May
07

video_iconHaving a video that tells prospective customers about your products or services is now considered a must have for businesses of all sizes. But what if you are a small business with a small business marketing budget? Is it possible to create a video that looks like a million bucks for only a few thousand, or a few hundred, dollars?

The short answer is “yes” — as I learned from creating my first video, for my company Prepster Pineapple Clothing — if you follow these simple tips from video marketing experts.

10 Tips for Creating a Successful Business Video

1. Know who your target audience is.

2. Have a solid concept and script (before you start shooting).

3. Have a clear, simple message — and minimize (or cut) the corporate jargon.

4. Keep it short — typically under two minutes (though there are exceptions).

5. Film in a quiet place (preferably with professional-grade equipment) with good lighting — or hire someone who knows how to shoot a video.

6. Add music.

7. Include a call to action — and a link to your website or preferred landing page.

8. Brand your video with your logo.

9. Post your video to YouTube.

10. Share your video(s) on social media — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ — and with existing and prospective customers (via email newsletters).

For explanations of each tip, as well as additional tips, read my article “14 Tips for Creating Business Videos Customers Will Want to Watch.” For video marketing tips, check out my article “How to Make Video Marketing Work for Your Business.”

By the way, as one small business learned, your video doesn’t have to go viral to be successful. It just needs to get to the right people.

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Dec
04
Posted on December 4, 2013
Filed Under (Marketing, Social Media) by jennifer

twitter_logoWith over 232 million active users, Twitter can be a great way to get the word out about your small business, product, or service. So how can you turn 140 characters into marketing gold? I put that question to dozens of business owners and social media experts. Here are their top 14 tips on how to market your business on Twitter.

1. Optimize your Twitter bio. That means including a brief description of your business as well as a link to either your Home page or a key landing page.

2. Find out who the top influencers and experts are in your target area(s) and interact with them on a regular basis.

3. Get friends and colleagues involved. Have people you know follow you and vice versa — and encourage them to tweet about your business and re-tweet or favorite your tweets.

4. Tweet regularly — at least once a day.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask for some Twitter love. Ask followers to retweet, mention or favorite your tweets — or to share content with a fresh tweet.

6. Track mentions — and respond if appropriate.

7. Retweet.

8. Favorite tweets.

9. Follow trends/hashtags and try to work trending hashtags into your tweets (without going overboard).

10. Offer discounts or special deals to Twitter followers.

11. Use images and videos. Photos and videos have been shown to generate three or four times more clicks than regular tweets.

12. Use promoted tweets (if you can afford to).

13. Make sure you are consistent with your messaging across all social media channels.

14. Track your tweets — using Twitter analytics or by including a bitly or similar shortened link to track clicks.

For detailed information about each tip, read my article “14 Ways to Use Twitter to Market Your Business.”

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Nov
02
Posted on November 2, 2013
Filed Under (Social Media) by jennifer

social-media-iconsSocial media can be a powerful marketing tool. But used the wrong way, social media sites can have a negative impact on your small business — costing you goodwill and prospective customers. So how can you create a positive impression of your small business and/or your products on popular social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ — and avoid potentially costly social media blunders? To find out, I asked dozens of social media experts. Following are their top 15 picks for the most common social media mistakes small businesses (and businesses of all sizes) make and how to avoid them.

1. Not having a social media policy.

2. Treating all social media sites as if they are the same.

3. Not making the most of your social media bio.

4. Using social media as a megaphone.

5. Focusing on quantity of followers instead of quality.

6. Over-posting and posting inappropriate content.

7. Newsjacking.

8. Not monitoring social media for suggestions, complaints or questions regarding your business or products.

9. Deleting or ignoring negative comments — or responding in kind.

10. Not responding quickly, especially to complaints.

11. Posting too infrequently.

12. Sounding impersonal or automated.

13. Sending automated direct messages (DM) to all of your new Twitter followers.

14. Overusing hashtags.

15. Not including a measurable call-to-action in social media posts. [Speaking of which, check out my new ecommerce site, Prepster Pineapple Clothing! Our fab new Prepster Pineapple Yoga Pants are perfect for hanging out or working out in!]

To see a detailed explanation of each social media mistake, read my article titled “15 Big Social Media Mistakes Companies Make — and How to Avoid Them.”

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free_publicity_diagramAs a small business owner (I recently launched my first ecommerce business, Prepster Pineapple, a line of Hawaii-inspired cotton clothing), I know how important it is to get your name out there. I also know what it’s like to have a small marketing budget. However, as someone who has covered small business and ecommerce for years (for a number of publications) AND has worked in marketing and public relations (PR), I am here to tell you, it is possible to market or publicize your small business on a small budget.

Following are six inexpensive ways to publicize your small business.

1. Make sure the major search engines — Google, Bing, Yahoo — know about your website, so you will show up in organic searches. This should happen automatically, after your site has been up and running for a few days (or weeks). But if you want to make sure Google, say, will find you, you can ask Google to crawl your website. For additional information on this topic, check out this great post titled “Getting Listed & Ranked in Google, Yahoo and Bing” from 2 Create a Website.

2. Create a Facebook page for your business — and post on it regularly. A Facebook business page is a great way to publicize your business by directly engaging and interacting with your fans and prospective customers. Setting up a Facebook business page is simple. Just follow the instructions on Facebook’s “How to create a Facebook business page” page. (You can find the Prepster Pineapple Facebook page here.) In addition, many ecommerce platforms, such as the one I use, BigCommerce, make it easy for you to sell your products on your Facebook business page. And Facebook is free! You just need to invest some time adding new posts or photos that you think would be of interest to your Facebook fans and responding to comments.

3. Establish a Twitter handle for your small business. Not every small business needs or will benefit from having a Twitter presence, but it can be a real boon for small retailers who want to let people know about limited-edition items or sales or promotions and for food truck owners, to let customers when they will be in the neighborhood and where. (I have one friend who got a Twitter account just so he could keep track of his favorite food truck. And he is not alone.) Note: For those who already have a personal Twitter account, I highly recommend establishing a separate Twitter account dedicated to your business. Unless you run a bar, do you really want customers to know you went out and got drunk with the girls again last night and are so hungover you can hardly see straight? (While you may say, I would never do that! Trust me, it happens.)

4. Email people. Use email, either your business (or personal) email account or a service like Constant Contact, to tell your friends, relatives, and colleagues about your business, new products, or services. Just be careful to only email people when you actually have something to say — and don’t bombard their in-boxes with daily missives, unless they’ve signed up to receive daily emails on your website. (For tips on how to gain customers via email marketing, check out my recent article on the subject here.)

5. Put out press releases. Contrary to what some of you may think, press releases are still a great way to get the word out about your business. And there are many wire services (services that will host and broadcast your press release) that are targeted at small businesses, such as SBWire. I personally have been using PR Newswire’s Small Business PR service, as PR Newswire is well established and has a good reputation.  They also offered me a great deal: Membership was only $99 for the first year and press releases, distributed through PR Newswire’s WebRelease PLUS service for small businesses, are only $249 for the first 500 words — and they threw in the use one of their supplemental distribution lists, a $625 value, for free for my first press release.

6. Sign up to be a source on Help a Reporter. As a reporter, I use Help a Reporter, known as HARO (for Help a Reporter Out), all the time. And I have encountered dozens of small businesses and small business owners I would have never known about otherwise. (Thank you, Peter Shankman.) Prices range from free, for the basic service, to $19/month for Standard service (which includes a profile, keyword search, and text alerts — and is a lot less expensive than hiring a PR agency), to $149/month for the Premium package.

Have another suggestion regarding how entrepreneurs can inexpensively publicize their small business? Please leave me a comment.

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Feb
12
Posted on February 12, 2013
Filed Under (Marketing, Social Media) by jennifer

The following is a guest post by Emma-Julie Fox of Pitstop Media Inc., a Vancouver company that provides SEO services to businesses across North America.

*          *          *

Technically, marketing via Twitter is not difficult. You just need to compose an interesting 140-character (or less) tweet, include a link (to your website or a specific landing page), and a hashtag (#). Then, depending on how intriguing or exciting or relevant your post is, others will retweet your message or compose their own tweets with references to your original tweet — sending traffic to your website.

To help increase the odds of your Twitter messages, or tweets, getting retweeted and clicked on, follow these 10 simple Twitter marketing tips:

1.  Always say something interesting or post a question before any link. Links alone may be flagged by others as spam right away.

2. Shorten your links before posting them in your Tweet. There are free converters for this such as TinyURL and Bitly.com.

3. Use hashtags (#) wisely. Hashtags are instrumental for users to find other people who share their interests. The trick is to use a trending hashtag so that if ever somebody does a hashtag search, your post will also make it in the results. Or you can create a new hashtag and market it to become a trending topic.

4. Don’t sound like an ad by just talking up your business, product, or service. Rather, talk about trends or topics that your prospective customers (or followers) are interested in.

5. Use keywords that relate to your industry.

6. Reply to and retweet tweets from your followers and people you follow on a regular basis.

7. Promote others by retweeting and encouraging others to follow them.

8. Space out your tweets over the course of the day instead of posting them all at once.

9. If you have someone tweeting for you, make sure that person is very familiar with your business and industry as well as with Twitter.

10. Use tools and software that will help you monitor your Twitter marketing campaign, such as:
• TwitterFox – Shows Twitter feeds on a pop-up menu right from your Firefox web browser.
• Commun.it – Monitors the activities of your contacts, shows the trends (hashtags, topics, retweets, etc.) in your Twitter community, and suggests friends to follow and unfollow.
• Bottlenose – An elaborate tool that analyzes the activities of your followers, showing you recent posts, shared links, and trending topics, among others.
• Bufferapp – A scheduled-posting tool that posts your tweets on scheduled times. It also provides data about your followers, such as tweets, retweets, links shared, etc.
• Ping.fm – Lets you update not just Twitter but also Facebook, Tumblr, and LinkedIn from the same platform, at the same time.

You can also do Twitter marketing traditionally by paying for Promoted Tweets or Trends.

Good luck!

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Oct
22
Posted on October 22, 2012
Filed Under (Marketing, Social Media) by jennifer

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a month-long annual event to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer research. To support this worthy cause, many small businesses, in particular women-owned small businesses, sell pink products and donate a portion of the proceeds to charities and nonprofit organizations that support breast cancer research, breast cancer education, and providing mammograms to those women who may not otherwise be able to afford them.

And now that I am a small business owner, I am having my business, Prepster Pineapple Clothing, do its part. So for every pink Prepster Pineapple T-Shirt we sell between now and October 31st, we are going to donate $5 to breast cancer research — which I will personally match.

Not interested in buying a pink Prepster Pineapple t-shirt right no? No worries. But if you can afford to, please consider making a donation to one of the many excellent charities or organizations supporting breast cancer (and other types of cancer) research.
Know of other small businesses doing special promotions in honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness month? Feel free to leave their name and URL in the Comments section.

Note: Shirts can only be sold and shipped to addresses within the 50 United States — and have flat rate shipping of $6.

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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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Feb
06
Posted on February 6, 2012
Filed Under (Advice, Marketing, Social Media) by jennifer

While there are many benefits to using social media, having a Facebook page, a Twitter feed, and/or a Google+ account and regularly posting to them does not guarantee your small business social media success — that is, more customers and sales. You want to know the real secret to Facebook and Twitter success? Absorb these 6 Inconvenient Truths About Social Media.

1. It helps if you are famous or well-known outside of Facebook or Twitter. The reason celebrities, athletes, successful entrepreneurs/business owners and venture capitalists have so many Facebook and Twitter followers? It’s not because they’re Facebook posts or tweets are so brilliant or informative. It’s because the people whose names are on the Facebook and/or Twitter account are famous, and people (both famous and not famous) love to attach themselves to famous people. So unless you are a star in your industry, don’t expect people to follow you as if you were one, even if your Facebook posts and/or tweets are stellar.

2. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Not famous or well-known outside your family and circle of friends? If you have a famous or well-connected friend or family member — people Malcom Gladwell referred to as Connectors (well-connected people) and Salesmen (people who are good at influencing buying decisions and opinions) in his book The Tipping Point — that’s almost as good. Just make sure these Connectors and/or Salesmen (or Saleswomen) believe in your brand and are comfortable posting about your products or service on Facebook and Twitter. You don’t want them sounding like paid endorsers.

3. It’s not quantity but quality, though quantity doesn’t hurt. Let’s face it, we’re all impressed (at least most of us) when we see someone with lots of Facebook and/or Twitter followers. But as many small business owners (larger ones too) will tell you, it’s not the number of people following you, it’s the quality. That is, it’s better to have 500 Twitter followers who believe in your brand, have lots of connections, and retweet posts they like than 10,000 followers who each average 100 connections, never retweet, and are unlikely to buy from you. So instead of focusing on the number of Facebook and Twitter followers you have or would like to have, focus on getting the kind of Facebook and Twitter followers you’d like to have, by following them and thoughtfully commenting on their posts.

4. Delegating only goes so far. While it’s perfectly okay to hire someone to regularly update your Facebook page and post on Twitter, especially if they love your business or products or service, you should be monitoring what is being said about your business on social media — and making sure whomever is managing your social media presence is doing a good job and accurately portraying your business. Also, try to post yourself, as much as possible. People like hearing from the boss.

5. It’s not what’s in it for you; it’s what’s in it for them (i.e., your customers). Instead of telling customers how great your business or your products are, provide information that will pique their interest — make them think or laugh or reply (to a question). For example, if you own a bakery, maybe ask “Which pie should we feature this Friday: Key lime, Boston cream, or cherry? The pie with the most votes wins!” And be sure to let people know which pie was chosen. Similarly, if you are on Foursquare, think about offering people who voted for the winning pie a free or discounted slice. Another good social media tactic: offer Facebook or Twitter-only discount codes or promotions.

6. Be prepared for a lot of criticism and vitriol. When you use Facebook and Twitter for business, be prepared to hear a lot of negative things — and have a strategy for dealing with complaints. Facebook and Twitter can be wonderful customer relationship management (CRM) tools, but you have to know how to use them — and not ignore or rebuke those customers with negative things to say. Instead, turn negative comments or complaints into opportunities, using Facebook and Twitter to find out what’s wrong and make it right.

Have additional tips for how small business owners can successfully use social media? Please leave a comment.

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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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