Thursday, September 27, 2012

Your Personal Brand - Managing Your Online Reputation

A strong and well defined online presence can certainly move the “needle” when it comes to determining the success of a company. In many ways, your company brand is an extension of your own personal reputation – especially if you own a consultancy. For all the good resources and opportunities that the internet provides it can also be a place where negative reviews can have a lasting impact. Can you control what is said about your brand online? Here are some helpful hints about managing your online reputation.

Google Yourself

The only way to know what is being said about your company is to dive into a Google search. However, the occasional search won’t be enough to fortify your interests. Set up a Google Alert which can send you daily updates about any topic you create. This is a perfect way of staying on topic of mentions in blogs, articles or websites. Take advantage of Google Alerts, a free notification service by Google that tracks any keyword online and notifies you anytime there is an article related to that keyword.

Optimize Your Brand

Just because someone types your brand name into a search engine doesn’t automatically guarantee a positive result. What might appear at the top of a search engine ranking could be a negative reviewed from a disgruntled customer. When you consider that a recent study found that 89% of click throughs occur from the first page of a Google search, then you can see the importance of optimizing those results towards more positive trending. Search Engine Optimization or SEO is an area you should focus on for your online marketing campaign. The key is tracing back the links to your business from negative sources and improving the positive responses. There are many resources that can help you improve your rankings. It’s another proactive approach that should be at the top of your to-do list.

Make Social Media Your Friend

Anyone with a passing glance at the internet will no doubt come across some of the dozens of prominent social media networks. These areas are quickly becoming the “hot spots” where internet users spend most of their time online. You need to develop a strong presence for your brand on these sites as well. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest are all viable places where you can develop positive brand reputation.

Offer Quality Content

No matter what type of product or service you are selling online there is an opportunity to build out your brand by providing quality content for online users. An informative article or blog posts that relates to your brand which has been properly optimized can be picked up by search engines and draw traffic back to your site. That can only happen if you make an effort to create engaging content. If you feel that your writing skills are lacking, there are plenty of talented writers who can help deliver the kind of fresh content your website needs for strong SEO.

Finally, try to maintain a positive impact offline as well. A negative news story about your company can push all the hard work right off the first page rankings. By staying active in your local community, you can create positive buzz in on the local news front.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What Is The Biggest Threat To Your Creativity?

The biggest threat to your creativity could be staring you right in the face. The mere fact that you might be researching this topic means you’re stuck! It might be that the creative block hindering your productivity could come down to your attitude. If you consider the very act of “being creative” as a chore or something you dread, then you’re setting up a pattern of self-defeat before you even begin. That’s not being productive or creative. Here are some other things to consider that will help spark your creative flow:

Change Your Perspective

Try sitting in your guest chair for an hour while doing your work. Swap out the photos or art work hanging on your wall. Sometimes changing perspective can be enough to spark a creative idea. Even the smallest change can make a difference. If you have the chance to grab your laptop and head outdoors to the nearest java joint, go for it. There’s no telling what you might run into or meet up with that could help you rethink a problem and come up with a creative solution.

Change Your Chair

If you’re spending eight hours in an uncomfortable chair it’s no wonder you can’t be creative. Constantly adjusting your posture to find the perfect position is a distraction. That distraction can set off a chain reaction. If your chair is uncomfortable then it’s too hot or too cold in the office. Your shoes are too tight. You don’t like what you’re wearing. It goes on and on. Stop those kinds of distractions in their track and start by being comfortable in your chair. By the same token, don’t always sit in the same chair during conference room meetings. Mix it up and see what happens.

Change Your Office Space

There might be an unused area in your office that would make a great “think tank.” Bring in a couple of comfy sofas and chairs and let this be a break space that gives you and your coworkers a chance to get out and move around. This could also be a great place to share idea and get feedback.

Take a Break

We’re not talking about going for a cup of coffee or slice of birthday cake. Instead, think of ways to take an inspiration break. Is there a piece of music that always puts you in a good frame of mind? Is there a favorite writer who always gets you thinking? Load up some quotes or your favorite book in your iPad. Then schedule time to put your work aside and look from inspiration from those sources.

Write Everything Down

The only bad idea is no idea. You sometimes have to get through the dozen clunkers before finding that gem. That’s why when you’re brainstorming you should write everything down. Doesn’t matter if it’s a pad, a dry erase board or even a digital recorder - get it on record for future consideration.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Lessons Learned From Warren Buffett

When it comes to business success you have to admire Warren Buffett. Whether you agree with his politics or not, you have to admit he is an extremely successful businessman. He is now entering his 47th year as the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, one of the most trusted and profitable conglomerate of the modern business world. When Warren Buffett speaks, people pay attention. Here are some of the valuable insights that Buffett uses in his business practices every day. Can you adapt them for your small business?

Motivate for Success

Although Buffett has made a reputation as a master of acquisition he is also seen as an enormous motivator. He understands that a corporate culture is built on the success of managers at all levels. By acknowledging their successes you can foster a strong sense of loyalty and dedication that is key for your own business’s profitability.

In a recent shareholder letter Buffet wrote: "[We] possess a cadre of truly skilled managers who have an unusual commitment to their own operations and to Berkshire. At Berkshire, managers can focus on running their businesses: They are not subjected to meetings at headquarters nor financing worries nor Wall Street harassment. They simply get a letter from me every two years and call me when they wish. Our trust is in people rather than process. A 'hire well, manage little' code suits both them and me."

Take Smart Risks

You can’t build the kind of financial empire that Buffet has built without taking risk. However, that doesn’t mean entering into a contract or decision without being informed. Don’t act on “gut checks” alone. Instead, get as much information about every vendor, contractor or company you intend to partner up in business with. Once you make that decision, stick to it and let it ride out. Following a business plan towards success is about the long game.

Build a Strong and Trusted Team

No matter how big or small your business might be you’re not in this alone. Even if you’re currently the sole operator that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek out advice from trusted allies outside of your company. These loyal advisors could be considered part of your management team. The key thing to take from Buffett is that you’re only as strong as the people you surround yourself with. Who is on your team?

Embrace Your Mistake, Fix It and Move On

You’re going to make mistakes in your business. There is no way to avoid that. What you can avoid is dwelling in those mistakes at the expense of growth. Here’s how Buffett explained this lesson in a shareholder’s letter:  

"When I took control of Berkshire in 1965, I didn't exploit this advantage," Buffett wrote in his shareholder letter last year. "Berkshire was then only in textiles, where it had in the previous decade lost significant money. The dumbest thing I could have done was to pursue 'opportunities' to improve and expand the existing textile operation -- so for years that's exactly what I did. And then, in a final burst of brilliance, I went out and bought another textile company. Aaaaaaargh! Eventually I came to my senses, heading first into insurance and then into other industries."

What have you learned from Warren Buffett?


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Will a PQ Minority Government affect the Economy?

There’s a new Premier in Quebec and she’s ready to roll up her sleeves and get to work improving the economy with her party’s plans. The Parti-Quebecois (PQ) squeaked by with victory that landed Pauline Marois in the proverbial magnifying glass. However, that narrow victory (54 seats out of 125) isn’t enough to hold sway. In order for truly sweeping changes, the PQ will have to build a strong coalition among the centrists and right-leaning party members. In many ways, that’s good news because it means a level of stability.

McGill economics professor William Watson put the election results in context during an interview for the Huffington Post. "It's not a bad election result (for business)," Watson said. "I think the program will have to be modified somewhat. I think there will be a push towards the left, but not as far as the program threatened." That’s going to be good news for the small business community who weren’t embracing those policies in the first place.

Marois ran on a platform of promising to pay for services by creating two new income tax brackets that taxed income over $130 000 and $250 000. She also wants to boost royalties and taxes on the various mining firms operating in the region. However, the bigger issue on everyone’s mind is a referendum on breaking away from Canada and becoming a separatist country. The last time the PQ was in control (1980 and 1995) they put forth referendums on the ballot but both times they failed. While that issue might be on the dock in the future, Marois states she wants to focus on the economy.

There is a sense among economists that this PQ victory could put a damper on direct new investment but there is no reason to think that established businesses will suddenly pack up and move off. Part of the reason is that minority governments like this don’t tend to last long. That allows for a “wait and see” type approach among investors. Most experts think that the election results won’t have an impact on housing prices as they are likely to remain flat.

The same is predicted for the Canadian dollar. Thanks to Quebec’s pension fund manager, Caisse de depot and the Bank of Canada there isn’t a chance the Canadian dollar won’t be propped up if it starts to drift downwards. Hours after the election the loonie value didn’t budge from its $1.0142 US. That’s a good sign of confidence.

As the reality of a slowly recovering economy settles in for Marois, some of her platform promises might have to be adjusted or jettisoned all together. Michel Poitevin, an economics professor at the University of Montreal, also commented to the Huffington Post about Marois’ platform promises. “Higher top-tier taxes, for instance, might prompt the early retirement of some of the province's most productive workers,” he warned. “Any party that would have been elected would have had to make tough decisions. I guess for the PQ, maybe it's going to be harder internally because of all the promises that they made."

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Never Stop Marketing your Small Business!

When it comes to a weak economy we’re all in this together. Yes, it’s true that some businesses manage to stay afloat when times are tough but is that because they are selling something we can’t live without or is it just good marketing? Evidence would suggest it is the latter. The knee-jerk reaction for any small business in a tight economy is to cut costs. However, you don’t have the luxury to sit on the sidelines - You should always keep up your business presence through your marketing campaigns. Here’s why:

The benefits add up

Your bookkeeping records don’t lie: You know when you had a spike in business. Can you trace that uptick to a particular event? If you sell umbrellas and a storm rages through the community then you can thank Mother Nature. Most other upticks in business can be attributed to some piece of effective marketing you engaged in whether that was a coupon, a contest or even a powerful tweet. Build on what worked in the past and embrace the idea that those benefits can be achieved again.

Your competition isn’t stopping

As mentioned, we all share in the economic burdens but that doesn’t mean you should surrender your business to the competition. Do you think they are slowing down their marketing campaigns? Even if they stop marketing, you could take advantage of the downturn to out-market them.  Beat their prices. Offer what they can’t. That’s the way to stay competitive.

Be on the lookout for growth

The best case scenario for any business is to corner-the-market. That means they’re the market leader in their industry. Even the market leader can still experience stagnation if they don’t continue to grow and innovate. Keeping up your marketing provides you with the opportunity to expand your customer base. That’s really the only way to climb out of the economic doldrums.

Think about the long game

A successful marketing campaign isn’t just about a quick infusion of cash. Although that’s going to help, you really want to think about the long game of your business success through aggressive marketing strategy. With those campaigns you’ll be building up a strong brand identity and increasing your customer base. Suppose you ran a contest and succeeded in signing up a thousand entrants? That’s a thousand names you can send email coupons three months from now. When the holidays roll around you’ll be able to send out another blast to remind those folks of what you’re offering. Now you’ve got a consistent business. That can only be achieved if you keep your marketing going. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Using Content Marketing To Drive Credibility


What does creating original content have to do with raspberries?

Nothing. But the mere fact that the word “raspberries” has been randomly dropped into this article is proof positive that this is a piece of original online content. There are plenty of computer programs available to cut corners by churning out robotic content for websites. While those articles are loaded up with facts and figures they won’t have “raspberries:” that original creative flair. That’s what you should be striving to put into your content: originality.

Search engines are getting smarter. Google has launched several algorithm upgrades – the Penguin and Panda updates - which specifically targets websites that produce “spam” content. The Google spiders can tell the difference between an original piece of online content and something that has been “spun” or pasted together with a computer program. The new algorithm updates not only the take a look at the structure of a sentence, they also analyze the relevancy of content , the number of backlinks to the website, the number of times that an article or content gets shared using social media and so many other factors.

Guess which content goes to the top of their rankings? That’s right; it’s the original content. Google wants its users to receive maximum benefit from its searches and you should want the exact same thing for your online visitors. The best way to build up your company brand is through great content that your readers want to share. Here’s what you need to consider with every piece that you write or create:

Teach and Entertain

Readers go online to do two things. Be entertained or find a solution to a problem. Once you have an understanding as to what your target audience wants to do online, you can create the right piece of content that will attract your markets’ attention.  In other words, choose whether each piece that you write or create is going to be informative or fun to consume. You can’t solve all the world’s problems but when it comes to your little corner of cyber space you should be providing solutions that meet their immediate concerns. You should also provide a reason for those users to return to your site. That will only happen if you can put a smile on their face with your content. Get cheeky with the headlines. Don’t shy away from quirky graphics. You can still maintain a professional presence but keep it human and not robotic.

Build Trust and Credibility

Thanks to those Google algorithms, internet surfers are becoming a savvy bunch of readers. They can also quickly spot a “spam” article. Loading up your site with content for the sake of content is going to turn off that visitor. You might not make a sale on that first visit but if you plan your content marketing campaign (or a drip marketing campaign), you can slowly build up trust by creating original content that your target audience will want to read.  Your audience wants to find a reason to not do business with you. So, make sure that any content that you produce specifically targets your intended audience and their needs. When you’ve built that trust they’ll be coming back again and again.

Start a Conversation

With the advent of social media, email and blogs, we get the chance to join and be part of any community. This means we all have a chance to share our experiences and opinions. Give your users that opportunity by inviting them into the discussion. Your content should end with a call to action, whether that’s a link to more articles on your site or a question inviting the reader to leave a comment. Or even sign up for a newsletter. When you engage readers to share their thoughts they’ll come back to see who is commenting on their comments. That’s how you build an online community.

Questions? Feel free to ask and we’ll do our best to answer. (See how that works?!)


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Lessons Learned From Pitching Venture Capitalists

Raising money is as much a part of business as the goal of making money. As the old adage goes, “You’ve got to spend money to make money.” There’s an even older adage which posits, “Never use your own money.” One of the most popular sources of funds – especially for startups - is venture capitalists (VC), those who provide money in exchange for large ownership stakes.

Due to their popularity, VCs are extremely busy and hear thousands of pitches in a month. Out of that many, they invest in only in handful, hoping for a very lucrative exit in a short amount of time. To pitch a VC for financing requires the founders of a startup to not only be well versed in their own companies, but also do extremely detailed research on their potential investors. Not doing your research will make the difference in getting funded millions of dollars or being delegated to the black hole of has-beens. The following tips are some valuable lessons to learn about pitching VC’s and getting your startup funded.  

            Do Your Homework

Every venture capitalist you’ll be pitching to has their own distinct personality. You need to get as much background information on that potential investor as possible. Don’t just Google them but ask around – especially other investors. Do they have a short attention span? Would they prefer to see the bottom line numbers first and then the “sizzle?” What other successful businesses have they invested in? Why did they make those investments? In many ways, you’ll be giving the same basic pitch to every venture capitalist but if you can adjust to their investment criterias and individual personalities you’ll be ahead of the game.

Be Smart With Your PowerPoint

One of the most popular (and easy to use) skills for any business owner to have is the use of the PowerPoint presentation. This is not something you should be slapping together the night before the big pitch. Instead, it’s something you should be developing since the inception of your business plan. An effective PowerPoint presentation can’t stand alone. You’ll still need to “narrate” to fill in the gaps from your bullet points but you shouldn’t become top heavy with data. If you can make your point with a strong visual then go for it. Before building your PowerPoint, go online and view other presentations. Take note of what you like and “borrow” the idea.

Have a Thick Skin

Every entrepreneur walks into a VC pitch with dreams of walking back out with a check. That’s not going to happen. What will happen is you’ll be grilled aboutyour business. This is a good thing. The more you can engage that investor the better off you’ll be. Make sure you listen clearly to any question and think through the answer before blurting out something you think they want to hear. You’re not going to get the same reaction twice. Don’t let that throw you. Remain confident in your proposal and if they don’t bite move on to the next investor.

 Pitch the Facts

It’s great that you have conviction about your business idea but you can’t let that passion become pie-in-the-sky thinking. Over-valuing your company is the quickest way to turn off an investor. If you’ve got grand assumptions to make about business projections you better back it up with more than sweeping generalities. Just because the dog food industry is a multi-billion dollar business doesn’t mean your brand of dog food is guaranteed success. Sell your passion but back it up with the facts.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

How To Get Good Reviews

Everybody is a critic. It’s amazing how much we all rely on reviews and not just professionally written pieces but the “word of mouth” from our friends. How many times have you been turned off from a movie because your friend said it wasn’t good? Thanks to the internet we have even more opportunities to share our reviews. Giant ecommerce site Amazon was first to allow customers to post their own reviews good, bad or indifferent. Now every business that sells a product has gotten into the act with this very effective and low cost method of online marketing. While it is true that administrators of sites can edit or delete reviews it might be better to be honest with your customers. The hope is that the majority of reviews will be positive.

How can you get great reviews for your product? Try these helpful tips:

Write Them Yourself

This is nothing dishonest about this. You’re selling a product you believe in why shouldn’t you share your opinion? You also have direct access to your own circle of friends and family who can help your business a great deal by writing reviews and posting them. Don’t think for a minute that other businesses aren’t doing this because they all do!

Offer Rewards for Reviews

While it’s true that every customer will have an opinion about your product, that doesn’t mean every customer will be motivated to write and post a review. Why not provide them with a little added incentive? You can offer them a discount coupon or a free product for every review they post. Just ask them to send you the link for verification. This can be an ongoing online marketing campaign to help spread the good word of your company. You might also want to encourage them about disclosing the incentive. There’s nothing wrong with a review that says, “I got a coupon to write this but I would have written it anyway!”

Make It Easy For Your Customers

If you’re an ecommerce business then a lot of your customer interactions could be through emails. You can add a signature to every email that is sent out asking for a review and inserting a link where they can post it. For instance, it always helps to have reviews on your site but if you know you can get a good posting from a customer send them over to Yelp or one of the other review sites. When you provide them with the link you’ll not only make it easy for them but also introduce them to a site which could be beneficial for their own use. It’s win/win all around.

Share Your Reviews

Once the word gets out there is nothing stopping you from sharing those positive reviews on your own site. You can copy and paste reviews from Amazon or Yelp onto your own testimonial section of your website. Don’t have a testimonial section? Get one!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

How to Get More Referrals for Your Business

When it comes to your helping your business grow, it all boils down to who you know. And all that could be standing between your business succeeding or failing is your personal network. We’re talking about your professional network and the referrals which are the backbone of any productive small business sales force. Think of referrals as a chain between you and making a sale. The immediate referral might not be buying but that doesn’t mean it can’t lead to a referral that is in the market for what you’re selling. To increase sales you’ll need to increase referrals. Here’s how to accomplish that goal:

Ask and You Can Receive

Every satisfied customer you create is a new referral. Now you’ve got to “activate” that referral. Let that happy customer know you would appreciate their help with getting the word out about your business. Don’t assume everyone is talking about your company. Give them a little nudge and you might just be surprised with the results. You can take it a step further by asking directly for a contact of a friend or family member of that customer who would benefit from what you’re offering. The only shame would be in not asking.

Give and Take

You can get new referrals for your small business by sharing your referrals. This works best in a B2B market but it really amounts to you being proactive about expanding your customer base. If you have a supplier who is selling you a particular product for your business then you can spread the word of his company while he spreads the word of yours. Quid pro quo.

Offer Incentives

Two magic words that get everybody’s attention: finder’s fee. This is a very common practice all across the business world. When someone gives you a referral that buys from you, your referrer is rewarded in some fashion. Local cable and telephone companies use this practice. Sign up a friend and you’ll get a discount. How can you apply that to your business?

Offer Your Referrals First

Somebody has to “break the ice.” That could be you when you offer a referral to a customer or business associate for an item outside of your own company. This could get the ball rolling for a referral exchange.

Spread Your Name

If you have a storefront business then you should make sure every customer walks out with something that has your business name on it. Whether that’s a shopping bag, pen, coaster or magnet you’re spreading the name of your company. How can you do the same thing for an online business? If you post a fun video or photo make sure your web address is embedded on the image. Where ever that graphic goes is where your company name will go. You could hold a contest for the cutest puppy photo. It might have nothing to do with your business but those photos will be shared everywhere. Think outside of the box.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

How Online PR Can Affect Your Ecommerce Sales

As the saying goes, the only bad publicity is no publicity. That’s a common refrain shared among PR folks and there is a grain of truth in that saying. Unless your target audience is aware of your business it will be extremely difficult to generate sales. That applies to a corner dry cleaner or an ecommerce site. Every business is dependent upon buzz and a good reputation. And the best way to generate that buzz is through positive press mentions. But you shouldn’t stop there. Good PR can come in many forms, especially through social media.

In this age, no one can ignore the fact that being online is a must for any business.   Gone are the days when your customers turn to actual yellow pages or pay attention to a TV ad to find what they need. Now most folks head to Google or ask their friends online to find just what they are looking for. What they will find could be your business ranked at the top of the search engine listings thanks to positive PR. Here are some ideas for generating that kind of proactive response:

Get involved in your target market’s community

Not every company can become an official sponsor of the Olympic Games but they can become a sponsor of the local youth hockey team or get involved with charity drives. All of those ideas can create positive a positive reputation that your business cares about the community you are targeting. Even if your market is nationwide, you can sponsor events or even athletes to build brand reputation. Start researching the interests and passions of your target market and see if you can find a way to get your brand involved in a positive way. Your involvement can often be mentioned by news organizations reporting on these causes. That’s terrific publicity.

Get to know your local TV news station

A good way to generate brand visibility is taking advantage of your local TV station. Many stations are affiliates of a larger channel so by promoting your PR angle; you have a higher chance of getting features, especially if it’s unusual. You can also re-post the news feature through YouTube and generate a lot of views. News producers need to fill up that programming with interesting features and not just the headline stories. Could you pitch an unusual segment to a local news producer? Suppose you have an ecommerce business that offers housecleaning products. You could pitch a segment about how your product can remove any stain in any home. If you can’t, then the winner will receive free cleaning services for life. Bottom line: think of how you can promote your business by providing something unusual that makes your company stand out.  

Get involved in online discussions

If your business is already attracting customers then it’s a safe bet those customers are talking about you to their friends or online. One of the most popular and largest online review sites is Yelp. Not only are they offering reviews for restaurants, but there are reviews for just about any other kind of business.
You need to plug into the various online communities to find out what is being said about your business. Set up a Google Alert for your company – this enables you to receive notifications if your company is being mentioned online. If you stumble upon a forum that your target market uses heavily, get involved. If someone has a problem with your company, go into customer service mode and try to fix their issue.