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Five Common Pitfalls to Avoid When Starting an Online Business (Sponsored Post)

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Online business Starting an online business is not easy. It takes time, discipline you never knew you had and requires a herculean amount of effort to stay focused. But you did it! Congratulations! You got the word out, are great at what you do and are growing your online business. You have leapt far over all of the hurdles that have stopped lesser businesspersons in their tracks and are on the way to total world domination.

But even the savviest start-ups can have a few hiccups. Lucky for you, most of them can be avoided.  Here are five tips to help make your online business a runaway success.

Tip #1: Separate your personal and business social media accounts

We know it’s a pain to have separate accounts for your business and personal life, but your business will thank you. Let’s face it; not everything that is appropriate to share in your personal life sends the right message for your business. Photos of your breakfast and angry rants about the postal system might not mix so well with a repost of a great review of your services.  Also, a change in your relationship status might be more information than your customers need.

Keeping a separate business and personal identity also allows you to evaluate what social media platforms are best for your business, which brings us to the next point:

Tip #2: Remember that not all forms of social media will be appropriate channels for your business.

Your business doesn’t have to have a presence on every social media platform. In fact, forcing engagement where it doesn’t naturally occur can do more harm than good for your brand. Twitter might be a great way to get info and updates out to your customers as well as a fantastic avenue for direct customer service. However, you might struggle with how to position your business on Instagram or Vine.

A good rule to determine whether a social media platform is right for your business is to consider the ease at which you can create content. If you find yourself struggling to make your messages fit the platform, it isn’t right for you.

Tip #3: Register a good domain name.

Just putting up a Facebook page and calling it a day is a rookie mistake, and you run the risk of losing all your content and engagement with customers if your page gets taken (permanently or temporarily) down due to a mistake in following Facebook’s guidelines or a malicious report. Your business needs a website and a domain name.  When you control the website for your online business, you control your business. We recommend something personal, memorable and catchy: .ME offers the ability to truly get connected with your customers with a URL they will keep coming back to.

Tip #4: Don’t make promises you can’t keep.

The best lesson about starting an online business to not learn the hard way is to not make promises you can’t keep. Whether it is a vacation for your significant other or a job for a friend once you can afford to expand, don’t say it out loud until you know it is a reality. We get it. You’re doing well, you’re proud of your work and you’re on track to having a better year than you projected but you have to keep it a secret until you are 100% ready to follow through on your promise. If you announce and then fail to deliver, it will haunt you and make you feel BAD. Don’t let this happen to you.

Tip #5: Control your momentum.

If done right, your business will gain momentum. Make sure you constantly check-in with yourself about your work load and control the pace at which you are growing. Since you are a human being and not a machine, there is a finite amount of time in a day to get things done. Take on only the projects you know you have time to well. Saying “yes” to everything and failing to deliver will hurt your business and brand far more than saying “no” politely.

With these five tips under your belt, you are ready to go out and conquer the online business world. Also, we would love to hear from you: What tips would you add for navigating the rough waters of online business?

Are You Setting Yourself Up for Online Business Success? All You Have to Do is SMILE.

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smile Here at NMX, we have an all-staff meeting the day before the show to make sure everyone is on the same page and the event can run as smoothly as possible. Since I’ve been a part of NMX (and I’m assuming even before), one of the points our CEO Rick Calvert always makes is that we set the tone for the conference (find out more about the show here). Even when there are problems or we’re frustrated and tired, you’ll see us smiling in the halls, in sessions, and on the show floor. If the entire staff walks around grumpy, it won’t be long before everyone at the show is grumpy too!

It’s advice that has stuck with me and overflowed to my personal life as well. If you just smile, even when things are going wrong, y set yourself up for success. For me, however, smiling is about more than just putting on a happy face. That’s only step one. For true success, you can’t just smile…you have to SMILE: Share, Mingle, Initiate, Learn, and Empathize!

Share:

Whenever I am at NMX or even just “meeting” people online, I also try to share in whatever success I have. Even if I don’t overtly ask it, the question on my mind is always, “How can I help you?” Too many people in the business world are only concerned with, “How can you help me?” But if you share opportunities and help people as much as possible, others helping you takes care of itself. When you need a favor, people will jump to help you because of all the help you’ve given them in the past. Send people links (without being spammy), answer their questions via social media, and connect people via email. Share as much knowledge as possible in your industry so that people see you as the go-to person.

Mingle:

In every industry, there are cliques. It can feel comfortable and safe to only mingle with people you already know, especially if you are an introvert like I am. But if you truly mingle and get to know other people, your network will grow exponentially, which means more opportunities for you over time. Yes, it is important to strengthen the relationships you already have, but be aware that others might perceive you as being in this elite clique that isn’t interested in getting to know other people. Even online, you should spend time looking for new people to bring into your flock, rather than just following the same list of profiles forever. Check out these tips for finding new blogs to read.

Initiate:

A lot of people are shy. Really shy. Not only do you have to initiate the mingling, but you also have to initiate follow-up contact afterward. Even people who aren’t shy tend to be extremely busy. Be the person who sends holiday cards, emails just to say hello, and randomly promotes someone else via social media. Be the person who keeps relationships alive instead of relying on others to do so.

Learn:

The “L” in SMILE stands for “learn,” which means that I take the time to learn about other people. With the Internet, it’s not hard to do! When meeting someone new or even talking to old friends and colleagues, especially when uncomfortable with social situations, we have a tendency to talk a lot about ourselves. Flip this on its head. Ask questions and learn as much as you can about the other person. Then, make a note of what you’ve learned and learn more afterward by looking them up online. When you meet the person again, you want to be able to say, “Yes, I looked up your blog, and here’s what I think…” or “I signed up for the mailing list you were telling me about…” or whatever the case may be.

Empathize:

Lastly, an important part of the SMILE concept is learning when not to smile. Sometimes, people have problems and are upset at you, the situation, or the entire world. Learn to empathize, not just put on a happy face and placate people. Most people understand when you are insincere versus when you are actually trying to help them. So, when problems arise in your company or personally, really listen to people and come up with a solution as quickly as possible. It’s easy to feel defensive (guilty!), but most times it just makes more business sense to swallow your pride. Even when people are being mean, kill them with kindness.

Do you SMILE online? How can these concepts help your business?

Small Town Business Values in an Online World: Yes, It is Possible!

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small town business values

Growing up in a small town of fewer than 100 people (yes, you read that right…fewer than 100!) was not always the easiest, but one thing I will always treasure is the values I learned growing up and working in a small, family-owned business. We worked hard and we played hard. We helped our neighbors. We knew our customers by name.

A lot of people will tell you that these things are not scalable as your business grows, especially if you take your business online. But you know what? Those lessons I learned during my high school years at the corner of Main Street and the cow pasture have stuck with me, and they shape how I choose to do business to this day. I attribute my greatest successes to the fact that I bring small town values to a world-wide scale.

People are People are People…and We Want Others to Care

I have friends and colleagues from around the world and guess what? People are people, no matter what color or gender or nationality or education level or worldview. There might be cultural differences, but the fact of the matter is that we all want others to care about us. When I worked at my neighborhood deli as a teen, I would pride myself in knowing the regulars. As I was preparing their order, I would ask them about their families, suggest items I knew they’d like from our shop, and call them by name.

There’s no reason you can’t do this online as well. As your business grows, get to know your “regulars” – they people who always retweet you or comment on your Facebook posts. Thank people by name. When someone has a complaint, address it personally instead of sending a form letter.
You hate it when you feel like a number. Others do as well. This is true whether you have one customer or one million customers.

The advantage is that when you get to know your customers on a more personal basis, especially those who are your biggest fans, selling to them is much easier. You can make personal recommendations based on what you know they’d like and you can ask for their feedback on new products. This isn’t just about getting cozy with customers to make them feel good. It actually helps your business.

Putting a Face to the Brand

No one wants to do business with a logo. On a small-town level, you as the owner might be regularly available or even working at your store. You probably have employees that are “faces” to your brand as well – those who are naturally customer favorites. When my dad has a doctor’s appointment, for example, he will go out of his way to see his favorite nurse, Brittany, even if it means walking to another wing changing his schedule so he can make an appointment when she’s working.

Online, the same is true. People want to interact with other people, especially employees they enjoy. Get your face out there as much as possible online and make real connections. Encourage your employees to do the same by interacting with people via social media. If you’re worried about how an employee will represent you online, that’s probably a good indication that he or she shouldn’t be working for you. Hire people who can be the faces of your brand, whether it’s in person or online. Give them training, create a social media policy, and then give them the freedom to get out there and talk to people.

Love Your “Competitors”

It’s important to love your “competitors” online…and I put that word in quotes because in actuality, you don’t have competitors as much as you have colleagues.

Let’s say you own a seafood restaurant, for example. There are probably several other places in town where people can get a meal, plus you’re competing with local grocery stores since many people will also eat at home. But does that mean you put up big signs that say “Eat Here! Joe’s Pizza Place Sucks!”? No way. You all have to live in the same town together. Joe’s Pizza Place might be a competitor, but it’s in both of your best interests if the relationship is friendly.

After all, you might both be serving food, but you offer different products for different tastes. There’s no reason you can’t agree to refer people to one another. Maybe Joe’s Pizza Place recommends your more upscale establishment for an upcoming wedding reception. Maybe you recommend their restaurant for the Little League team’s post-game dinner. Maybe you even partner to offer coupons to one another’s patrons.

Online, the same small town rules apply on a world-wide scale. Rather than hating on your competitors, think about how you can work together. At the very least, you can learn from one another. What cool Facebook promotions is that seafood place from three states over doing to bring in new customers? How are they using their blog to reach would-be diners? What can you learn from their failures? Know your colleagues and work together to build both of your businesses.

The Take-Aways

No matter what the scale of your business, I hope you never lose your small town values. Here’s what I hope you take away from this post:

  • Don’t be afraid to talk to people online the same way you would in a face-to-face situation. Get to know your customers, especially your biggest and most devoted fans.
  • Train your employees and then let them represent you online the same way they would at your brick-and-mortar store. Don’t be a logo online. Be real people.
  • Get to know other business owners and learn from one another instead of ignoring your competitors or creating a bad relationship.

No matter how big your business grows, these things are possible. At NMX 2013, Dana White, who is president of UFC and now has millions of fans and followers was saying the same thing: this is all scalable if you really want it to be! Connecting with people individually takes more time the bigger you are, but bringing the small town values to a world-wide audience will set you apart and ultimately help your business grow.

During Recession, Marketers Turning To Social Networks

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In today’s economy, I’m fairly sure just about everyone has been feeling the pinch.  When it comes to bigger companies, one of the divisions that I’m sure has been struggling, is the marketing division.  How do you advertise your product to people who are struggling with their own financial issues, without spending more money than you can afford?  That is the question plaguing a great deal of companies today and they are finding answers in unlikely places.

Those “unlikely places” are getting far more likely in today’s day and age.  According to new reports, marketers are increasingly turning to social networks to reach their potential clients without blowing huge sums of money they just don’t have.  According to a new study by WhitePaperSource, when over 900 of the leading marketers were asked about their marketing habits:

“…more than 88 per cent of the business establishments are using social media sites, such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, to reach out to their clients and further enhance their exposure beyond the conventional reach using other traditional means.”

What’s more, this is actually a pretty new thing.  Of those that responded, almost 2/3 of them have only been turning to social networks in the last few months.  While there are definite positives and negatives to employing this time of marketing plan, it’s clear that it’s a style of marketing that is getting huge and needs to be addressed.  On the plus side, it is Free.  On the negative side, it is, as noted, fairly time consuming to update and more importantly, monitor community and social reaction to your brand.

The study showed that those that have taken the plunge are actually seeing surprisingly great business returns.  Traffic has been up, exposure has been spread and business increased.  Again, a great idea if you can afford the time to deal with the brand you are spreading.  So, all of you in the marketing world, sound off…has social networking helped your business or brand?  Are you turning to social networks?

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