Each week I like to post useful tools and resources that you may be able to use for your business.  The resources I post here are either free or available at a low cost.

I don’t go into much detail here, so feel free to check them out yourself and let me know what you think.  If you know of any great tools and services that will help small business owners, please share them in the comments below

Social Mention – Receive free email alerts when your name, brand, or any other keyword you enter is mentioned on the major social networks.  Kind of like Google Alerts for social platforms.

Minus – Share large files (up to 2gb with a free account) with friends and co-workers in a really simple way.  Get 10gb of storage with a free account and connect your Minus account to your social networks for easy file and media sharing.

Have questions about the best tools to use for your business?  Contact me with your questions and you can rest assured you will receive a response!  Contact me here

What is ‘Netnography’?

‘Netnography’ is a term coined by Robert V. Kozinets (BBA, MBA, Ph.D.), an expert on social media, marketing research, innovation, and marketing strategy. The word “netnography” itself comes from “Internet” and “ethnography”. In essence, it is a set of techniques that adapt anthropological research to the world of the Internet. In netnography, online interactions are treated as a cultural reflection that provides deep human understanding. Are you scratching your head yet? Let me break it down for you:

I think that we can all agree that the Internet and social media have revolutionized the world of marketing. Social media networks are characterized by features such as connectivity, consumer empowerment, community and inclusiveness. In other words, consumers are no longer passive beings simply absorbing company-generated information; social media allows for consumer-generated content.

Now this is where netnography comes in. The online environment offers marketers unlimited access to consumer-to-consumer communication from a naturally-occurring context, that is relevant and detailed, unelicited, obtained in an unobtrusive way, and acquired in a timely, and effective manner.

Why is Netnography useful?

Unlike traditional market research methods such as focus groups, surveys, questionnaires, and data models, netnography is unelicited and naturalistic, offers cultural insights, and maintains the human connection with context. Netnography can help you with marketing decision-making, branding, and innovation. A systematic, comprehensive, netnographic study can expose critical information about consumer behaviours, opinions, tastes, impressions, and interactions.

The following are five straightforward and manageable (overlapping) steps that will help you get started:

Step One: Research Planning

Before you officially embark on your netnography quest, you must first decide on your objectives. You will need to define the research questions, topics and/or trends that you want to investigate. Ask yourself what do I need to learn – and more importantly, why? How will I use that information? For example, some common goals include evaluating the positioning of your brand, coming up with ideas for new product innovations, or marketing concepts and etc. Step one is arguably the most important step in the netnography process because answering these essential questions and solidifying your goals will help you focus your efforts, and in turn save you a considerable amount of time later on in the process.

Step Two: Community Identification and Selection

In this step you will decide what communities to focus your research on. For instance, you should examine your brand’s Facebook page, YouTube channel, and Twitter account. Next you may want to review blogs and forums (both professional and amateur) that mention your brand, your competition, and your industry. Amazon is a great resource for finding reviews. I also highly recommend setting up Google Alerts notifications for your brand and any competitors you want to conduct netnography on. This will only take a minute, and will ensure that you are notified of any new developments or reviews.

Step Three: Community Participant-Observation and Data Collection

Now comes the fun part – doing the actual research. Examine the individuals who are active on your social media pages to better understand the personalities of your existing consumers. Observe volume through the number of fans, likes and comments on your Facebook page, the number of followers on your Twitter accounts and the number of views your YouTube videos in order see how popular your brand is. Critically study all comments, feedback, and reviews that you come across on the Internet; this will help you determine the strengths and weaknesses of your brand from the consumers’ point of view.

Step Four: Data Analysis and Iterative Interpretation of Findings

Organization is key throughout the entire netnography process. I recommend using Excel to organize your findings by interaction type (e.g., Facebook comment, Like, Tweet, Retweet, blog post, forum post, review, etc…) and color code it by sentiment (e.g., red for negative sentiment, blue for positive, and green for indifferent). Furthermore, you could integrate a number scale to classify each your findings (e.g, 1-9, with one being worst and 9 being best). Just to clarify, I am not talking about ranking here – I am suggesting that you assign a number to each interaction you find from 1-9 (can be more than one of each!)

Step Five: Report Research Findings and Theoretical Implications, OR Strategy (STP) & Tactical Implications

Now that you have gathered and organized the information, it is time to critically examine your findings. What trends can you see? Where does the information point you? Perhaps your research will tell you that your website needs a re-design, that your advertising is not being perceived as desired, or that you may need to change your positioning. It could also give you ideas about innovation for your products or services.

I highly recommend getting the input of other people in your company at this stage. They will be able to look at your netnographic study with a fresh perspective and point out anything you may have overlooked.

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Netnography is a fascinating concept, and this article is meant to serve as an introduction and a quick guide, based on my own experience with the process. If you are intrigued by this topic (which I’m sure you must be, if you’re still reading!), I suggest that you download the White Paper Netnography: The Marketer's Secret Weapon – How Social Media Understanding Drives Innovation, written by the father of netnography himself, Robert V. Kozinets.

Each week I like to post useful tools and resources that you may be able to use for your business.  The resources I post here are either free or available at a low cost.

I don’t go into much detail here, so feel free to check them out yourself and let me know what you think.  If you know of any great tools and services that will help small business owners, please share them in the comments below

Prezi – Create creative and unique looking presentations and charts with Prezi.  Add slideshows, graphics and video in a mindmap style presentation that looks much different than anything you've created before.  Free version available as well as paid versions.

Jing – Free desktop tool that lets you create screenshots and screen recordings of your computer.  Great for recording tutorials for clients and for creating training presentations.

Have questions about the best tools to use for your business?  Contact me with your questions and you can rest assured you will receive a response!  Contact me here

photo credit: Hamed Saber

In some ways, the internet age has made launching a small business easier than ever before. Due in part to the web's opportunities, new small businesses are being created every day, many based on very unique and innovate ideas. Unfortunately, some beginning small business owners lack the experience to avoid certain common legal pitfalls. Unlike large corporations with their immediately available legal advisors, many entrepreneurs rely solely on their own judgment and experience in dealing with legal issues. Avoiding these eight common legal mistakes can help ensure that your venture launches successfully.

1. Not Incorporating Your Business

Many new business owners run their operations as some form of sole proprietorship or partnership. While this can be a convenient strategy early on, incorporating your business creates a protective shield for your personal assets and helps limit your liability risk. If your business is not incorporated, a lawsuit or other business crisis could potentially cause you to lose your personal savings and investments. In addition,

 2. Not Securing Necessary Copyrights

Whether you are launching a brick-and-mortar business or an online business, your name is one of your greatest assets. Secure the rights to your business name, your domain name and any other necessary copyrights immediately; otherwise you run the risk of these names eventually being used by someone else, potentially costing you customers.

3. Not Documenting All Agreements and Terms and Conditions

Not having all business arrangements, terms and conditions and similar agreements documented in writing can potentially have serious consequences. For example, MJ Lehman of Nicky Nicole learned the hard way about the consequences of not fully documenting her business arrangements. A supplier that had verbally agreed to exclusively provide her business with a product later sold that product to many other businesses, leading to a significant financial loss for Nicky Nicole. Not clarifying your website terms and conditions can also be a serious problem, since you might unintentionally give the impression of endorsing all links from your site, potentially opening you up to legal liability down the road. Hire an attorney to help ensure that all of this documentation is complete and binding.

4. Not Creating a Disclaimer of Liability

Similarly, you should create a legal disclaimer of liability that protects you in situations like a customer injuring himself after purchasing one of your products. Your attorney can help create this disclaimer as well.

5. Not Creating a Privacy Policy

Finally, have the lawyer help you create a proper privacy policy. Not having an adequate privacy policy may discourage customers from supporting your business. With today’s many businesses privacy problems, many customers have become very sensitive about this issue. Additionally, many corporate customers require a well-established privacy policy before doing business.

6. Using Unlicensed Content

Not securing the appropriate licenses for the media files, images, audio, graphics and even coding used in your website can potentially leave you vulnerable statutory damages. Unless otherwise specified, all ownership rights for these types of files remain with their creators. Take the time to secure all necessary ownership or usage rights before using them; the consequences for not doing so could be very costly.

7. Infringing on Trademarks

Trademark rights are a similar issue. Promoting your product or website without sufficient research on all the trademarks it contains is extremely risky. The use of trademarks you do not own in meta tags or keywords to drive traffic to your website without permission is also often illegal, so contact the trademark owner if you have any doubt about its permitted use.

8. Using Spam and Illegal Advertising

Finally, be careful that your promotional or advertising activities comply with all relevant laws. It can be particularly easy to make legal mistakes with email advertising campaigns; take the time to ensure that your ads are in compliance with both state and federal laws.

Do your homework

Most of the time the legal mistakes made by new business owners are not intentional, but are simply due to lack of knowledge. Nevertheless, this ignorance can be devastating to a new venture. Thoroughly researching all of the laws and regulations that apply to your business can save you a tremendous amount of hassle and money later on.

 

This is guest post from Hayley Spencer. Hayley writes for a website that provides consumer friendly explanations of major areas of law and also helps small business owners to understand business law.

 

 

Are you using video on your small business website?  If you're not, you may be missing out on a great opportunity to increase online sales.

According to a 2010 Comscore study, retail website visitors who view product videos stay on the website on average, two minutes longer than websites that don't use product video and are 64% more likely to make a purchase.  With the explosion of visual social media sites like Pinterest, adding rich media to your website can create a more compelling experience for your visitors than just using plain text.  The infographic below, courtesy of MarketingZeus.com has some great data showing why adding video and other rich media to your website can help increase online sales.

 

Using video and other rich media on your website leads to better conversion

It seems like everywhere you look these days, franchises are everywhere.  They have taken over suburban shopping malls, neighborhood strip plazas and have even infiltrated the one safe haven for independent businesses……….Main Street.

Independent small businesses are feeling the squeeze from all sides, rising costs……increased competition….and shrinking consumer spending.  One of the hardest challenges is competing with nationally recognized franchise chains in your industry.  They often bring with them decreased operating costs, group purchasing power and streamlined marketing campaigns.

So how does a small independent business compete with these large chains?  You may provide better service, better quality than them…….but if that was the only criteria for success…….old Micky D's (aka:McDonalds) would have gone under a long time ago.  People don't go there for the awesome burgers….they go because it's inexpensive, it's everywhere and is of a quality and consistency that is acceptable to many people.

While there are lots of advantages to franchising, there are also some things that can hinder them as a business……and that is your opportunity to take advantage of these “quirks” in the machine and to outperform and outflank them.  Below are 5 things you should know about franchising that can help you compete with the big  chains.

Franchises are very slow to change

Most franchises (except maybe for the smallest chains) cannot change and adapt the way an independant business can. In franchising, almost every decision will come from the head office and this means that implementing even the smallest changes take a really long time.  By the time and idea goes up the chain of command, gets tested, and makes its way back down……several months can pass.  And that's if the idea gets accepted at all.  Thousands of great ideas from the franchise ranks go ignored every year because the head office has decided to only focus on a select few.

On the other hand, if you had a idea, you could start testing it that day, and within a week or two decide if its an idea worth keeping, worth changing, or worth scraping all together so you can move on to the next big idea.  Keeping on the lookout for new ideas and changes to consumer needs can keep you a step ahead of your franchise competitors.

Franchises usually stick with traditional marketing methods

In working with franchisees as an independent  consultant, you'd be surprised how many franchise marketing plans still recommend buying an ad in the Yellow Pages book as a reliable and safe way to attract customers.  Franchises have to develop local marketing plans for hundreds of local markets and for individuals who most likely have little marketing experience.  What this means is that they usually develop a very generic, mediocre marketing plan than involves taking ads out in local papers, doing a direct mail piece and offering coupons. It's a marketing plan meant for people who aren't familiar with marketing.

Now bigger national chains will usually follow up these local marketing initiatives with their own national/regional campaigns, which are usually run by professional marketing companies…….but they still miss out on many local opportunities that you can take advantage of.  Networking with other businesses, getting involved and befriending people in the community and working with local charities are all strategies you can implement that are much harder for a local franchise to pull off.  Non-traditional marketing is an area that you can take advantage of much easier than your franchise competitors.

Franchises usually focus on the system, not the people

In franchising, it's all about the system.  Most franchise systems are developed to work with the minimum amount of talent needed to work the business model, that's why they can grow so large without a specialized pool of people, they just need to train people to work the established system they have in place. People usually go to a franchise business for the product, not for the people.  In an independent business, it's usually both….or the opposite…..it's the people and the experience that are important.  Invest in relationships.

Invest in your employees, hire people with great personalities and train them to become experts in customer service.  Create a personal experience for your customers, make them want to come back to your business because you made them feel good about doing business with you.

Franchises don't know your market as well as you

Many franchisees, especially for bigger chains, do not live in or know much about the area they are doing business in.  If they are a multi-unit owner, or are on a waiting list for an available franchise location, many times their location will be in another town or city from which they live.  Use your knowledge of the area to find hidden opportunities that a franchise won't bother looking for.  What this means is that doing  things like creating partnerships with other local businesses and organizations, using your personal network to refer customers and tailoring your message specifically for certain groups are all things a franchise is unlikely to do and can put you at an advantage.

Franchise owners are usually not experts in their field

Most small business owners usually got started in their business because they were doing it previously for someone else, usually for a long time before striking out on their own.  In contrast, many franchisees open a franchise, not for the love of the product or industry, but for the  financial opportunity.  While this isn't always the case, especially for very small franchises, it's usually the truth when it comes to larger chains.  I'm sure there haven't been many franchise owners who dreamed about offering mediocre food with customer service to match before opening a fast food chain.  Use your specialized knowledge to become a thought leader in your field.  Give free talks, workshops and demos……answer questions….write articles……do everything you need to do to establish yourself as the leader in your industry.

The competition is fierce out there

With so much competition and consumers who are watching every dollar they spend, you need to make use of every opportunity if you want to level the playing field with a franchise chain.  They have the established business systems, more marketing dollars, and a brand recognition that is too expensive for you to match.  The one thing that they don't have is your reputation, in depth knowledge, your willingness to do the little things they won't and your ability to see and seize opportunities when they appear.  Take the advantages you have and become your very own version of David and Goliath.

 

As a business owner, do you know if you're a Right or Left Brain Thinker?  Knowing more about the way you think will help in understanding yourself and why you prefer things the way you do.  It'll also help to understand your employees better and help you to tailor your management style according to their personalities.

The Infographic below is courtesy of OnlineCollege.org

understanding right and left brain thinkers

Each week I like to post useful tools and resources that you may be able to use for your business.  The resources I post here are either free or available at a low cost.

I don’t go into much detail here, so feel free to check them out yourself and let me know what you think.  If you know of any great tools and services that will help small business owners, please share them in the comments below

Touchgraph – offers a free SEO tool that lets you type in a keyword or website url and see a graphical display of the many connections that keyword or website url has with others on the internet.  Great tool for finding related websites for a key term or for doing some competitive analysis.

Mailchimp – One of the big email marketing providers on the web.  They offer a very generous free plan for a contact list of up to 2000 emails.  Great templates and an easy to use interface, if your still using your personal email account for email marketing, you should check out Mailchimp.

Have questions about the best tools to use for your business?  Contact me with your questions and you can rest assured you will receive a response!  Contact me here

If you're not using a blog as part of your online marketing strategy, you're missing out an a great opportunity to generate leads for your business.  As all small business owners know, traditional advertising methods are rapidly losing their effectiveness.  Trying to get people's attention is becoming harder and harder each year and the trend looks like it will continue.

Incorporating a blog into your inbound marketing strategy will not only generate more leads (and better quality leads) but will cut down on your marketing costs as running a blog is very inexpensive, and free if you are creating the content yourself.  Check out this infographic on “How Small Business Blogs Increase Sales”, by Imbue, and see if having a blog for your business makes sense for you.

 

Are you still giving out boring business cards that look like something your accountant designed for you?  If so, maybe you should get with the times and create a new business card for your business.

Whenever most people think about business cards, they think of a boring and dated mode of marketing.  But guess what?  Creative individuals and businesses are doing great things with business cards these days.

In recent years, business cards have taken on a new life, with designers and creative types pushing the limits of what we once thought a business card should be.  The right business card can act as one of your most powerful marketing tools and can actually be fun…..if your ready to put some creativity into it.

A great business card should provide basic information about you and your business, but the way you present it can be as creative as you want it to be.  While some recent trends have emerged like adding QR codes and Social Media links on business cards, these are far from unique and will do nothing to liven up an already boring business card.  With some imagination, quality printing, and a little fun…..you can have a business card you're proud to hand out at your next networking event.  Let's look at some new trends in business card design that can breathe life into an old medium.

Social Media Business Cards

Whether on Facebook, Twitter or just doing a Google Search….we are all familiar with the standard screen displays for each of these platforms.  Why not have some fun and re-create that experience on your business card?  Creative, fun and original can be used to describe cards like these.

facebook business card

 

twitter business card

 

business card google search style

Simple and Elegant Business Cards

Some of the best business cards are also the simplest.  Trying to do too much on your business card can make it look scattered and unprofessional.  Consider trying something simple. Quality paper stock and nice typography are the keys to making a beautiful and simple business card.

simple design business card

 

simple logo and design business card

 

simple and elegant business card

 

 

Business Cards made from Unique Materials

You don't have to create you're business cards from standard paper stock.  Just like with promotional items, you can have your business information printed on just about anything.

business cards from seeds

business cards with seeds in them

 

rubber business card

 

business card made of cloth

Business Cards with Unique Shapes

Just like with the type of material you use, don't think that your business card has to be the standard four corner business card.  Sometimes even a slight variation from the standard sized business card can help you stand out from the crowd.

unique shape business card

 

odd shaped business card

 

unique business card designs

 

Everyday Items as Business Cards

One of the most creative trends in business card design is using everyday items we see as the basis for business card designs.  This is a good idea if you can tie the item to something specific to your industry, like a travel agency using a luggage tag design for their business card.

government issued id business card

 

price tag business card design

 

luggage tag business card design

 

Business Cards can be as creative as you want them to be.

Exchanging business cards is still one of the most popular ways to network offline, why not put in a little time and effort and come up with something fun and memorable?  Be a hero at your next networking event and be the one with the cool business card everyone wants to copy.