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Six New Years Resolutions for Small Businesses (That You Can Do Right Now)

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Is it too soon to be sick of 2014 predictions, resolutions, and assorted New Year’s fodder? Wait, don’t answer that until you read this post. Here are the top six things you can do right now and be done with your list (until 2015 anyway):

1. Get Mobile

Obvious? Yes. Have you done it? Maybe not. Whatever your business model—from consultant to small business—it’s easier than ever to adopt a responsive design to ensure viewers experience an optimized view of your website. In fact, the majority of templates these days have these capabilities already built in, just make sure yours is or can be adjusted it on-the-fly (WordPress makes it easy). Remember, mobile viewers no longer tolerate sites that are difficult to navigate, slow-loading, or result in irksome moments. You can’t afford to lose them in 2014, so don’t.

Shortcut: If you’re not familiar with responsive design, or want to learn how to trick out your site to accommodate mobile viewers, check out an everything responsive design site.

2. Refresh Your Social Media Presence

If you’re like me, your social networks are live, well, and blasting out content on a regular basis. But how often do you check your business description, followers (and those you are following), and general housekeeping of your social media? Strangely, these are the items that get put on the back burner, even though they’re the first impression people get of your brand. Why not check, edit, and improve for a coordinated effort?

Shortcut: It’s unnecessary to create separate versions of social network descriptions based on differing word counts (always tempting to reach the word count, isn’t it?). Instead use a crisp, concise summary for all networks (Bonus: You’ll never have to worry about one being outdated from another. Consistency is underrated).  

3. Set Up Meetings With Prime Customers and Prospects

You might think the beginning of the year is the worst time to get in touch with customers who are just coming back to work. In reality, this is the best time to reach out. With most people still on a “holiday high”, you can snap up their attention for a quick chat, formal meeting, or lunch date. Once 2014 gets underway, they’ll be too busy with other priorities.

Shortcut: Take a cue from the sales playbook. Offer a specific date and time rather than asking the other party to supply one. People are much more likely to accept or counter with another date. Open-ended offers, on the other hand, are more likely to be put off or ignored.

4. Slot in Conferences, Vacations, and Time Off

Anyone who knows me can vouch for the fact that I’m not a big vacation planner. The reason is simple: When you’re a consultant, you never know when client projects will get you in a pinch (not to mention the ever-present desire to keep the revenue stream flowing). Whether you have an online business, brick-and-mortar store, or consulting service, your busy times likely fluctuate by seasons, holidays, or by client activities. Mine this information at the beginning of the year and allot your time off. It may seem like a risky move, but planned events are 99% more likely to happen if you…plan them. It will ultimately save time, money, and headaches. Remember why you made the choice to go into business for yourself. You don’t work for “The Man”; you work for YOU. Go ahead and take that vacay or staycay!

Shortcut: Take another cue from the sales playbook. Ping your clients about their plans for next year (it also makes you look proactive and an excuse to get in touch). For retail businesses, study the purchasing schedules of seasonal, big-ticket, and regular customers, or conduct a quick online survey to find out buying patterns.

5. Be Ahead of The Curve

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made recommendations to clients based on an understanding of what’s coming next in their industry, a new marketing tactic, or other valuable information I’ve discovered. Sure, they may be familiar with some of these ideas already, but the fact that I can confirm this also validates their choice to hire me in the first place. Not surprisingly, I often get my best info by setting up an organized curating system. Whether it’s making recommendations to retail customers or  clients, they will thank you for it.

Shortcut: Google Alerts is not the only game in town. Check out these newer, customizable site and article curation services, or do a test run to see which ones you like.

6. Consolidate Your Marketing Resources

Say you’re doing email campaigns four times a year, pushing out social media content twice a week, and managing a monthly blog. That’s a lot to maintain, organize, and publish; plus you need to review analytics to determine the best performers. Though I’ve always valued  articles and resources from Hubspot, it took client access for me to discover the power of their marketing dashboard. Still, they can be quite expensive for a small business. For those who view HubSpot as the equivalent of the Microsoft Evil Empire, there are many alternatives, some free (but don’t expect the bells and whistles).

Shortcut: Truth be told, making a move like this is time-consuming. Consider adding capabilities to your marketing operations web site or software once a month. You don’t have to do the whole enchilada at one time, but at least make that first step.

Bonus: Add a Resolution Wild Card: We all have something to do for our business, but often we don’t have the time, resources, or budget to pull it off. We tend to get overwhelmed with the anticipation, or we get busy with other things, or both. But think of your own wish that you want to do…and do it!

What’s your first New Year’s resolution for your business?

Five Quick Social Media Tips for Brick-and-Mortar Businesses

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bigstock-Thinking-11766491 It took radio 38 years to reach 50 million views, 13 years for TV, four for the Internet. Facebook got there in nine months. The iPod got there in a couple days. How do brick and mortar businesses keep up? Social media isn’t optional anymore.

We’re out of the Technology and Information Ages and into the Participation Age. The hallmark of this age is “sharing”, which is why social media is so big. It allows us to share on a multitude of levels. It is a lot less expensive than advertising and when done well, is much more effective. How do we get our arms around it?

Don’t panic. Social media is just another communications medium, like radio, TV, fax and email. Except it is much more interactive and participative; like the phone, except at your leisure (you don’t have to answer right away).

Here are a few quick principles I use dealing with social media:

1. Pick just one or two entry points that can be highly integrated, that can push traffic to each other, and go deep.

In 2007 I picked blogging and Twitter. I would highly recommend that you blog (some are questioning that these days, I think it is still by far the best social media platform available), and then interact with people on Twitter about their interests. Or you can pair up Facebook and Google+ (some people use it to blog now). Or Pinterest and Google+, etc. Whatever you do, start small so you can actually participate and learn, not spam. You can expand later if you find you have the bandwidth, but stay focused until you are sure.

2. Become the expert in something.

Again, BLOG IF YOU CAN!! It’s by far the best way to use social media to become an expert. Write comments on other people’s blogs, and offer your material to others to repurpose it. Check out this post on the 10 reasons you need to stop making excuses and start blogging for your business.

3. Be INTERESTED, not just INTERESTING (and be interesting as a result of being interested).

Social media is all about discussions, not self-promotion. Example – join existing conversations on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc. Support others in their comments and blogs, answer questions, and eventually they will want to know what you have to say and will visit your blog or community group. If you only promote, promote, promote, no one will care what you are saying.

After you have established yourself as someone who can contribute to others’ communities, maybe start your own Google+ hangout, forum, Facebook group, etc. Learn first, then invite your existing friends to join you. If you just self-promote, you could even get kicked out or banned, depending on the community. Build a network, don’t do networking! SERVE, DON’T SELL. Do NOT use social media to attempt to get a zillion new friends! All the research shows you should target your social media at your existing raving fans. SERVE them, and they will bring you new readers and new customers

4. Further your education by reading.

Read Rework by Fried and Hannson. Read Seth Godin’s blog and 37Signals.com’s blog. Find other blogs that you respect. (Editor’s note: Check out the NMX speakers list for blogs by authorities in the new media industry). See how they provide something of value. Don’t completely copy their content, just follow their lead – serve others with interesting content.

5. Search for local relationships and develop them online as well as off.

Connect, then offer offline opportunities. About 85-90% of all conversations about a product start off line and then move online. And again, starting with local relationships allows you to use social media to support your existing friends, who will then bring you more viewers and customers. If you go after herds of new people with your content, your friends will smell that and walk away.

Don’t see yourself doing this? There is a growing number of credible people who can help you by ghost-blogging, and by managing your business social media. (I would never let anyone else manage my personal Twitter account.) If you are going to hire others, make sure the public knows it’s not you – be authentic.

There are a bunch of other things you can do t boost your social presense, but if you start with these, you’ll be on the right track. For more great social media and blogging advice for businesses, check out the Business Category right here on the NMX blog.

Image credit: Bigstock

Six Ways to Make Your Brand Shine in a Small Business Blog

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Ask a dozen marketers what “branding” means and you’ll get a dozen answers. Why? Because it’s a word with many meanings, depending on who’s doing the defining. This blog alone shows 30 unique definitions, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

What we do know is that branding is that it is the yin-yang of your business: You tell the world how you want to define your services or products, what differentiates you, and why people should trust and buy from you. Ultimately though, your brand ends up in the hands (and minds) of customers and prospects—they will be the ones collecting experiences and driving business to or away from you. Some even argue that companies have lost control of their brands altogether, unintentionally passing the baton to consumers, thanks to the power of social media. That’s why it’s even more important to exploit the brand equity you do have with the vast web connections, from your web site to social media presence to search, and anywhere else your business lives.

In the end, your blog can be one of your biggest brand assets, or do nothing to add value and attract business. Here are some top tactics to work it to your advantage:

#1 Mirror, Mirror On The Web

Starting from the outside in, your blog should walk the walk as a natural extension of  your company name, logo, color scheme, and all other tangible elements that make up your brand identity. The best way to stop that natural flow in its tracks is to publish a blog that lacks brand identity. A company blog should be a seamless transition from anywhere you’ve marked your (brand) territory: a real-world meeting where your business card was passed, a visit to your store, an eBook you wrote, or a transaction on your site. Make sure to give your blog a name—not just a “blog” section on your web site—one that reinforces who you are and what you do (My business name is LiveWire Communications and my blog name is Marketing Sparks. Get it?). And don’t forget about a tagline so readers know what your blog is about (Mine is “Insight about Advertising, Marketing, and Branding.”).

#2 No Blog-ots 

Of course your blog should not only walk like your business, it needs to talk the talk too. Speak in your brand voice at all times: Is it funny? Conversational? Whimsical? Even if you’re a number-crunching accountant, you can still let your personality come through (unless you’re crabby). The tone, style, and words that you use act as a conductor for your brand. Be true and authentic, whether you’re a storefront or a one-person shop. No one would question speaker and self-proclaimed “Unstuck-er” Erika Napoletano about this: Whether or not you like her cussin’, in-your-face style, her brand is illuminated in every word of her blog, even the four-letter ones. That also goes for your “About” page too. This is a great opportunity to showcase and reinforce your brand story.

#3 Stand Out From the Competition

It’s pretty easy to be a “Me Too” when it comes to blog topics for various industries. You can go outside the lines, but only so far. Your blog is a prime opportunity to bring out the uniqueness of your brand, no matter what the post is about. Marc Sheridan turned River Pools blog into what it calls itself  “…the most educational swimming pool blog in the country” through his efforts to educate and inform readers on the pool industry (which he turned into a successful content marketing/speaking career as The Sales Lion). Conversely, another tactic is to deliver contrasting point of views from industry bloggers. For instance, if all graphic designers are writing about the hottest trends in typography, write about the suckiest fonts instead—you’ll stand out for your knowledge in a different way.

#4 Dole Out Your Branding in Quick Hits

Another way to continue brand extension in your blog (and amp up your content promotion while you’re at it) is to leverage a thought-provoking quote, stat, or visual from a post and blast out to your social networks at various intervals. It will make a brand statement and also serves as a call- back to the blog while you’re at it. And don’t forget to make thoughtful, impactful comments on related blogs, this can be another great opportunity to put your branding stake in the ground.

#5 Hitch Your Wagon to a Like-Minded Star

Reinforcing your brand in your blog can be also be achieved by bringing someone else into the writing mix. Think interviews, quotes, or a guest posters. And I’m not talking about using a generic quote from Abraham Lincoln here; more like showing your affinity with a thought leader, industry luminary, or cheeky scofflaw who will draw attention. This will speak volumes about who you are (not to mention getting your blog some back links).

#6 Look Inside Yourself

Still stumped on how to bring out the essence of your brand? Conduct a brand audit to get more clarity. That may seem fancy pants if you’re a consultant or small business, but it can also lead to valuable insights. Do a free quickie one with a consultationdownload a tool, or ask yourself a few pointed questions. Doing these exercises can help reveal the true essence of your brand and point to any disconnects communicating to your audiences. If you’re strapped for time, try Wordle to visually capture brand descriptors and get a snapshot of who you are. After all this soul-searching, you may find that your brand is not reflecting what your small business is about, and it might be time to rebrand—but we’ll save that subject for a future post.

What tactics do you use in your blog to bring out your brand?

5 Mistakes Your Small Business is Making on Twitter

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business on twitter

As a small business owner, it can be challenge to keep up with best social practices. One of the most common questions I’m asked is, “What am I doing wrong?” If you’re not seeing the results you think you should from Twitter, here are a few mistakes you might be making:

Mistake #1: Broadcasting Without Interacting

The entire point of social media is to promote your business, right? Well, yes…but in a social way. It’s about more than just broadcasting. Sure, you can send out tweets that include links to your website or blog, but you also want to interact with your followers. Jump into relevant conversations. Be helpful when someone asks a question. Follow others in your industry and those who are potential customers. If you aren’t using the “@” reply function often, that’s something that needs to change. Southwest Airlines is a great example of a company doing this right. They are constantly retweeting and replying to their customers.

Mistake #2: Blurring the Lines Between Personality and Personal

When using social, I think it’s great for the personality of your company to shine through. You aren’t just a giant logo. There are real people behind your social account. But there’s a difference between showing your personality and getting personal. If you’re a business or brand on Twitter, you don’t need to tweet out pictures of your meal or rants about your flight being delayed. Save that for your personal account. Keep your Twitter interactions relevant to your business. Bill Gerth (and Frank Eliason before him) for Comcast does a great job at this at @comcastcares. Talenti Gelato (who we profiled here) and GrubHub are also awesome at letting their personality shine through while still making it about their respective businesses.

Mistake #3: Going on Hiatus

If you can’t commit to tweeting daily, get off of Twitter. No, really. It looks bad if someone asks a question on Twitter and you don’t reply quickly. An abandoned Twitter account is worse than having no Twitter account at all.

Mistake #4: Promotional Updates

Promotional updates are okay. After all, you’re using social media to promote your business. However, if you’re only promoting yourself, your tweets can get old quickly. A really great option is to start a blog and also promote your links to education or entertaining topics. If you run a lawn care company, don’t tweet yet again that you’re available for landscaping. Tweet a link to your post on the “10 Best Celebrity Yards” or “How to Get Rid of Summer Garden Pests.” Get people reading on your site through content marketing and then sell them on your products or services once they’re a fan.

Mistake #5: Not Following Relevant Hashtags

Lastly, are you following hashtags in your industry? Hashtags (using the # symbol before a word or phrase) allow you to see what people are saying about a specific topic. Following these hashtags allows you to identify problems, jump into conversations, and find new followers (and potential customers). Always be listening to what your target market is saying.

What’s the biggest mistake you see businesses making on Twitter? Leave a comment!

Find the Perfect Bite For Customers’ Mobile Appetite

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mobile appetite

Mobile web site up and running. Check. Reading latest trends on marketing for smartphones and tablets. Double Check. Wondering what to serve up next to your mobile audience. Triple Check.

Now is the time to…pause between courses. First off, congratulations on making the jump to mobile. Next up:  Step back and look at your business big picture and assess what to add to your mobile marketing menu.

Consider these factors before embarking on a deeper financial and time investment:

#1 Focus on short and long term business goals: Does mobile fit with how your customers engage with your business? Are you a local business seeking new customers? Do you have an established clientele? An online store with a wide-reaching audience?  These are but a few questions to answer before proceeding.

#2 Mobile is part of your marketing strategy, not  plate du jour: Mobile promotion is an extension of your  integrated marketing program and should not operate in its own silo nor be a stand-in for a plan. In the excitement of the collective mobile moment, best intentions can get burned, resulting in a disconnect between your online and offline messaging and brand look and feel—not to mention confusing your customers.

#3 To-go with your customer adds responsibility. Sounds heavy but it’s true. Or as Ford Global Head of Social Media Scott Monty said at his NMX keynote this January, “Mobile is like a piece of jewelry, you have to be invited there.” He advocated using that privilege wisely. Otherwise, your business could be dismissed just as quickly as it was sitting down at the table.

So…are you hungry to go further down the mobile marketing path? Here are some popular and effective ideas to consider:

The Free Appetizer: Search

One of the most basic but sometimes overlooked mobile marketing tactics is listing your business on mobile search engines, portals, and web sites. And if you’re a neighborhood business, even better: Google reports that half of all mobile searches are local. Keep these three things in mind:

  1. Duplication is a good thing: mobile search is often separate than “desktop” search.
  2. Use consistent contact information everywhere.
  3. List your business in as many broad categories as possible so it’s found searching multiple ways.

Google Maps and Facebook are the most popular search methods, but other major ones include Google Local, Bing Business Portal, Yahoo Local, and YP. Don’t forget about secondary listings like CitySearch, city and neighborhood directories, and industry/trade group listings. Make sure you are also covered on mobile business sites like Yelp, Facebook, and Foursquare. Think of all the places you do business with, official and unofficial partners, and awareness opportunities.

The Weekly Special: SMS (Short Messaging Service aka Texting) and MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service)

According to Mogreet, SMS texts have a 95% open rate and are accessible to 98% of all mobile consumers, making it one of the most cost-effective, targeted marketing tactics—yet one of the most underutilized. Reason? Companies sometimes overlook the humble text as not sexy enough or  right “image”…they might want to think again, but proceed with care.

While the high open rates is great news, there are caveats: Make your text count with a strong CTA, especially since some receivers may incur a fee, and there are also reams of intimidating text marketing guidelines. The three most important ones:

  1. Get  opt-out permission.
  2. Document it.
  3. Be clear on what the receiver will get.

(See Guide to Text Messaging Regulations and Best Practices for complete rules).

There are numerous ways to laser-focus your text program: day/time (lunch specials, holidays), customer segments (repeat buyers, zip codes), or exclusive offers (VIP, limited-time), to name a few. There are no official “rules” on frequency, but general guidelines are no more than once a week or as part of a specific campaign. There are many text service vendors and prices vary on quantities and features.

MMS is a bigger time and money investment but also more attention-grabbing. Add video, mobile coupons, QR codes, music files, or any other visual elements. The same rules apply as SMS except it may eat up more data for the receiver or be slower loading.

Cross-promote SMS/MMS and provide ample opportunities to sign up on your web site, place of business, social media, business cards—anywhere your customers can see it.

The Fine Diner: Mobile Apps 

You might think apps are reserved for big budgets, large companies, and out of your league. These days, apps for your small business are within reach. There are many reasons to consider this prix fixe: For starters, if you are local business, research shows users prefer apps to connect.  Apps also show that you are catering to your customers, and lastly, they serve as a virtual mobile screen billboard  24/7. That said, an app should not replace a mobile web site, but serve as an alternate way to interact with your business. Make the app useful, intuitive, and require only few steps to complete a task. Be sure to cross-promote the app on your web, social sites, and ads.

There are several ways you can build an app for an iPhone or Android  (the most popular, but others are available): vendor-created or DIY . Because apps are now an established category, small businesses can take advantage of common pre-built functionality like maps, online ordering, appointment setting, social sharing, and other tasks that require  simple tailoring to your business. Not surprisingly, the more customization, the more expensive the app.

What’s the special sauce for your business?

These ideas may stir up  your mobile marketing recipe—there are also ads (including in-app ads), video,  and other tactics that haven’t even been introduced yet. Mobile marketing is a fast-paced, ever-changing landscape. Whatever approaches you take—like a new entrée—taste-test it, refine it, or decide it’s not delicious enough and scrap it altogether before making a big time or money commitments.

Image Credit: Altered, from Bigstock

Does Your Business Facebook Page Really Matter?

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facebook page Online marketers often put a lot of emphasis on Facebook pages for small businesses. More and more often, I see restaurants, bars, retailers, and other businesses posting signs alerting customers of their Facebook page. And some of these Facebook pages are really good; they’re filled with interesting updates, announcements, pictures, coupons, and more.

So what?

You can’t take your Facebook likes to the bank. So, I have to wonder: Do business Facebook pages really matter? Or are they just taking up time that could be spent on actually building your business?

Like Conversion

I see people boasting about how much engagement they get on their Facebook pages. Engagement is great, because it means that your customers are interested in what you’re saying and they enjoy your brand. But if those likes are directly correlating to sales, does it really matter?

Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • How many people found out about my product/service because Facebook?
  • How many of my fans are actually buying from me?
  • How many of my fans are repeat customers?

More importantly, you should ask yourself: How many of my customers are ONLY customers because of your actions on Facebook? If people would have purchased from you anyway, Facebook doesn’t really matter, even if they are engaged with what you’re posting.

Determining this is the tricky part, since often Facebook fans are people who were already customers or thinking about becoming customers. Here are a few ideas:

  • Poll your customers. One restaurant in my community, Dishes of India, includes a short survey card with every single bill so they can learn about their customers and find out how much you enjoyed your meal (they also ask you to give your email address for their mailing list, which is really smart). You could easily ask “How did you hear about us” on this kind of survey card.
  • Do a promotion with a coupon that you distribute across all your channels (email, print flyers, social media) including Facebook. Later, do a similar promotion where you don’t offer the coupon Facebook, but still distribute across your other channels. Of course, there are other variables here as well, but this can at least give you an idea of how much Facebook helps you make sales.
  • If you’re a local business (i.e. people buy in person, not online), measure your local fans. Are people liking you because they like your products or service? Or are they liking you because you post funny pictures and interesting quotes? If you’re a restaurant owner in Idaho, it doesn’t do you a lot of good if half of your fan base live outside of the United States.

Brand Advocacy

Understanding the benefits of Facebook for your business is tricky, because sometimes it isn’t just about sales. It’s also about letting your fans work for you as a “street team” of sorts.

Street teams began as a way for record labels to promote music in a really inexpensive way. Often in return for little more than a t-shirt and tickets to the next show, street teams distribute flyers and serve as brand advocates for the band in question, doing all they can to promote their music. They do this not for the money, but because they love the music.

On Facebook, that fan who never makes a single purchase can still be extremely valuable if they introduce your brand to 50 people who do make purchases. Or, depending on what you’re selling, even if they introduce your brand to one person, a single purchase could mean a lot of money in your pocket.

The benefits of brand advocacy are really hard to measure. Again, polling can help you determine how people found out about you, but it isn’t an exact science.

Updates that Matter

If you’re going to be on Facebook, the key is to post updates that really matter. That way, you know that likes and shares from your audience are really benefiting your brand. What kind of updates matter?

  • Announcements about Your Company
  • Event information
  • Success stories
  • Pictures Showcasing Your Products and Services
  • Testimonials
  • Blog Posts
  • Fan Photos
  • Coupons and Sales Information

Essentially, the type of updates that matter are about your company. Funny pictures, cartoons, quotes, etc. don’t matter as much because they don’t really relate to your business.

That doesn’t mean that you should never share that hilarious meme photo you came across. It just means that you shouldn’t measure your success by how many people share or like this image. When people share a coupon or a picture from your latest event, it matters a lot more.

So Does Your Business Really Need Facebook?

Yes. Probably.

It really depends on your business. Sometimes, it just doesn’t make sense. But if your target audience uses Facebook, you should at least give it a try. Measure your results and remember that raw like and share numbers don’t matter as much as conversion matters.

At the very least, be there so you can listen. If someone talks about your business online, you want to be there to answer them, whether that means responding to a complaint or thanking them for praises. Sometimes, social media is less about finding new customers and more about taking care of the ones you already have.

Do you think Facebook really matters for small businesses? Should all businesses be active there? Leave a comment below!

32 Brilliant Bloggers Talk About Small Business Blogging

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Brilliant Bloggers is a bi-weekly series here at NMX where we look at the best posts from around the web, all surrounding a specific topic. Every other week, we’ll feature a brilliant blogger, along with a huge list of more resources where you can learn about the topic. You can see more Brilliant Blogger posts or learn how to submit your link for an upcoming edition here.

This Week’s Topic: Small Business Blogging

A blog can be an extremely powerful tool for some business owners. But, of course, there are a lot of stumbling blocks. How do I find the time? What do I write about? How do I promote my posts?

Today, our Brilliant Bloggers list answers these questions and more. We’ve collected over 30 posts that can help you start a small business blog or boost sales using the one you already have.

And don’t forget our can’t-miss business sessions at BusinessNext, presented by NMX. This show features experts in the business, blogging, and marketing worlds to help you learn about taking your business blog and other online efforts to the next level. Register now!

Brilliant Blogger of the Week:

The Value of Small Business Blogging: 3 Key Questions & Answers by Lee Odden

I could point to any number of posts about small business blogging on TopRank from Lee Odden, but I like this one the best because it addresses why exactly small businesses should be blogging in the first place. When I talk to small business owners, the biggest stumbling block is getting them to believe they need a blog. Sometimes, a blog might not make sense, but in most cases having a blog can really boost your business. In this post, Lee talks about the benefits of having a blog for your small business, and if you’re hungry for even more, he links to a video at the end where he talks to Frank J. Kenny more about small business blogging.

Did you know Lee will also be speaking at BusinessNext, being presented at NMX 2013 in Las Vegas? You don’t want to miss him and Amy Porterfield speaking in the session “Companies That Hit The Bullseye With Their Social Campaigns.” Grab a full access pass today to get access to this BusinessNext session!

Even More Brilliant Advice:

  1. 3 Tips for Starting a Small Business Blog by Collis Ta’eed (@collis)
  2. 5 Benefits of Small Business Blogging by bMighty2 (@bmighty2)
  3. 5 Costly Mistakes Small Business Blogs Cannot Afford by Prasanna Bidkar (@prasannabidkar)
  4. 5 Keys to Successful Small Business Blogging by Ty Kiisel (@tykiisel)
  5. 5 Small Business Business Blogging Tips by Jase Group (@JASEGroup)
  6. 5 Things To Do Before You Launch Your [Small Business] Blog by Sarah Von Bargen (@yesandyes)
  7. 5 Ways To Build A Better Business Through Blogging by Lisa Barone (@lisabarone)
  8. 6 Reasons Every Small Business Should Be Blogging… Are You Missing the Boat? by Jonah Lopin (@JonahLopin)
  9. 6 Tips for Customizing Your Small Business Blog by Ben Parr (@benparr)
  10. 7 Blogging Mistakes That Small Businesses Make by Lou Dubois (@lou_dubois)
  11. 7 Ways to Amplify Your Small Business Blog by Monica Romeri
  12. 8 Tips for Keeping your Business Blog Current by Caron Beesley (@caronbeesley)
  13. 9 Hard-Hitting Content Strategies for Small Business Blogging by Neil Patel (@neilpatel)
  14. 9 Tips for Creating More Small Business Blogging Ideas by Mark Hayward (@mark_hayward)
  15. Best 4 Blogging Tips for Small Business Owners by Lynn Brown (@learnit2earnit)
  16. Blog Management for Small Businesses: The Ultimate Guide by Heather Rast (@heatherrast)
  17. Content Strategies for Small Business Blogs by Aylin Poulton
  18. Going Local with Your Small Business Blogging by Ashley Neal (@smallbizatlanta)
  19. How to Blog Effectively to Market Your Small Business by Shashi Bellamkonda (@ShashiB)
  20. How To Make Your Business Blog Informative by Amie Marse (@Content_Money)
  21. How to Start a Small Business Blog the Right Way by Marion Jacobson (@searchqueen)
  22. Six Reasons Why Small Businesses Should Blog Now by Women’s Leadership Exchange (@WLExchange)
  23. Small Business Blogs: Is Blogging Worth it for Small Businesses? by Emily Bennington (@EmilyBennington)
  24. Small Business Blogging Tips: How to create compelling posts by Chris Wallace
  25. Small Business Blogging Tips for Beginners by Danielle Rodabaugh (@DaRodabaugh)
  26. Top 10 Small Business Blogging Mistakes to Avoid in 2013 by Linda Dessau (@lindadessau)
  27. Why a Small Business Blog Is Your Most Valuable Marketing Asset by Lynnette Fusilier (@pearlgirl)
  28. Why Every Small Business Needs a WordPress Blog for Their Social Media Strategy by Jeannette Paladino (@jepaladino)
  29. Why You should Blog for Your Small Business by Lance Sonka (@lancesonka)

Did I miss your post or a post by someone you know about small business? Unintentional! Help me out by leaving a comment below with the link.

Next Brilliant Blogger Topic: NMX/BusinessNext 2013!

Our next edition of Brilliant Bloggers in January will feature all of the awesome, recap posts about NMX 2013! Good or bad, we love hearing your thoughts on the show. Want to be included on this round-up list? You have to attend NMX and/or BusinessNext 2013! Check out our live event site to learn how to register or upgrade to an all-access pass.

I’d love to include a link to your post in our next installment– and if you head to the Brilliant Bloggers Schedule, you can see even more upcoming posts (and contact info for sending your links!). We all have something to learn from one another, so please don’t be shy! Head to the schedule today to learn how to submit your post so I won’t miss it.

The Ultimate Key to Easier Content Marketing for Small Business Owners

Author:

As a small business owners, one of the biggest challenges is having time for it all. When it comes to your online marketing efforts, the latest trend is content marketing, and for good reason – it works. Content marketing is essentially giving away content like blog posts, videos, and ebooks in an effort to drive them toward an action (typically buying something from you).

So, for example, if you own a web hosting company, you might publish blog posts every week that teach people web design skills or if you own a bakery, you might give away a very short cookbook with some recipes at-home bakers can try.

Content marketing definitely takes time, though, simply because you have to actually create that content. You can pay a freelancer to do this, but if you’re a small business owner on a shoestring budget, you might not have money for a quality product. Even so, to get the best content, you have to spend time managing the project.

So what’s the key to actually making content marketing easier? Use the resources you already have.

When you’re creating content for marketing purposes, you can repurpose the resources you already have as a small business owner. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have nothing to offer. Here are some of the things most small businesses have:

  • Employees who are super knowledgeable and able to write or speak on camera about topics in your industry
  • A bank of questions your customers ask you often that could each be turned into their own blog posts (or videos or even sections of an ebook)
  • “Insider” resources relating to your product/service (for example, recipes from your restaurant)
  • A network of industry contacts who would love to be interviewed

You can also consider creating content in ways that allow you to present something super valuable to your audience without spending as much time. Consider…

  • Attending conferences, writing down speaker quotes, and compiling a list of advice
  • Creating resource lists linking to everyone writing/talking about a specific topic (like we do for Brilliant Bloggers)
  • Asking a question via social media and publishing everyone’s answers

Additionally, you can take content you’ve created and use it as a starting point to get even more use out of it. For example:

  • A single, long blog post can become a multi-part series if broken down into sections
  • A series of blog posts can become a short ebook without much additional work or a longer email if you write more content
  • A video or podcast can become written content if you include a transcription

The key is to work smarter, not harder! If you’re short on time, you need to throw your attention into the most important tasks to make your small business run, so this might mean that you “never get around” to the content marketing thing, since it seems like such a daunting task. With the right approach to it, however, you can at least start to put out great free content to attract a larger audience to your business. You’d be amazed at the amount of content you can produce even with a limited number of hours to allocate to this process.

If you’re a business owner interested in learning more about content marketing, social media, and online marketing, definite check out our BusinessNext conference, presented in conjunction with NMX (formerly BlogWorld). BusinessNext will feature three days of speakers teaching you how to take your business’ online presence to the next level.

How One Small Gelato Company is Rocking Social Media [Case Study]

Author:

I first learned about Talenti Gelato a few years ago from a blogger friend who just happened to mention it on her blog. At this point, a few grocery stores were carrying three or four flavors, and when I noticed it at my local Giant, I decided to try a pint.

I became an instant fan, so I decided to follow the company on Twitter and Facebook. Their social media presence has made me even more of a fan of their product, and it’s a staple in my shopping cart, despite the fact that it’s more expensive that most other frozen treats.

Let’s take a look at how Talenti is absolutely rocking social media, and their efforts are resulting in more sales for their company.

Social Media Monitoring

I don’t know what system Talenti is using to monitor their social media efforts, but they rock at it. They aren’t just replying to messages they receive directly (a must for any company). They’re also going above and beyond and seeking out people who are talking about them, even if they are linking to the Talenti Facebook page or @ replying to them on Twitter. Check out this screenshot I recently took of their Twitter account:

Not only are most of their messages @ replies and RTs instead of just broadcasts, but they’re talking to everyone and anyone mentioning their brand. To test my theory, I randomly tweeted about Talenti Gelato without using their hashtag or @ replying to them directly. Within a few hours, they had retweeted my message:

As a fan, it makes me feel special that the company noticed me. Most companies don’t.

A Video Presence

I don’t know why more companies aren’t using video to talk about their products. This is the video Talenti is featuring on their homepage:

Now, I’m not knocking the amount of time that certainly went into this video, but it’s nothing amazingly special that other companies couldn’t do as well. Having your founder get on camera for a quick video like this makes me feel much more connected to the company.

They didn’t stop there, though. If you visit the video page on Talenti’s site, you’ll find lots of other videos that highlight specific products, and on their YouTube channel, they’ve even started to post videos about what to do with old Talenti containers, which definitely fits into their eco-friendly company image.

My favorite video of theirs has to be this creative promo where people use Talenti containers to make music. It’s like a real commercial you would see on TV – but on YouTube!

Fun Interaction with Fans (but always with a goal in mind)

Talenti isn’t some stuffy, stuck-up company, despite selling an artisanal food product. They’re fun and they talk to fans like people, which helps to break down that divide between business and consumer. After all, we’re all more likely to buy from people we think of as friends. Here’s a great examples of one of their Facebook status updates:

More importantly than just pointing out their fun communication style, however, is recognizing that Talenti has a goal with their messages. They rarely go off on tangents or talk about topics unrelated to their product. You do want people to feel connected to the culture of your company, but you should also have a goal behind your communications. Talenti definitely does, even if fans may not be conscious of that push to buy more gelato.

EdgeRank Domination

On Facebook, EdgeRank is king, and Talenti is killing it. Their posts are all about interaction to help get readers as involved as possible. For example:

Check out not only the number of people who commented with captions, but also the huge number of likes and shares they got, simply because the image they used was irresistible. Talenti uses images pretty often, actually, which is important for EdgeRank. They also ask questions, run contests, remind users to hit the like button, and more.

Without interaction from readers, it doesn’t matter what you say or how often you update Facebook; no one will see it. EdgeRank is important, and if your company isn’t writing status updates with it in mind, it’s hard to be successful on Facebook.

All About the Product

What Talenti does best, in my opinion, is produce a quality product. If you go to their Facebook page or search for reviews of their product on blogs and other social media sites, it’s hard to find bad comments. People (myself included) just love what they do.

Your social media efforts are only as good as whatever you’re selling. So before you throw money into your online effects or devote any time to social media, fine-tune the product or service you’re offering. That way, your time online won’t be wasted replying to complaints and dealing with bad press.

Want to learn how to use social media better for your business? Join us at BusinessNext Social in Las Vegas this January – it’s going to be an amazing conference!

How Social Media Changed the Culture of My Dental Practice

Author:

Let’s see a show of hands out there.  How many of you have dentists who have content rich websites and are active on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest?  That’s what I thought.  Not too many of you.  Well, as a dentist, I am on a mission to change that.

Dentists and Marketing

Marketing has not been an easy journey for the healthcare industry. For a very long time, professionals in healthcare were discouraged, if not reprimanded, for advertising. About all you could do to “market” yourself was to have your name appear in the local phone book. The early adopters in attempting healthcare marketing were not well received and were, in fact, lambasted for their efforts.

“Classless” and “cheap” were words used to describe healthcare professionals’ small attempts at marketing and advertising.  Slowly, very slowly, this limiting attitude has changed. The healthcare industry has finally, if not reluctantly, taken the full plunge into the ocean of marketing and social media.

The Extremes

As with most things in life, there is a modulating process that needs to accompany change. Before that modulation occurs, typically you are going to see extremes. In healthcare, the extremes have been pretty obvious. There are the pharmaceutical, hospital, weight loss and dental implant companies that barrage us with promises of the best, the only, and the right options for our healthcare needs on radio and TV. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the general dental practice that sits quietly on Main Street USA hoping that “word of mouth” will continue to bring in new patients. While, just down the street, new dental offices are popping up every day providing more and more options for these same new patients.

The Reality

As “experts” in our respective fields, no matter what our business, the reality is that as a rule, every day when we go to work, we do basically the same thing as our competitors. So, in the field of dentistry specifically, most of my colleagues that are vying for the same patients that I am vying for do the same kinds of fillings, cleanings, x-rays, crowns and bridges. Some of us offer slightly different options but, for the most part, our days are very similar.

So then, how can we make ourselves appear “different” to potential patients?  What can we do to increase the traffic through our door instead of letting the dentist just down the street get the new patient?  That is the age old question!

The Answer

Think outside of the box. We already know what we’ve been trained to do as “experts” in our field. And we should always strive to do it better! But we can’t just rest on our laurels anymore. There are far too many other businesses like yours and mine out there and potential customers/clients/patients are getting more and more digitally-savvy all of the time. They are doing their homework and basing the decisions they make on their research. And to make ourselves show up in an enticing way, we need to think outside of the box. And one of those ways is social media.

Let’s Get Personal: My Story

Let me tell you how social media changed the culture of my dental practice. I’ve been a dentist for over 22 years and have owned my own practice for 16 of those years. I, like many of my colleagues (and other small businesses), tried many of the traditional forms of marketing including, but certainly not limited to the Yellow Pages, Dex Knows, church bulletin ads, local newspaper coupons and participation in local school events. In the early days, the only way of tracking my analytics was by keeping track of my results with a notebook and pen. And one by one, I eliminated ineffective and sometimes costly marketing efforts that had little to no ROI (return on investment).

I was conflicted because I still felt that there was value in the tried and true “word of mouth” method of growing a practice. But I knew that with new competition popping up at every corner, I was going to die as a business if I didn’t figure out how to create growth effectively and inexpensively. And then, one day, one of my awesome patients came up with the answer. The conversation began innocently enough. I was complimenting her on her oh-so-funny blog and asking her how she was able to promote her blog so successfully. She looked me straight in the eye and said “You can do it too. Just create a blog for your website and get a Twitter account and tweet about your practice”.

Say WHATTTT??

There is Value in Being Impetuous and Impressionable

That very day, I solicited the help of Heather Acton,  freelance WordPress developer extraordinaire and I started designing a new WordPress website that would allow me to blog directly from my business website. I also set up a Twitter account and created a Facebook page. I worked diligently on increasing my presence on social media. I played with many ideas and tossed out the ones that didn’t work and kept the ones that did. I began doing videos that were posted to both YouTube and my website that dealt with dental health issues. I started a regular feature called Ask the Dentist in which someone emails me a dental health related question that I post and answer on my website.

I began to post articles to local newspapers to increase awareness of my office’s presence. I attended functions, some with the clever name of “Tweet Ups,” in and around the city of Chicago so that the many people that I was communicating with in social media I could meet face to face IRL (in real life)!

The result was a measurable increase in my “new patient” numbers as a result of my presence on social media.

To be clear, I made many mistakes along the way and even allowed myself to get slightly addicted to social media. But, the lessons that I gleaned as I muddled through the myriad of information I was reading and experimenting with, grew my desire to share a best practices sort of approach with dentists wanting to use social media. The result was my site, Social Media DDS, which allows me to consult with and coach dental professionals in the art of social media strategy.

What I Have Learned

  1. Have an interactive website. By interactive, I mean, make sure that your site is content rich and content fresh. Create a space on your website modeled after traditional “blogs” from which you can provide information to your readers and they can communicate with you. Have a fully functional and user-friendly commenting platform integrated into your website and “blog” such as Livefyre that allows conversation-like communication to occur, encouraging readers to participate in dialogue with you and the community.
  2. Be regular and predictable in your posts.  As Marcus Sheridan, the awesome author of The Sales Lion, says in this video interview, blog with regularity. Let your audience know that you will be there for them. Listen to their needs and then…engage, engage, engage. Social media is, after all, social. Once you have established a solid “home base” with your website presence, consider expanding your social media presence on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and, yes, even Pinterest.

Don’t Have Time?

I happen to LOVE working the social media and marketing angle for my dental practice. But I understand and appreciate that not all owners of a business can find the time to put into growing their social media presence. One of my favorite go-to people in the dental, social media marketing world is Rita Zamora of Social Media & Relationship Marketing. She suggests finding a “champion” for your social media presence (regardless of the type of business you run).

Look to your staff and decide who would be a perfect fit for championing your business. Let them represent the business. Teach them how to be the “voice” of your company. Delegate wisely. And, always keep your “voice” consistent and authentic. Never succumb to the temptation of letting a third party company be your “voice.” Always understand that your “voice” is what makes digital “word of mouth” marketing work.

Wrapping It Up

I am passionate about the potential of social media as a powerful tool in a business’ marketing strategy. I am also passionate about my business. It seems pretty intuitive then that, when I combine the powerful forces of my business with social media, awesome goodness is going to be the result.

I can’t imagine a new business in any industry not wanting to make sure that their internet presence is felt and that the business consistently nurtures its online presence. There are countless examples of success using the power of social media to build a business. I love to tell people that if I, as an owner of a dental practice, can grow my business utilizing the power of social media, then anyone can grow a business using social media!

How have you used social media to grow your online presence?  Has it worked?  Do you have any tips that might help others as they take their first steps into social media?

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