Tag Archives: Small Business

Are You Watching Social Media from the Sideline?

20 Mar

American football field at the 50-yard line.Many companies have Social Media strategies and plans in place.  Many still don’t. And it isn’t only small businesses. Even some large companies don’t have Social Media in their marketing play books. Social Media is the great unknown and risky unchartered waters for many businesses. They avoid any efforts to develop a program, instead watching Social Media from the sideline.  If this describes how Social Media is viewed at your company, maybe it’s time to learn to crawl before you run.

Consider trying one Social Media platform first.  Don’t wait to develop a comprehensive Social Media strategy and campaign. Having said that, it is important to have goals in mind and what you’d like to accomplish.  An initial goal may be as simple as creating a Twitter account and following leaders or competitors in your industry everyday for the next three months. Remember that your actions should be consistent with your brand and target audience messaging, no matter how high of a level you decide to initially participate in Social Media.

The Best Platform for a B2B to Start Social Media Activities

If you are a B2B, LinkedIn is a great choice to test the Social Media waters. This is the professional business networking platform.

Start by completing a LinkedIn Company Profile page.  You can add information, accessible to all LinkedIn’s 150 million members, about your organization including your logo, products and services, current promotions and job openings .  With a company page, once you have followers you can start a conversation and engage with them. LinkedIn members follow what matters to them professionally and to their business.

Next, build your company’s LinkedIn presence by identifying members within your company to join industry groups related to your business like customers’, partners’ and competitors’ groups.  Being a part of these groups is really where your business can benefit.  If this is a first time participating in a group, take some time to listen and get a pulse on the conversations of the group.  Establish your authority and expertise in these groups by becoming an active participant sharing useful information and starting discussions with the group. Another benefit of participating in groups is the opportunity to hear what customers are thinking about your product, your competitors and what is trending in the industry.

Increase your LinkedIn presence further by creating your own industry group. I like the HP and Intel group, Small Biz Nation that features good discussions on relevant topics for small businesses like the discussion on Techniques to Stay Connected to Your Customers. Another group I like is the American Express Business Knowledge Share with discussion topics ranging from Social Media and online marketing tips to How Participating in LinkedIn Groups Can Help Your Business.

The costs of not participating in Social Media are too great.  You don’t have to watch Social Media from the sideline.  Pick a platform and get started.

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Get Unstuck and Seize the Opportunity

13 Mar

One of the problems that we all face from time to time is getting stuck.  We may get stuck for different reasons but when we are stuck, we have closed our minds and our ability to be open to change.  The cost is missed opportunities.  

Woman with Arms in Air upwards towards the sky/sunAt one time in my career, I was a data security product marketing manager and made the mistake of being stuck in a belief.  It was very early on in the data security market, (late 90’s), and we were marketing enterprise-grade security firewalls.  These firewalls were designed for large networks, expensive and required technical expertise to implement and manage.  This worked fine for large enterprises but, not for small/medium size businesses (SMBs).  Back then SMBs were the next big growth market for data security products.

Taking the advice of very knowledgeable security gurus, I wasn’t willing to compromise the level of security that large firewalls provided in order to move down market.  I was stuck in the belief that the new firewall designed for SMBs would not provide adequate security.  The truth was that the new firewall did provide good security and SMBs needed a security solution.  The large, expensive, complex enterprise firewall was not it.  Fortunately, after many heated discussions with those in favor of the new firewall, we included it in our security offering. It wasn’t enterprise grade but, it met the needs of the SMBs on price, technical simplicity and security.  The small firewall was a successful addition to our product offering.

Many times, you don’t even realize you are stuck in a belief or idea that is keeping you from seeing an opportunity clearly.  We need to remind ourselves often to remain open to new ideas, not be too quick to judge them and allow them the time to be considered so we don’t miss out on those opportunities for growth.

Sharing the Who, What and Why With Customers

28 Feb

Several months ago a start-up had asked for a review and recommendations for improving  their current website and Facebook page.  What stood out most for me was that their website lacked information about the organization, the Who, What and Why were all missing.  Who is a part of their organization? What is their organization about?  and Why does it matter that customers do business with them?

For a new business with a unique product, sharing this basic yet key company information with potential customers is even more critical to build trust and a relationship with customers.

While this may seem pretty obvious to most of us, sometimes smaller organizations and start-ups feel the need and want to be different starting with the website.  For this organization, they have a unique, creative and non-traditional approach to funding charities.  Their website design and content reflects those attributes.  But, the important point is not to get so caught up in being creative or non-traditional that you forget about why you have a website in the first place, to provide information and to connect with your customer.

On this organization’s website, there is no tab or section that tells the story of how or why the organization got started, who the founders are or what is the mission.  A Join button is located on the home page that immediately opens to a window requesting customer contact information to join. There is no landing page to tell the customer why do business with them or in this case ‘join’ their cause. And because this organization has a new model in charity giving, it is important for potential customers to clearly understand how the giving of donations works, what is expected of them and what if any are the costs should be explained on the site before the call to action to join.

Understanding where customers are in the sales process and providing the right content for each stage in the sales cycle is also critical.  If you don’t provide the appropriate information, customers that are not yet ready to buy will leave.  Don’t ask for the sale too soon.  You’ve got to build trust first.

Start with the website. For the majority, it is still the first place they go to learn about a company.  Be creative in design and marketing on your website but, also include the information that customers need and want to know, who you are, what you are about and why they should do business with you.

How to Avoid Social Media ‘Soup du-jour’ Syndrome

27 Dec

A small business owner and I met the other day to discuss social media and how it can help her business.  She said she was overwhelmed by all the different platforms and sites and wasn’t sure which one was the best way to go.  Her perception is that social media tools are ‘soup du-jour’ and she felt as soon as she made a choice of which social media tool to use another would take its place resulting in wasted time and money and missed business opportunity.

The variety of Social Media options can be overwhelming and make each platform seem like the ‘soup du-jour’.  Look at Social Media as you do any other marketing tool in your mix and chose the platform based on how it will help achieve your goals and you will have success.  Social Media is no different from any other marketing tool you use to reach customers.  Both marketing tools and social media platforms should be chosen based on which will most effectively reach your target audience to meet your goals with the resources you have available.  How you message and how you communicate with your audience are the differences.

Commitment is Key to Avoiding Social Media Soup du-jour Syndrome

You can commit and believe in your Social Media choices if you do some work up front. That work includes taking time to set your goals and plan.  No marketing tool, social media or other will succeed in helping you reach your goals if you don’t do the work up front.  If you don’t, the result is you will have wasted precious time and money with little success.

Top Social Media Platforms

The top Social Media platforms can help a business meet its goals depending on the target audience and each requires different capabilities, time and resources and include; social networking, multimedia, blogs and microblogs.  Some of the most popular are Facebook, (social networking site), LinkedIn (social networking site for professionals), MySpace (social networking for the creative, artists/musicians), YouTube (video sharing site), Flickr (photo and video sharing site), Mashable (Social Media news blog) and Twitter (microblog).

Follow These Basic Steps When Choosing a Social Media Platform for Your Business

  1. Develop your Marketing Plan
  2. What are your Social Media goals – these should support your Marketing goals
  3. Develop your Social Media Plan
  4. Look at and focus on the top Social Media platforms and sites as a start
  5. Chose the most effective of these to reach your audience and based on your capabilities and resources. Who are your customers?  Do they even have a twitter account to follow your business?  If not, twitter is probably not your best choice.  Are you able to post blogs consistently?  Do you have the resource to develop content and video to post on YouTube?
Additional Resources

Review Your Business Plan Now for 2012 Success

12 Dec

As we near the end of 2011, now is the time to pull that business plan off the shelf.   If you haven’t done this already, it’s time for a full review of your plan for the coming year.

Why is it important to review your business plan?  To achieve your goals and move beyond where you are today, you must assess how well your company is performing to the business plan and identify any significant changes that may require adjustments to the plan.  If you make it a best practice to do a full review at least once a year,  your business goals will remain top of mind and you will be positioned to take full advantage of opportunities, address challenges and grow your business.

Make sure you review these key components of your business plan before 2012

1.  Company Analysis:  How well did your business perform to plan this year? Did your business meet expectations? Did you accomplish what you set out to do?  If you didn’t make your targets, do you know why not?  What are you good at and what makes you unique and qualified to be in this business?  Identify your biggest challenges and opportunities.

2.  Industry Analysis:  Has the size of the market grown or contracted? Take a look at the competition.  Are there more or fewer players?  Who are the major players?  What position do they have?  Do you see new market trends?

3.  Customer Analysis:  Who are your customers and are they the same targets in your business plan today?  Are they buying your products and services?  What are their needs and are any trends affecting their buying behavior?

4.  Marketing Strategy:  Is your marketing strategy generating the projected revenues and results from your products/services.  Are your products priced and positioned to take advantage of opportunities.  Do your products’ features and or specifications meet the market needs?  Did your marketing plans and promotional activities generate the intended results?

5.  Financial Plan:  Do you have enough revenues and the necessary cash flow to operate the business?  Do you need more capital to run the business and take advantage of market opportunities?

6.  Management Team:  Do you have the right players to operate and grow your business?

With a full business plan review completed,  you are ready to make any necessary changes and to set your goals for 2012 and develop an action plan to achieve them.  It can be difficult especially for small businesses to take the time out from day-to-day business operations to review and plan.  Planning takes discipline but, for long-term success it’s a requirement.

You Can Do-It-Yourself Website

14 Nov

by Susan Lowe

Who needs to know XHTML or PHP code  to design and publish a website?  No one anymore.

Web hosting companies have been providing website builders for a while now, allowing customers to design, build and edit their own site without any special coding knowledge or skill.  Not only can you save a chunk of your marketing budget on the initial design of the site by doing it yourself but, you can make your own edits in real time – no need to pay a web administrator to do it for you.

The tools are free with most hosting services when you sign up. Some hosting companies offer a free trial service and most have some really great design templates ready to use.  And if you have the desire and the time, you can also customize most of the site.

Easy to use Site Builder Tools

Many of the tools allow you to easily add video, social media links, customized forms, and even PayPal to your site.  Intuit, a fairly recent entry into this space, has taken almost all of the frustration out of doing this yourself. Their easy to use SiteBuilder Plus is likely the result of Intuit’s years of experience perfecting the user interface with products Quicken and TurboTax.

The time to design and publish is quick. I completed my site in a few days.  I used the Intuit product and the interface was so good, I didn’t even reference a tutorial. Help is available from many of the web hosting companies and some are better than others.  If your comfort level is low, you will want to choose a host with good support that is included in the hosting fees.

Keep These Things in Mind when Building Your Own Website 

  • Check the website options and features carefully before choosing a hosting service -especially the Help Desk Support
  • Although templates are provided, you should have a good sense of design
  • Content is still King.  If you plan to you write your own copy, content should be written for your target audience(s) and include your value propositions.  Many of the templates provide helpful suggestions but, content is an area of marketing expertise that is not ready out of the box. Keep the content updated and fresh and optimize your content for search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo.  Many of the hosting companies provide help with SEO.
  • Your website is a reflection of your brand.  If you have a logo, include it.  Consider your brand as you choose a design template and customize your site and write the content.
  • Have someone whose opinion you respect review it before you go live – another set of eyes is always helpful.  Your website is your face to your customer and may be their first impression of your company.

Related Links:

Ten Best Website Builders of 2011 by websitehostingfreereviews.com

Business Plans are Dynamic – Is It Time for a Review?

10 Oct

by Susan Lowe

It’s been six months or longer since you last looked at your business plan.  Now might be a good time to consider a review. Here are a few of the reasons why you might want to take a look at your business plan.

Something significant has changed in the marketplace, such as competition or government legislation that may affect your strategy and achieving your plan.

Your company has made changes to or introduced new products.

You may want to change your business structure or need additional funding. 

Costs of business operations have increased due to an increase in the price of a needed resource and your financial projections may no longer be valid. An example is the increase in the price of oil and subsequent increase in gas prices.  

What is the right amount of time between reviews?  Business is dynamic and consequently a business plan is dynamic.  A good practice is to review the plan every six months and include anything that has specifically changed, such as products, customers or the competition. Businesses should complete a major review and update of their business plan yearly.

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