5. Establish decisive objectives

6. Rate and rank your “SWOTs”

7. Match your internal and external factors to identify strategic alternatives

8. Select specific strategies for implementation

Of course, there is one last step: turning your strategy into tactics and game plans, and execute. We won’t get into that in this article.

Step 1. Establish your vision.

People complicate the idea of vision. A vision is simply a story describing how you want things to be in the future. Some people can tell these stories easily — they know exactly where they want to be and what it will “look” like. The Secrets Of Strategy – Part 1 Of 2

Others need help. The best approach is to answer a series of questions regarding what your organization does, who are it’s clients or beneficiaries, what its impact is, how big it is, where it is, how it operates, when all these things will occur, and so on. As a result of answering these questions, your vision will emerge.

Of course, you may already have a vision. If so, now is the time to insure that it is relevant and powerful.

The test of a good vision is if it inspires; not only you and your management team, but all of your stakeholders: your partners, employees, clients, investors, vendors, lenders, your community, your government-and perhaps the public at large. A great vision inspires, and it also provides direction. Every action you take should further your vision. If it doesn’t, don’t do it. The Secrets Of Strategy – Part 1 Of 2

Step 2. Gather environmental and competitive intelligence.

To develop the best strategies you must understand the world outside your organization. Quantify and qualify, not just absolutes, but trends. And importantly-identify changes in the status quo. Key areas for focus include competitors, technology, market size and trends, your clients’ industry health, macroeconomic trends, availability of key resources (people and materials) government regulations and other political considerations, and changes in demographics and psychographics — like customer taste.

Devise relevant measures for each of these key external areas. For instance, examine your competitors for revenue, profit and market share growth (or decline), product and service changes, shifts in marketing and sales strategy, changes in geographic distribution, strategic alliances, and major customer announcements. The Secrets Of Strategy – Part 1 Of 2

Macroeconomic factors include the obvious such as interest and employment rates and trends, production and consumption statistics, along with finer grained-industry issues such as new home buying-which impacts a wide variety of businesses, or defense spending-which impacts a completely different set of sectors.

Step 3. Take stock of your organization’s strengths and weaknesses.

Now it is time to shine the light on your organization. Examine each functional area looking for strengths and weaknesses. Identify strengths that will help the company realize its vision, and weaknesses that will impede its goals. The Secrets Of Strategy – Part 1 Of 2

The following is a starter list of focus areas:

* Ability to get new prospects (Marketing)

* Ability to get new clients (Sales)

* Products and services, both existing and those in R&D

* Finance or Money, including cash flow, access to capital, revenues, profits, ROI

* Leadership, including values and vision alignment, decisive objectives

* People, including skills inventory, staffing levels, employee loyalty, compensation

Other areas to examine include:

* Client satisfaction

* Client services

* Logistics

* Competitive positioning

* Unique Client Proposition

* Management team

* Administration

Step 4. Select your Grand Strategies.

This “grand strategy” approach is based upon industry/product revenue growth rates. It is specific to a business unit with one major industry and/or product focus. If your business is more complex, you may repeat the process for each focus sector. The Secrets Of Strategy – Part 1 Of 2

First, consider your industry and product sector growth rate. Is it growing or declining?

Second, consider your competitive strength within that sector. For this analysis Competitive Strength has two components, the size and trend of your market share, and your organization’s financial strength; specifically either cash flow from operations, or access to capital.

To simplify: strong market share + strong finances = strong competitive position. Either strong market share or strong finances = average competitive position. Neither strong market share nor strong finances = weak competitive position.

This defines a two-by-three matrix of strategic choices from which to select your grand strategy.

The exact choice you make will be dictated by the specifics of your situation: sector strength and competitive strength, along with your stated vision and purpose. Choose from the list which best describes your business:
Strong sector, strong competitive position

This means that you are in a growing market, hold a commanding market position, and have cash with which to maneuver. Your strategic choices include:

* Market strategy to increase demand and sales for existing products and services, in existing and new markets

* Marketing strategy to increase market penetration for existing products and services and capture greater share

* Enhance or extend existing products and services; add-ons, backends, strategic joint ventures

* Gain control over distribution – bring external sales inside. Take sales from distributors

* Gain control over suppliers Acquisition, merger, or joint-ventures with competitors

* Develop strategic partnerships to increase distribution, or gain new products

* Develop related products and services for existing customer base – backend strategies

Strong sector, average competitive position

Here you are in a growing market, but have either a commanding position, but limited cash-or vice versa. The exact choice available to you depends on your situation. You can:

* Seek underserved niches: move into small, defined and profitable markets

* Marketing strategy to increase market penetration for existing products and services and capture greater share

* Enhance or extend existing products and services; add-ons, backends, strategic joint ventures

* Strategic partnerships – seek products/services for existing customers

* Exploit assets via joint ventures and host-beneficiary relationships

* Develop related products and services for existing customer base – backend strategies

* Increased marketing penetration via distributors and 3rd parties

* Get more money: raise capital via debt or equity

Strong sector, weak competitive position

You are in a strong sector, but have relatively small market share, and limited or no cash. Your choices include:

* Seek underserved niches: move into small, defined and profitable markets

* Marketing strategy to increase market penetration for existing products and services and capture greater share

* Strategic partnerships – seek products/services for existing customers

* Develop products and services for existing customer base – backend strategies

* Sell your client base to a competitor or cooperator; or reposition your existing products to appeal to new customer types

* Sell the product line and use cash to reposition remaining assets

* Sell the company

Weak sector, strong competitive position

In this case, you dominate a weak market and have cash to exploit your position. You should:

* Add related products and services for existing customer base – backend strategies

* Add un-related products and services for existing customer base – backend strategies

* Add new products and services for new customer base

* Create joint ventures in unrelated markets

Weak sector, average competitive position

You are in a mediocre position in a weak market. Depending on your exact circumstances, you can retreat, use what’s left of your cash to buy your way out with new products, or try to enroll a strong partner. Choices include:

1. Reduce costs however you can

2. Add related products and services for existing customer base – backend strategies

3. Add new products and services for new customer base

4. Seek to dominate the smallest definition of your market using low-cost / no-cost strategies

5. Create strategic partnerships and joint ventures

Weak sector, weak competitive position

Sorry to say, you are in a bad place. In a word — retreat! You can do this by:

1. Reduce costs however you can

2. Sell product line

3. Sell company

If you don’t want to liquidate, seek to expand your marketing using low-cost / no-cost marketing strategies – but this may be a losing proposition

Also, as above, attempt to create strategic partnerships and joint ventures, but it may be difficult to attract partners to a market with poor fundamentals. At this point you might say, “…sell the customers? Sell the company? No way. I’m holding on.” That just isn’t a strategic point of view. The Secrets Of Strategy – Part 1 Of 2

Strategy says you can make more money doing something else — so you best start thinking about it.

In general, these choices are listed from most attractive to least. Your organization’s best choices will be based on your particular circumstances.

By now you have formulated a vision, gathered analyzed your external environment and organization, identified relevant strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and begun to zero in on a grand strategy. That should keep you busy for a while.

In The Secrets of Strategy, Part II, we’ll complete the process.

Remember-you don’t need a strategy. But having one increases your chances of generating the greatest profits from your resources. After all, that is the whole point of strategy.

(c) Copyright Paul Lemberg. All rights reserved

Maximizing Your Online Sales

Maximizing Your Online Sales

 

Maximizing Your Online SalesMaximizing Your Online Sales. The online marketplace is crowded with retailers of all sizes peddling their wares. So, as a small business, you must be able to distinguish your products to get shoppers to your website and turn them into paying customers. Using the right key words in your product descriptions can help bring in potential customers and enhance your site’s search ability. But it’s just as important to make sure your e-commerce platform has a clean, uniform design that allows consumers to locate the products they’re looking for quickly. The easier it is for customers to navigate your site, the more likely they will complete the sale and return for future purchases. Maximizing Your Online Sales

Maximizing Your Online Sales. “The idea is to try to think about all of the different products and services your business sells and categorize those key words into buckets, starting from the most broad, top-level categories, then breaking up those into smaller more specific subcategories, creating a key word ‘taxonomy’ for your business,” explains Larry Kim, founder and CTO of Boston-based WordStream, a search marketing software firm. “By mapping out your keywords, you can create an information architecture to organize the different navigational menus for your web site.” Maximizing Your Online Sales

Kim recommends aligning content on your website with ads so consumers can find what they’re looking for without having to navigate through multiple pages. “People don’t have a lot of patience online,” notes Kim. “Aligning the content of pay-per-click (PPC) ads with landing pages increases the chance for completing the sale.” Kim suggests creating several ads that land to specific products, which will encourage more traffic to your site. And Google rewards higher click rates by offering lower costs per click and more prominent rankings. Maximizing Your Online Sales

Maximizing Your Online Sales. Stephen Antisdel, managing partner at Buchanan, Michigan-based Precept Partners, LLC, an Internet strategy, marketing, and web design firm, believes a quality e-commerce site should recreate the positive experience of a bricks and mortar (B&M) retail shop. “Just like a store needs to be clean and well organized, with labeled aisles and products grouped in a way that makes sense, a website should be well designed and appropriate to the market and consumer, with easily understood taxonomy,” explains Antisdel. This requires a balance between offering enough information to potential customers with their need to get that information quickly and clearly. “This is especially important if you have a broad product line,” notes Antisdel. “You have to think like your customer.” Maximizing Your Online Sales.
However, there are limits to how much a consumer will “drill down” to find a product. “You lose half of your original visitors with each click,” cautions Antisdel. “That’s why it’s important to make navigation intuitive.” Antisdel recommends placing products across multiple categories but to avoid long dropdown boxes or unwieldy flyout menus, as the former causes the customer to lose interest and the latter can be difficult to use. And don’t forget about the internal search function on your site. “Having a high-quality internal search tool can help solve taxonomy issues to some extent,” notes Antisdel. “It lets you see every word that has been searched, which is often a clue that these terms are not visible in your navigation or people are searching for a product you don’t have.” Maximizing Your Online Sales

Maximizing Your Online Sales: Use images and customer reviews to boost online sales

Paul Goldman, CEO of JuicedHybrid, a Redwood City, California online retailer of hybrid and electric car accessories, decided to overhaul his company’s web site to combat flat to declining conversion rates despite very rapid growth after just four years in business. “Our site had become very textual,” explains Goldman. “Users tend to navigate very quickly through sites heavy on graphics, as less information needs to be read to get them where they want to go.” Maximizing Your Online Sales

While preserving the positive aspects of the old site, which was well organized, the new site is meant to immediately “build trust” with visitors while highlighting all brand offerings using recognizable logos higher up on the home page. “We brought our Better Business Bureau logo, satisfaction guarantee, free shipping information, and customer testimonials up front,” notes Goldman. “While a lot of our sales are related to the [Toyota] Prius, the conversion rates for products of other car makers were low. So, we moved all other car manufacturers above the web fold. That way, consumers can click through the relevant manufacturer logo to find the product for their car. As the initial contact with the customer has improved, so have conversion rates.” Maximizing Your Online Sales

Goldman cautions against buying or leasing content, however, because search engines frown on replicated data. “We write directly to our consumers, so they really understand what each product does,” he explains. “We also try to use imagery that’s representative of the product and provide instructional videos for certain products.” The site has adopted a star system for rating products along with written reviews. And more recently, Goldman has begun soliciting those reviews. About a week after buying something, customers are emailed asking to rate and review their purchase. “It helps us know more about the customer and their perception of us and the product,” he says. “This technology allows our customers to put all this content onto our site for us. And search engines like it, so conversion rates go up.” Maximizing Your Online Sales

Maximizing Your Online Sales: Understand your customer’s purchase path

After more than a decade providing unique products from working artists to such retailers as Pottery Barn Kids and Land of Nod, co-founders Karen and Tom Capp launched a direct-to-consumer e-commerce platform just over a year ago, with their line of art and room décor for children (Oopsy Daisy), tweens/teens (wheatpaste), and adults (greenboxart). It was not only important for the Capps to create these websites with an artist’s sensibility, but also make them easy to navigate. “We wanted a pretty design so the art would pop,” explains Karen Capp. “This isn’t easy to do when you have to think about key words, which require more text.” The Capps had to strike that uneasy balance between design/imagery to catch the shopper’s eye and providing enough content so their products can be found. Maximizing Your Online Sales

The sites were also recently updated with better themed access. “We found that with our market, home décor products, consumers want to see themes up front,” explains Karen. “So some categories were added (e.g. maps, robots) or modified (boy/girl, though many of our products are unisex) and multiple filters can be used (most popular, price, new) to find products, as we carry over 4,000 products.” Maximizing Your Online Sales

“The internet is a visual medium,” Antisdel points out. “That’s where having multiple [product] views so you can simulate the experience of picking up a product and turning it over is so important.” For their personalized art, the Capps offer an additional feature where the shopper can see how large the lettering will appear on the product, which may be longer/shorter than the image on the screen. Maximizing Your Online Sales

Shopping cart abandonment rates have risen from 70 percent in 2011 to as high as 89 percent on so called Cyber Monday of this year. As Antisdel explains, the same 50 percent loss rate-per-click that applies to finding products also applies to the shopping cart. The more pages it takes to check out, the more customers you’ll lose. Antisdel suggests a one-page checkout with the option to create an account once the purchase is complete. Maximizing Your Online Sales

The three sites of the Capps’ e-commerce platform are connected, so you can move through each and check out all your purchases in one shopping cart. There’s also a field for customers to add special instructions. “Our customer service staff is diligent about following up on such requests as soon as possible,” notes Karen Capp. “That personalized relationship with the customer is critical to retention.” Maximizing Your Online Sales

The Capps recently added live chat, which has proved very successful, particularly during the holidays, when customers can have special requests or can’t wait for an email response to their questions. “We have customer service on staff here in San Diego,” notes Karen. “So the customer can talk to someone close to the products.” It also helps to reduce cart abandonment rates, as it allows for the sale to be completed while the customer is still on the web site. Maximizing Your Online Sales

Maximizing Your Online Sales: Attracting repeat visitors/customers

For those online window shoppers, remarketing encourages their return through email offers and strategically placed ads on various web sites they visit. Goldman sends a thank you email to past visitors of his site and offers them a coupon to encourage their return. “Remarketing is a powerful shopping cart optimization tool, as it can be used to specifically target those who left items in the cart to finish their purchase,” notes Kim. “Targeting such low lying fruit has the highest likelihood of conversion.” Maximizing Your Online Sales

Cold Calling In A Digital Word

Cold Calling In A Digital Word

Cold Calling In A Digital Word

Cold Calling In A Digital Word. Cold calling can provoke a range of negative connotations, from puzzlement that anyone in business still practices it today to disdain from salespeople who can find any number of creative excuses to avoid punching in a number. In an age when texting, tweeting, and posting updates on Facebook have eroded the frequency of actual conversations, making overtures to prospects by phone seems hopelessly outmoded. When executed properly, however, cold calling can generate a better response than more contemporary marketing channels. In one study by Vorsight, cold calling resulted in meetings with high-ranking executives 78 percent of the time, compared to a paltry nine-percent success rate using email queries only.

 

Research, then call

“Cold calling works when it is done in conjunction with finding the right information first,” says Mark Hunter, a sales consultant since 1998 who goes by the name The Sales Hunter. “It’s really kind of informed calling.” Cold Calling In A Digital Word

 

The first step for cold calling success is to know the purpose or reason for the call before you pick up the phone. One approach for starting the conversation is to focus on something personal, such as mentioning a local sports team in the prospect’s area. But Hunter prefers either referring to a bigger business issue—such as the legal or economic angle of a topic relevant to the prospect—or something having to do with the product or service you’re selling. Cold Calling In A Digital Word

 

“The majority of your calls will go into voicemail, but don’t get concerned about it,” Hunter advises. “The objective of a voicemail message is to create awareness.” Creating that awareness begins with a three-part communication that consists of an introduction, the benefit or core message, and a recap of who you are and your phone number—in less than 15 seconds. A core message might be: “Hey, I’ve got some new information regarding the trends that could be occurring next year. Love to share that with you. Give me a buzz at [phone number].” Cold Calling In A Digital Word

 

“I’m just giving a very quick piece of information. I’m not telling them exactly what I’ve got because I don’t want to give them enough reason not to call back,” Hunter explains. While it would be inappropriate to call a CEO every other day, Hunter does recommend reaching out to mid-level managers at least six times over the course of a month through a combination of phone calls and emails, on different days of the week and at different times. Cold Calling In A Digital Word

 

“A great time to catch people live is right at the top of the hour,” Hunter confides. “Most meetings are scheduled for an hour or a half hour. A busy busy person will dash back in their office a couple of minutes before the hour. Suddenly the phone rings, and they pick it up before they realize it’s an outside call. I’ve used this technique for years and it works. I’ve even reached CEOs with it.” Cold Calling In A Digital Word

 

Secrets for getting your call returned

“Cold calling is actually the only opportunity-finding or appointment-generating process that is directly under the control of the small business owner,” says Wendy Weiss, whose business handle is The Queen of Cold Calling, and who is the author of the free downloadable ebook, The Cold Calling Survival Guide. “You target the company you’re interested in introducing yourself to and you do it. It’s very direct.” Cold Calling In A Digital Word

 

Identifying the characteristics of a qualified prospect in concrete terms is the first step, she says, such as prospecting at companies with at least 100 employees. Second, have a compelling message—for example, the problems that you or your product or service can solve—with some type of script prepared beforehand. “I don’t mean something the sales rep is going to read word for word no matter what the other person says,” she notes. Instead, be ready to handle logical questions or objections that might come up in the conversation. But always focus on getting the result you want from the call, whether it’s setting up a meeting or sending information—whatever your desired outcome is. Cold Calling In A Digital Word

 

Weiss’s clients have had a lot of success following her carefully structured four-part voicemail campaigns, leaving different messages about one week apart, and supplementing with emails if the address is available. If a client hasn’t gotten through to the prospect by the last call, Weiss urges them to leave a final message like this: “I’ve been trying to reach you to discuss X. I haven’t heard back from you and I know you’re really busy, so I’m assuming this isn’t a good time for us to have this conversation. I don’t want to make a pest of myself, so I won’t be calling you again [for a certain timeframe]. If you’re meaning to get back to me, I’ll welcome the opportunity to discuss X.” Cold Calling In A Digital Word

 

“This is actually the most returned message,” Weiss admits. “Most salespeople call for awhile and then they stop calling, but they never tell the prospect they’re not going to call again, and the prospect expects the salesperson to keep calling. We’ve found that a good percentage of clients have been able to use this very successfully to get prospects to return calls.” Cold Calling In A Digital Word

 

Practice makes perfect

In the world of real estate, brokers typically represent either a seller or a landlord. Since 1982, NYSPACE has carved out a unique space for itself. The real estate consultancy represents only tenants looking for commercial space in Manhattan. Cold Calling In A Digital Word

 

“The only way to develop new business is to cold call,” says Vince Sheehan, NYSPACE’s president. “We need to go out and sell our concept, which is alien to some degree, because everyone thinks of a broker as representing a landlord.”

 

Sheehan has a team of 15 agents, each expected to make 100 calls a day, though that goal is often elusive. Their message follows a structure advocated by Hunter and Weiss: explain who they are, why they’re different, and how they can help the prospect. Sheehan himself leads the company’s in-house training process of new hires, then has them sit with an experienced caller, then consult with him again, before letting them make their hundreds of phone calls on their own. Cold Calling In A Digital Word

 

While they do follow a script—developed, in part, with Weiss’s help—Sheehan admits that it’s more a loose guideline than a rigid template. Most of the new hires lately have been middle management people who typically know how to talk with people already. Still, in-house seminars that Weiss has conducted keep the sales team fresh. Cold Calling In A Digital Word

 

Other than a few holidays, Sheehan’s approach has few off-limits times for making calls. The effort is obviously paying off, as the most productive workers generate six-figure incomes, he reports. “This is a hands-on business,” Sheehan concludes. “You want to be talking to someone you trust. You’re not going to get that from Facebook or Twitter.” Cold Calling In A Digital Word

 

There’s no doubt that cold calling is still a viable method for contacting qualified prospects and building loyal relationships in ways that surpass other marketing channels, such as social media platforms and email. When done properly, it can be a valuable workhorse for getting through to key contacts and helping to keep the sales pipeline filled. That’s a conversation every business enjoys having. Cold Calling In A Digital Word.

Cold Calling In A Digital Word. Cold calling still is an effective way of obtaining new customers. Something old fashioned things still works, some practices never go out of style. Cold calling is a number games, the more you call the more opportunities you have to grow professional and you will repeat the rewards. Cold Calling In A Digital Word not is dead is just expanded to another level.

New Year’s Resolutions for Entrepreneurs

New Year’s Resolutions for Entrepreneurs New Year’s Resolutions for Entrepreneurs

New Year’s Resolutions for Entrepreneurs.  Like many business owners, Patty Moreno-Fletcher has a few major year-end deadlines. Hers are a bit more unpredictable and life changing than most: She’s a doula—a non-medical coach who supports people through the labor, birth, and new-parent process, or as she calls it “mothering the new mother.” Three of her clients have due dates around the holidays. New Year’s Resolutions for Entrepreneurs

She’s setting a deadline for herself, too: In 2009, she purchased the domain name for her practice, Butterfly Babies NYC, but has procrastinated ever since. After relying for years on just positive word-of-mouth among New York families, she’s now made this her primary New Year’s resolution: Develop the website and start a blog to reach out to more potential clients. New Year’s Resolutions for Entrepreneurs

“Being a doula—it’s very hands-on work. But when it comes to the Internet or a Web presence or even managing an office or billing, it just give me a headache thinking about it,” she says, laughing. With 2013 just days away, business owners can celebrate the end of another year of hard work and look ahead at what’s to come—and what they might do differently based on what they’ve learned. While one notable study found the track record for successfully maintaining attempts at change wasn’t all that great, the dawn of every new year brings optimism for starting anew and becoming a little wiser and maybe a bit more efficient. Here’s a look at what a few business owners are saying they are hoping for, possibly with some inspiration for your own next 12 months. New Year’s Resolutions for Entrepreneurs

Hire new staff John Kwan, chief executive of VeriPic, says he’s resolving to increase hiring in 2013. With the economy still sluggish, “there are plenty of talented people available and many just want moderate pay,” he says. “This is the perfect environment for expansion as labor costs are low and this is also an excellent way to help the economy by hiring people.” New Year’s Resolutions for Entrepreneurs

Value your time “What entrepreneur doesn’t want to focus more?” asks Will Mitchell, a founder of the Startup Bros. business consultancy as well as owner of online marketer Clear Presence Media and reputation manager RepAssured in Tampa, Fla. He resolves to concentrate on one task at a time in order to see it to completion. “Once you start taking the initiative on this, it’s pretty impossible to ignore, particularly if you set up time-tracking software on your computer,” he says. He uses RescueTime, which tracks how much time you spend online and, importantly, shows where those stolen moments on Facebook or fantasy football sites are adding up, and detracting from more important tasks. New Year’s Resolutions for Entrepreneurs

Get better rest Mitchell says his family is full of entrepreneurs (he’s been doing business online since he was 14) and all have struggled with being able to tune out and get to sleep. “Most entrepreneurs will tell you the one thing they can do to improve their performance is get more rest,” he says. “But it’s rare that they’ll actually put down the computer and go to bed.”. How long have his resolutions lasted? “With sleep, historically I can get two to three months into that before the first crisis comes up and kind of ruins that,” he admits, chuckling. New Year’s Resolutions for Entrepreneurs

Be able to “glide” That’s what Heddi Cundle aimed to do after a hectic year of starting up myTab.co, a travel gift-card system she’s founded. After months of 18-hour days getting her start-up off the ground and chasing venture capital from Silicon Valley, Cundle says she and her team in San Francisco recently altered course and decided to license out myTab to e-commerce sites—a move that she said has been received with great enthusiasm. It’s also changed the company’s outlook going into 2013. “Things are falling into place,” Cundle says. “In the next 12 months at least, we can glide a lot easier because we’re not trying to push and strive to fit into a specific mold that we thought we needed to be in to generate revenue. We just found a different sort. Now we’re gliding into 2013. By licensing our technology to verticals, we can use revenue to invest back into myTab.co travel.” New Year’s Resolutions for Entrepreneurs

Get ready to market online New Year’s Resolutions for Entrepreneurs

Business Planning Harness the power of planning your time well, taking care to allocate your schedule according to priorities. Wait when it’s appropriate, hurry when it’s appropriate, and apply patience, vision and common sense. — Tim Berry, Business Plans

Social Media Do whatever it takes to get out of your comfort zone and into your “power place” to grow your business. Embrace change and new technologies, including social sites. Choose what works best for reaching your target market, and run with it. Most important: Have fun. — Starr Hall, Social Media

New Year’s Resolutions for Entrepreneurs Sales In 2011, show up to the meetings that you would have passed on previously. Never underestimate the power of face-to-face meetings for building stronger relationships and connections with your prospects and customers. Activity creates opportunity. — Barry Farber, Make the Sale

E-Commerce Develop and implement systems that will free up time that you can spend on other pursuits. What really matters most is making a measurable amount of progress in a reasonable amount of time and spending time with loved ones. Do the only things about which you’re passionate and work with only your ideal clients. — Lena West, Ask Entrepreneur

New Year’s Resolutions for Entrepreneurs Technology Take the security of your business seriously. Change all your passwords. Close down old unused accounts for emails, business software and social networks. And set up a password for your mobile phone. — Jonathan Blum, Office Technology

Managing Resolve to invest heavily in the people and technology necessary to meet client demands and seize market opportunity. — Paul Spiegelman, Corporate Culture

Online Marketing Understand your customers’ experience with your business. It’s essential for businesses to look at what they do from their customers’ point of view and then smooth out any rough edges. Customers have so many options. You can’t afford a single reason for one to choose a competitor’s business over yours. — Gail Goodman, E-Mail Marketing

Communications The new year will see an acceleration of the reinvention of media. With so many ways to reach so many different types of consumers, reaching out to a variety of outlets through diverse media is critical. Craft customized content and send it via multiple platforms engage customers wherever they may be. — Rachel Meranus, Public Relations

Productivity It’s critical to get absorbed in your business niche to achieve mastery. But, most importantly, laugh, love and live more fully. — Scott Halford, Brainy Business

Starting Young Forget the mantra of “work hard, get good grades and go to school to get a job.” For too long, young people have been force-fed this nonsense from their parents and mentors. It’s stifling their income generating potential. Gen Y needs to become the most entrepreneurial generation in history. — Scott Gerber, Never Get a “Real” Job

New Year’s Resolutions for Entrepreneurs Video Marketing Create at least one professionally-produced video for the homepage of your website and social media sites. It should show y why your business is the best choice among the competition and include a compelling incentive to make an immediate purchase and share the video with others. — John Arnold, Marketing Tools & Technologies

Selling a Business Prepare yourself psychologically. Make sure you’re emotionally committed and ready for the sale, or you may turn buyers off to your business. — Domenic Rinaldi, Buying & Selling a Business New Year’s Resolutions for Entrepreneurs

Buying a Business Making a concrete plan to pursue your entrepreneurial dreams, and take at least one action every day that will help you achieve your goal. Set a realistic timeline for when you will reach the major milestones on your path to entrepreneurial success. — Mike Handelsman, Buying & Selling a Business

Real Estate Question the experts in your field and find out who the real experts are. Hint: If they’re in Washington or on television, they might not be experts. — Greg Rand, Real Estate Realities

Growing Turn your small mom-and-pop business into a bigger opportunity this year by launching the projects you never got around to in 2010. — Lisa Druxman,Mompreneur

New Year’s Resolutions for Entrepreneurs Prioritizing Ask yourself, “What can I stop doing?” Begin to put stronger accountability practices into place to create a better business foundation. — Nina Kaufman, Making It Legal

Mobile Marketing Make mobile marketing a high priority. Capture mobile shoppers by updating your website to load quickly in a variety of browsers and making them Facebook and Twitter interactive. Offer competitive pricing and tap into the soaring popularity of coupons by texting them to your customers’ mobile phones. — Kim T. Gordon, Marketing Read more: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/217806#ixzz2mVpdpnAB New Year’s Resolutions for Entrepreneurs

How To Attract and Keep Top Performers by Tim Jacquet

How To Attract and Keep Top Performers by Tim Jacquet

How To Attract and Keep Top Performers by Tim Jacquet. Good people are hard to find, the saying goes. For example, by the year 2000 over 190,000 computer programmer and other information technology jobs will be vacant, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report. (This is now a bit out of date, and although the dot-com bustups and the 2000-2001 recession has eased things a bit, it is still difficult to lure top talent.) It may be easy to fill these empty positions if you are a software giant like Microsoft, but there is a tremendous challenge attracting (and keeping) top performers if you are smaller and less well known. How To Attract and Keep Top Performers by Tim Jacquet

According to chief executives and industry recruiters who were interviewed for this article, there are three main areas on which to focus: the quality and market position of your product or service, environment, and compensation.

Leading edge technology and a high perception of quality will lure top technical and design people, salespeople and support people, all for different reasons. Technology people relish the challenge of developing something new, plus they need ongoing opportunities for skill enhancement to remain fresh.

As for top sales people, a strong product means they can earn bigger commissions, and their egos are fulfilled by being on the leading edge. And top support people are smart enough to know that a quality product makes everyone’s job easier, and it enables them to earn their incentives. For everyone, superior products will earn your company better returns, enabling more reinvestment in R&D, providing challenges and adventure for your technical people, and more and better product for your sales and marketing team. How To Attract and Keep Top Performers by Tim Jacquet

What if your product is not cutting-edge, or your quality not up to snuff? Appealing to top performers is not going to be your only problem. Unless you control a mature market niche, your company will need to update and upgrade to remain viable – this requires high caliber people. If you want to survive in the marketplace you must concentrate harder on the next two factors.

Environmental factors – the corporate culture, the caliber of co-workers, the attitude of your management team, and your physical environment can be pivotal in finding and retaining talented people. How To Attract and Keep Top Performers by Tim Jacquet

Corporate culture is one area smaller companies have an edge – that “hell-bent-for-leather” attitude makes it exciting and challenging to come to work, and there are fewer layers of bureaucracy people find so stifling. Real teamwork, where success is shared and the team affirms a common commitment, will draw other top professionals.

Having a smart, talented staff will captivate more smart, talented people. So will a collegial atmosphere which values the opinions of the rank-and-file along with open-management policies keeping the troops informed on the state-of-the-company. How To Attract and Keep Top Performers by Tim Jacquet

A training plan, designed career paths and professional conference attendance are more ways to attract and keep people. Other small but significant options include dress code, flextime, telecommuting, offices with walls – these all help.

Last is the issue of compensation. The big salary problem is no matter how much you pay, a competitor can pay a little bit more. So in terms of salary level itself, you simply have to be at or near your market rate.

Pay-for-performance however, can take compensation much higher while avoiding salary inflation. A system of carefully designed bonuses and incentives will enable you to pay people for exceptional production.

Equity – stock grants, options and equity-like phantom stock – is a powerful way for smaller companies to entice people at all levels. Plus, smaller companies can grant equity without the usual waiting period required by public and larger companies. (Just remember to include a forfeiture clause in case of early termination.) How To Attract and Keep Top Performers by Tim Jacquet

What does all this mean in real terms? Some of the ideas in this article are harder to implement than others, and some describe conditions you simply can’t achieve. Must you arrange for every item mentioned above? Of course not, but systematically providing your people with the challenge to be their best, the opportunity to learn, the freedom to be creative, the incentives to perform and produce, a feeling of ownership, and the respect as professionals – these are the things that will make top technical and sales people want to join your company, and have them stay. How To Attract and Keep Top Performers by Tim Jacquet

Coming Soon To Your Website: Online videos are revolutionizing how business communicates

Coming Soon To Your Website: Online videos are revolutionizing how business communicates

Posted by SBOC Team in Advertising, Sales and Marketingon Oct 3, 2012 8:03:56 AM

 

VidMarketing_Body.jpgby Robert Lerose.

 

Online video is fast becoming the preferred advertising channel for business. According to a recent study by Break Media, U.S. advertisers are predicted to spend $5.4 billion on video ads in 2016, up from $2.0 billion in 2011.

 

VidMarketing_PQ.jpgIn yet a different study from Invodo and the e-tailing group, product videos on websites were watched 60 percent of the time by consumers, and almost two-thirds of respondents said they would spend at least two minutes watching videos before deciding on a purchase. Videos take full advantage of the web’s capabilities, allowing you to tell your story with sound, action, and immediacy to convey messages with an emotional appeal that text-based formats simply can’t match.

Film it yourself?

“Almost anyone can make a video today to communicate either an aspect of their business or to demonstrate how something is done,” says Lou Amico, president of L.A. Management Company, a Charlotte, North Carolina-based strategic marketing firm.

 

A small business can either do an entire production in-house—using their own crew, equipment, and software—or rely on a professional outside agency to coordinate the myriad production details. While cameras and editing software make it relatively easy for a do-it-yourself shoot, Amico points out that technical considerations can hamper a production helmed by an inexperienced team. In particular, the lighting and audio can pose unforeseen problems. For example, filming a person in front of a light source puts their face in shadow, and a mike that is too far away makes the person sound like they’re in a tunnel.

 

You also need someone in your marketing department who understands how to construct a narrative that holds customers’ attention. “Anyone with a camera is a videographer. The question is, are they storytellers?” Amico says. “Do they appreciate and understand what needs to be included to make a compelling video?”

 

Many businesses waste too much time with bland or self-indulgent openings in their videos. “You’ve got to cut to the chase,” Amico explains. “We do a lot of work in the elective medicine field. Nobody wants to hear a minute-and-a-half intros about doctors and their background before they get into the procedure.”

 

In a video for ProSpec building products, Amico turned a simple shower installation into an engrossing how-to demonstration that was viewed over 75,000 times with almost no drop off in viewership.

 

Now that Google is reporting more videos in its results, putting keywords in the title of your video can give you a higher ranking. Be sure to include your company website as the first thing in the video description. “If you put the link in at the end, oftentimes [customers] won’t see it,” Amico explains. “But if you put it at the beginning, the link will easily bring people to your website.”

 

Tell them a story

Telling compelling stories has helped fuel the growth of PrintingForLess.com, an online commercial printer specializing in small business accounts across the country. Starting as a local print shop in 1996 before launching as a nationwide e-commerce company in 1999, the Livingston, Montana-based business racked up $21 million in sales in 2011 and has a 150-person workforce in a town with 7,000 residents.

 

Beginning around 2005, PrintingForLess.com started using videos in their marketing mix to assure customers that they were a “real” company, to explain the services they offered, and to put a human face on the different teams that worked on particular orders. To dramatize their story in an engaging way, they produced a video titled “The Life of An Order” that walks the customer through the entire process, from placing an order to actual production and quality control to the time it arrives in the hands of the customer. In one version or another, the video has been seen over 4,000 times.

 

“We always hear from people that they watched that video and that’s why they chose us over a competitor,” says Daniel Gaugler, vice president of marketing at PrintingForLess.com. “People pick out different reasons why that video converted them. That’s why it’s on our homepage.”

 

When Gaugler’s team first experimented with videos, they polished them and tried to make them perfect, making employees recite a script from memory and read it on camera—but no one was happy with the results. But when they spoke naturally about the work they did, the videos clicked.

 

“Nobody wants to see a marketing message,” Gaugler notes. “They’re already on your website. What they want is answers to their questions, and they want to be partially entertained.”

 

Another phase in their video marketing involved asking their customers over the phone if they would consider sending in a video testimonial. To speed things up, PrintingForLess.com sent out Flip cameras with simple step-by-step instructions for recording. More than 75 video testimonials are now on the company’s website. “A video comes across as extremely authentic,” Gaugler says. “We couldn’t come up with [the kind of] videos that our customers do.”

 

Throw them a curve ball

For businesses that don’t need to be convinced of the power of online video, the next questions to be addressed are: Where will the video fit into the marketing mix? How might it be used best?

 

“Video, just like text, could be used in a manner of ways,” says Dane Frederiksen, owner and principal of Digital Accomplice, a Northern California-based brand content developer. “It could be used for sales, branding, education, internal training videos, recruitment, even a holiday video.”

 

To promote his own business, Frederiksen took his own advice—conceiving, shooting, and editing a clever brand content video called “Just A Kid.” The 80-second video features a kid of about ten telling marketers that the age of video marketing is here and they need to be part of it—delivered in a charming but effective style.

 

“I did get the message across in a way that engaged people,” Frederiksen admits. “It kind of came as a curveball. You see this kid and you’re curious. It’s fun. There’s fun music. You’ve got a wide variety of interesting shots, but there’s also a respect for the audience. I know they’re busy and I have a high bar reach to impress them.”

http://smallbusinessonlinecommunity.bankofamerica.com/community/growing-your-business/salesandmarketing/blog/2012/10/03/coming-soon-to-your-website-online-videos-are-revolutionizing-how-business-communicates

 

Setting Goals: Steps to take now for growth in 2013

Setting Goals: Steps to take now for growth in 2013

It seems like almost everyone has something to say about setting goals, and coming up with their own way for achieving them. Books by the late Stephen Covey and organizational tools such as Day-Timers and online file sharing solutions like Dropbox have made a lasting impression on the way we organize our lives. In a much-cited paper from 2006, two researchers found that establishing specific goals was more likely to lead to better results and improved performance than simply encouraging workers to “do their best.”

SettingGoals_PQ.jpgGoals that challenged workers to stretch, the paper concludes, “lead to greater effort, focus and persistence than moderately difficult or easy goals.” Workers who rose to the occasion also felt a greater sense of purpose, self-fulfillment, and value to the company.

Here are the experiences of three owners in setting goals for their business for next year.

Giving everyone a say

Founded in 2006, Savvy Rest in Charlottesville, Virginia, makes organic mattresses and bedding accessories made from natural, non-toxic materials. Gross sales were $4.5 million last year, up 55 percent since 2008, according to Michael Penny, president and sole owner. “There’s more competition now than there was five years ago because [bigger manufacturers] see that you can be profitable doing what we do and so they want to get in,” he says.

Penny holds a two-day meeting every September with his marketing, operations, production, and recruiting departments. The five-member team sets goals for the coming year by performing a SWOT analysis—Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats—that uncovers and addresses critical issues affecting profitability.

To keep on track, they’ll also meet twice a month, either for a couple of hours or sometimes for a whole day if a big decision needs to be made. Because the five-member team is representative of Savvy Rest’s entire 20-person workforce, they can modify their goals more nimbly, make sure everyone is on board, and move forward.

Case in point: At their meeting last March, they realized that they would soon run out of room in their 23,000-square foot production facility. They had the chance to buy a small parcel of land with a tenant on it at an affordable monthly payment, so they authorized Penny to make the deal. “I could have done it anyway—I own the company—but I want everybody’s buy in,” he recalls. “They help me act on the good ideas and refrain from acting on the bad ones.”

Improving the business for the long-term

The recession and sputtering economy upended the plans of thousands of small businesses including The Queensboro Shirt Company, a Wilmington, North Carolina-based online seller of custom logo apparel and promotional products primarily for small- and medium-sized businesses. As a result, adjusting to the challenging climate was their first goal.

Like Savvy Rest, the key players at Queensboro met at the end of the summer to evaluate their marketing programs, map out customer acquisition targets, and model retention revenue. Based on this, they’ll put together a plan for the first half of 2013. In March or April of next year, they’ll go back and refine their projections for the second half.

To give the 115-person workforce a concrete appreciation of the company’s progress, Queensboro invested in a web-based order processing system several years ago that has had a profound impact.

“Everybody in our business has a real-time display on their desktops of orders that were received by the hour, broken up by new and existing customers,” explains Fred Meyers, who founded the company in 1982. “We adjust in real time as we see the results come in. If it looks like our projections are off for that

month, we reevaluate what we projected going forward.” Sales for the company reached about $13 million in 2011.

Meyers is executing two new goals for the fourth quarter holiday season. First, a customer referral program that rewards existing customers with a merchandise credit for referring a friend. Second, a sampling program that allows new customers to buy a quality shirt with their custom embroidered logo on it for just 99 cents. “It’s a real aggressive deal,” Meyers admits. “We find that when a customer tries us out, they tend to spend several hundred dollars with us over three or four or five years. It’s worth it to us to invest in establishing a relationship with that customer.”

Meyers emphasizes that focusing on the long-term goal of improving the organization is more important than just daily, weekly, or monthly sales figures. “I want this business to be the absolute best at what it does,” he says. “That’s the biggest goal that we have.”

Limited goals, clearly expressed

SeekingSitters, a Tulsa, Oklahoma-based on-demand referral service that extensively screens and supplies qualified babysitters, has licensed franchises in 15 states since its founding in 2004. The growth of the business can be traced, in part, to accountability, achievable goals, and clear communication.

The initiatives for the week are spelled out during a short meeting every Monday with the entire office team. Then, on Friday, another meeting reviews that week’s accomplishments and identifies the actions that need to be taken the following week. “It shows everybody what you’re moving towards and what you’ve been able to get through,” explains Adrienne Kallweit, the company’s founder. Based on a review of past projects and how they’ve moved forward, monthly and quarterly goals are also developed.

http://smallbusinessonlinecommunity.bankofamerica.com/community/growing-your-business/salesandmarketing/blog/2012/10/01/setting-goals-steps-to-take-now-for-growth-in-2013

The 7 best TED talks for small business owners

The 7 best TED talks for small business owners

by Erin McDermott.

Got time for a bite-size bit of inspiration? Take a look at TED Talks.

What started as a small conference that shared new thinking on technology, education, and design (that’s where the T-E-D comes from) in the 1980s has grown into an Internet juggernaut with videos that together have drawn nearly one billion views. Many cities in the U.S. and elsewhere are hosting smaller versions of the TED Talk franchise and a feature in The New Yorker this summer suggests TED has managed to turn “ideas into an industry.” But there’s also plenty of smart stuff here for small business owners. Many talks feature innovators and entrepreneurs, with savvy ideas about marketing, leadership, and burgeoning industries rife with opportunities. The clips vary in length from less than five minutes to about the average coffee run, and are engaging, fast moving, and very funny at times.

Here’s a look at seven TED Talks that small business owners should make time to watch.

Lisa Harouni: A Primer on 3D Printing (14:05)

Have you been hearing a lot about 3D printing? It very well could be the next revolution in manufacturing: technology that, layer-by-layer, assembles even the most intricate of designs. The idea and the industrial-scale machines have been around for some time, but a new focus on their capabilities—from architecture and construction use to human bones to (seriously!) a whole racecar—has engineers around the world jazzed. Some experts believe these devices could become a household norm in the not-too-distant future. Watch Lisa Harouni, chief executive of London’s pioneering Digital Forming, in November 2011 and be dazzled.

David S. Rose: Pitching to VCs (14:42)

Seeking capital for your growing enterprise? Better get your pitch right before you run the gauntlet of venture-capital panels. David S. Rose, managing partner of Rose Tech Ventures, entrepreneur, and “pitch coach,” has been on both sides of the investors’ table. Here, Rose gives a fast-paced rundown of 10 things you must be able to express in your presentation if you want to win over the angels.

Daniel H. Pink: The Surprising Science of Motivation (18:36)

If you’re running your business based on traditional thinking about carrots and sticks when it comes to incentives for your employees, you might be wasting your time and money on outdated assumptions. Daniel H. Pink, the bestselling author of Drive, Free Agent Nation, and the forthcoming To Sell Is Human, has been changing perceptions about the 21st-century American workplace for more than a decade. Here, in this video, with nearly four million views, Pink talks about what science now knows and what some businesses are still doing—to their detriment.

Richard St. John: Success Is a Continuous Journey (3:57)

Need a pep talk? In less than four minutes, writer and entrepreneur Richard St. John recounts his own rise to the top—and his downfall after succumbing to the perks of success. (One tip: That sports car isn’t a solution to depression.) He outlines how he lost it and lessons for everyone on the importance of keeping your eye on the ball. (And here’s another good one from St. John at TED.)

Margaret Heffernan: Dare to Disagree (12:56)

Arguing with your partner may be a very good thing for your business. Why? Conflict can lead to progress, while colleagues who serve as an echo chamber are unlikely to help you break new ground. That’s the gist of former CEO Margaret Heffernan’s June 2012 talk. The question is: Who has the patience and wherewithal to find, listen to, and push forward with those who challenge them most?

For more info, http://smallbusinessonlinecommunity.bankofamerica.com/community/running-your-business/generalbusiness/blog/2012/09/27/listen-up-the-7-best-ted-talks-for-small-business-owners

Every Customer Read This!: Using invoices and bills as marketing tools

Every Customer Read This!: Using invoices and bills as marketing tools
by Robert Lerose.

Invoices occupy a sweet spot for business: they are one of the few types of mail that are promptly opened and read. A surprising amount of invoices, however, are devoid of any kind of marketing message. Since you have the complete and immediate attention of your customers—the first step in any sales cycle—putting a message on your bill or invoice is an opportunity that shouldn’t be ignored.
“The biggest advantage is that it’s something the client is already receiving from you, so it’s not overly invasive,” says Melanie Wright, the marketing director for Abstrakt Marketing Group, a full service marketing company in St. Louis, Missouri.

Besides this stealth superiority, you can insert a wide range of messages on the invoice. For example: announcing a new product, upselling a service package, asking for customer feedback, sharing a testimonial, offering a free white paper, or acknowledging the customer’s loyalty. It’s not so much what you put on the invoice as it is capitalizing on a new touchpoint and reconnecting with your customers.

Just say thank you

Abstrakt’s Wright notes that they’ve used invoice marketing to give updates on products and services. They also nurture relationships by reminding their customers to use them for upcoming projects, discreetly asking for referrals, and requesting testimonials. “Those little details and touches and customizations play into [business-building],” she says.

Putting a simple thank you or other sincere note of appreciation on the invoice can pave the way to future sales, too.

“Instead of using your traditional carrier envelope, put [the invoice] in a nice envelope,” recommends Daniel Glickman of FirmFlair, a marketing consultancy in Sherborn, Massachusetts. “Change the perception that [the invoice] is a penalty of doing business with you. It’s not a downside, it’s one of the benefits.” For added impact, send the thank you in its own envelope inside the main invoice envelope.

Glickman emphasizes that any invoice message must complement—not contradict—your overall messaging. For example, a business that markets itself as giving personal customer service would send the wrong tone with a message on an invoice that sounded cold or bureaucratic. Still another mistake would be to come across as pushy or hard selling if you usually cultivate a warm, low-key tone in your other advertising.

“You’re sending an invoice to get paid for the work you’re doing. The question is, why did they hire you in the first place? You don’t want to contradict that,” Glickman says.

Working together is key

Which department owns invoice marketing, accounts payable or marketing?

“It’s definitely a joint effort,” says Abstrakt’s Wright. “I could have a million ideas for what I think would be great for invoice marketing and then I would run that by our accounting department [to have them] review the functionality of it as well as the professionalism and legal aspect.”

Abstrakt relies on both internal and external collaborations to enhance the power of their invoice marketing. For example, Abstrakt partners with a web design firm to handle services that they don’t cover themselves. But instead of sending them just a regular invoice, Abstrakt takes its own advice: they include customer feedback on projects that the design firm executed and even gives them leads for new business.

It is generally agreed that messages on invoices should be short, direct, and few in number—one, or sometimes two at most. As with a renewal series, variety is key.

“If your customers see the same thing on every invoice, they’re going to quit looking at it,” says Jerry Ellis, vice president of sales and marketing for Lanvera, an outsourcing company in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that delivers documents to customers through print and electronic means. “If [the message] changes all the time, now your customer is going to be trained that you’re doing promotions or marketing in the invoice, so they’re going to look at it.”

Ellis recommends putting the marketing message upfront on the invoice so the recipient sees it right away before they get involved in the financial transaction of paying the bill. Since the bill is primarily text, using graphics is a keen way to draw the customer’s eye.

“The entire back of the carrier envelope and even certain portions of the front can be used to put a marketing message on it, too,” he says. “The message on the outside could be the full message or ‘Look Inside For’ something more.”

Marketing messages also work well on bills sent electronically, and even offer a distinct advantage over snail mail. Not only can the bill be paid immediately, but it can also be embedded with a link that takes the customer to a new landing page with a fresh marketing message. Response can be tracked to identify what language or offer was most appealing.

http://smallbusinessonlinecommunity.bankofamerica.com/community/growing-your-business/salesandmarketing/blog/2012/09/24/every-customer-read-this-using-invoices-and-bills-as-marketing-tools

Up Your Ranking: Six ways your website can move above competitors’ in a Google search

Up Your Ranking: Six ways your website can move above competitors’ in a Google search by Cindy Waxer.

Have you ever conducted a quick Google search of your company’s name? You might be shocked to discover that your website doesn’t even appear in the first few pages of results. In fact, according to a 2012 study entitled “Small Businesses Just Don’t Get SEO,” conducted by Online Marketing Coach, a whopping 62 percent of small businesses don’t even rank on the first page of Google for even one keyword or phrase.

That’s because many entrepreneurs simply don’t understand how Google rankings work. Simply put, a ranking is a series of algorithms Google’s search engine uses to find the most relevant documents for a user query. Results are based on everything from locally relevant content and page links to keywords and authority.
Unfortunately, getting outranked or, even worse, stuck on a page behind your competitors can cost your business hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue and prospects. Luckily, there are ways you can optimize your small business’s website to earn top ranking without having to break the bank on technical bells and whistles.

Just ask Lourdes Balepogi. President of Chispa Marketing, an interactive marketing firm in Miami, Florida, Balepogi says there are a few simple and cost-effective ways growing businesses can boost their company’s Google ranking. Here’s how

1. Don’t judge a website by its cover

Just because your website is appealing to the eye doesn’t mean it’ll earn a high ranking within Google. In fact, a website’s aesthetics have very little bearing on its overall search positioning. Instead, variables such as fresh content, page titles, and navigability are far more likely to influence where your website will surface in a search. “There are sites that are absolutely hideous that make millions of dollars on a monthly basis,” says Balepogi. “In the end, it’s not about how beautiful the site is.”

2. Consider content

The right keywords—words that best describe your business’s products and services—are critical to your website’s ranking. But rather than focus on single keywords, Balepogi believes in the value of selecting keyword phrases. Adding relevant titles to each page on your website can also help as Google displays search results as a link using the page’s title description. Plus, adding a title might just give you a leg up on the competition: an Online Marketing Coach study reports that only 51 percent of small business web sites use home page titles for strategic keywords.

3. Shop for domain names

Purchasing unused domain names can be a cost-effective method for driving more traffic to your site and boosting your search engine ranking. “For example, if you’re a marketing firm in Miami, find out if “www.miamimarketing.com” is available as a domain name,” recommends Balepogi. “If so, I would purchase it and reroute any traffic to my actual marketing company. Repurposing domain names with special keywords is a great and inexpensive strategy.”

4. Embrace social media

By starting a blog that offers consumers everything from tricks of the trade to educational resources, you can significantly increase traffic and boost your Google ranking as a subject matter expert. “If you’re a carpenter, blog about places to find the best wood or teach customers about the different types of wood,” says Balepogi. “These keywords play just as much a factor [in improving a site’s ranking] as a big search engine optimization campaign that you would be paying thousands of dollars for.”

5. Make the proper connections

Google looks at links both to and from a site to determine page rank. That’s because Google considers the words a website uses in its links to help determine the content of Web pages. For this reason, Balepogi recommends that small business owners introduce a healthy number of links – two or three per page – to related sites. Exchange text links with other relevant websites or make a point of including hyperlinks in each blog posting on your site. Just remember: no matter how you choose to incorporate links, make sure you keep them current.

http://smallbusinessonlinecommunity.bankofamerica.com/community/growing-your-business/internetecommerce/blog/2012/09/19/up-your-ranking-six-ways-your-website-can-move-above-competitors-in-a-google-search