Small Business Toolbox – November Twenty Third

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.

Tweriod – Free Twitter tool that analyzes your Tweet patterns and determines the best times for you to Tweet for maximum impact.

Boomerang for Gmail – Free (paid available) Chrome extension that supercharges your Gmail inbox.  Lets you schedule emails as well as “Boomerang” messages to yourself.

robert-frost-quote

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

How to Create Mouthwatering Content when You’re Thirsty for Ideas

“An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered.” – Gilbert K Chesterton

For content marketers, generating new and compelling content can feel like an all-engulfing daily undertaking.

Where do I start?
What if I don’t have any good ideas?
How can I be sure readers will like my topic?

These are all the right questions.

For small businesses looking to engage in effective digital marketing, asking these questions is a solid first step.

From here you can transform your blank screen into one that dances with content that animates and retains your readers!

An Adventure is an Inconvenience Rightly Considered

When sitting down to brainstorm ideas for a new blog post, infographic, video or image, the most important thing is to keep a positive attitude.

Content creation is an adventure!

Adjusting your outlook is the first critical step towards hydrating an otherwise arid reservoir of ideas.

1. Question time

There are no boring topics, only boring content creators.

Start by thinking about your audience and their needs.

What information would be most useful to them?

Ask yourself the classic who, what, when, why, how questions.

Create content that caters to a specific need within your market. This magically transforms your content into a topic of avid interest for readers and will ultimately lead to more site traffic and conversions.

How to do it: Jot down every possible variation of your topic. For example, if you are writing about light bulbs come up with a series of questions to help guide your article topic: Who invented the light bulb? What are some unusual uses for lightbulbs? Where are the most lightbulb sales globally? Why light bulbs and not light cubes?

Steve Jobs said that creativity is just connecting things.

Make connections between ideas and, like devising a ground-breaking headline, determine which concept catches your attention the fastest. From here it’s just a matter of pulling these ideas together in the form of a useful reference for your audience.

2. Creativity train

Environmental factors play a huge role in your ability to produce consistently good quality content.

Although conventional ideas point to the need for space and silence to meet deadlines, some of the best copywriters and content creators manufacture copy in an environment that treads a fine line between chaos and control.

Multiple studies have looked into the ideal time to brainstorm content ideas, revealing that the best time is actually when you’re feeling unfocused and lacking creative direction.

How to do it: Those quirky colleagues aren’t there to serve as a creative distraction, they’re actually here to help erode your mental levees!

Embrace the chaos.

Use their alarming anecdotes and other office frivolity to propel you into an unchartered creative space. You might be surprised by some of the ideas you come up with!

3. Topic of conversation

A quick topic fix can be as simple as typing your subject into sites such as Quora and Soovle or performing a basic Google suggest search to see whether people are talking about it.

google-search-lightbulbs

If your proposed topic is already generating wide interest and online chatter it’s much easier to piggy-back onto these conversations and to build a discussion around your content.

Distinguish your content by injecting an unusual, interesting, helpful or controversial message that is useful and informative for your readers.

How to do it: Ask readers what questions they would like answered, cross-reference proposed topics with current events and think about adopting a journalistic approach.

When you look in the right places the possibilities for great content topics are virtually limitless.

4. Contradictions and consistencies

Challenge yourself to dream up new and interesting ways to enrapture readers.

Contradictions are one of the most stimulating ways to do this. Nothing delights a reader more than the momentary mental somersault sparked by two opposing ideas.

Part of the thrill of modern marketing is the fierce competition to be heard over thousands of competing headlines that demand your reader’s attention.

How to do it: Revel in the unconventional. Keep readers guessing with unexpected content and headlines. This shows a novel and exciting side to your brand that serves to build relationships and increase your conversion rates.

Some examples to consider:

A snowy summer’s day.
The statement below is false.
The statement above is true.

5. Clarity is key

Move people to open your emails and read your content by delivering your message in a clear and accessible way.

How to do it: Pivot your content decisions according to whether you would like to read something on the topic you are posting about.

If not, move on to something else.

These are our top tips for how to stay inspired. Change the way you think about creating great content and the ideas will overflow.

Got any other great tips for creating mouthwatering content in a topic drought? Then hit us in the comments below.

 

Sarah LynchAbout the author: Sarah Lynch content manager and all round creative spark at TWiZ, a Digital marketing agency based in Sydney, Australia. To hear more social media and marketing musings from Sarah you can catch her for weekly installments on the TWiZ blog or follow her on Twitter.

 

At What Point Should You Take Your Small Business to the Next Step?

growing-small-businessAs a small business owner, you’re familiar with ups and downs. Chances are you’ve spent the past year – or ten years – growing your business to where it is today. You’ve put in countless hours and more thought than you’ve ever considered possible. You’ve probably invested a solid amount of capital as well. Turning a small business into a successful operation is never easy, but you already know that; you’ve been there.

Sometimes though, small business owners get so consumed with the day to day activities of keeping their businesses operational, that they forget about something that was there in the beginning, during the planning phase of their company. They begin to forget about the big picture.

Stepping Back

Have you been there? Are you there now? Are you able to remember the last time you were able to step out of your daily routine and focus on the direction that you want your small business to head in? If not, now is the time.

To know if it’s time to take your small business to the next step, you need to take the time to focus on the goals you set when you started your company in the first place. Where did you see your business going? What amount of growth did you consider “successful” when you started setting benchmarks and considering profitability?

If you take the time to look back over your goals and to evaluate where you are now, you might realize that you’ve met many of your initial start-up phase benchmarks.  You might also realize that you’ve been stuck in a certain spot for a long time. That can be the time to take your business to the next step.

If you’re a company who wants to sell big machinery to high-end clients, but you only have used dozers for sale, you may be stuck with a need to try a new step. If you are a start-up tax firm who has reached the maximum number of clients that you can handle on your own, it may be time to consider expanding or talking to a business coach about options for reaching a new market.

What is the Next Step?

You may be realizing that it’s time to move on, take a step in a new direction or simply a step forward. So what is the next step? While the answer to this question varies from one company to another, below are a few steps that many small businesses have benefited, or could benefit from.

  • Working with a Business Coach: Many small business owners are so inward focused that it can be difficult to consider the next steps. Business coaches are paid professionals with experience moving businesses from one phase of an operation to another. They’re able to identify key factors and stressors that those within the workings of the company may be blinded to. Working with an outside party could be a critical next step.

 

  • Commit to Learning: When a business stays in a single stage of operation, remaining stagnant, it’s easy to forget that no industry stays the same. Things change constantly. From technology to application of knowledge, it’s never okay to stop learning. Look for continuing education classes and seminars, or join a professional organization. Make learning a priority at all times.
  • Embrace Social Media: If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to put the extra effort into your social media marketing abilities. Talk to your customers or venture onto a few of the sites on your own. Find out where your customers are spending their time and create a free account. Look for new ways to engage your community; social media makes this simple. This cannot be overlooked by any business wishing to grow their consumer base.
  • Consider Options for Growth: It may be time to bring on a new employee if you’ve reached your maximum consumer capacity in your current business model. Or, if you have multiple employees and have maxed out the market you can reach in a single location, it may be time to consider adding another. Growth is important for any business; it’s the only way any operation can expand past a certain point. However, it must be done with caution. Be sure your business can handle the initial stress of additional growth and put a plan in place after careful research.

Taking off the small business blinders is the first step to considering when it’s time to take the next step for a small business. Consider your current circumstance and look for ways to move forward.

Courtney Gordner is a passionate blogger who loves giving advice about all thing marketing and internet! Read more from her on her blog, www.talkviral.com

How To Get More Online Customer Reviews

Getting online customer reviewsNothing eases your concerns about purchasing from a new business than reading real life customer reviews of that company.

Amazon.com built a multi-billion dollar company off of the concept.  Social proof is key when it comes to tipping prospective customers into actual paying customers.  It's nice when loyal customers take it upon themselves to leave you a glowing online review, but did you know that most of your loyal customers will never leave a written review unless you ask them?  

Too many business owners still go by the old adage that “If I do quality work, people will recommend me”.  While that may still be true, that customer may only be telling close friends and family about the quality of your business, and usually only when they are asked about it.  Wouldn't it be great if you could use that trust and good will of your loyal customer and put it online so hundreds and even thousands of prospective customers can read the social proof that you truly rock as a business??

Getting your customers to leave online reviews for your business can sometimes be difficult, but if you follow the steps outlined below you will have a much better success rate in garnering those coveted online reviews that Google and Bing oh so love!

Don't mass broadcast your request for online reviews.  I know alot of bloggers will tell you to insert the request in your email signature, on your website and even on your business card.  It's mostly nonsense.

When I was in the Fire Department in NYC, we were taught if we needed a civilian to go get help for us, we would point to a specific person (even if there were dozens of people around), and say “You! Go call 911 now”.  Do you know why we did this?  Because if we just yelled out “Somebody call 911”, it's about a 50/50 chance anyone would actually do it.  It's known as the Genovese Syndrome, or the bystander effect

If you want your customers to take action, take the time to ask them directly, and in a personal way.  By making the interaction one on one and personal you will increase the likelihood of getting a review by a million percent, or at least alot.

 

Have a plan.  When a customer starts raving to you about what a great service you offer and you sense an opportunity, are you prepared?  When I say prepared I mean, can you immediately direct them to take action?   I have several email templates handy in my Google Apps account that direct people to one of several review sites for our business.  All I have to do is open the template, write a quick note and send.  Easy.

 

Strike while the iron is hot. Timing is everything.  If you just did something awesome for one of your customers and they are declaring their undying devotion to you, thank them  and ask for a  review.  Tell them you would greatly appreciate it.  People are always looking to reciprocate when you do something nice for them, the key is to ask for it before that need starts to wear off.  Look for those opportunities and jump on them when they present themselves.

 

Make it easy for your customers.  To greatly increase the likelihood of getting reviews online, you have to make it super easy for them to leave one.  Nothing is more frustrating for a reviewer than having to jump through account setups, email verification and other nonsense just to leave a single review.  Many customers will abandon the process if it starts to get complicated.  Here are a few tips to follow:

Yelp.  Yelp is a pain in the butt for customers.  Many customers will abandon leaving a Yelp review because of the registration process.  The other annoying this is that Yelp will most likely sandbox your first several reviews, just in case you are trying to game the system.  While it is a pain, Yelp can be a powerful source of reviews for your business.  So what do you do?

Upload your customer contact list (you have one right?) to a Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo email account you own.  After you sign into Yelp under you own account, click on the “Invite Friends” tab on the menu bar.  Here Yelp will scan your contact list to see who is already on Yelp.  If you have customers already registered on Yelp, they are more likely to be familiar with writing reviews there and they do not have to go through the registration process.  Sweet!

Small Business Reviews With Yelp

Facebook Fan Page Reviews.  Most people are on Facebook already so this should be easy.  Scan your Fan Page to see who would be a good candidate for a review request.

Google Places.  Though many people have Google accounts these days, many still do not.  Look through your contact list and see who is using Gmail and start with them first.

The key to getting reviews is to make it personal, act when it is relevant to do so and to make the whole review process as easy as possible for your customers.  Obtaining customer reviews is a long term benefit, consistency is the key here.  If you can get just one review a week, you will have more reviews than most of your competitors.

 

 

 

 

Small Business Toolbox – November Ninth

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.

Findings – Easy way to create and share quotes on the web.  Google Chrome extension lets you create image quotes quickly.

Signals from Hubspot – Free Chrome extension that lets you track who opens your Gmail emails and what links they clicked on.

douglas-macarthur-quote

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

Bulletproof E-commerce: Six Surefire Ways to Boost Engagement and Conversions

E-commerce arrived long ago, but it's still pretty impressive to sit back and see how it's progressing. According to a report by the U.S. Commerce Department, e-commerce sales grew by nearly 20% during the second quarter of 2013, rising from $54.7 billion to $64.6 billion over one quarter to the next. The massive boost in spending can be attributed to the legions of people making purchases from their desktops, smartphones, and tablets.

Whether the catalog consists of a single product or multiple services, the key to e-commerce success lies in your ability to drive engagement and generate conversions. Why waste time gambling on methods that may or may not work? We have outlined six strategies that if executed early in the game, are sure to drive engagement and chalk up those crucial conversions down the road.

Increase email click through rates

Use Social Features

Stop viewing social media as an option. Start viewing it as a necessary element of your business strategy. This influential channel can help bolster your marketing efforts in a variety of ways, but when it comes to the e-commerce component, one of the easiest things you can do is simply integrate the experience. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and several other social networks offer tools that allow you to easily incorporate functionality such as liking, tweeting, and following right into your website. The presence of these features alone will drive engagement from some visitors who may have otherwise chose to browse your store and leave.

 

Engage with Email

Email is often an afterthought in today's social world, but it is a powerful marketing tool nonetheless. People you communicate with via email are likely to be far more engaged than new visitors because they've already been exposed to your brand through direct one-to-one conversations. You can keep engagement up by treating those subscribers to relevant content tailored around their needs. When designing your store, be sure to include an email sign-up form that is easy to find, and try to capture new sign-ups wherever you can. Over time, your email subscribers can be some of your most dedicated customers.

 

Be Mobile

Mobile is another critical area you want to anoint to priority status. Tech savvy consumers are wielding their gadgets to perform a broad range of functions and at the very least, they are expecting an optimal website experience. As a merchant in the e-commerce space, you have no choice other than to deliver. Your ideal customer is armed with all the capabilities they need to browse, research, and shop, so make sure you can accommodate them with a safe, and fluid experience. Work to make your web presence is mobile-friendly from day one.

 

Knock Simple Out the Park

The evolution of internet technology has made it possible to alter the user experience in some powerful ways. With that said, the simple route is usually the most seamless path to success. Only request mandatory information during sign-ups and purchases. Keep the number of options you present on your app's interface to a minimum. Use one potent call to action that drives the user directly into the next phase. When presented with less, the consumer can think more clearly, leading to more informed purchasing decisions.

 

Optimize Through Testing

Are all the elements of your marketing strategy working in harmony? Do some A/B testing to find out. With Halloween coming up, you can test a simple black and orange background against a background that combines bats, pumpkins, and ghosts to get a feel for the response. One background may blend in perfectly with the matching visual content in a blog post, yet make your social buttons difficult to notice. The other might be so busy that it lifts the potential for confusion. From product thumbnails to “pay now” buttons”, testing will reveal the path to engagement and conversions with actual results.

 

View Your Reports

Measuring e-commerce conversions is a pretty straightforward process. Either you rack up sales or your don't. Measuring engagement, on the other hand, tends to be a lot trickier. That's why it pays to have a good analytics system you can rely on. Google Analytics is the perfect tool for the job. This free software gives you an Engagement report that tells you how long people visited your site in increments and what pages they viewed. Seems almost trivial, but these details are crucial. If you see visitors are spending a lot of time on your product page without buying, it could mean you need to tweak your checkout process to move faster.

 

The engagement game is more competitive than ever. Brands are going all out to gain the willingness and affection of the consumer. What are you doing to make e-commerce a worthwhile ride?

 

About the author:

Chiko Noguchi is a best practices activist and advocate for Benchmark Email marketing services. She can be found on @email_wiz.

 

Sources

http://www.internetretailer.com/2013/08/15/e-commerce-returns-pre-recession-growth

Small Business Toolbox – November Second

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.

Merka.to – Online marketplace to have your images retouched and refined.  Currently, when you sign up for the service you'll get 10 free tasks to try it out and then $5 a task after that.

Canva – Image editing service that is really simple to use and lets you create some great images.  Great for creating image sharables on social media.  Currently in beta and offering free accounts.

abigal-van-buren-quote

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

Enloop: A Free And Easy Way To Create A Business Plan

Enloop business plan logoCreating a business plan can be a daunting task for a first time business owner. Creating financial projections, an operational plan and a management team profile before you even start your business can seem a little overwhelming.

Unfortunately, if you will be seeking funding, a properly written business plan is a must.  Even if you're not seeking formal financing, you should still have a business plan in place, even if it's written on the back of a napkin.

While there are several software programs and templates available to the small business owner, most of them come at a financial cost, and at the critical start up phase of your business, finances may be a limited resource for you. If you have never created a business plan before, trying to create one from scratch can be painfully slow and opens the possibility that you may miss important parts of the plan that your funding sources may be looking for.

For a free and easy way to create a business plan check out Enloop, a terrific tool for creating a customized business plan. They offer a generous free plan as well as paid plans for more advanced features and multiple business plans.

While I think every budding business owner should sit down with an experienced person to map out a proper business strategy and to make sure you know what you're getting into, I think a tool like Enloop is great to help get your plans on paper and to see if your financial calculations make sense.

Enloop

media_1313594436743.png

Enloop is a an easy way for you to create a customized business plan, ensuring that you will not miss important steps while preparing your plan. While they do have paid plans available, they currently offer one free business plan that you can create for your business.

Some of the benefits of using Enloop are:

  • You can download and print a PDF copy of your business plan when you are finished
  • Automatically calculates and creates all of your financial projections for you
  • By answering some easy questions, Enloop produces each section of your business plan for you
  • Although you are working off of a template, you can easilly customize your plan by adding and editing  text that Enloop creates
  • You receive useful tips and best practices from Enloop as you you prepare your business plan

One of the coolest features of Enloop is it's EPS (Enloop Performance Score). As you create your business plan, Enloop assigns a score to your plan which is displayed as you move through each step of your plan. This score is Enloops scoring of the projected success of your business, which is calculated as a score (1-1000) using Enloop's proprietary algorithm. While I would not start or stop my business planning based on this score, it is a usefull tool as it may make you stop and revisit certain parts of your plan that you might not have otherwise.

 

EPS Score

media_1313595537854.png

Creating A Business Plan Is Easy

After signing up, you will just follow the directions and add your personal and business information.

media_1313595697420.png

Once you finish answering some basic personal and business information, Enloop creates the first part of your business plan.

media_1313595832257.png

As you can see, the text is automatically created for you, entering all of the personal and business information that you provided in the previous step. At this point, you can edit or add your own text to further customize your plan. I told you it was easy!
Also note how your EPS score changes as you add details to your business plan.
As you move through each step, from products to pricing, Enloop will create each section of your business plan, allowing you to make changes and corrections along the way.

media_1313596088320.png

Once you are finished completeing all of the steps, Enloop will create the financial projections for your business plan.

media_1313596422593.png

At this stage, you can review your completed business plan and go back and revise your plan if things do not turn out as you originally projected

media_1313596530902.png
media_1313596580580.png

While all of the steps were not covered here, you should have no problem creating your business plan as it really couldn't get any easier than with Enloop. One of things I like best about creating your business plan online like this is that you get immediate feedback as you create your plan and can go back and edit detials of you plan as you create it.

Like I said earlier, there are lots of great services online that can help you create a business plan, though many of them are paid and many of the free ones are not of the highest quality. One thing I would also add is that when you finish your business plan is to have other people review your completed plan before you submit it to a financial institution to obtain funding. Ask family, friends and more importantly, someone who has experience reviewing business plans to look it over and to provide some feedback. The more people who read your business plan, the more questions that may arise, questions that you may not have thought of.

You can sign up for a free Enloop account here and start your journey to a successful and profitable business! If you do use Enloop to create your business plan, i'd love to hear from you about your experience. Good luck!