Nov
30
Posted on November 30, 2006
Filed Under (Advice) by jennifer

As a small business owner, I am well aware of the importance of networking and garnering good word of mouth. In fact, at least 50 percent of my business has come through word of mouth and networking. That is no small feat considering I am also an introvert who doesn’t like to feel she is pestering people (except maybe my spouse and daughter), even though I know that you have to be persistent to get work. So I am ALWAYS on the lookout for tips, tricks, and tools to help me make a connection, break the ice, keep a conversation going, make a good impression, and get work. 

Herewith, my three top tips for making connections, extending your network, and generating positive word of mouth (or buzz).

TIP #1: Read my article about the importance of word-of-mouth marketing and professional networking.  I had suggested the article to my editor after being invited to join a professional networking site, LinkedIn, because I was curious to know how the Internet could be — and was being — used to connect people professionally and for word of mouth.

While people connecting online is no longer new or unusual, and who hasn’t checked out the user reviews on Amazon or TripAdvisor before buying a product or going on a trip? I wanted to know if these sites actually delivered — that is, did people really link up on LinkedIn or make buying decisions using sites like Judy’s Book

The answer is “yes, but.” Yes, I met several people who had made valuable connections on LinkedIn. But I also have met or spoken with lots of people who hadn’t. Similarly, I have met or spoken with lots of people who rely heavily on online word-of-mouth-type reviews (both positive and negative) to make their buying decisions as well as people who only trust the opinions of close friends and family members.

The bottom line: when it comes to networking and word-of-mouth marketing, you have to use every tool available: email, the Internet, friends, relatives, colleagues, associations — anyone and everyone, online and offline, who can give you help, advice, connections, work. But remember, networking and word of mouth is a two-way street: you will get only as good as you give.

TIP #2: Consult the experts — either people you know who you regard as expert networkers or people who have written on the subject.

While on Thanksgiving holiday out West, I read The Art of Friendship: 70 simple rules for making meaningful connections by Roger Horchow (the founder of The Horchow Collection and a former Broadway producer) and his daughter, Sally Horchow (an L.A.-based writer). What a great little book! The Horchows’ simple rules — peppered with wonderful anecdotes — contain invaluable tips for connecting, which is really what networking is.

Although Roger Horchow, who I had first read about in Malcolm Gladwell’s thought-provoking book, The Tipping Point (which is another excellent read), in which he was described as a “connector,” someone “with a special gift for bringing the world together,” cautions not to confuse business with pleasure, I found his advice for making meaningful connections very enlightening.

TIP #3: If you are not actively networking every day, just reaching out to one or two people via email or over the phone, start now! Your business depends on it!

As always, if you have any tips, tricks, or resources you would like to share, send me a comment and I will post it online.

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Nov
15
Posted on November 15, 2006
Filed Under (General) by jennifer

I am not so sure I believe it’s better to give than receive, except in the case of charity. Let’s face it, who doesn’t like a little something around the holidays, especially from a colleague, a customer, or a business partner you’ve gone out of your way to help the past year?  For many years now, my spouse and I have either given clients and/or colleagues gifts, made charitable donations in their name, or taken them out for a meal to thank them for their efforts. It’s a nice touch that goes a long way.

So in the interest of giving, I wanted to share with you some special holiday gift ideas I have come across over the years that are sure to please even the most discerning colleague, boss, business partner, or client.

Zingerman’s — Two words: gingerbread coffeecake. I love my husband, but I really love a good gingerbread cake, and I have heard wondrous tales about Zingerman’s gingerbread. (I may even have to buy one for myself this year.) When we lived in Chicago, friends from the Midwest would rave about Zingerman’s. And now you can order their delectable gourmet treats online. This is a haute delicatessen and bakery with gourmet items and gifts you simply cannot find anywhere else. Sure, you may pay a bit more, but your clients and colleagues will thank you — and applaud your good taste.

D’Artagnan — If a client or someone you work with likes foie gras, duck, or other game, this is the place for you. I once received a gift package from D’Artagnan and happily dined on the finest duck breast for weeks. C’est magnifique!

Fairytale Brownies — Who doesn’t love brownies? This Arizona company was recently named AZ Small Business Person of the Year and turns out some of the yummiest brownies I have ever had the pleasure to eat.

iGourmet.comFounded in 1997, igourmet.com is America’s leading online gourmet food and gift retailer. Offering over 600 specialty cheeses, thousands of fine foods, and a complete line of exquisite gift baskets, each accompanied by detailed information and useful serving suggestions, igourmet.com is popular with connoisseurs across America. Forbes also named igourmet.com the best gourmet food website in 2003, 2004, and 2005.

Wine Country Gift Baskets — Distinctive personal and corporate gifts. (I love their catalog.)

Beacon Hill Baskets — “Elegant gifts for any occasion.” I interviewed the owner, Anne-Marie Kennedy, a while back and was really impressed with her and her business. Her baskets of gourmet delights (and other things) are beautiful, creative, and delicious.  The business is located in the Boston area, so if you have clients in the Northeast, this is a particularly good (and quick) option.

Another wonderful gift idea is to give money to a favorite charity of yours or a client’s in that person’s name.

Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving and looking forward to a wonderful holiday season…

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Nov
08
Posted on November 8, 2006
Filed Under (Advice) by jennifer

For small business owners and sole proprietors with too much to do, hiring a virtual assistant (or VA) can be one of the best business decisions you make.

Before I researched and wrote my article, I could have hired a VA!, which is now live at SmallBusinessComputing.com, I (like many others) thought VAs were pretty much just outsourced administrative assistants (what we used to call “secretaries”). Boy, was I wrong.

While many virtual assistants do offer administrative assistance to harried business owners, VAs are small business owners or sole proprietors (I like the term “solopreneur”) who offer other small and solo business owners a wealth of talents and skills. There are VAs who are marketing and/or communication experts; VAs who specialize in human resources; VAs who can help you with Web design, development and maintenance; VAs who can manage your bookkeeping with QuickBooks or other such software; as well as VAs who handle correspondence, scheduling and billing.

If you need something done that can be done virtually, there’s a virtual assistant out there who can do it — and do it for much less than it would cost you to hire a full-time person in house.

I strongly encourage you to read I could have hired a VA! and to visit the International Virtual Assistants Association and AssistU to learn about VAs and how they can help you.

In other news… I just read a great article called “Happy Yahoolidays” on SmallBusinessComputing.com on how to create an effective search engine optimization campaign — just in time for the holiday e-commerce rush. It’s a quick read filled with tips on how you can drive more traffic to your website.

And another thing… I just signed off on the new Schiff & Schiff Communications logo and am eagerly awaiting my new website design. So far, I am pleased with the process, though I had to fork over an additional $250 for a separate design for my sub pages (not made clear from my initial conversations). Still, the overall quote is much lower than I would have had to pay elsewhere, and the customer service has been quite good. Stay tuned… 

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Nov
01

Small business owners often ask me if I know of any good, inexpensive printers that do short or medium runs, who you can email or FTP files to. While I know of several, until recently I couldn’t vouch for any one of them personally. (My clients typically handle printing themselves.) However my spouse, Kenny, who is the chief marketing and technology officer for a small but growing technology business and frequently needs to print all sorts of materials in various quantities, has a good deal of experience in this area. So I asked him his picks.

Here is who Kenny recommends. (NOTE: Comments are Kenny’s not mine.)

PsPrint — excellent online features for ordering and management of work in progress; also very good prices, if you use their sizes and options.

PrintingForLess — very customer service oriented.
 
VistaPrint — excellent and inexpensive. I’ve used them for letterhead and also business cards.

I’ve been using Copyprint for marketing slicks (short runs). Also inexpensive and great quality.

Back to me… You can also check out — SHAMELESS PLUG — Rainbow Press, which is run by my boss at Jupitermedia/JupiterWeb and his wife.

And if any of you have any other printers you would like me to add to the list, let me know!  (Just post a comment, so others can benefit immediately.)

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