Feb
22
Posted on February 22, 2014
Filed Under (General Business, Marketing, Networking) by jennifer

crowdsourcing-cartoonAh, the wisdom of the crowd. It can help companies (by attracting new customers) — and it can also hurt them (those pesky negative reviews on sites like Yelp). So how can your small business harness the power of the crowd for good? Dozens of business owners and marketing experts offered the following top seven suggestions for how to effectively use crowdsourcing — to both attract new customers and keep existing customers coming back.

1. Use the crowd to expand your graphic and web design pool/options.

2. Crowdsource your marketing/advertising photography.

3. Crowdsource new product development.

4. Tap the crowd to speed up application development.

5. Use crowdsourcing to test products (for bugs, functionality or simply crowd appeal).

6. Use crowdsourcing to foster innovation + build community.

7. Consider crowdsourcing as a form of customer outreach.

For a complete explanation of each tip and resources, read my article “7 Ways Crowdsouring Can Boost Your Brand and Customer Loyalty.”

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Jun
11
Posted on June 11, 2013
Filed Under (Advice, Finance, General Business) by jennifer

The following is a guest post from Financial Journalist Doreen Oppenheimer.

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Choosing which credit card to use for your small business can be a difficult decision for entrepreneurs. While there are no shortage of credit card options, you want to choose the one (or possibly two) that best suits your particularly needs or desires be it low interest rates, a cash-back program or frequent flyer miles or reward points, no annual card fees, or discounts on gas and/or office furniture.

To help make the decision process a little bit easier, here are four small business credit cards that can help you save money and earn points.

American Express Plum Card

Many of the AMEX small business credit cards are perfect for startups. The American Express Plum Card offers cardholders flexible payment options and offers rewards for paying early. For every statement paid early, cardholders earn a 1.5 percent discount off the next billing statement, which could equal big money. For instance, if your business charged $100,000 for the month, you would receive a $1,500 discount on the next statement. Talk about the great news for small businesses! With the Plum Card, you can also opt to take up to 60 days to pay without interest. The annual fee is waived for the first year; however after that it’s $250 annually.

Capital One Venture Card

The Capital One Venture Card is great if you are looking for a card offering rewards, including travel. There’s no annual fee during the first year — and the fee is only $59 each year after. If you spend at least $1,000 during the first three months of obtaining your card, you’ll receive a $100 bonus (or possibly 10,000 or more rewards points, depending on the offer). Among the benefits of using the Venture card is the Purchase Eraser tool, which allows you to use points to reimburse yourself for travel-related expenses. You can also use your rewards points to purchase gift cards (perfect for end-of-year gifts to employees) or merchandise.

Chase Sapphire Preferred

The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card offers new costumers a great incentive to join. During the first three months if you rack up at least $3,000, you’ll be rewarded 40,000 bonus points, which are redeemable for $500 in travel rewards or a $400 statement credit. And the perks don’t end there. Benefits include: two points per dollar on travel and dining purchases, one point per dollar on all other purchases, and a 20 percent discount on travel purchases when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals, and cruises — great perks for those who frequently travel for business. Also, during the first year, there’s no annual fee (though after that the annual fee is $95.)

SimplyCash Business Card from American Express

If you love cash incentives, then the American Express SimplyCash Business Card may be the right option for you. During the first year, there’s zero APR on all purchases and no annual membership fee. Cardholders will receive 5 percent cash back on all office supplies as well as mobile purchases, 3 percent back on all gasoline charges, and 1 percent back on all other purchases. And if during your first year you spend at least $12,000, you will be rewarded with 1 percent back annually.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: After looking at various credit cards for my new online retail business, Prepster Pineapple, I went with the Merrill Rewards for Business VISA Signature Card. Primarily, I chose this card because I am a Merrill Lynch customer and Merrill made it easy for me. The benefits: the card has no annual fee, allows me to earn rewards, offers 24/7 concierge service (handy when on the road), and I can order additional cards for employees. Definitely a card to consider if you are a Bank of America or Merrill Lynch Customer.    — Jennifer L. Schiff

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Jan
22
Posted on January 22, 2013
Filed Under (General Business) by jennifer

The following was written by guest poster Kristen Gramigna, Chief Marketing Officer, BluePay.

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Why should small businesses accept credit cards? When starting a business, few things are more important than getting paid for your products or services. But how do you accept that payment? Your type of business most likely dictates how customers or clients pay you, but not everyone uses the same method to pay for his or her purchases. Consequently, you need to decide which methods you offer, not only to serve customers and clients best, but also to address your needs as well.

Credit card payments are accepted by many businesses, but why accept credit cards, especially when starting a new business? Initially, credit card processing can seem overwhelming – obtaining merchant status to handle transaction fees and purchasing equipment and supplies may seem like a deterrent to accepting credit cards, especially when these eat into your bottom line. But do they really? Despite the initial investment, there are many great reasons for new or small business owners to accept credit card payment.

Here are some of the important ones:

Spontaneity

There is no doubt about it – even when buyers have a list or a specific product or service in mind, they often buy something additional. You need to be prepared for those impulsive buys, especially when the price is more than the cash in their wallets or available in their debit account. Credit cards can help make this a reality.

Choices

Offering payment method choices gives your customers something else – convenience. They can use the cash they have on hand, or they can use their credit card to make that purchase. You don’t want to lose a sale due to limited payment offerings.

Flexibility

Credit cards also offer flexibility – by paying with a credit card, customers or clients can pay it off when they want, or when they can, rather than needing the money available immediately.

Reduced Risk

Cash can be miscounted or stolen, checks can bounce, and debit cards can limit the size and amount of a purchase. On the other hand, accepting a credit card lets you know immediately if the client has sufficient funds or financing to back up the sale. If issues do occur, you can resolve them through merchant services.

A new or small business owner has many decisions to make, and many of them point towards profitability. Sometimes, those decisions have a startup cost, but they are worth it in the long run. So, why accept credit cards as a payment method? Because credit cards offer customers or clients flexibility and convenience, and give you peace of mind about receiving your payment – a win-win for all.

Kristen Graminga, who has more than 15 years of experience in the bankcard industry in direct sales, sales management, and marketing, is Chief Marketing Officer for BluePay, providers of credit card processing for businesses.

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Jul
24
Posted on July 24, 2012
Filed Under (Advice, General Business) by jennifer

I love when I receive a thank-you note or gift from a happy client or vendor. And I know I am not alone.

Indeed, a while back when I asked small business owners how they encourage customer loyalty and get customers to continue to purchase from them, among the top responses I received was “I send them thank-you notes” and “I offer them a 20 percent discount or gift for making another purchase or referring a friend.”

So when I started up my e-tail business, Prepster Pineapple Clothing & Accessories, I created custom Prepster Pineapple note cards, to thank each customer who ordered a shirt. (I also plan to offer discounts on future purchases and for referrals.)

And while thanking your customers is a great way to engender loyalty, I believe it’s also important to thank your vendors and partners, the businesses (many of them small businesses) who help make your business possible. So…

Thank you to Enterline Design for the outstanding logo and design work.

Thank you to Shoreline for doing such a great job with the embroidery on my Prepster Pineapple polo shirts and for the excellent screen work on my Prepster Pineapple t-shirts.

Thank you to Custom Couture Label for weaving my Prepster Pineapple private labels. You did a beautiful job.

Thank you to Universal Tag for creating the best-looking (and possibly only) die-cut pineapple hang tag I’ve ever seen.

Thank you to BigCommerce for your terrific (and easy to use) shopping cart software.

And thank you to BC Mod Squad for designing and coding the Prepster Pineapple ecommerce site. You guys rock!

So, have you thanked your customers and vendors today? If not, take a minute to do so.

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Mar
28
Posted on March 28, 2012
Filed Under (General Business, Marketing, Social Media) by jennifer

If you run a business that has a strong visual bent — e.g., a clothing or furniture store, a photography studio, a catering business or restaurant — Pinterest is a great, easy, and inexpensive way to find new customers and generate sales. Indeed, think of Pinterest as your online catalog, where people can not only view your merchandise — but “like” it, share it with their friends, and click to purchase it.

To find out how specifically Pinterest can help small businesses (and really visual businesses of any size), I interviewed dozens of Pinterest pros. Following are their top 12 tips for using Pinterest for business.

1. Get invited — either by asking someone you know who is on Pinterest to invite you or by requesting an invitation to join Pinterest directly from the site.

2. Get pinned — by adding “Pin It” and “Follow Me on Pinterest” buttons (available via the Pinterest Goodies page) to your product pages.

3. Create pin boards that are geared to your customers — that speak to their lifestyle and interests, not just your products.

4. Categorize your boards — using titles that are easy to find. For example, if you sell items for brides-to-be, make sure you have a board titled Weddings, or something similar.

5. Tell a story — make sure each board has a unique theme.

6. Create content just for Pinterest — instead of adding images you already posted on Facebook.

7. Make sure the images you post are “Pinteresting” — meaning well photographed and visually appealing. Poorly lit or uninteresting images don’t get “like”s and repinned.

8. Include a URL and a description with each pin — and don’t be afraid to list the price. Make it as easy as possible for people who like your product to buy it.

9. Follow others — and “like” and repin those images that fit in with your brand or image.

10. Invite your coworkers, friends, and family to Pinterest — and encourage them to repin and “like” your pins.

11. Time your pins for when your customers will be on Pinterest — just after the kids go off to school, lunchtime, just before work ends, and before bedtime are typically peak times for Pinterest’s mostly female audience. Though if you have customers in multiple time zones, timing can be tricky. So experiment and see which times yield the most repins and likes.

12. Find out who’s pinning your products (or images) — by typing “http://pinterest.com/source/WEBSITEURL” (inserting the URL of your website instead of “WEBSITEURL”).

For additional information on how to use Pinterest for business, read my article, “14 Tips for How to use Pinterest for Business.”

Have a Pinterest tip I didn’t include here? Please leave it as a Comment.

Happy pinning!

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Mar
05
Posted on March 5, 2012
Filed Under (General Business, Social Media) by jennifer

For those of you suffering from social media marketing overload, the mere thought of having to consider yet another social media tool — in this case Google+ — no doubt makes your eyes roll. But with over 100 million users (many of whom are your existing and prospective customers and partners), and growing, and some seriously helpful business tools, Google+ should not be ignored. Indeed, Google+ Your Business is more than a social media marketing tool. It’s an online collaboration tool (Google Apps anyone?), an SEO tool, an analytics tool — and did I mention it’s free?

Following are nine ways Google+ can help your small business.

1. Improves your search engine ranking.

2. A plus for collaboration.

3. Video chat with customers, colleagues and media — for free.

4. Get your message to the right audience with just a click.

5. Free focus groups.

6. Good for B2B marketing.

7. A potentially powerful PR tool.

8. Can help promote brand awareness.

9. Another way to advertise promotions.

For more details on the above, as well as additional information about Google+ for business, read my article, “9 Ways Google+ Can Help Your Business.”

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Dec
27
Posted on December 27, 2011
Filed Under (Advice, General Business, Marketing, Social Media) by jennifer

These 11 inexpensive yet highly effective marketing tools are the perfect way for your small business to ring in the New Year — and ring up increase sales.

[To learn more about each marketing tool, read my latest article, “Small Business Holiday Wish List: 11 Marketing Tools and Services” on SmallBusinessComputing.com.]

  • An SEO strategy
  • A video camera — with a good light sensor and microphone
  • A YouTube channel — dedicated to your business
  • A mobile website
  • A business Facebook page
  • A Google Places page
  • A LinkedIn profile and company page (especially for B2Bs)
  • A wiki for online collaboration
  • A business blog
  • A free app
  • Online scheduling software (such as Schedulicity or Appointment Plus)

Have another must-have marketing tool for small business owners that you’d like to recommend? Please leave a comment.

Wishing everyone a prosperous New Year!

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Nov
29
Posted on November 29, 2011
Filed Under (Advice, General Business) by jennifer

* Guest post from Ashyia Hill of CreditDonkey *

For many aspiring entrepreneurs, who thought running their own business would be fun, having to manage a budget often comes as a rude awakening. But balancing books and making ends meet are two very real concerns that every small business owner needs to contend with — and many simply fold under the pressure. Many see a budget as a fixed target that needs to be met no matter what. From this misconception stems many problems that small business owners face: from a lack of funding, to getting too hung up on unnecessary spending, or simply going overboard with the expenses. But with some careful planning and help, managing a budget can be quite… manageable.

Following are 10 tips on how to rein in your cash and stay within budget.

  • Don’t think of a budget as set in stone. In its essence, a budget is simply a way for you to keep track of how you’re spending money. It’s unthinkable to let a huge order pass you by just because you have limited capacity and expansion is not permitted by this year’s budget. You can’t plan for events like these and an inflexible budget can cripple your decision-making process. There is a fine line that separates a spending restraint from a business constraint. A budget is supposed to be the former and never the latter.
  • Don’t let last year’s figures be your sole guide. A better guide for drafting a budget would be your business plan. Your short- and long-term goals should dictate the funds that you will need. Your budget should yield to your goals and not the other way around. The opportunities that open up to you now are never the same as last year. So why allot for the same potential expenses?
  • Be transparent, especially with budget cuts. Nothing saps employee morale more than finding out that your funding is going to be less next year. If times are tough and you can’t avoid making cuts, at least keep everybody informed. Make it clear to everyone involved why the cut was necessary and where the money will be diverted. If the reason is acceptable, and if it’s for the greater good of the company, most employees will accept it.
  • Get input from others. It’s not a good idea for a single person to set a company’s budget alone. Gather representatives from every division and let them plead their cases. This way, you draft the budget utilizing different perspectives. Even if you only have a handful of employees, a budget meeting is always in order. Also, don’t be afraid to consult with other small business owners in your industry who have been in business longer than you have.
  • Get everybody on the same page. How can your cost-cutting methods work when nobody’s doing them? Plans to cut utilities spending, for example, have to be made clear to everybody. You have explain why turning the air conditioning off a lot earlier or keeping the thermostat at a certain level is necessary. Small sacrifices to get through tough times are made clearer when employees are made to see the greater scheme of things.
  • Be familiar with your lifelines and know when to use them. A businessman can never fully get away from debt. But in the world of business, debt is not always a bad thing. Take your credit card, for example. Though always keep an eye on interest rates — and find a card with a low one. Even the most careful planning can sometimes go awry and some financial obligations can creep up on you. By having a few contingencies on hand, you can preserve the working relationships you built with suppliers and avert potential crises.
  • Know when to outsource. Many support services are better off outsourced. Even big companies have foregone maintaining a dedicated courier and messenger division in favor of just getting logistics services from UPS or FedEx. The reasoning behind such decisions is that you will never match the efficiency and level of expertise of companies dedicated to specific services. Also, you waste limited resources when you insist on doing something that doesn’t contribute to the bottom line in-house. You save – and make – more money when you get support services out of the way and concentrate on your core business.
  • Keep in mind that a budget is also flexible with regards to time. You can stretch out limited funds by getting into a credit agreement with your suppliers. This allows you to take in goods and materials and start profiting from them even without cash on hand. A budget will serve as your guide so that you can time cash coming in with debts that are getting close to their due dates. The ability to juggle funds is a requirement for all successful businessmen. Budgeting allows you to perfect this skill and use it to your advantage.
  • Make your spending leaner and more streamlined with the help of last year’s budget. Through hindsight, you can prune unnecessary expenses or those that turned out to be duds.
  • Keep business expenses and household expenses separate. You may want to pump money into your business for expansion, but the mortgage is calling for your attention. Nobody said that you have to spend your own money. The U.S. Small Business Administration acknowledges the economic contribution of the more than five million firms that employ less than 20 people. The government offers many loans with different terms suited to every need. Learn what applies to you and get some help in expanding your budget.

Budgeting is a necessary business exercise. Trying to get around it will only net you hardships and more confusion. Instead of avoiding the issue, gain some experience and have your budget work for you. Learn from your mistakes and adjust accordingly. Before you know it, you already have complete control over your expenses. All it takes is a little practice.

Ashyia Hill helps small business owners find the best business credit cards at CreditDonkey, a comparison website.

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Oct
24
Posted on October 24, 2011

Banner ads and print ads can be expensive. And they are not necessarily the best way to advertise your small or mid-size business. So to find how to get the greatest return on your advertising dollar, I asked small business owners to share their tips. Following are the top 10 results from my survey — 10 great, inexpensive ways for small and mid-sized business owners (SMBs) to advertise on a tight budget.

1. Invest in Google AdWords
2. Try Facebook Ads
3. Look into StumbleUpon Paid Discovery
4. Publish articles online
5. Donate products or volunteer services to a worthy cause
6. Cultivate bloggers
7. Claim local listings on Google Places, Yahoo Local and Bing Local
8. Use community sites and local directories
9. Link up with LinkedIn Ads
10. Distribute flyers

For additional, detailed information about each SMB advertising tip, read my article for Small Business Computing titled “10 Inexpensive Ways to Advertise Your Small Business.”

Have an additional advertising tip you’d like to share with small business owners? Please leave a comment.

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Sep
22
Posted on September 22, 2011
Filed Under (CRM, General Business) by jennifer

When it comes to software that can help track and manage customer queries that come in via phone, email, web forms, and social media sites (Facebook and Twitter), small and mid-sized businesses have many good choices. And while not every solution may be the best or right one for your business, in a recent informal survey of business managers and IT professionals, Zendesk, Kayako, Assistly, UserVoice, Zoho Support and Freshdesk all received top marks. To find out which one is right for your customer support needs, check out my article, “Six Helpful Customer Support Software Solutions,” where I provide a summary of each tool’s top features, as well as a link to the company website, where you can see a demo and sign up for a free trial (and find out about pricing).

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