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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There are dozens of web-based tools and services that claim to drive online traffic to local retail and service businesses. But some of them, such as daily sites like Groupon and LivingSocial, actually wind up costing businesses money — and don’t deliver sustained traffic.

So how does a small retail or service business decide which web-to-local service can best serve their business needs and deliver the right kind of customers, the kind who actually buy stuff and tells their friends about you? First you need to formulate a web-to-local strategy.

Start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Is my main goal to acquire new customers or to retain existing customers? (Ideally, you want to do both, but which is more important right now?)
  • Who is my target customer — and which sites or services do they use?
  • What’s the cost (both from a time and money perspective)? Do I have to spend a lot of time on this? Is it a laborious process?
  • What are the benefits of using a particular service? Will using it put me in front of 100, 1,000, or tens of thousands of nearby, potential customers? And are these customers going to be one-time bargain hunters or the kind of people who will become loyal brand advocates?

Next, ask fellow small business owners which web-to-local services and/or tools they have had the most success with.

Then do some research — including reading my latest article, “3 Online Tools to Drive Traffic to Your Local Business.”

Finally, try a few no- or low-cost web-to-local services, such as foursquare, Milo, and Yelp, out for yourself.

“Probably the best way to look at it is as a simple cost-benefit analysis,” said Jack Abraham, the founder of Milo and director of Local for eBay.

And remember, the best way to attract customers is to have a multi-pronged online marketing strategy, which means having an attractive, user-friendly, search-engine-optimized (SEO) website with great content; being active on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter; and using tools such as foursquare, Milo, and Yelp.

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Posted on January 20, 2011
Filed Under (Email Marketing, Social Media) by jennifer

2010 may have been the Year of Social Media Marketing. But email marketing is still alive and well. And, experts say, if you want to truly optimize your small business marketing, you need to use both email marketing and social media. Indeed, one of the biggest small business marketing trends predicted for 2011 is the integration of email marketing with social media.

What other email marketing trends and tips will be hot in 2011? To find the answer, I spoke with leading email marketers Constant Contact and Campaigner. Here’s the short version of what they had to say.

1. Integrate your email marketing with your social media campaigns.

2. Make your email marketing campaigns mobile.

3. Engage readers — instead of having a one-way conversation.

4. Keep the content brief and to the point.

5. Don’t go overboard on images or design.

6. Tie campaigns to seasonal events or down times.

7. Track email campaigns to determine what’s working and what’s not.

To learn more, including what Campaigner and Constant Contact are advising their customers to do to improve open and click through rates, go to my article, “Top 7 Email Marketing Trends & Tips for 2011” on SmallBusinessComputing.com.

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Posted on December 17, 2010
Filed Under (Advice, CRM, General Business, Marketing, Social Media) by jennifer

More and more businesses of all sizes are using social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter and Foursquare, as a way to better engage customers and increase sales. However, just having a Facebook page or a Twitter account is no guarantee of success. So to find out how small businesses (and larger ones) can successfully use social media to enhance their customer relationship management (CRM) and improve sales, I spoke with two social media CRM (or social CRM) experts, Pamela O’Hara, the co-founder and president of BatchBlue, the maker of BatchBook social CRM software, and Margaret Donnelly, the vice president of marketing and business development at JitterJam Social CRM.

Below is a truncated version of O’Hara and Donnelly’s top 10 ways small business owners can use social media to improve CRM and generate more sales. You can find the expanded version of the list in my article for eCRM Guide“Ten Ways Social Media Is Changing Sales and CRM.”

Top 10 Ways to Use Social Media to Improve CRM and Generate More Sales

1. Use information gathered from social media sites and your CRM system to help you target your marketing to key segments.

2. Monitor sites like Facebook and Twitter and Yelp to uncover potential customers and find out which customers are influencers.

3. Similarly, monitor leading social media sites, as well as forums that are pertinent to your business or industry, to learn what customers are saying about your brand and your products (for better or worse).

4. Think of your company blog and your Facebook page (as well as sites like TripAdvisor, if you are in the hospitality business) as customer service tools — especially for countering negative comments.

5. Think of your Facebook and Twitter followers as a free focus group, for trying out new product ideas.

6. Use social media sites and your company blog to build community — and seek out new opportunities.

7. Use sites like Foursquare, Facebook, and Twitter to offer friends, fans, and followers exclusive promotions and discounts.

8. Use social media sites, as well as blogs and forums your customers are likely to visit, to establish yourself as an expert people want to buy from.

9. Use your Facebook page, as well as photo sharing site Flickr, to let customers get to know the people behind your business, as well as other customers. (People tend to buy — and buy more from — businesses they feel they have a connection to or know.)

10. Use YouTube to educate your customers, by posting helpful how-to videos about your product(s).

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More ecommerce businesses are using the crowd (i.e., their customers, Facebook fans and/or employees) to help them develop new products and build brand loyalty — and the strategy seems to be working, at least for some online businesses. But is crowdsourcing a viable marketing and/or product development strategy for every small business? And how do you successfully harness the power of the crowd? I spoke to ecommerce businesses OfficeDrop, SitStay.com, and Minted, all of whom had experimented with crowdsourcing, to find out.

Their advice? First and foremost, before you do any kind of crowdsourcing, you need to consider your audience [e.g., age, gender, how likely they are to use or participate in social media] and make the determination whether it’s going to help or hurt, said SitStay.com’s Chief Dog Spoiler, Kent Krueger.

For example, don’t just go out and randomly use Twitter or Facebook, cautioned Healy Jones, the head of marketing at OfficeDrop, because you can get a bunch of 22-year-old people who’ve never used your product before. Get people who are your target demographic, the people who will potentially be using your product.

It’s also wise to limit the number of choices you make available to consumers. There is this issue of paradox of choice, where if you show somebody a thousand items … that it might be too daunting, said Minted founder Mariam Naficy. And you risk overwhelming or alienating the very people you are trying to attract.

To find out more great tips, as well as how and when to use the wisdom of the crowd, please read my article titled “Crowdsourcing as a Small Business Marketing Strategy,” which is featured on SmallBusinessComputing.com, a terrific publication for and about small businesses.

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These days, if you really want to know what your customers are thinking (and where they are shopping), you need to connect with them online, on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Indeed, in today’s social media-driven world, having a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a LinkedIn profile, and a blog where you can interact with customers and, more importantly, they can interact with you are an essential part of customer relationship management (CRM).

To help you get the most out of the leading social media tools, I asked business owners and social media experts to share their most successful tips for using social media to help improve CRM the top 10 of which appear below.

Use free tools like HootSuite or TweetDeck to monitor what customers are saying about you on Twitter. “I provide community management for 10 to 15 clients at the same time on a regular basis. [And] responding to my clients’ customers in a timely manner and getting good content out on a regular basis is critical to great customer service,” said Lisa Loeffler, Principal, Genuine Media. That’s why Loeffler uses HootSuite and TweetDeck, “to help manage all my clients in one place, so I can respond on the fly to their clients’ needs.”

Create Twitter lists. “I have found creating Twitter lists helps me keep my Twitter audience organized,” said Jillian Koeneman, the founder of Freshlime Marketing. “I can scan any particular list to get a pulse on what [people] are thinking or talking about and respond if appropriate.”

Store Twitter and blog URLs as well as important tweets and comments in your CRM system.

Use LinkedIn to ramp up your networking and find new prospects. Patrick O’Malley, a social media consultant who goes by the name (617) PATRICK, is a big fan of LinkedIn for networking and generating sales and claims that this specific LinkedIn tip resulted in over $150,000 in sales (over the course of six to eight deals) for one of his clients, a company that sells insurance to other companies: “If you are going to contact a new company, see if any of your [LinkedIn] contacts knows someone there.” The way to do this, he explained, is to log onto LinkedIn and click on ‘Advanced’ in the upper right-hand corner, then put in the name of the company, and just below it, select ‘Current.’ In the search results, you’ll see names for people in that company. If someone is a first-level connection, you know them. More importantly, if someone is a second-level connection, you have a common contact. (The person will be listed as a ‘shared connection.’) “You can now use your own sales techniques to use them as a reference, or use their name to get in the door,” said O’Malley.

Give your Facebook fans and Twitter followers exclusive discounts and notify them of any specials, promotions or sales. “We use social media to improve customer relationship management [by] offering a discount code when a potential customer becomes a Facebook Fan of Rosena Sammi Jewelry,” said Rosena Sammi of Rosena Sammi Jewelry. As a result, the company has attracted many new customers who tend to be very loyal. The James Store, a 64-year-old clothing boutique located in Granville, Ohio, similarly rewards Facebook fans with discount codes. Those Facebook discount codes in turn “drive new fans to our Facebook page, which in turn drives foot traffic to the store,” said Peter Morse, the James Store’s marketing director, who also uses Twitter to alert followers to sales and specials.

Engage your customers on Facebook and Twitter by asking them thought-provoking or funny questions. “One of the best ways that I have found to gain and retain [customers] is to ask fun or funny questions … on Facebook and Twitter,” said Paul Draper, a mentalist, anthropologist and speaker who runs the website www.mentalmysteries.com. Draper says that posting questions on Facebook and Twitter elicits more responses than a normal post does and “when [people] answer, your question and your page is seen on the pages and in the feeds of all of their friends.” Moreover, when people who aren’t yet fans or followers see how much fun you are, they are likely to become fans and are more inclined to do business with you. Draper cautions that you need to carefully gauge who your audience is, so you don’t offend people with your tone.

Use Facebook and Twitter as calling cards. Long-time customers and employees of Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth, Michigan, fondly recall how Wally Bronner, the founder, would spend hours on the sales floor personally greeting customers and chatting with them, especially during the busy Christmas season. Today, employees are keeping that tradition alive with the help of Facebook. “When I see a fan post [on our Facebook page] that he’s coming to Bronner’s, I often post an invitation for him to stop by our reception desk and ask for me so I can meet him,” said store spokeswoman Lori Libka. “That personal touch, that face-to-face, is so important in making your guests feel that they are part of your extended family and you are welcoming them home for a visit.”

Respond to your customers on Facebook, Twitter and/or your blog in a timely fashion, even if they haven’t directly asked you for help. “For example, if you are a clothing retailer and a customer of yours has commented about a stain [on a dress] on their Facebook page, offer a solution,” said Carolyn Goodwin, the president of and senior strategist at Cake Communications. “By acting as a friend and advisor more than a product or service provider, you’ll develop a more personal relationship [with your customers]” and engender trust and loyalty.

Use social media to help customers find your products. “My company, Cape Classics, is a New York-based importer of South African wine to the U.S.,” said Courtney Luick. “As we do not have a store locator on our website, we use Twitter and Facebook to inform customers where they can find specific wines, either at a restaurant or retail.” The Nauti-Dog Company, a three-year-old retail dog-apparel business that sells both direct and online, likewise uses Facebook and Twitter to alert fans, followers and friends to where they can find Nauti-Dog products as well as events, such as its dog walks and offers them free product when they use a code phrase.

Use social media to involve your customers in product decisions. Few things engender more brand loyalty than involving customers in product development decisions. So next time you are working on a new product or service or revamping an existing one, considering querying your Facebook and Twitter followers, as well as asking for suggestions and input on your blog, advised Scott Bradley, the founder of Rapid Results Marketing Group and an expert on social media. Then when the new product or service is released, “give them recognition for helping come up with it, as well as a discount [or other token of your appreciation],” said Bradley.

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Posted on November 3, 2009
Filed Under (Advice, Networking, Social Media) by jennifer

The difference between social media sites, sites such as Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn, and non-social media or Internet sites is that Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn allow — and encourage — users to start and actively engage in meaningful conversations. Yet too many people — even many so-called “social media experts” — are using these social media sites in anti-social ways.

Instead of participating in conversations — that is, commenting on people’s Facebook or blog posts or replying to comments left on their posts; replying to or retweeting people’s tweets on Twitter; or sharing their connections and recommendations on LinkedIn — these people see Facebook, and Twitter, and LinkedIn mainly (or purely) as ways to promote themselves and/or their business. In other words, instead of treating social media as the two-way street or superhighway it was intended to be, to facilitate or drive conversations (and relationships, both personal and professional), these anti-social networkers see sites like Twitter and LinkedIn, even Facebook, as a one-way path to their door.

But the purpose and beauty of social media, at least from a business perspective, is that it is a simple, inexpensive, yet incredibly powerful way to connect with existing and prospective customers (even partners, vendors, and suppliers), to engage them in conversation, find out their preferences and what they like and don’t like about your business, and build a relationship with them.

As survey after customer survey has shown, consumers like to buy from people — businesses — they feel they know and can trust. But if you are not holding up your side of the conversation, if you are unwilling or unable to engage with or respond to your customers on sites like Twitter and Facebook, even LinkedIn, even though you have a presence there, you are doing both your customers and your business a disservice.

Hey, social media is not for everyone, or for every business. And there is nothing wrong with deciding not to jump on the social media bandwagon, especially if you are uncomfortable sharing information or taking part in online conversations. But if you/your business has made a commitment to social media, that is, has a presence on Facebook and/or Twitter and/or LinkedIn, and you hope to benefit from it, don’t be a wallflower — or anti-social. Join the conversation. Respond to comments (both good and bad). And be sure to comment on other people’s posts or comments — and share the ones you think your network or customers might enjoy or benefit from.

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Posted on September 16, 2009
Filed Under (General Business, Social Media) by jennifer

If you or someone you know owns or manages a small or mid-sized (or even larger) business, my latest article — http://bit.ly/Ax4iZ — titled “How to Manage Your Business’s Online Reputation” (published on SmallBusinessComputing.com) is MUST reading.

The article features tips and advice from several social media-savvy small business owners, as well as great advice from a social media guru who works with small businesses.

Highlights include:

* tips on how much time you should be spending on Twitter, Facebook and social media in general

* who should be monitoring your business’s online reputation

* why it’s important to know what customers are saying about you

* how, when and where to respond when someone says something positive or negative about your business

* how monitoring your business’s online reputation can translate into sales

PLUS there are my

Top Ten Tips for Creating a Positive Impression with Social Media

  • Get to know your customers. Find out which sites your customers frequent and join the conversation. And don’t limit yourself to Facebook and Twitter. If you are in the retail business, look at sites like Yelp. Similarly, if you are in the hospitality business, monitor and respond to comments on TripAdvisor.
  • Sign up for Google Alerts. By subscribing to searches for our company name, we receive daily e-mails with links to pages containing our name, said Fernandez. We’ve been surprised with how rapidly we are informed about a mention of our company name – often within hours of the posting.
  • Watch and learn. I sat and watched Twitter for a couple of weeks before I ever started interacting, explained Seaman. Once I was comfortable there, I found a way to start automatically sending updates from the blog as well as my own conversations. The same with Facebook.
  • Listen. Know what people are saying about you, your competitors, and your industry, said McFeeley.
  • Establish yourself as an expert. Every Thursday Ruby Jane’s Thomas tweets about the show Project Runway, where designers are given 24 hours to create an amazing outfit. Every Friday I post my review of the show on my blog. Project Runway is always a trending topic on Twitter on Thursday nights, which means my tweets often turn up on Twitter’s home page. Similarly, Project Runway is always a top search term on Friday mornings, which means that my blog post will turn up in search results. This season two of the contestants are from my area, which means I can also submit press releases to local media about my ongoing coverage of the two local contestants.
  • Be disciplined about posting. Social media can be quite addictive, noted McFeeley. You need to be disciplined about your time on sites and the content you post. Most experts agree that you should post only once or twice a day and keep posts brief and to the point, including links if relevant.
  • Give. If you have a helpful hint, share it. If you see something interesting [such as an article], pass it on, advised McFeeley. Thomas, for example, is currently Facebooking, tweeting, and blogging about Halloween costume and decorating ideas.
  • Don’t always make it about you. Don’t use your social networking strictly for promotion, advised Thomas. Use it to inform and educate. Of course I tell my Facebook fans about sales or new products, but I also link to free patterns, tutorials, craft industry news, start discussions and hold contests. Added Fernandez, If all your posts are pushing your product, you run the risk of being seen as a Facebook/Twitter ‘spammer,’ and you will be ignored.
  • Say thank you. Send an e-mail or post a response when someone says something nice about you. If a customer leaves an especially nice comment or testimonial, send a card, via snail mail, said McFeeley. Appreciation marketing is a growing trend. Be an early adopter.
  • Know who is minding the store. If you have employees posting to Facebook and/or Twitter, make sure you have written policies about who is authorized to do what and if certain things are prohibited.

For more great tips and advice, read the article, “How to Manage Your Business’s Online Reputation.”

Wishing you continued success…

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In mid-June, when computer maker Dell announced it had earned $3 million in revenue from using Twitter, a popular micro-blogging site, the Internet and blogosphere were all atwitter about the news. Finally, proof that social media had the potential to not only increase traffic but also sales. Though as Dell was quick to mention, it took 18 months to make that first million via Twitter, albeit only six to earn the last.

The Nauti-Dog Company
The Nauti-Dog Company
(Click for larger image)

While Dell is a large corporation, with revenues of more than $61 billion in 2008 alone, smaller businesses — significantly smaller businesses — can also benefit from using Twitter as well as other forms of social media, such as Facebook and MySpace; blogs, particularly community blogs aimed at entrepreneurs, like The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur, which features hundreds of small business owners every week; and sites like Help a Reporter Out (HARO), which links businesses with journalists for free. (Think of it as PR 2.0.)

That’s because unlike traditional PR and advertising, which can be costly, the main cost associated with social media is time, not cash (though this may be changing, thanks in part to success stories like Dell’s). And any business willing to spend some time on social media/networking sites, building a community or fan base, can benefit.

That’s the beauty of social networking. It levels the playing field and provides small business owners another platform or medium to leverage from a marketing perspective, said Scott Bradley, a social media strategist who runs the blog Networking Effectively. Social media also fosters closer and better company-customer/prospective customer interaction – call it Word-of-Mouth 2.0 – than do the more traditional print advertising and PR he said.

To find out how small businesses are using social networking sites and tools to market themselves and to build better relationships with their customers, I spoke with three retail businesses: The James Store, a 63-year-old clothing boutique located in Granville, Ohio; The Nauti-Dog Company, a small two-year-old retail dog-apparel business; and hoodiepeople.com, a startup e-commerce retailer selling premium branded hooded sweatshirts. While their products and audience may differ from yours, their tips and advice regarding social media can be applied to any business.

To hear what these businesses/experts had to say — and learn valuable tips and tricks that can help you use social media to market your small business and connect with customers — read my article, “Social Network Marketing Meets Small Business,” which appears on SmallBusinessComputing.com.

Have your own advice re how social media can help you market your business? Leave me a comment.

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Posted on March 5, 2009
Filed Under (Advice, Compliance, General Business, Social Media) by jennifer

Raise your hands if you have gone onto Facebook or LinkedIn or sent an instant message to a friend or sent a Tweet while at work. Okay, I think that’s pretty much everybody. (You may now put down your hands.)

While using social media and instant messaging (IM) services is commonplace these days, their use is posing a big problem for businesses, especially for companies that need to preserve all electronic communication in the event of a lawsuit. So what’s a business owner or manager to do? First off, read my new article titled “Social Media — The Next Smoking Gun” on EnterpriseStorageForum.com, the Web’s leading site for all things having to do with managing and storing electronic data.

In the article, I interview CA’s senior vice president and general manager of Information Governance, Galina Datskovsky, who is an expert on social media in the workplace — who reminds us that it was not that long ago that companies were wringing their hands about the use of e-mail in the workplace.

“I had one attorney friend who said to me, ‘I will never allow e-mail in here. They can just fax me the stuff,'” she said. Some 10 years later, this same attorney friend walks around with a BlackBerry.

So what is the key to managing the social media and instant networking tsunami? It’s not to bury your head in the sand and ignore the problem, she said, but rather to think about the implications of social media from a security, privacy, productivity and bandwidth point of view and create policies around its use.

To read what Datskovsky had to say and learn what you can do to control social media and instant networking in the workplace, read my article, “Social Media — The Next Smoking Gun.”

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