Is saying goodbye to summer, which is never long enough, bringing your spirits down? Are you missing the dog days of summer already? Do you need a refuge from the craziness of increased traffic and the disappointment caused by shorter days? Don’t despair—we have something that will place a smile on your face and put you in a better mood, regardless of the changing seasons.
We had such a great response to our Small Biz Rewards Pet Pic sweepstakes and we just can’t keep all the cuteness to ourselves. Thanks to everyone who shared their cuddly loved ones with us! We especially want to congratulate our 3 grand prize winners, each of whom won 50,000 Small Biz Rewards points (a $500 value):
Linda Van Dye and Roscoe, Elk Garden Aluminum
Tracie Bechtel and Amber & Chloe, Trefoil Properties, LP
Sharon Popillo and Enzo, Advanced Auto Body, Inc.
So why not take a moment and brighten your day by viewing the pets of our Small Biz Rewards members? Dogs and cats are just the start of what you can find in the pet gallery. Brace yourself—farm animals and the occasional reptile can be just as cute and relaxing when you gaze at their photo op. Take a peek.
Not yet a Small Biz Rewards member? Finish enjoying those great pet photos, then join—it’s free and rewarding. You’ll receive 1 point per $1 spent on qualified Verizon services, which can be redeemed for awesome name-brand gift cards to your favorite retailers.* Plus, Small Biz Rewards runs sweepstakes frequently, so keep an eye out for more great opportunities to earn points. Join today and we’ll start you off with 250 points!
*Members in the Small Biz Rewards program earn 1 point per $1 spent on their qualified monthly Verizon charges, up to 500 points per month. Qualified charges are Landline Phone, Long Distance, High Speed Internet, Fios® by Verizon Internet or Fios TV. Reward program is only available to Verizon Small Business customers that subscribe to 1-20 phone lines (wireline only), High Speed Internet, Fios Internet service(s) and/or Fios TV in select states. Program terms apply.
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There are parents rejoicing and children lamenting as we enter the Back-to-School season. We always think of this season as a time for children. Kids running for the school bus, entering a new grade, or young adults embarking on their college experience—these are the sights of this time of year.
You may be experiencing some or all of these occurrences in your household, but how are you utilizing this Back-to-School season for yourself and your business? Change the paradigm as to how you think about this time of year. It is not just for kids. At the core of this season is the idea of new beginnings and learning information that will take you to the next plateau in life.
Expand Your Knowledge, Extend the Possibilities for your Business.
During the lifecycle of a business, there are constant tweaks when we see something that needs to change, but we often get consumed by the day-to-day grind. Don’t neglect or be complacent about your personal development. Continue to expand your knowledge and propel your business forward. In the mad dash to pick up school supplies for your children, pick yourself up a notebook or start using a notes app to start documenting the areas you want to focus on. Take an inventory of what could improve within your business and what you personally need to improve upon or gain knowledge about. Then jump right in and use some of the tools below.
Read a book.
Create your fall reading list. Select a reading list that will enrich your life. There are countless lists of books for entrepreneurs out there. Learning is a continuous process, so set a goal for yourself to read a book every month or listen to an audiobook biweekly until you complete your list. Let us help you get started—join Verizon’s Small Biz Rewards Program (it's free) and we’ll give you 1,000 points redeemable for a $10 gift card that you can use toward your first book*. Use this link today: vz.to/2bYoZU5
Don’t Operate in a Silo.
Keep up with industry trends and business trends locally and globally. The business section of the newspaper or business-focused publications are prime resources for you to understand what is going on beyond your storefront and how it may impact you. Connect with important publications online or through Twitter to get snippets of information and decide if you want to read more. Verizon is also here to help; we share information of interest to small business owners on a regular basis through Facebook. Like our page and follow us @VerizonSmallBiz on Facebook and you will be pleasantly surprised by all the helpful information that is provided there.
Bring the classroom directly to your laptop or wherever you are. Did you always want to take a course at a big name university? Well it is never too late. Several major universities offer free classes in a variety of disciplines that will take your learning to the next level. For instance, MIT’s OpenCourseWare shares higher education with the world. Also, the Small Business Administration offers workshops on an array of business topics.
If you only have one free hour a month, consider a more succinct learning experience. Webinars are a perfect alternative that provide focused, topical information in a shorter format. Verizon offers a monthly, no-cost webinar series. To learn more about Verizon’s webinars, go to www.verizon.com/webinar.
Learn from others. Share with Others.
Don’t discount the knowledge of others. Do you know other business owners that have done things you’d like to do? Ask them if you could set up some time on their calendar to chat. Attend networking events and meet new people who can offer advice and valuable insights. Sometimes these events are also a great way to meet future clients or partners.
Learning is a two-way street. Although you may not think you have much to share, don’t diminish what you have to offer. Starting a business is a journey, and every journey has unique experience that someone can learn from.
This time of year is a launch pad to expanding your knowledge. There are so many resources available, so try them and see what works for you. What resources will you use during this Back-to-School season to expand your knowledge?
*For new Small Biz Rewards Members who join via post between 9/1/16 and 11/30/16. Terms Apply.
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A Guest Article by Suzanne Delzio
Anyone who caught my recent webinar, “How Shrewd Small Businesses Catch Customers via Social Media,” knows I am a firm believer that small businesses must use social media in conjunction with other digital or internet marketing tools to maximize ROI.
As Social Media Examiner’s 2016 Social Media Marketing Industry Report illuminates, the majority of small business owners aren’t connecting sales or ROI with social media spend and effort. While, conceivably, small businesses could use Google Analytics and even paid tools like Simply Measured, the likelihood owners go that direction is low. First, as simple as they try to make it, Google Analytics can be intimidating. Then, Simply Measured prices start at $500 per month . . . what the majority of small businesses can spend on their entire marketing program, offline and online.
Which brings us to the question: what to put up on social media channels, how often and when?
Many social media gurus stress that businesses must share articles, images and infographics that exist solely to enrich the life of followers. Traditionally, these consultants encourage business owners to use an 80/20 or 4/1 mix of four posts that only serve, educate or entertain to one post that drives prospects back to the website.
Sure, Coca Cola, Starbucks and the NFL with dedicated social media budgets of millions can use social just for brand awareness. But small business with an average $500 monthly marketing budget must get something concrete from social posts. The something they get should be visits to the website and email newsletter sign ups.
I advise small business clients to stick more to a 50/50 mix, utilizing just one to two channels, say Facebook and LinkedIn or Facebook and YouTube, depending on the client base. (With 1.71 billion users on Facebook several times each day, every business should have a presence there, particularly B2C businesses. B2B businesses do the best on LinkedIn.)
A total of 10 weekly posts breaks down into five entertaining, fun or helpful posts, typically related but non-competing articles, memes, videos, infographics using outside links. The other five are business related with links back to the company’s website product, service, testimonial, contact or other landing pages.
Sharing Others’ Social Content . . . A.K.A. Content Curation
Unlike global brands, small business owners and principals tend to be much closer to their customers and even prospects. The general populace even prefers to work with small businesses because of the ease in getting to the lead decision maker and creating a personal connection with him or her.
Year after year, surveys like this from Princeton and published in the Washington Post reveal that Americans perceive small business owners as more ethical and honest than corporate CEOs. Two-thirds report preferring to shop at small businesses than large companies. The survey found:
“Nearly half of Americans (47 percent) said small business owners have high ethical standards, compared with only six percent of those who say the same about CEOs of major companies,” the survey found. “Only seven percent say that small business owners have low ethics, compared with 48 percent who think the same of corporate CEOs.”
Small businesses can leverage this positive view by continuing to deliver to their customer base without expectation of anything in return. Followers view (even unconsciously) the helpful or entertaining post that doesn’t sell or promote the business in any way as a gift. The ensuing gratitude creates a bond that boosts customer loyalty.
Therefore, as mentioned in the webinar, small businesses need to put up content with the sole aim of enriching, easing or entertaining a follower’s life. It even helps to keep one follower/client in mind when choosing the content to re-post. You can find great sharable articles that have already proven their ability to win eyeballs on BuzzSumo, UpWorthy and your own industry publications.
Another key is to go for emotional resonance. Before re-posting, ask yourself, “will this information, image or video make him or her [the envisioned client] gasp, laugh, tear-up, clutch his or her heart?”
Finally, when you repost, make sure to add value by including your perspective and personality. For instance,
- a veterinarian would say, “Parrot parents need to pay close attention to tip number 6 in this article.”
- an owner of a senior in-home care agency would say, “This article has all details on this weekend’s San Diego Walk for Alzheimer’s research. It’s this Saturday. Meet at 8:00 a.m. at the Embarcadero. Call if you want to walk with us. The more the merrier!”
- a vintage clothes shop owner may say, “Use this catalog for guidance on matching clothes and accessories to achieve the overall “Retro” style. I don’t agree with stripes and florals on p. 7 though.”
Most of all, don’t be afraid to show a little personality!
The era of formal, jargon-filled promotional copy has passed, especially on social media where customers want to connect on a one-to-one basis. Because users go to Facebook to connect with friends and feel social, the more a business owner can come across as a friend, the further he or she gets. While LinkedIn and Twitter are slightly more professional, those expressing some personality win more engagement on those channels as well.
It’s these primarily helpful posts that keep followers looking at and engaging in a business’s more promotional posts.
5 Social Post Types that Link to Landing Pages
This chart from eMarketer repeats what hundreds of studies and surveys have found: email and search engine optimization fuel the highest return on investment (ROI). That means getting prospects and current clients onto the email list and to the blog posts must be job one for social media (which doesn’t pull very well on its own.)
A couple of statistics will make this point clear.
You’ve probably heard that content is now a huge part of effective search engine optimization. Google tells us that today’s shopper reviews 10.4 pieces of content before making a call to a store or service. To sell today, you must have content out there vying with competitors’ helpful information. Businesses get the most from their internet marketing efforts when they use the same content on their website (blog), email newsletter and social.
The email newsletter has a click through rate 50 times higher than the Facebook click-through rate and 100 times higher than the Twitter click-through rate. And yet, for credibility and customer service, every business today must have at least one active social media presence.
Use your remaining five social posts to funnel people to your content (SEO) and the email list.
Create posts that link to (in order of importance):
- The Lead Magnet Landing Page The FREE trial, video, webinar, checklist, kit, ebook or infographic that offers so much valuable knowledge, prospects can’t help but turn over their email address to get it. It solves their biggest problem as related to your product, service or publication. With your email newsletter list building, you have a wider audience to market to regularly. The email newsletter gives you an excellent opportunity to convince prospects of your authority, value and indispensability. It also carries your seasonal offers.
In this example, Twitter analytics company SocialQuant offers a guide to getting more Twitter followers:
Here’s one from Instagram. Foundr magazine offers an Instagram Marketing 101 Issue in exchange for the email address:
Did you notice that both examples are pushing digital marketing services? Believe it or not, it’s still early in the internet marketing game. The companies most prevalent and successful on social media at this time are digital marketing agencies themselves. Still enterprise and even small business can follow their lead. Create your lead magnet, a post that promotes it and then pay to reach an audience beyond your current followers.
To understand more how a lead magnet works, read Digital Marketer’s “9 Lead Magnet Ideas and Examples.”
- To the Reviews / Testimonial Page OR Products or Services Pages
Why do promotions for blockbuster movies print mostly reviews with all the stars beside them from the reviewer? They could describe their film themselves, right?
Studios learned early that third parties have far more credibility than they do themselves. Similarly, companies can display to prospects just what their current customers have to say about them. Check out this one from HotSpringSpas:
While this post creates a link back to the company’s reviews page, it could just as easily say, “Read more about the XYZ spa here:” In other words, the company could send interested people to the product or service page or the reviews page.
Using reviews is a form of User Generated Content or UGC. Big companies with big budget sometimes run sweepstakes that encourage people to submit a review or photo of themselves using the product. Participants win the chance to win a gift basket, free product or hours of service. Another way to do this is sponsor an essay contest with rules stipulating that the business retains the right to use all or part of it. Of course, the essay topic should be, “Why I love my _____________________ (your product or service).”
- To Both New and Old Blog Posts As mentioned above, shoring up customer loyalty and goodwill can take giving them something of value while expecting nothing in return. The blog post fulfills this task. Today, life is complicated, and when a business owner blogs about recent changes in his or her industry or even how to use a product in a new way, the consumer is relieved for the value received. He or she also begins to offload the responsibility of managing this aspect of life to you.
In this social post or update, a lender entices a targeted audience to read a blog post that will help them avoid losing money. Always have a call to action when you broadcast your latest blog post on your social media channels. The call to action here is, “Know what you risk here:”
Remember, too, that there’s a good chance your old blog posts will become relevant again. You can always link to a blog post from the previous year or season when the same issues come up again.
- Event, Award or Other Success Public Relations Page From time to time, you can invite social media users to take a look at something you’ve done that you’re proud of, particularly if an awesome image or video is involved. Here, San Diego advertising agency Mirum invites its LinkedIn followers to take a look at their win for a Communication Arts WebPick.
Social media is ideal for public relations, but please, light-handed only, although more bragging occurs on LinkedIn that probably all of the other channels combined.
- The Contact Page All kinds of industries make the news from time to time. Remember when the dog food from China was contaminated? Anyone in the pet industry (veterinarians, groomers, walkers) could entice followers to ask questions on their contact page where (hopefully) a form lives. A CPA could go to town on the Hollywood stars that get in trouble with the IRS. “Hear about Wesley Snipes? Feel free to ask about what constitutes tax evasion on our contact page here!”
This eyebrow threading salon often puts up posts about different stars eyebrow shapes with the text, “Want Beyonce’s eyebrows but worried about pain or cost involved in regular threading? Ask your question here!” or “Do men get their eyebrows shaped? You bet! Ask us your question here!” The link leads to their contact page with plenty of space to ask a question. Fast answers turn leads into paying customers.
Make sure you have a robust contact form like this on your website. Put it to work when you watch the news headlines as pertains to your industry. “Newsjack” or springboard from a popular topic to win customers. This strategy can boost your traffic and rankings as well!
Now that you have 10 posts to put up this week, try to get the types into a social calendar. Linking to your testimonials page on Monday, a product/service page on Tuesday, a blog post on Wednesday, a lead magnet on Thursday helps keep your content, social media and email newsletter from overwhelming you. As for timing, remember that most people go to their social channels during the week during working hours as a distraction.
Get the Most from Your Social Channels by Integrating SEO and Email
Small business owners may want to believe that they really CAN “Get 100X ROI with Simple Social Strategies!” or “Quadruple Traffic with Smart Facebook Tips that Take 5 Minutes.” In my experience, small businesses that have managed to stay in business know hyperbole when they see it. They’re cautious and wisely so.
Most of the super successful examples out there focus on companies with huge marketing budgets like Red Bull, National Geographic and the digital marketing companies where the expertise is home-grown.
In reality, the average small business has just $500 to spend on marketing each month, and just 16% spend over $1,000 per month. The vast majority depend on word of mouth and networking, both effective strategies. Still, social media marketing, when implemented properly, can act as word of mouth, just online.
Every community has unexpected tragedies and people who need a helping hand. We often expect that large corporations will run to the rescue but small businesses can make major impacts on our communities. Local communities benefit greatly from small businesses as employers and partners in the success of the neighborhoods in which they’ve built their foundation. It is important that small businesses have a presence in the community by showing their social responsibility.
What is Social Responsibility? It is when a company not only focuses on the bottom line but also recognizes their responsibility to society and how they can impact it.
As you are growing your business, develop a plan to address ongoing needs in your community. If you are interested in getting your employees involved with your company’s social responsibility efforts, survey your employees on how and where they would like to support the community. Decide as a team. This will build employee engagement, enhance teamwork and build a strong company culture.
Keep it local and personalize your efforts.
There are needs in everyone’s community. Start where you see a need that you can help with. It doesn’t have to be a massive effort but it can change the lives of those in your local area. Personalize your efforts with your business expertise. For example, if you are a dry cleaner, offer to clean clothes for a homeless shelter or launder clothes collected as part of a clothing drive.
What does social responsibility look like for small businesses?
Here are some ideas:
- Create a fundraiser for a deserving person in your community or when local tragedies arise be there for the people in your community.
- Partner with a local charitable organization to reach more people. Remember those organizations have the people and processes in place, which will make your execution even smoother.
- Sponsor a local team or club and it doesn’t have to be just a sports team.
- Remember your employees are an important resource. Your employees are a part of the community and want to support their community, as well. Offer them a half day or full day off to volunteer or go as a group.
- If you don’t have time to leave your business to participate in the community, bring the community to your business… allow local youth or college students who may be interested in your industry to shadow you for a day.
- Do you have promotional items you never used? Donate surplus or unused items and give them new life.
- Donate a portion of your proceeds for a day or a particular product to good cause.
- Implement a recycling program or upcycle items.
Make social responsibility a part of how you do business. It makes for good business. Customers will remember the impact you made on the community when they make their purchase decisions. Social responsibility is good for everyone – your business, your employees, your customers and your community.
Tell us how your business demonstrates its social responsibility.
A Guest Article by Evan Bailyn
I remember it clearly: It was 2010 and Google was aggressively laying the groundwork for its famous Panda and Penguin penalties, which penalize sites that paint a falsely trustworthy picture of themselves in Google’s eyes. Typically, what these sites did was either a) publish lots of disingenuous content to make Google think they were a valuable resource when in truth they weren’t or b) quietly pay for links so that Google thought the site was more well-regarded in its industry than it actually was. This was the period when years of cheating Google’s algorithm were meeting a harsh ending for the hundreds of thousands of websites that engaged in such practices. In truth, cheating Google’s algorithm was synonymous with the word “SEO” up until this point.
That was the year content marketing became truly popular. Sure, it had been popular in certain circles since 2007, but in 2010 you began to see an explosion of blogs on business websites. How far the concept of a blog had come from its origins as an online journal that only moody nerds kept; now it was a must-have feature of nearly every company’s website.
It took another year or two for the average marketing manager to know that “content is good for SEO.” And for a time, it was. But as we all know, the moment when something becomes common knowledge to everyone, it loses its specialness. And in the world of Google, where there can only be one #1 result for a search query, specialness is important. The #1 result is the web page that has the best content and perhaps, the best links as well. But what happens when everyone starts creating good content? Well for one, those early content marketers who were doing it right before everyone got into the content marketing game faced higher competition than ever. A new standard was born. That standard is thought leadership.
Thought leadership marketing is the art of creating truly interesting, insightful, story-driven content. Stuff people actually want to read. Stuff people actually learn from. And, in today’s day and age when most of us do our own research on companies before deciding to buy from them, stuff that makes people want to buy.
To read the full article, please click here.
Take Your Dog to Work Day has come and gone but the dog days of summer are still here.
Did you know Take Your Dog to Work Day was started by Pet Sitters International in 1999? Take Your Dog to Work Day allows employers and employees the opportunity to appreciate the companionship pets provide and promote pet adoption. Although, the day is over, we encourage you to keep the spirit and the celebration of our furry friends going. The Small Biz Rewards Pet Pic Sweepstakes is still accepting your pooches’ pictures.
One of our entrants is Chewy, the friendly rescue dog, who not only goes to work but has a big role as the official office greeter at Morrison Builders in Titusville, PA . Chewy’s owner, Lora, a Verizon Small Biz Rewards member, entered Chewy‘s photo in the Show Us Your Pet sweeps for the chance to win 50,000 points (a $500 value). There will be three grand prize winners. Each winner receives 50,000 points which will be automatically redeemed for a $500 reloadable Verizon Small Biz Rewards Prepaid MasterCard®.
There are multiple ways to earn points and receive entries in the Small Biz Rewards Pet Pic Sweepstakes. All members will receive the following points and entries:
- 100 points and 1 entry for clicking to enter the sweepstakes
- 100 points and 5 entries for taking a survey
- 300 points and 10 entries for uploading a photo of your pet
Do all three and you will earn up to 500 points and 16 entries!
There are so many chances to win. Just one click will put you in the running for the 50,000-point grand prize, just enter before July 31, 2016.* Click here to enter: vz.to/1hMKF2Z
Not yet a Small Biz Rewards member? It’s free to join. And rewarding. You’ll receive 1 point per $1 spent on qualified Verizon services, which can be redeemed for awesome name-brand gift cards to your favorite retailers.** Plus, Small Biz Rewards runs sweepstakes frequently, so keep an eye out for those, too. Join Small Biz Rewards: vz.to/1E5ZUOu
Don’t miss out. Enter today. 50,000 points, that could add up to a lot of dog food.
*NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Sweepstakes begins 6/24/16 and ends 7/31/16. Open to Verizon Small Business customers as of 6/23/16. Click here for Official Rules by which entrants are bound. Void where prohibited.
**Members in the Small Biz Rewards program earn 1 point per $1 spent on their qualified monthly Verizon charges, up to 500 points per month. Qualified charges are Landline Phone, Long Distance, High Speed Internet, Fios® by Verizon Internet or Fios TV. Reward program is only available to Verizon Small Business customers that subscribe to 1-20 phone lines (wireline only), High Speed Internet, Fios Internet service(s) and/or Fios TV in select states. Program terms apply.
Verizon Small Business recently conducted a three-month study to find out what online and social media content matters the most to small business owners across America. A diverse pool of over 9,000 Small Business Rewards members completed the study in mid-June 2016. Respondents’ businesses included restaurants, small retailers, home improvement services, beauty salons, real estate companies, medical provider offices, veterinarians, legal services, non-profits, and churches, among others.
Here are a few interesting insights from the survey:
Most small business owners who completed the survey are interested in learning more about new technology (40.3%) and marketing (30.4%). Testimonials (12.5%) and new trends (11.6%) sparked a moderate interest. Surprisingly, infographic was the least popular type of content among small business owners (2%).
Less than a half (44.7%) of surveyed small business owners get small business tips, inspiration, or information via social media. Among those who find value in business-related content shared on social media, an overwhelming majority picked Facebook as their top platform (41.0%), followed by LinkedIn (20.0%) and Google Plus (17.0%). Interestingly enough, only 11.2% of small business owners indicated that they get business-related information from Twitter. Instagram was the fifth most popular network for obtaining business-related information, earning 8.7% of the votes.
People access social media for a variety of reasons. The survey revealed that 57.6% of small business owners use social media at least occasionally to obtain business-related information. Also, over a third of small business owners (38%) reported they share with their networks business-related information they find on social media channels.
Social media and online content marketing are constantly evolving. Verizon Small Business is always looking for ways to better serve small businesses across America and provide relevant information to its customers. Hopefully, these insights helped you to understand better the needs and social media preferences of small business owners.
A guest article by Tyler Cohen Wood
Tyler Cohen Wood is a cyber-authority with 17 years of highly technical experience and 13 years working for the Department of Defense (DoD). An Internet Intelligence expert and author, Wood is relied on for her wealth of knowledge, insider experience, and tried-and-true techniques. Join her for a free webinar, sponsored by Verizon, on May 25th at 2 PM ET and learn about data, privacy and how to avoid attacks that can derail your business and life. Register now!
A late 2015 report from insurer Nationwide revealed that 63 percent of small business owners have fallen victim to at least one type of cyberattack.1 The risk to small business owners’ intellectual property and tradecraft is greater than ever before. One cause of this is that businesses rely on software and automated remote methods to conduct their business and secure their data and client transactions. The more software, hardware and digital remote devices we rely on, statically the more vulnerabilities we face.
In today’s fast-paced business world, working away from the office using mobile devices for telecommuting and productivity has become mainstream. But how do we know what private data, tradecraft or intellectual property this technology might be unknowingly giving away to corporate spies, hackers or data marketers? You probably assume that your text messages, contact list, photographs, location information and business documents are private. In fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
We used to keep our work and personal lives separate, but now we use the same digital devices, such as smartphones and tablets, to connect to both. New threats and attacks surface constantly and are reported on frequently. These news stories demonstrate that corporate intellectual property (IP) and tradecraft are more at risk today than ever before. The threat comes from many directions, but one of the biggest perpetrators is something that I call application permissions creep. This is a term for the phenomenon that occurs when an application (or “app”) or that you use for one purpose has access to other apps or system functions on your digital device.
Most of us accept and know that when we use our digital devices and apps that the developers of those commercial applications are potentially collecting and selling information that we might deem to be our private data, such as our device IDs, geographic location, hobbies, friends, politics, where we are at a given time, employment data, information about our children, etc. Big data analytics are good at their job—they are able to piece together very detailed and accurate patterns of our lives. But most apps tell you exactly what data they are collecting in their terms of service and what they can do with it: usually sell it to third parties or use it for marketing. They may even own the rights to the content that you post to their servers. In the permission and privacy settings on your device, apps will also tell you what permissions they have to other areas of the device, such as text messages, email, photos or other apps. We might consider this an invasion of privacy or mildly annoying but, again, they tell you they are collecting your data and what other access they have to your phone.
This becomes a serious threat to businesses whose employees use smartphones, tablets or other digital devices to connect to corporate networks and conduct business. At risk to these businesses is their very intellectual property or tradecraft.
First, what is at risk?
- The names and phone numbers of your clients as well as their personal information, such as credit card numbers and email addresses.
- Text messages, emails or documents containing data about your business, tradecraft or IP.
- Location information such as where you do business and where your clients are located.
- Photographs of plans or products.
- Personal conversations between you and your clients via email or text messages.
Because we use the same digital devices for our work and personal lives, most people have personal and work apps on their smartphones and tablets. Many apps will track your movements and/or show your geographic location. In fact, in order for some apps to function properly (such as GPS, restaurant finder or “check in” apps), they need to use your location to give you directions or find the closest restaurant to your location. “Check in” apps require your location to post where you are. If you read the terms of service for these applications most will tell you exactly what information they collect on you, like your device’s identifiers, account information, location information and what they do with that information, such as sell it to third parties or use it for marketing purposes. Some applications may not tell you that they’re using your location services or what they’re doing with that data. Why is this an issue? Perhaps your company is a public relations or legal firm and the very places your employees go to meet with clients could be considered corporate tradecraft, since you don’t necessarily want anyone else knowing where or with whom you do business. Suddenly that location information takes on a new importance.
But it gets worse.
If you read the terms of service for each of your installed apps and go to the permission and privacy settings for each of your apps, you might be shocked at what apps have access to. A popular Android application states in its permission settings that it has the ability to read, write, store and sell your text messages along with the ability to use your microphone to record audio without your knowledge and view any documents that you store on your SD card. This is much more common with apps than you might think. Suddenly, that private text message you had with your employee takes on a whole new meaning. How comfortable would you feel knowing that the e-reader app or the app reading my text messages and everyone that they can sell data to now have access to the full contents of that confidential document? Most apps will ask you to acknowledge these permissions, but some will just claim permissions that extend the needs of that application, depending on your smartphone and operating system.
Not all apps or digital device operating systems are created equal when it comes to privacy and self-containment. Apple’s iOS (used by iPhone) is better about sandboxing (containing) system level applications such as your text messages than other operating systems and does a good job of asking you before allowing an app to have permission to things such as location information and contacts lists. iOS tends to do more in general to protect from application permission creep such as allow you to turn off the app’s ability to do things such as turn on your microphone or read your contact lists but it certainly is not immune. Even though most application permissions creep occurs with legitimate apps, that’s not always the case. Some apps are maliciously created with the intention of taking your information. Even though apps are reviewed before being offered by Apple iTunes, some sneaky apps can get through. The Google Play Store is much more open, and freely allows apps of questionable origin to be downloaded by anyone. In the past, Android has tended to be “all or nothing” and you did not have the ability to turn off the apps’ access to other parts of devices. That being said, the Android release now being rolled out to devices is supposed to give the user this ability.
The most important thing that businesses can do is educate their employees about the dangers of application permissions creep. Always read the terms of service and check the permission settings for all installed apps, whether for personal or business use. Make sure you know what apps your employees have on their devices that are connecting into your network or are being used for business. Research the permissions that those apps have to the areas of your phone that could contain corporate IP. Work with your IT department or a consultant to figure out which apps your employees can install on their devices if the company is footing the bill. There are also software applications for businesses that do a respectable job of separating personal apps from work apps and are worth the investment. Also, if it’s financially feasible for your company, consider getting employees separate smartphones or tablets that are to be used only for work.
It’s crucial that you not wait too long to determine how application permissions creep might be affecting you and your business. The more time goes by, the more your data might be at risk. Follow the tips above and secure your corporate IP and tradecraft before it becomes compromised. It’s always easier to prevent an issue than it is to attempt to fix one.
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A Guest Article by Rhonda Kallman
Well, on this topic I can speak from experience…many times over! One event that happened is worth sharing, if only to highlight that there needs to always be Plan B, C, D, Etc.
Given that I had been in the beer industry for 15 years, I expected the battle for shelf space, for recognition from distributors and for the financial backing to sustain a new brewing business wasn’t going to be easy. I remembered what it was like how Jim Koch and I had to bootstrap Sam Adams and how that brand started as a spit in the market. Here I was, in 2001, prepared to go at it again by starting a new beer company that I hoped would be an incubator for the beer industry.
What I had not prepared for was the government intervention, specifically the FDA, 10 years into the start of New Century Brewing Co. You can’t control government regulation, and you can’t control timing. And timing was not on my side when I introduced New Century Brewing Co, literally launching the company in Las Vegas at a National Beer Wholesalers convention on the eve of 9/11. Unbeknownst to me, that was the start of a 10-year doom loop, both personally and professionally. As there are many stories to tell, I’ll share one in particular in this post.
After being at the forefront of the craft beer movement, innovation is part of my DNA. In 2003, I had my radar up, as I always do, particularly when I’m in places where people are consuming alcohol and having a good time (tough job, though someone has to do it)! I realized that the brands that were being consumed (i.e., Starbucks, Red Bull and Mountain Dew Code Red) all had one thing in common – caffeine. It struck me that in a then $100B beer industry there are no caffeinated options for beer lovers, who love the taste of beer though may want a pick me up at some point of the day or night.
With this new epiphany, I picked up the phone and called my partner, Dr. Joseph Owades (credited with the invention of light beer in 1967) and asked him if he could make me a beer with caffeine. He literally hung up on me! So, I called him back and walked him through the business reasons why this was a good idea. Two days later, he called me back “we can do this” he said! My investors and advisors were elated as well “if you can pull this off, you’ll should have no problem getting this business capitalized properly, finally)”.
After filing the formula with the federal government, it became a waiting game. What normally would take 30-45 days, became 3-4 months, as it was something that hadn’t been done. Finally, the day came when the TTB (Trade and Taxation Bureau the agency that rides herd over alcohol—formally the BATF) approved our formula.
Moonshot ’69 was born -- an all-malt pilsner style beer with 5 percent alcohol and 69 milligrams (the year the astronauts landed on the moon) of natural caffeine. This was clearly innovation in beer, which some would argue hadn’t happened since Dr. Owades’ recipe became Miller Lite in early 1970s.
After gaining process patents in four countries, including the US, for adding caffeine to beer and ale, we were going full on with this brand. In fact, 7-11, authorized a test of two SKUs of Moonshot ’69 in 800 of their stores nationally. That was the validation we needed. Although still extremely capital constrained, we set up distribution options in eight new states. After 10 years, being cash flow positive was within sight!
Two industry giants were finally taking notice of what little New Century Brewing Co was up to and decided it would be prudent to have an incubator that was on their team. This was something I had been working towards my entire career! During the time that we were negotiating our deal that would allow us access to their network, two major unforeseen, unimaginable things were happening: Both of the industry giants were in the midst of a takeover and/or forming a joint venture with other industry players. These deals were in the 10s of billions of dollars.
At the same time, there were forces trying to stop the emergence of other caffeinated alcoholic beverages, namely Four Loko, a jumbo 23.5-ounce can packed with 12-percent alcohol and 135 milligrams of caffeine. That’s like having four or five beers, a Red Bull and a shot of espresso. Four Loko had proliferated on college campuses and were among the top sellers in every convenience store nationally. Not only did they end up using our patented process, Moonshot and Four Loko were drinks clearly in an entirely different class. Moonshot was for beer lovers who wanted something different. And besides, mixing a little caffeine with alcohol was innovative in beer form, but nothing new. Take Red Bull and vodka, coffee drinks, even Twisted Tea. People have been drinking caffeinated alcohol for decades.
As the TTB had approved our mark on four occasions, they were on our side. However, it became very political. So when the TTB said they wouldn’t stop it, the FDA was mobilized to stop that and similar beverages from being sold. Period.
Because we deliberately added caffeine during the brewing process, they decided that Four Loko and Moonshot should be categorized as dangerous and should be banned and removed from the market immediately. In fact, it was quarantined in Massachusetts!
I fought the FDA, with the help of a well-heeled government relations firm, taking my plea all the way to the commissioner of the FDA in Maryland. I attracted more than 5,000 fans to leave online signatures on my website to protest the FDA’s actions. After years of trial and error, I finally had broken through with the brand, earned shelf space and garnered excitement. All that from launching with my credit card!
Instead of regulating, as the FDA is in place to do, they outright banned the category. They should’ve enacted a threshold or formula that was a parts per million of caffeine to percentage alcohol and anything above that line would be illegal. Moonshot ’69 would’ve fallen well below that. Evidently, it was not meant to be…Moonshot ’69 is prohibited from being produced, transported and sold in the US -- the first thing since the end of Prohibition in 1933!
I lost my heart for beer and inhibited my excitement, not to mention my business proposition. I was so passionate and committed to beer, and this was the final straw. My other brand, Edison Light, had a following but not enough to sustain New Century Brewing Co. on its own. So, I decided it was time to shut down the beer company and get on with the next chapter of my life.
It is surprising how alarming and how powerful politics are and, frankly, very disappointing. So how do you deal with events such as that, those that you cannot control? You look at yourself in the mirror and go, ‘What could I have done differently?’ It wasn’t anything I could control.
Ironically, with my new venture, Boston Harbor Distillery, I’m happy making whiskey from distilling Sam Adams beer varieties and making a coffee liqueur that is outstanding. It has four times the amount of caffeine and alcohol as Moonshot ’69 did, though because it tastes like coffee, it’s legal…Go figure!!
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The newness of Spring, brings new growth and there is no time like the present to cultivate your blossoming business ideas that are just waiting to be launched. Or are you an established business that needs advice on how to grow to greater heights? Although entrepreneurs are often at different stages of growth some keys to success are consistent, the need for resources and mentors.
One key resource that small businesses should tap into is SCORE, a non-profit association dedicated to small business growth and the achievement of their goals. SCORE is a resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration with significant federal funding, so they are able to provide free or low cost services to small businesses. As a result, it has the nation's largest network of small business mentors, offering free expert advice and workshops to entrepreneurs, both in-person and online. SCORE has 11,000+ volunteers mentoring businesses in over 320 chapters across the country. In Fiscal year 2015, it mentored 122,000 unique clients and provided 350,000 services.
SCORE offers four pillars of support:
- Mentors – Find a mentor from your local SCORE chapter or be matched with an experienced resource that is available to answer your questions as you grow your business.
- Tools – Business templates and tips are provided to you via their website.
- Workshops – Free online webinars are available on pertinent business topics.
- Counseling – SCORE offers confidential counseling for business issues that may arise.
Often entrepreneurship can be a solitary existence, but with SCORE you can find the needed resources to support your endeavors and offer needed support and advice.
In the coming weeks we will provide additional information on SCORE and their resources.To learn more about SCORE and their services visit www.score.org.
This April Fool’s Day don’t get caught in business foolery. Enjoy the time you spend building your business but try to stay away from these tricks.
1) Dreams Need Structure
Don’t be tricked into thinking a great idea is all you need. Dreams are the essence of why you start a business, but without some structure, the dream can become an unruly nightmare. Create a business plan or a business model. Determine how your dream will work. How it is structured? Who is your audience? How is your product made? How do you make money, etc.
2) Stop Giving Away Your Expertise
If you are in business to make money, then stop giving away what others are charging for. There will be friends and family and potential customers who believe that their relationship with you is a 100% off coupon. You can’t stop people from asking for freebies but don’t be fooled, know your worth. The family and friends discount does not always equal free. You too have bills to pay and you are running a business. Unless you are bartering or your services are a gift you want to give, there needs to be a fee paid for your services.
3) Know What Your Competition Charges and How that Impacts You
Be clear about what you charge for your services and why. This is important for start-ups and established businesses. Research and continually monitor what others charge in your area for similar services. If you find your prices are higher than other businesses this doesn’t necessarily mean you need to lower your prices. Communicate what makes your business unique and why you charge what you charge. Take everything under consideration before you make a decision. If your prices are lower than the competition, it may be time to increase your rates but consider all factors, especially, how your customer base will react. The bottom line is, don’t fool yourself into thinking you can just pick a price for your services and the work is done. Always revisit and retool as needed.
A Guest Article by Susan Packard
“I’m great at brainstorming and getting things started. I’m not so great at follow through. When will I get to be a complete leader?”
This was a question a young woman asked of me last fall, when I keynoted a Michigan Entrepreneur’s Day in metro Detroit. It was fascinating to learn about the new business ideas these young, just –out-of-college graduates were cooking up. If you read my bio you might think I’ve been one of those “corporate” types, as I’ve worked in established companies like HBO, NBC and Scripps. But from the time I was out of school I, too, loved to build business ideas. And I was like that young woman who asked the question at the event-- process was not my thing.
Due to a combination of circumstance, inquiry and a bit of luck, I landed at companies that wanted to create new divisions of cable programming. It was luck because unlike most of you, those of us on the ground floor of these new divisions didn’t need to find funding; the parent company bankrolled us. But trust me, there are drawbacks to that too. Think: a parent doling out a weekly allowance. There are always strings attached, and some of them are just plain crazy. Like one of these companies telling us we could have $25 million to start up a programming channel, when the market told them it would take more like $200 million. That’s when you really need the brainstorming geniuses!
So back to the young woman. When she asked me that question I had to smile, and here’s what I said. “You’re well on your way to becoming the whole leader, just by asking that question. Your self-awareness at such a young age is remarkable!”
Folks, the ‘complete’ leader is a myth. I’ve never met a CEO who had fully developed right and left brained practices. If you are entrepreneurial by nature, as I am, your process skills are likely soft. If you’re a fantastic operator, you may need help with vision and what is possible with a new idea. If you’re a great sales or marketing person, you may need to hire a finance pro. If you’re technically bent, look for broad, creative thinkers to assist. The best business leaders pick a team that will complement her skills. But in some ways this is the easy part. The hard part is -- can you honestly and objectively appraise your skill set? Can you acknowledge where you need help? There are plenty of tools out there to help you, including 360 appraisals, Myers-Briggs or Birkman tests, and outside coaches.
Effective leaders know their strengths and soft spots, and build a team to complement them. That’s how you become the full package.
Are you looking for helpful Search Engine Optimization tips to improve your small business' bottom line? Evan Bailyn, our webinar speaker and best-selling author of Outsmarting Google and SEO Made Easy, will walk you through the new opportunities available in 2016 for using SEO to help increase your bottom line in a secure and ethical way.
The 2016 Guide to the Google Algorithm Ranking Factors
A Guest Article by Evan Bailyn
Google’s algorithm has undergone dozens of significant changes since the search engine debuted in 1998. And yet, the main factors that cause a website to rank are largely the same today, on the cusp of 2016, as they were back then: namely, links, original content, and meta page titles. The vast majority of the updates to Google’s algorithm over the years have been in the service of thwarting low-quality SEO tactics in order to bring sites that genuinely have these 3 factors to the top of the results. But these aren’t the only criteria Google uses. In this guide, I dissect the algorithm, listing each factor in order of its importance.
But first, some context.
The thing that truly made Google special, differentiating it from the other search engines that existed in the 1990s such as HotBot, Altavista, Webcrawler, and Lycos, was that its algorithm was based on factors that were outside of a website owner’s control. The other search engines’ algorithms were based on the number of times a given keyword was written on a website. If a lawyer, for instance, wrote “personal injury lawyer san diego” a thousand times on his website, he would quickly rank at the top of the search engines for that keyword. Google’s algorithm, in contrast, was based on the number and quality of references to your website that appeared on other websites. (References which, when clicked, bring you to another website, are called “links”.) And so, no matter how many times you wrote a keyword on your website, you couldn’t rank on Google unless other webmasters deemed your site interesting enough to reference it.
Google’s algorithm was no small innovation in the world of search engines; in fact, it was nothing short of revolutionary. Whereas the algorithm of the other search engines was equivalent to an election where the candidate who makes the most promises wins, Google’s algorithm was equivalent to a democracy, where the candidate who receives the most votes from the populace wins. Getting “elected” to the top of Google’s search results can only occur when your site has earned credibility in other people’s eyes. That’s the genius of Google’s algorithm.
While links remain the most important ranking factor for the Google search engine in 2016, there are many other factors which, when considered in aggregate, make up an important slice of the algorithm. Here is the breakdown of Google’s algorithm based on my analysis of 116 websites, ranging from brand new websites to some of the largest sites on the Internet, over the past year.
- Links: 29%
- Regular production of original “thought leadership” content: 23%
- Keyword-rich meta page title tags: 8%
- Mobile & tablet responsiveness: 8%
- Existence of conversion-optimized landing pages: 8%
- Clean code: 6%
- Site speed: 5%
- Social signals: 4%
- Age of site 4%
- Keywords listed on page: 2%
- Keywords in URLs: 2%
- Keywords in meta description tags: 1%
To learn more about Evan’s SEO recommendations for your small business, please visit Evan’s blog.
Twenty-two years ago, Timeline Video started as a home-based business, in Diane Cricchio’s spare bedroom of her rented apartment. Inspired by other creative women, while working as a video editor, Diane Cricchio, CEO and Creative Director, wanted to give life to stories and share her voice with others.
Today, the business’ creativity originates from a 2000 square foot space in Irvington, New York bordering the Hudson River. It is a full service video production company, specializing in digital and broadcast media. The expertise Timeline possesses in their field is notable by their portfolio of work, which includes producing nationally broadcasted commercials for Sears Craftsman, Walmart and Esurance, just to name a few of their A-list clients.
As Timeline Video has grown, so has the technology needed to support the success of their growing business. Verizon phone, Internet, and TV are an integral part of the Timeline team. Fios Internet gives them the speed they need to run their business efficiently, phone service allows them to communicate seamlessly and Fios TV enables them to stay informed. Timeline Video’s partnership with Verizon Fios has proven to be a great match for this business. To see how it all comes together visit the VZ Small Biz Facebook page to view the video, click here.
An entrepreneur is a professional who discovers opportunities and determines how to leverage those opportunities into greater success for the organization. Entrepreneurs have vision, passion and drive. They see opportunities where others see only risk. They tend to be optimists and believe that they can succeed even when others tell them they cannot. Entrepreneurs develop ideas, sure, but they are also willing to get their hands dirty and do the work necessary to make their vision become a reality.
This spirit of entrepreneurship starts with understanding your colleagues and coworkers. Today’s workers want more than just a paycheck; they want to feel a sense of ownership. A true measure of leadership is to create a culture based on dependability and genuineness and a sense of belonging. Business owners must live the core values of their company’s culture and demonstrate their sincerity by getting really excited about the work they’re doing. Enthusiasm is contagious!
Effective communication is also a hallmark of entrepreneurial spirit. Leaders must be very open and deliberate in their communication. Keeping those they serve “in the loop” about what’s going on within the company and sharing information gives a sense of transparency which creates employee and customer “buy-in.” Knowing what’s going on helps people to feel connected to the company. Successful entrepreneurs strive for over-communication.
Even with the above, entrepreneurial spirit would be nothing without a committed staff. To thrive, people need to feel respected and supported. Great bosses show THEIR commitment to their staff and business by providing needed support, training and resources. They invest in professional development to show their employees that they matter to the overall outcome and growth of the company. It’s important to celebrate and reward exceptional work and acknowledge employee value.
One of the most difficult, yet more important, areas of entrepreneurship is developing and maintaining clear rules. Great owners protect their businesses with clear, ethical guidelines and a zero-tolerance enforcement policy. Ethics matter to employees. It’s easier to be committed to an organization with high ethical standards. And, effective leaders lead by example! For instance, when three of his employees were killed in a robbery, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz didn’t contact media or his legal team but instead spent the week with the other store employees and the families of those who were killed. His actions spoke volumes about his expectations and ethics.
To be believable and relevant takes a continuous effort. Building a positive culture is an ongoing process that must be adaptable and responsive to changing times. This ideology and spirit is the foundation that transforms mediocrity into something exceptional. Be exceptional!
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Finding new customers is, without a doubt, the most difficult and stressful aspect for any business seeking to grow or expand. There are many ways to make prospecting for new clients less like a chore and more like extending your amazing family.
Prospecting is more of an attitude than a cumbersome and difficult activity. Since you can’t predict where your next customer lead will develop, it’s good to always have an open mind and spirit for embracing the unknown. You can generate leads almost anywhere, from your child’s basketball game to the grocery line to sitting in the waiting room at the auto shop…or even in the Santa line at the mall. Don’t think of prospecting as quoting product features and service benefits; rather, think about it as relationship-building and giving people a reason to believe in you and your company—and a reason to buy. That’s the magic of any season!
It’s very important that you take the time to devise a realistic and workable plan of engagement before trying to generate any leads. Being strategic, but real, makes a world of difference. You wouldn’t give a speech about the merits of your company without first planning what to say and how to say it. And you’d certainly try to be as engaging as possible if potential investors were in the crowd. The same thought process should be adopted before you begin to prospect for individual clients. The right combination of research, planning, and implementation can increase your market presence and make your company and its mission known to your newly targeted audience.
Prospect development is a habit. Make it a part of your daily business life and create a rhythm. Here are just a few ways you can get started:
1. Begin every day by making five new contacts.
2. Know your data. Data tracking tools should be your trusty, prospecting sidekick.
3. Own your inner tech geek. Constantly be aware of new and innovative technology tools, and know how to leverage the technology you currently use.
One of the easiest ways to start to familiarize folks with your business is to create an online persona and presence through social media networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Leveraging these online communities can provide your small business affordable ways to communicate with potential customers; you can create a “voice” for your business online and connect with “fans” or “followers”, which eventually will lead to sales or referrals. This will strengthen your current network and expand your reach.
4. Always be willing to help and listen, instead of close the sale.
Ask your satisfied customers for their feedback and for permission to spread the word to their friends and colleagues through online vehicles. Chances are you have more fans than you know, so use the power of referral marketing
5. Become a leader in your industry – be a part of the digital and live community of “movers and shakers” in your business.
Post meaningful blogs to your own website but link to other social media sites, as well. Post responses/advice to blogs that are local, industry related, product & services related, etc. Make sure that your online signature includes all of your contact info.
Conferences, trade shows, seminars and civic organizations can be great resources for prospective customers. Attending industry events is a great way to meet colleagues and to build a network of professional associates in the industry. Also, consider partnering with other businesses; forming an alliance with people in the same market can be mutually beneficial.
Volunteer and support local causes. Get your company’s name in front of other local business owners by volunteering with various civic organizations. This is a great way for your company to gain positive recognition. Finally, invest in the next generation. Speaking engagements, career days, etc., can garner interest in your company by both future employees and the people who support their growth.
No cost/low-cost prospecting is a business ideology and requires careful planning.
Here are some helpful hints to remember:
- Work on your network. Stay in touch and use mutual support.
- Keep business cards in your wallet or purse at all times, and pass them out anytime you have an opportunity to meet someone new.
- Positive word of mouth is powerful. Create a referral program among your current customers.
- Connect with local realtors to find out about new residents in your area, or check with local churches to find out about new members.
- Speak at local events such as chamber meetings, school functions, award banquets, local radio interviews, etc.
- Sponsor groups and events: Little League or bowling teams, a trophy or scholarship, a job fair, a trade show booth, neighborhood cookout, promote your business/team during a walk-a-thon or other fundraiser.
- Web Listings. Get your website listed and let prospective customers find you.
- Ask if you can link your website to another business associate’s site—and return the favor!
According to a well-worn business adage, "Customers don't buy products, they buy you." In essence, building strong customer relationships is essential to the long-term health of your business. It’s critical to focus on every aspect of the customer experience to ensure repeat business. From the very first encounter, be sure to show a sincere interest in your customers and remember their preferences.
Often customers will both recognize and appreciate that you are paying attention and making a conscious investment in them. Not only does this increase the chances for an immediate sale but it also makes it more likely that your customer will speak highly of you and your business to his or her friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances.
According to Retail Active, a mystery shopping and brand audit company:
- Repeat customers spend 33% more than new customers.
- Referrals among repeat customers are 107% greater than among non-customers.
- It costs six times more to sell something to a prospect than to sell that same thing to an existing customer.
Clearly, the best use of your marketing budget is to nurture and develop your relationships. Remember, people like to do business with those whom they like. Show your customers that they are more than just a “sale.” Instead, treat them as a valuable partner and in turn demonstrate that you have a vested interest in their business. With a little effort, you can learn about your customers’ unique needs and provide your product or service when it is most beneficial to them.
One example of such unique customer service involves Sainsbury’s, a supermarket chain based in the UK that received a letter from a little girl named Lily. Lily thought the company’s “tiger bread” more closely resembled a giraffe and, with the help of her mother, wrote a letter to Sainsbury’s expressing this sentiment. Sainsbury’s customer service department responded to Lily with a cute letter about the origins of the tiger bread name, which Lily’s mom quickly posted to her blog. The letter eventually went viral and provoked public support for changing the name to “giraffe bread.” Seeing an opportunity, the company not only changed the name, but gave Lily the credit, no doubt garnering new customers and building loyalty among existing customers.
The bottom line: customer satisfaction and customer loyalty are on-going processes that you must strive to develop every day with every interaction and with every transaction, no matter how big or how small. And it is an effective way to grow your business without substantially increasing your budget.
So, try to find some unique and sincere ways to acknowledge and thank your customers. Examples include hand-written notes, webinars, “wowing” a customer with something over-the-top, book gifts and loyalty programs, among many other great ideas. The holiday season is also a great time to begin a customer service initiative that acknowledges the thankfulness and joy you feel for a client’s investment in your business. A simple acknowledgement that someone is valued will go a long way in your retention efforts—and it could even make you stand out from your competitors!
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Small Business Saturday is coming up later this week on November 28th. Is your small business "tech-ready" to handle all of your customers' needs?
Tell us how your business is using technology to get ready for this big shopping day and you could win up to $1,000 in American Express gift cards. There will be multiple winners and a variety of prize levels. Click here to enter your contact information and your response, as well as to view the contest rules and eligibility restrictions. The contest ends this coming Friday, 11/27, at 11:59 pm ET, so enter now before you get too tied up in all the Thanksgiving holiday festivities.
Did we mention that there will lots of winners and prize levels? There will be lots of winners and prize levels! Enter here.
Today’s smart tip is an amazingly cost-effective way to spread the word about your small business. “Partnership Marketing” is a way of developing relationships with other companies that share similar lists of targeted customers.
How partnerships develop is malleable and can take many forms. No matter the nature of your partnership, a collaborative arrangement is a great way to do more with less. It can provide new opportunities for growth while preserving valuable capital and resources. You’ll have a greater presence in your traditional market plus your new alliance will open up opportunities with a broader range of customers.
Cross marketing is one way to partner with another local company. Perhaps you have a business cleaning windows. Joining with a carpet cleaner might double your impact. Together your businesses can offer a complete suite of cleaning services for home and office, while sharing new and existing clients and improving customer relationships. Cross marketing is a scenario in which everyone wins!
Sponsorship opportunities offer the possibility of partnering with a non-profit organization’s event, such as a 5K run or school fundraiser. Through these events you’ll gain greater exposure and brand recognition. The goodwill generated can also result in inclusion on preferred supplier lists or networking lists of patrons attending the event.
To begin partnership marketing, look at your client list. Is there someone who does business with your company that would make a lucrative and useful collaborator? Creating an alliance with a key customer may be a great way to solidify and grow a mutually advantageous relationship over the long term. Or, consider piggyback partnering with a company that has a particular strength in an area where you lack expertise.
Teaming allows both companies to leverage each other’s expertise while maintaining their own customers. If a contractual obligation becomes too large for one company to handle on its own, a reciprocal agreement creates opportunity to share the overflow business with the sister company. In this way, neither loses a client nor has to hire additional help. Alliances can add significant value to a business plan without increasing cost or overhead. It’s an intelligent way to extend your reach without limits.
The key to a successful partnership is finding a business that complements your own. When you’ve formed an effective team, you’ll get more marketing muscle for a lower price point and reach more prospective customers than you would on your own.
As with any business opportunity, learn about potential pitfalls before getting started to ensure you maximize your results.
Points to remember:
- Get to know your potential partner. Both parties should share the same business philosophy.
- Agree to terms before you begin working together.
- Have a plan, complete with targets and goals.
With a little planning, you’ll be reaping the benefits of partnership marketing – a tremendously powerful tool for small businesses everywhere!
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- Partnership Marketing
The world is changing at a perpetually increasing pace. How well is your business keeping up?
Take a look around. Texting, Facebook, Twitter, and the growing plethora of social media offerings have forever changed our mobile communications landscape. According to Nielsen, more people now access the Internet using cell phones instead of PCs.
Consumer behaviors are also clearly changing in response to these technological innovations. From Baby Boomers to Millennials, the populace is becoming savvier to online buying and selling. They’re also more willing to share their thoughts about products and services through online reviews. Focusing on new ways to attract and keep customers in a generally lukewarm market will give you a powerful edge over your competitors.
Here are some quick tips to trigger your thought process.
Rethink Your Business: Outsmart Your Competition
Many small business owners consistently keep tabs on their own business, getting bogged down with internal challenges, but they neglect to stay on top of competitors’ actions.
Do you know what your competition is up to? Learn what they’re doing – or not doing, as the case may be – and do it better.
For example, a 35-year-old entrepreneur was able to dramatically transform his parents’ traditional retail wine store by launching a website that provides online reviews of wines – something his competitors hadn’t done. This small business owner grew the audience for his website by adding video blogging, which led to his appearing on television, speaking at national thought-leadership conferences, and becoming an author. He now has over one million followers on Twitter, and the store has grown from a $3 million business to $50 million in annual sales.
Reinvent Your Business: “Wow” Your Customers
Are you delighting your customers? Complacency may trap you into believing you’re doing all you can to keep your current customers happy. With all the competitive “noise” in the marketplace, you may need to go above and beyond the ordinary so that your business has the all-important “wow” factor that makes it really stand out.
This concept is highlighted by the story of a supermarket bag boy who singlehandedly grew customer loyalty and repeat business in a way that was amazingly simple. On his own initiative, and without the store manager’s knowledge, the bag boy wrote a short inspirational note each day before work, signed it, and made enough copies to drop into the bags of each shopper. The notes were a huge hit with customers, who started shopping in the store several times a week instead of once a week and also told their friends about the personal service.
At little or no cost, these notes revolutionized customer service for the store, built customer loyalty, attracted new customers and grew sales. A small touch, with big results.
Do Something New Every Month
Avoid the trap of relying on special pricing and promotions to drive traffic. These tactics can hurt your bottom line and don’t create the continued service that encourages growth. Instead, generate ways to bring customers back again and again.
For example, an Orlando-area store that sells women’s clothing and jewelry creates unique, themed T-shirts each month that the owner sells to elicit increased foot traffic. The shirts help raise money for charitable causes at the same time. One month it might benefit a homeless shelter while the next month it might support a cancer initiative. Employees wear the T-shirts, which feature the company name, along with jewelry and other clothing sold by the store in order to encourage additional purchases.
Customers entering the store will frequently buy the latest in the T-shirt series, along with items they were already planning to purchase. Supported by a monthly email newsletter and a Facebook page with over 4,100 “likes,” the business continues to thrive, even during soft economic times.
New Advertising “Punch”
Do you know how well your advertising is working? With today’s tools, metrics can help you tailor your advertising “spend” for maximum effectiveness.
For example, web analytics can tell you exactly how well your website is converting traffic into sales. Learn to utilize date and web analytics to design an advertising campaign that packs power behind its punch. Simply analyzing information isn’t enough. Use what you learn to reach your maximum potential ROI. Social media campaigns can be constructed to target very specific groups (age, gender, interests, etc.) with remarkable precision, punching up your presence where you want it most. Customer reviews, both good and bad, can be used to influence perception simply by the way you respond.
A tip: Running smaller ads with higher frequency will keep your company name “on the radar screen” on a more regular basis.
Traps to Avoid
While Groupon and LivingSocial may draw an instant flow of new customers looking for great deals, be sure to construct your offers in a way that encourages repeat business – not just a one-time purchase. Also, remember that it's easy to get caught up in non-value-added work. Look for ways to eliminate tasks that do not generate revenue. Consider outsourcing various tasks on a project basis. Delegate low-value tasks to your employees, while you focus on building your business.
By “thinking outside the box” while still using proven marketing strategies, you can reach new demographics, delight your customers, and build a stronger referral base to drive new sales.
Please join us on Friday, November 13th at 2:00 pm ET for a free, online webinar featuring Clint Bruce.
Mr. Bruce, a former Navy SEAL, possesses three traits that help his small businesses and foundation run smoothly: a military background, a disciplined approach, and a passion for what he does. Hear the story behind his motto, “Hold fast, stay true.”
Since leaving the U.S. Navy, Mr. Bruce has founded two companies and one Foundation: TRG -- the trusted advisor in risks to America's best businesses, leaders, and families; HoldFast -- a speakers’ bureau that provides world-class speakers to top-tier companies by coaching and employing both veterans and transitioning professional athletes; and, Carry the Load -- a foundation created to help meet America’s desire to honor their fallen firefighters, law enforcement officers, rescue personnel and military during the month of May.
Could an extra $300 help your business? How about $3,000? It’s our Small Biz Rewards 3-year anniversary and we’re celebrating with a “set the 3 free” sweepstakes, running October 27th through December 31st, 2015.*
You could be one of the lucky winners to take home one of these prizes:
- One (1) $3,000 grand prize
- Three (3) $1,000 first-place prizes
- Ten (10) $300 second-place prizes
Plus, it’s easy to enter. Just one click will put you in the running (if a Small Biz Rewards member and logged in to your account), and you’ll get 300 bonus points just for entering. So, really, what’s holding you back? Click here to get started.
Not yet a member? It’s free to join. And rewarding. You’ll receive 1 point per $1 spent on the qualified Verizon services you’re already paying for, which can be redeemed for awesome, name-brand gift cards to your favorite retailers.** Click here to join.
*NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Must be a Verizon Small Business customer as of 10/26/15 to enter. Sweepstakes begins 10/27/15 and ends 12/31/15. Click here (https://smallbizrewards.verizon.com/sweeps-rules.c
**Members in the Small Biz Rewards program earn 1 point per $1 spent on their qualified monthly Verizon charges, up to 500 points per month. Qualified charges are Landline Phone, Long Distance, High Speed Internet, Fios® by Verizon Internet or Fios TV. Reward program is only available to Verizon Small Business customers that subscribe to 1-20 phone lines (wireline only), High Speed Internet, Fios Internet service(s) and/or Fios TV in select states. Program terms apply.
Savvy small business owners consistently search for smart and efficient ways to grow sales. Challenges arise when companies seek a “magic pill” to trigger growth versus well thought-out business solutions. Some business plans focus on extreme promotions, others utilize clichéd practices such as making everything “family” focused, but these practices don’t always lead to success. Valuable customers are out there. But who are they? And how do you reach them?
In this blog post you’ll discover four sound strategies that can help your business attract new customers and put your company on a path toward prosperity.
STRATEGY #1: Learn Why Customers Buy From You
One of the best sources of growth is often your existing, local market. Has your company reached the market saturation point? Probably not. You erroneously may be underserving a wider customer base that’s right in your backyard.
Do some research and find out for yourself:
- Who are your customers and why do they buy from you?
- Does your company offer a unique product?
- How sufficient is the level of customer service you provide?
- Are your business hours convenient?
Depending on your business, capturing this information may be easy. Simply ask! Verbal feedback can be a great way to gauge customer perception, and most customers will be more than willing to provide their suggestions when they sense a genuine interest in improving your business. Customers recognize and positively respond to businesses that take their concerns into account. You are likely to uncover valuable insights that you can build upon.
If direct customer feedback isn’t practical, then comment cards or inexpensive online survey tools like SurveyMonkey or Zoomerang can yield great information. To boost participation, you can opt to reward those who respond with special recognition or a discount on their next purchase. Additionally, there are now many online, crowd-sourced review sites, such as Yelp! and Travelocity, that are a great resource for customer comments and feedback. Establishing a presence on these sites and responding to all comments with positivity also will boost your market presence. Since most people respond more to word-of-mouth marketing (we discussed this in a previous blog post), this is a great way to get your name “out there.”
Your existing customers are very valuable, and they may provide a gold mine of information you can use to successfully connect with new customers.
STRATEGY #2: Learn More About Your Customers
What unique characteristics do your customers share that can spark additional sales for you? Understanding these traits may allow you optimize your focus on high value clients. As the saying goes, knowledge is power, and with high-quality, focused information you’ll be able to target and expand your presence. Perhaps there’s a demographic segment your business is serving particularly well? Knowing whether your business appeals to a particular age range, gender, socioeconomic group, occupation, or ethnicity and adding this knowledge to your tool kit can help you create a higher propensity for these consumers to do business with you in the future.
As you begin to understand which customers patronize your business, then you can start matching your marketing program to their buying habits. For example, if your key demographic is pre-Generation X, you may want to reach out to them through print advertising or other media in which they are most likely to gather information. A younger demographic may be reached more effectively through online search results and web advertising. Other groups may be best reached through face-to-face encounters, such as state and community fairs, or other networking opportunities.
Hint: Don’t forget to ask these new customers for referrals so that you may more powerfully extend your reach.
STRATEGY #3: Learn More About Your Competitors
A tool you’ll find helpful in discovering how to better position your business is a SWOT chart. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. A SWOT analysis is a great way to understand elements of your business from a different point of view, namely that of your competitors. There are many options for web-based SWOT analysis software. These vary in price but are valuable tools for creating colorful, personalized, collaborative diagrams that you can share with your team. When you look at your business from the perspective of your competitors, you’re likely to uncover hidden strengths to capitalize upon, and areas to reassess that have a lower return on investment.
SWOT analysis could demonstrate that your company is competing on price with a multitude of other businesses, while uncovering that you provide an edge on a service that competitors are not as capable of delivering. Knowing this information could enable you to focus on higher-margin sales, and reduce time spent chasing low-margin business.
STRATEGY #4: Learn More About Yourself
Geographic expansion is one of the most common ways to grow your business, but it also is the most complex. With expansion comes great opportunity, but also added responsibility. Difficulties in communication, human resources challenges and much more can arise, so it’s paramount to plan carefully and follow that plan closely. When considering this strategy, carefully evaluate how and where to expand. Ask yourself:
- Am I able to handle multiple locations?
- Do I have the resources to support this new sales channel?
- Am I opening my new location in a market that has a high demand for my product or service?
- Are the market segments I plan to sell to at the new location large enough to support my sales plan?
- Have I done a SWOT analysis on existing competitors in order to develop a proactive marketing plan?
If you can answer “Yes” to all of these questions, then you’ve taken the first step. You’ll then need to hire new employees, stock additional inventory, increase your marketing budget, and acquire new fixed assets. Consider the need to create new processes in order to maximize your chances for success. One option may be to extend your physical service area to surrounding towns, adding only incrementally to your investment while providing an opportunity to grow smartly without being encumbered by the significant expenses of a new location.
When planning to take your business online to attract new customers or build relationships with an existing audience, other considerations can come into play. Decide whether you would like local customers to order products online for delivery (such as a pizza shop), or request service calls (like an air conditioning and heating company). If your business is such that you can ship products regionally or nationally, your online requirements may be different. Whichever way you go, whether local, regional or national, be sure to create a solid marketing plan to support your objectives.
Opening a new “bricks and mortar” location can require a significant investment, both in time and money. Start by using the strategies described in Steps 1-3 to ensure you’re making the right business decision. With a better understanding of how your business reached its present state, you’ll have a solid foundation from which to grow.
Taking steps to capture information about your existing customers and using that knowledge to develop one of the four strategies you’ve just read about can put you in a powerful position to outdistance your competitors in a challenging market.
Verizon has many tools to help you grow your business. We are here to help. Click here to get more expert advice and to see special offers.
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Did you know that consumers overwhelmingly believe word-of-mouth recommendations, such as those found on social media, over all other types of advertising? Studies, such as Nielsen’s Trust in Advertising, show that prospective customers increasingly rely on word-of-mouth postings of their friends, family, and acquaintances to make purchasing decisions. From which car to drive to which toothpaste best removes tartar, traditional marketing isn’t what entices customers to buy; in fact, overwhelmingly, it’s the court of public opinion that does.
Social media savvy has become a "must-have" in your business development toolbox. With literally dozens of social media sites to choose from, the choices and best practices for promoting your business can be overwhelming. Awareness of the different social media platforms and the unique tools they offer can be enormously beneficial. Previously for personal-use-only, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Yelp! have evolved into powerful business platforms, and they’re all free! Some of these also offer premium services at a cost that is worth considering as your business grows. The key to getting optimal results via social media is determining which vehicles are best for your business.
This blog post provides tips for developing a powerful social media strategy for your business. From customer demographics to data tracking, some proven tactics will help maximize your success while staying within budget. By following our 5 Step Process below, you can begin to select the right tools for your business and build a dynamic social media presence for your company.
Step #1 – Meet Where They Tweet
Different sites cater to different audiences, and choosing those that attract your target client is crucial. Whether your business focus is technology, retail, construction, or medicine, there is a social media platform that best suits your business.
With over 1.49 billion users, Facebook is the largest social media channel, so regularly posting updates and promoting special deals to a Company Page could quickly attract new business while enabling your current customer base to share your business with their followers. Additionally, Facebook is a fantastic option for businesses, such as retailers, whose customers might require direct conversation regarding a product or service.
LinkedIn, with over 380 million members, is one of the foremost business-to-business social media solutions. The key to LinkedIn’s success is the ability for professionals to network with one another through personal business connections. Their search features provide means for potential customers to find your business through keyword searches and recommendations posted by other customers, clients, or non-client business connections. Another favorable aspect of LinkedIn is as a publication tool, which allows companies to share relevant business posts. These articles offer insight into industries and are easily shareable so that your visibility increases through your areas of expertise. This is a fantastic platform for specific types of companies, such as leadership development, counseling services, or other businesses with something to teach others.
Now reaching 304 million active, monthly users, Twitter is highly useful when businesses want to get short bites of information out to a large number of followers. Its user-friendly capacity to quickly “push out” your message makes it a prime tool for marketers that don’t need a lot of customer interaction but want quick word-of-mouth sharing capabilities. Plus, by observing Twitter trends companies can better determine areas of interest to their customer base and adapt plans accordingly.
An interior designer’s work may best be showcased on social media channels like Instagram and Pinterest, with 300+ million and 75+ million users, respectively. Both are examples of visually driven sites that facilitate online display of a portfolio, which can then be followed by fans and shared with friends or colleagues. Similarly, “before” and “after” photos from small business owners such as house painting companies or carpet cleaning companies can be posted. Shop owners may post featured lines of products, subsequently benefiting by those products being promoted via their followers or fans through their personal networks.
To augment standard social media channels, videos are a highly effective way to engage customers and launch a new product or service. YouTube, the second most popular search engine on the Internet, enables a small business to easily drive video news and information to an interested audience, in effect leveling the playing field vis-à-vis larger competitors. Think of YouTube as a cost-effective way to create commercial content without the expense of buying airtime on television. Creating your own “YouTube” channel with several videos is easy, cost-effective and enables viewers to visually share information across their own social networks – which may include future customers for your business.
“Review sites” can be a powerful tool for companies that leverage high customer ratings as a way to attract new business. Among the most popular review sites are Yelp! and TripAdvisor. A restaurant owner may find review site Yelp! best to post menus, prices, and location information, while TripAdvisor content includes hotel information, photos and advice for business and vacation travel.
Action: If you haven’t done so, open a free account on a social media network that makes sense for your business. Then, find the sites that most closely match your customers’ interests and behaviors. By checking out the content on each site, you’ll get to know which is the most productive vehicle for your business.
Hint: Reserve the same “username” on each network to preserve your brand identity.
Step #2 – Be Methodical and Start with One Network
Start small. Taking on too many networks at one time can be overwhelming unless you are already familiar with the platform. Get to know and use one site that you think is best for starting your social media marketing effort. One way to feel confident you’ve made the right choice is to see where your competitors are and what they’re posting to their accounts.
Action: Once you’ve selected the best network for your business, complete your online profile, get actively involved, and update your page often. To build a following, you should post content frequently – at least a few times per week. The frequency depends on many factors, from information you need to share to how users interact with your posts. There is a fine line between engaging and annoying, so it’s important to find a balance.
Once you’ve become comfortable with the first site and you’ve started to develop a loyal following, you can branch out to another social media network. It won’t take you much time, but be sure to maintain your presence. Social media is not a spectator sport!
Step #3 – What to Post
Social media is not about “selling” – it’s about creating an online presence, building a community of followers, and enabling your followers to spread the word about the great products and services your company offers. It’s important to remember that time is a commodity that many people don’t have or, at the very least, prefer not to waste. Making your content relevant and captivating will entice consumers to read and share your posts.
Action: Think in terms of creating a conversation about your company. On Facebook for example, you’ll want to encourage followers to “Like” your company page or to post a positive comment about their dealings with your company. On Yelp!, encourage a customer who’s had a positive experience to post a review. Both instances are great “word of mouth” referrals resulting in powerful endorsements of your business.
Hint: Be a source of great information. Post content which readers may find educational or valuable, and you’re sure to attract a wider following as they share the experience with their own followers. You’ll be regarded as an expert rather than as someone always trying to make a sale. The more “Likes” and positive reviews you receive about your content, the more powerful your social media online presence will become.
Step #4 – Stay Connected
Social media is available to your customers around the clock, but that doesn’t mean you have to log in to post content at all hours of the day. There are many great tools available, at little to no price, that will allow you to plan your posts and updates in advance and post them on a schedule that you determine ahead of time.
HootSuite.com, Spredfast and Buffer are all sites worth checking out. These platforms will enable you to send posts to multiple social media sites automatically and track user data, allowing for better time management to meet your business needs. Just as there are tools to simplify and automate the sending of posts and updates, there are excellent tools to monitor all of your social media pages in one place, too.
Action: Be sure to monitor your brand frequently. You should always acknowledge positive comments, as this is the type of word-of-mouth marketing businesses should leverage. Also, check your pages and respond quickly to any negative posts in a positive manner. Negative feedback is inevitable, but perception is all about how you handle the negativity and reframe yourself. NutshellMail will aggregate the activity in each of your accounts and deliver it in one email at the dates and times you specify. One remarkable feature of this free service is that you can respond to posts or status updates directly from the NutshellMail email, saving you from having to log into each site.
Hint: It’s a good idea to periodically check the major search engines to see how your social media activity is appearing in SEO (search engine optimization) results. SEO can take your marketing efforts from barely making an impact to quickly reaching new customers and elevating your business. Google, Yahoo and Bing catalogue Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter activity; so updating your profile on social media sites from time to time may have the side benefit of increasing your ranking on these and other search engines.
Step #5 – Quantify Results
Results of your social media activities are easily calculated using “analytics” tools, which are widely available – many of them nearly real-time. “Dashboard” data will give you insights into how your content is resonating with followers. The dashboard is a management page available through the social media sites, which includes the aforementioned analytics tool. Tracked data can include how many views or visits you get, trends, and the number and quality of comments.
Action: Check results frequently to assess how well your efforts are paying off, and be willing to modify your content and delivery strategy for optimum results.
Hint: Activity trending upward will give you the confidence that you are becoming a trusted source of information, which over time will build loyalty, increase dialogue, and elevate the number of customer referrals you receive. A downward trend will indicate that a change in strategy is needed. Often minor changes will dramatically improve your outcomes, and they’re easy to implement.
Whatever your business, whether business-to-consumer or business-to-business, be proactive in promoting your online presence. Encourage your customers to follow you on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or wherever you have a social media presence. You’ll reap great rewards as you build relationships, enhance the value of your brand, increase dialogue with your most valued customers, gain endorsements and testimonials, and establish yourself as an expert. Following these tips will give you a strong head start in the world of social media for business.
Just as with other forms of promotion, however, you’ll need to give your efforts time to take root. A generally accepted rule of thumb is to allow 6 months of steady effort to establish your business via social media and begin to see results. By implementing some of these ideas, you can tap into new demographics, delight new and existing clients, and build your customer list at little or no additional cost.
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Starting a new business can be rife with headaches, risks, and pitfalls. But it also can be an incredibly rewarding experience that can change one’s life for the better. Most entrepreneurs who start their businesses in mid-life utilize skills honed through years of experience. Yet, like their younger counterparts, they also face a wide variety of business development and planning challenges that no amount of work experience can mitigate.
Today’s blog post focuses on many of the traits, skills and characteristics required for entrepreneurial success, with an emphasis on the mid-life entrepreneur, in particular.
Qualities of successful entrepreneurs There are six important qualities that all successful entrepreneurs must either possess or develop:
- Ability to wear many hats
- Superior money management skills
- Ability to adapt and thrive when faced with rapid changes
- Ability to network
While mid-life entrepreneurs have the advantage of maturity, all entrepreneurs - regardless of age or experience - must continue to develop these important skills as their companies grow. Entrepreneurial success requires learning the multiple facets of operating a business. But even the most successful entrepreneurs may need the guidance of outside experts to assist with one or more areas of the business. You can locate assistance through a local U.S. Small Business Administration office (see www.sba.gov for a location near you) or through online searches or research at a local library. You also should ask other entrepreneurs for consultant referrals.
Money management skills are critical. It is imperative that you find an expert who can be a sounding board for financial topics. Consider speaking with a banker or financial advisor, or seek advice at the U.S. Small Business Administration Website.
The ability to thrive during rapid change is an invaluable skillset all entrepreneurs should try to cultivate. To succeed in today’s dynamic marketplace, it’s important to become a lifelong learner and to be malleable as changes occur. There are many ways to embrace change and to stay on top of trends: From reviewing relevant publications to joining groups of like-minded people to hiring employees who complement your knowledge and skill set.
Above all, self-confidence will guide you through challenges that are sure to arise. Cultivating your inner-strength and expertise are critical components of success. It is never too late for entrepreneurs to gain new skills, competencies, and self-confidence in targeted areas. Consider taking classes at a local university or community college, or networking with groups that focus on developing your particular skill set and leadership potential. As the saying goes, “Patience, persistence, and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success!” (Napoleon Hill). Patience is required to see your efforts turn into results, while persistence and sweat-equity will reap rewards for all entrepreneurs.
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As the saying goes, “Money makes the world go ‘round,” and for an entrepreneur or small business owner, it can be a central part of his or her business world. Money is a requirement for business expansion. There are multiple ways to acquire funding. The more you learn about these options, the easier it will be to make a sound decision. A good place to start is with other business owners you know. Talk with those that have recently gone through an expansion and learn from their experiences.
Let’s take a look at a variety of approaches to acquire funds for business expansion...
Your local bank
The most familiar forms of financing small businesses include borrowing money from your bank, such as:
- A secured loan establishing a line of credit against tangible assets (like real estate or equipment owned), allowing you to draw against your credit as needed
- An unsecured business line of credit with a personal guarantee
- Utilizing open credit on business or personal credit cards
- Factoring receivables, which involves selling your receivables to a third party to improve cash flow (this can be completed both through banks and other institutions who deal in factoring)
All of these approaches may be good options in certain circumstances. Bank loans sometimes are challenging to acquire but easier to secure if the small business has significant collateral or a long financial track record. Using personal credit cards is an option which should only be used if the business will generate enough cash flow to quickly pay the credit cards down; otherwise, there is a potential for high interest payments to offset the gain.
SBA Loans are another option for some small businesses. Funding is available through SBA Express Loans for small business owners, and SBA Patriot Express is available for veterans, active duty (participating in TAP), reservists, and current spouses or widowed spouses. More information on these loans is available at www.sba.gov.
Other SBA grants and loans also are available for women/minority owned businesses, businesses involved in energy efficiency, disaster-struck areas and specific groups like farmers. Some states/cities also have loan programs to support designated urban areas.
Family or friends
Close friends or family members may be a potential source, but beware the pitfalls that financial ties may have on these valued relationships, especially if your expansion plans don’t yield the agreed upon return. Sometimes, family or friend loans are done with a handshake agreement; however, a more formal, written agreement may benefit some individuals and help protect valued relationships.
Less familiar forms of financing (especially for relatively new businesses) include seed funding, crowd funding, angel investing and venture capital.
- Seed funding is a form of securities funding where an investor purchases part of your business (normally early in the business’s creation) and maintains that partial ownership.
- Crowdfunding is relatively new and includes companies like Kickstarter. There are over 450 diverse, crowdfunding platforms. These are all located on the Internet and allow individuals to invest in companies they're interested in.
- Angel investing is when an affluent individual, or a group of investors, provides capital to a business for convertible debt or ownership equity.
- Venture capital is primarily generated through venture capital firms for early stage, high-risk/high-return (potential) start-up companies. Normally, companies that acquire venture capital possess a novel technology or unique business model.
Aside from direct loans or grants, other options include:
- Alliances with other businesses: This involves forming partnerships with complementary businesses. For example, a lawn mowing service might partner with a nursery so that each promotes the other to their own customers. This can help build revenue streams for each party.
- Licensing/franchising your business: This involves allowing other parties to open your business (or use your name/products) in other locations when they pay a licensing or franchising fee to you (common with restaurants, etc.). There are obligations for each party to support the franchise, and both parties must fully understand their obligations.
With so many options, it is up to you to decide which path makes sense for your business. All forms of loans and borrowing come with some degree of risk. It is always prudent to ensure that your cash flow can support the loan requirements. It also is wise to consult with a trusted, outside financial/business expert when acquiring loans.
Enjoy the process of exploring funding your business. There are many options for your business today and for your business tomorrow. In addition to www.sba.gov, you may enjoy exploring www.encore.org, and www.nase.org.
Please join us on Wednesday, October 7th at 2:00 pm ET for a free, online webinar featuring Susan L. Taylor, founder and CEO of the National CARES Mentoring Movement and Editor Emerita of Essence magazine.
Ms. Taylor will explain how to craft a vision for one's life and how to cultivate a leadership style that is both energizing and inspiring.
Drawing on her three decades of visionary leadership, Ms. Taylor also will help you to take stock of your purpose and talents, and she'll demonstrate how even the most challenging business and management issues can be tackled and solved with enthusiasm, patience, and a positive attitude.
Visit here for more background information on Ms. Taylor's fascinating career and talents.
Earlier this year (from Feb. 26 – April 21) the Verizon Small Biz Rewards program launched the Million Point Grant Giveaway.
We have the winners: Congratulations to all!
Click here to see the list of winners including the Grand Prize and five first prize winners. We will announce soon the winners of the Verizon Small Biz Rewards Midsummer Business Makeover winners soon.
Please check back again soon as the Verizon Small Biz Rewards team will launch another sweepstakes to reward our loyal customers.
Click here to see if Verizon is available in your area or if you are already a customer, click here to learn more about the benefits of signing up – for free – and joining the Verizon Small Biz Rewards program.
Post By Michelle Swittenberg, vice president of small business marketing for Verizon.
Like any business, Verizon has a keen interest in how well it’s serving its customers. Customer feedback is invaluable in helping us develop the best solutions to meet their broadband and communications needs.
So it’s gratifying that feedback from you, our small business customers, has placed Verizon at the top of two prestigious customer satisfaction studies.
Verizon received the “Highest Customer Satisfaction with Very Small Businesses Wireline Service, Two Years in a Row”* in the J.D. Power 2015 U.S. Business Wireline Satisfaction Study. According to J.D. Power, small businesses ranked Verizon the highest among our competitors in customer satisfaction, pricing and service plans leading to customer loyalty.
Verizon FiOS Internet received a PC Magazine award in the publication’s first-ever Business Choice Survey. Our FiOS Internet customers ranked it No.1 in reliability, technical support and overall satisfaction.
While we’re grateful for our customers’ feedback, we’re not resting on our laurels. Our team continues to find ways to provide the very best products, services and experience for small businesses. And we’re always interested in your input on how we can be better. Reach out to us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+.
*Verizon received the highest numerical score among very small business providers in the proprietary J.D. Power 2014 and 2015 Business Wireline Satisfaction StudySM. 2015 study based on responses from 4,154 decision makers at very small businesses measuring 11 providers. Proprietary study results are based on experiences and perceptions of businesses surveyed in April-June 2015. Your experiences may vary.
Maintaining existing customers and finding new customers in an ever-changing market seems to get progressively more challenging. Savvy small business owners have found that smart networking has become one of the most effective tools in their marketing arsenal, providing a level of trust that advertising and marketing cannot deliver.
The best business networking groups operate as exchanges of business information, ideas and support. The most important skill for effective business networking is listening; focusing on how you can help the person you are listening to rather than on how he or she can help you is the first step to establishing a mutually beneficial relationship. Make the conversation all about them and not you. People love to talk about themselves. If you allow them the freedom to talk about themselves, you will be remembered as someone who took the time to get to know them. Remember, networking is not about the quantity of business cards you collect. It's about relationships.
Joining networking groups online can also help you discover small business opportunities. Find topics and discussion groups that relate to your business needs. Discuss some of your interests and small business ideas with other entrepreneurs who might offer valuable insight. Look for opportunities to provide or receive products and services from businesses you are networking with. Add like-minded small business owners to your list of contacts.
With the rapid growth of social media and its ever-accelerating adoption by the business world to extend marketing reach, you can easily learn to leverage technology to raise awareness for your brand, target a broader segment of customers, and quickly deliver high impact information about your product or service.
The challenge for the business owner is always to find a way to balance cultivation of this all-important network with the daily demands of running the business. The secret lies in doing a little up-front homework to identify the networks which will benefit your business the most.
One of the best online resources with a broad range of networking meetings is Meetup.com, with over 22 million members. Other great online sources include LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.
Taking the time to build a deep, strong network can provide a business owner with a steady referral stream, repeat customers, and opportunities to expand into new markets without spending hard-earned dollars on traditional marketing.
Reap the rewards so many small business owners have experienced through smart networking – it’s today’s key to success for small business!
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