Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Top 10 Small Business Resources Online

Entrepreneurs can never have too many outlets to get questions answered, industry information and basic tips on all things business-related. That’s why we like to keep our blog up-to-date on information that can benefit you, the small business owner.

But there are tons more great resources out there to find all the information you need from just a click of the mouse. Below is a list of our top 10 favourite blogs and websites dedicated to the small business owner.

A Government of Canada blog dedicated to a wide range of business related topics, including insight into government programs, advancements, and events.

YE provides open forum for entrepreneurs, mentors and investors alike to ask questions, network, and create discussion while getting regular tips and information on the YE blog.

CFIB provides business owners support by lobbying on behalf of members on issues that affect Canadian business. Their website has a wealth of regularly updated information on current political issues and legislation as well as general information and tips to help your business grow.

Written by Rick Spence, a leading consultant on entrepreneurship and business growth in Canada, the Canadian Entrepreneur blog not only gives business owners great tips and ideas but also provides interesting anecdotes that make for a great read. He’s a regular contributor on the National Post blog as well.

Staples is well known as the place to go for anything office related in Canada, but they also have a great business insights! The Staples blog has posts on a wide range of topics to appeal to business owners at any stage. The blog includes great recommendations on resources as well as highlighting successful Canadian entrepreneurs.

Susan Ward’s “Small Business: Canada” section on the About.com website is a gold mine of information on any topic you can think of regarding Canadian business. Her posts are well written and easy to read, making even the most confusing concepts clear and understandable.

Though this is an American blog, there are many good tidbits of information on Small Business Trends that can apply to any business.  

Entrepreneur.com’s “The Daily Dose” provides excellent coverage of the latest information on all business related matters. It’s a great read to keep on top of current news and trends that may affect your business.

Everybody wants to save a buck – especially small business owners! The Frugal Entrepreneur is dedicated to helping small business owners and entrepreneurs do just that. With cool tips and tricks to help you maximize your business on a minimized budget, this blog is a great read with great tips.

Not only does CanadaOne.com provide business and event listing services, it also has a wealth of information for business owners. Get expert advice, business guides and book reviews all in one place and all dedicated to helping your business grow.

Do you have a go-to blog or website for small business information? Let us know in the comments!


Thursday, January 26, 2012

SEO tips for your small business

As Google has changed how people access and consume information, so must small businesses if they want to compete effectively. The goal of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is to drive traffic to your website and therefore increase sales.  It has become such an important of marketing that you can’t really ignore it and expect to be successful in business.  
Here are some tips that can help your site get better optimized so that you can increase your sales. 

·         Picking the right keywords: One of the most important components of SEO is selecting the right keywords as optimizing for the wrong keyword will be leaving money on the table. You want to make sure that you pick keywords that have high traffic but are not competitive. Pick the keywords that people might type in the search engine, usually they would be two to four words.

·         Use short and keyword- targeted titles: Make sure that your title tag is descriptive and reflects the keywords and content of the particular page. Your title shouldn’t be too long, up to 10 words, and should also include your business name or website.

·         Detailed meta description tags: While ‘Meta Keyword’ tags are a topic of debate in the SEO world, what has remained is the frequent use of something called a “Meta Description” tag. This tag should contain an overview of what the visitor will experience on your specific page. This tag should be no longer than a couple of sentences. Omitting the “Meta Description” tag will result in the search engine quoting unintended parts of the page in the search engine results page.

·         Use search engine friendly URLs and domains:  When you purchase a domain, make sure that you purchase a domain with keywords that your clients will type in the search engine. By matching the domain name to the search phrase, you have a higher probability of gaining more visibility.

·         Content freshness & age:  The reason search engines exist is to provide you with great information. If your site doesn’t have fresh content on a frequent basis, they will bypass you in favour of a site that does have recent and relevant content.  When you publish unique and interesting content on a regular basis, you get noticed by the search engines, who will place you

·         Obtaining backlinks: The more links you get from other high rank websites, the better it affects your SEO ranking. A way to get backlinks is to provide great content and have people share it. The only reason people will want to link with you is because you have something great to offer. Don’t just link only to the homepage, but also make sure that you can get links to other pages on your website if they are relevant.

 ·       Social media content and sharing: Recently, Google has changed some parts of its algorithm, called the Panda Update. One change that was supposed to help in search rankings was how many times people share a webpage or website through social media. Now, to get people to share, you must provide great content to be shared.  Also, have your customers post reviews on major sites like Yelp, Zagat, Facebook and link back to your website. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What Google’s Acquisition of Zagat Means for Your Small Business

For months, Google has been telling everyone that local is going to be huge. With that in mind, Google purchased Zagat (a local restaurant review and group deals site) in September 2011. The acquisition helps Google provide some trusted review content and deals for their search users in their local region. By integrating Zagat content into Google search results, they offer a better experience for users, including a great offline presence that they can build off of. But, what does this acquisition mean for your business?

Local marketing is the new space

One thing that Google has noticed is that consumers are looking for search results that are related to their region. So, instead of providing general search results that are not relevant, it’s providing more results related to the city you live in (for example: “electricians in Toronto”). 

This has created a need for small businesses to optimize their website for local searches, targeting prospects for specific keywords related to their expertise and location. With the Google Panda update, search results have become more accurate, where businesses can target their prospects more accurately making SEO extremely important.   

Local reviews have become key to building credibility

Zagat offers small businesses the opportunity to build their credibility through customer reviews. Simply put, the more reviews a business obtains, the higher in the search results that it ranks, resulting in higher visibility.  

With more importance being put in a customer review, small businesses must account for integrating reviews as part of their online search strategy. So what should businesses do to take advantage of the newer local marketing trend? They can do the following:

·         Integrate Google Places page as part of their marketing strategy:  Make sure that you’re listed in Google Places, and are optimized with the proper keywords. 

·         Create a customer review strategy: With the mix of social media and search, businesses must now be hyper-aware of customer reviews in all spots from social media sites to directories. Your strategy must include how to deal with negative reviews.

Is mobile the new battleground?

The acquisition of Zagat has provided a Google a way to provide much deeper results for their Google Places, making them more competitive and providing a better user experience for both business clients and users.  

Most importantly, it has allowed Google to provide a great value for mobile search users through its Android apps and integrate Zagat / Google Places results into Google Map results. The best place for these results would be in mobile search. After all, when you search for a restaurant, don’t you always Google it on your phone before making a choice?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

How content can help with Social Media ROI

Social media marketing is maturing quickly – it used to be that you measured the effectiveness of a campaign through the number of followers that you signed up. Now, social media metrics have become complex and there is an expectation that every campaign must have a clear ROI. And like any marketing campaign, success is determined by how much it affects sales revenue.

As with any online marketing campaign, one of the most important components in driving ROI is the amount of high quality content that you create for your target audience. By mixing content with social media, you have the perfect recipe for building brand and be recognized as a thought leader.

 Why content marketing can work with social media

With more choices in accessing media and related content, your target audience are more selective on what content they consume and how they view it. They are seeking out information, and asking their friends for referrals. They are also less trusting of information coming directly from the brands themselves. 

With this in mind, more and more companies are creating content as part of their inbound marketing strategy to attract the attention of their clients, avoiding the use of interruption marketing and advertising. By putting content as central to their marketing strategy, they are creating a funnel that pulls prospects in.

Content is more effective online when you add social media and online marketing. You get a powerful combination which:

·         Can be used to provide content for all your social media channels and drive interaction.

·         Can be used for the soft sell – grabbing the readers’ attention without using a sales pitch because what you provide is relevant and meets their information needs.

·         Allows for closed-loop tracking, where you can draw people into your website from social media channels and determine whether your ROI has improved. A good way to lure your customers is through great content that they want to view.

As you are well aware, social media sites and networks have access to an incredible amount of data on the type of content and interests that people like to share with their friends – in real-time. With about billions of pieces of content being shared on Facebook and Twitter, it’s no wonder that search engines are starting to take notice.  Google has started tracking, in their Panda update, the amount of shares that people do for a particular web page or content.

 They’ve also added Twitter feeds and Google+ feeds in search results.  Metrics such as retweets, shares, likes and others are being tracked in determining whether a piece of content is quality or not worth sharing.  As people are expecting more from Google, Bing and Yahoo to provide quality results, these search engines are taking advantage of the real-time data from social media to provide relevant results.

The end result? Marketing managers and business owners have to create content that their customers will love and share.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Overview of the Canada Not-For-Profit Corporations Act

Recently, a new law called the Canada Not-For-Profit Corporations Act ("CNPCA") came into effect aimed at eliminating unnecessary regulation and providing flexibility to the not-for-profit sector. The new legislation modernizes the corporate governance of not-for-profit corporations by promoting accountability, transparency and efficiency.

The Act in its entirety is lengthy and detailed so not-for-profits will have up to 3 years to transition into compliance. Below is a list of some of the Act’s more important provisions that may affect you and your not-for-profit.

The process of incorporation has become more streamlined under the new Act making it faster and more efficient. Instead of submitting the letters patent and by-laws for review, incorporations now occur “as of right” upon submission of the signed articles of incorporation.

Before the Act was implemented Industry Canada required incorporating not-for-profits to prepare and submit by-laws governing corporate matters to be reviewed and approved at the time of incorporation.  Under the new legislation it is no longer necessary to draft and submit by-laws with the application for articles of incorporation. The new Act requires by-laws that deal with member issues only. 

Members’ rights are enhanced under the new Act. The new rights include: the right to submit a notice of proposal to request said proposal to be discussed during a members meeting; the right to request a meeting at any time; the right for non-voting members to vote separately from voting members on matters that impact membership rights; and the right to access corporate records to monitor board compliance.

A director’s liability and standard of care are protected by the “due diligence” defence as understood in the common law duty of acting in honest and good faith. In this legislation specific liabilities are given to directors concerning payment and distribution to members, debt obligations, and wages payable to employees. However, directors who meet the standard of care are protected from liabilities through the “due diligence” defence under the new Act.

Financial Accountability:
The Act divides not-for-profit corporations into soliciting and non-soliciting corporations, which are subject to different regulations depending on which category your not-for-profit falls under. Your gross revenues are also dependent upon the rules and requirements for reporting under the new legislation.  

To facilitate the change, Industry Canada will not charge initial filing fees related to transitioning from the CCA to the NFP Act. To view the Act in its entirety, please click here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Providing great customer service

Everyone knows that loyal customers are profitable customers.  They purchase more frequently, buy a broader range of products and talk about your company to others as much as possible. It’s important that you take care of them as the more you do and show how much you appreciate their business, the more your clients will keep coming back.  As a company, providing great customer service should be a priority at all times. Here are some tips that will help you provide the best customer service you can. 

Fast service, faster communications.

Remember to communicate everything to your client quickly.  Reply to your clients’ communications as quickly as you can, as not acknowledging an email or voice mail is merely going to create more frustration.  Always be considerate of their needs by acknowledging their request or communications. You may not be able to complete a task or a request immediately, however you can always let them know that you received their message and provide a new schedule. Manage your client expectations by communicating your customer service communications policy i.e. when they should expect a response from you.

Keep clients updated.

Always let your clients know where you are in a project or in a product repair. Not knowing where they stand or what the status of a project is not a great feeling to have.  Make regular reports to your customers and let them be aware of how things are progressing. Are you facing any issues or challenges? Or is everything on track? Even if you’re experiencing any trouble, do not hesitate to let them know immediately and propose a solution to solve the problem. It shows that you’re keeping them in the loop and that you have things under control. Communicating any issues right away helps your client plan for contingencies.

Fix your mistakes.

If you did something that didn’t end up working, you should repair it as soon as possible. An easy way to lose a client forever is not admitting that you are at fault and not fixing your own mistakes. When you don’t take responsibility for your own faults, it is a quick way of getting a bad reputation.  

Go beyond the call of duty.

There is a maxim that you should always over-deliver and under-promise.  Not only will this result in a happy client, you will always be in top of mind as someone who can get things done.  Surprise your customers in not only delivering it ahead of time but providing an extra discount! Offer value – replace their product while it’s being fixed or pay for the shipping to pick up their broken item from their home.  You are not limited in how you can provide great value as long as you make it easy for the customer to do business with you.

Listen. Listen. Listen.

In all communications, the most important part of it is listening. If you’re not listening to what the client is saying, you are setting the stage for future frustrations. When a client is being very vague, don’t be afraid to ask them to clarify. Try to read between the lines - by understanding what they are really saying, you can offer suggestions on the best way to go about fulfilling those needs.

Remember that providing great customer service is knowing  how you would want to be treated if you’re faced with the same situation.  No matter what kind of business you have, if it is customer based then maintaining quality customer service is the key to a success and profitability.  

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Low cost online marketing tactics to drive awareness for your small business

Marketing can be expensive, however, you don’t need a six-figure budget to drive results. Here are some great tactics you can put into action that will help you build buzz and drive traffic back to your website. While these ideas are not expensive, they will definitely take a bit of time and effort to master.  

1)      Blog commenting:  This is a simple and effective way to drive traffic back to your website or blog. Blogging is a social activity, a two-way conversation between the writer and their readers so if you join the conversation you must add value to it. By posting insightful comments on other blogs, you not only build relationships with the bloggers but also with their readers. Remember to only comment on blogs that are related to your industry or targets your market demographics.

2)      Posting in message boards: Although they may have been around since the beginning of the internet and are relatively unchanged, they are still extremely effective for driving traffic and building awareness. There are thousands of message boards around the internet for almost every topic. By joining and participating in their discussions and consistently offering great advice, you will be considered as an expert and drive traffic to your website. 

3)      Search Engine Optimization: Search Engine Optimization has become one of the most important marketing tactics that you could use to drive traffic and awareness to your business. With millions of people using Google and other search engines every day, why shouldn’t you target your website to them? By ranking higher in the search engines, you have the opportunity to drive thousands of visitors every day to buy your services and products.  

4)      Create a blog: Regardless of what you sell online, you must have a blog. The benefits of writing a blog goes beyond building a relationship with your prospects and customers, it can also help your site’s organic SEO ranking. Because Google ranks websites higher that post frequent content that people link to, having a blog makes great sense for your company. By posting great content, stuff that people can’t find anywhere else, you are positioning yourself as a resource that people go to for information. Make sure that you share your content through social media sites such as Digg, StumbleUpon, Facebook and Twitter. For many websites, a blog accounts for a large portion of their monthly traffic. By converting that traffic into leads, you can have your sales team follow up and make them customers.

5)       Build your social media presence: You should be taking the opportunity to have a company profile or page on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+.  They will be good areas to get new clients that you normally wouldn’t get. And the best part is that it won’t cost you anything except the time it takes to maintain your profiles. Don’t forget that people are on your pages because you provide content that they can’t find on their own. You build up your profile when you share and participate in the social web.

6)      Be a guest poster:  Another great way to get some awareness and traffic is to write guest posts on other blogs within your industry. With thousands of blogs found on the web, you will be able to find a few popular blogs that you can write for. And the common thing that all these blogs want is more content. By writing guest posts, you will not only get organic traffic but, even more valuable, backlinks that can help you with your Search Engine Optimization campaign. 

7)      Video marketing or YouTube: Now that they appear in search results, videos have become a great way to market your service or company. You can optimize them to appear higher in the rankings and create great videos to show clients how good your products and services are.  Remember, people go to YouTube to either learn or be entertained.

8)      Get interviewed: Getting publicity from major news outlets is hard, however, you can still get publicity from blogs and smaller online newspapers. Contact various bloggers and give them a reason as to why they should interview you. Mention your company’s achievements or why their readers will find you awesome. If they say yes, they will most likely email you some questions and post your response.

There are many ways that you can generate awareness and branding without having to spend money, it just requires some creativity and effort. There are many examples of companies achieving greatness through using low-cost marketing tactics and competing effectively against their competitors. If they can do it, so can you.  Just be aware that you must be willing to put in time and energy to get results.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Small Business Tips for 2012

With 2012 finally here, it’s time to start preparing your goals. Now that the economy is slowly picking up, and consumers are getting their confidence back, now's the time to bring your company to the next level. Here are some things that you can focus on to get ready for 2012.

Review what has worked for you last year.

Always review what you’ve done the last year that has worked or failed. If you don’t, you’ll be doomed to repeat your past mistakes. Consider any marketing campaign that didn’t pan out the way you wanted. What could you have done better? Provide a better offer? Or target the right market?  Or was it the timing?

Update your sales and marketing plan.

The most important part of any business is your sales. Keep track of how many sales you expect in each quarter and outline what actions you are taking to achieve those targets. You need to keep your sales pipeline full with prospects and have an action plan to convert them into customers. 

The plan doesn’t have to be a huge document – just enough to outline your current situation: Your current sales revenue and income, how many new clients you have and repeats,  profit margins, expenses and others. Then write down your goals for where you’d like to be this year. And finally, outline three strategies that you will use to achieve your sales goals for this year. Create a step-by-step list on what you need to do to execute each strategy.   

 Update your website and online marketing strategy.

One of the most effective marketing that you can do as a small business is through the web, and if you’re not focusing on creating an online marketing plan, you are leaving a large amount of money on the table. Of course, you need to do more than just create a website – learn how to promote it and understand how it will allow prospects to become your customers.  

Create a board of advisors or mentor team.

Creating a mentor or advisory team is one of the best steps you can take for your business growth. By working with the right mentor, you can avoid mistakes that will slow your business and cut your learning curve tremendously. Your team can help you open doors that would have been otherwise closed if you did it on your own.  

 Throughout all of this, don’t forget to relax! As an entrepreneur, you are working 24/7. If you don’t schedule some downtime, you will eventually burn out. Take the time to do an activity that is not related to your work and stay fit. The end result being, you’ll be fresh and happy to face your business challenges every day.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

In the fall we asked our clients to tell us their business' story and how CorporationCentre.ca helped them start up.  Hundreds of entrepreneurs answered our request! We narrowed the group down and went on location last month to film our small business clients, showcasing their businesses and their use of CorporationCentre.ca services. 

Here's a shot of the green screen set up before we started filming. 

Stay tuned for the videos coming soon!