Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Mobile Trends That Affect Small Businesses

A study from AT&T shows how reliant small businesses have become on mobile technology. The 2013 AT&T Small Business Technology Poll mentions that 85 percent of small business employees now use a smartphone to help with their jobs. 

Customers are becoming more mobile too. The International Data Corporation, a global marketing intelligence firm, says the number of smartphones shipped now outpaces the number of other cell phones around the world. Tablets are on the increase with customers too.

Consider these mobile trends that affect small business:

Trend #1: BYOD – Bring your own device

BYOD or bring your own device is a trend that allows employees to use their Smartphones and tablets for business 24/7. According to recent surveys, the numbers of Smartphones sold outpaced the number of PCs. Maybe it's because the newest generation of Smartphones enables users to do everything their laptop does. Companies are utilizing BYOD as a way to increase productivity. For a small business owner, allowing your sales staff to BYOD will encourage them to use that device for all kinds of work-related tasks throughout the day. That's going to be very good for your business.

Trend #2: Mobile Shopping

In the U.S., Cyber Monday sales are quickly building towards outpacing the traditional top selling Black Friday sales and those are only two days out of the year! The vast majority of mobile tech users have made purchases through their phones and pads. It's not just the ease of one-click buying that customers appreciate but also the ability to shop and compare items right in the store. When your mobile application can make that shopping experience easy to navigate then you're going to build a stronger customer base. This means your website should be adapted for mobile phone use. Perhaps you should develop a separate app for your online store. At the very least there should be a lot of testing to work out the potential bugs. You might have only one shot at grabbing a mobile shopper, make sure your website is ready.

Trend #3: LTE – Long Term Evolution

Long Term Evolution networks or LTE are becoming all the rage for many Canadian businesses. These networks are allowing for all types of innovations like HD video conferences, transfer of large data files and hot spot access anywhere in the country. LTE networks allow businesses to make instant uploads across a variety of social media platforms. This insures a greater change of market penetration than ever before.
In the future, smartphones will continue to improve the way you experience the everyday world. Projection technology, for instance, is rapidly getting better, with some phones able to project pictures and high-definition video to a wall the same size of a 50-inch television screen.

Mobile payments using your phone will now become a hot trend, with many businesses vying to create the better “mousetrap”. Technology will always be evolving. With better streaming technology, faster processors, smartphones are becoming more powerful and will become much more integrated into our lives.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

What to Know About Running Contests

For many businesses, a contest is a perfect way to reward loyal customers and bring in new traffic. Best of all, you don't have to be a huge company with deep pockets to start a contest. However, there are some legal matters you need to be aware of before diving into the contest arena. Keep these guidelines handy before considering launching your contest.

Make it a sweepstakes or contest.

Sweepstakes and contests might sound like the same thing but in the legal realm they are quite different. A sweepstakes is when a person merely "enters" to win something. That can be as simple as submitting an email address or sending a text. On the other hand, a contest involves some sort of skill like writing an essay. You'll want to make that distinction because each one comes with a specific set of legal guidelines/restrictions.

Make a list of rules.

You'll need to make a list of rules for your contest and then adhere to those rules. These rules should cover the typical items such as deadlines, eligibility requirements and rewards. They should also cover every possible scenario in terms of winning and losing. In other words, don't leave anything to second-guessing.

Make it region specific.

It's easy if you have a small neighborhood business and want to run a contest for your customers. You would only have to look up the guidelines as it pertains to your city and state. However, if you want to go national or international you're going to need to do a lot more research. This is why many contests have built in restrictions as to who can play.

Make sure you understand the online rules.

Obviously, the best way to reach the most potential customers would be with an online contest but that will open the door to a whole new range of possible restrictions. You might think it's a good idea to run a contest in order to get an expanded email list, but in reality you could be prevented from using those newly acquired addresses. Make sure you follow the rules especially when there is the potential for minors to be exposed to your contest.

Make sure you get a good attorney.

Suppose your contest involves printing "golden tickets" that a customer needs to find. What if the printer messes up and everyone gets a golden ticket? That scenario actually happened to Kraft Foods back in 1989 when suddenly all of the contestants in a contest were claiming brand new cars when there was only supposed to be one winner. Since then the "Kraft clause" was instituted to cover those kinds of human errors. An experienced attorney who has crafted rules and regulations for a contest will know all about those clauses and that's who you should be retaining to help with your contest.

When it comes to contests, you want to make sure your company comes out as the real winner!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Top 10 Tech Investors To Follow On Twitter

Who are you following in Twitter? Once you collect you favorite celebrities, pundits and comedians, it might be time to focus on your business. 

There is a lot to learn from Twitter even in 140 characters. 

Here are the top 10 tech investors you should be following on Twitter.

Ashton Kutcher @aplusk
He's not just a TV star and master of the Punk'd prank, he's also a serious tech investor. As an "Angel Investor" Ashton will pick and choose who he wants to sink money into. He currently has over 14 million followers. It might be hard to get his attention in that crowd but you can certainly keep track of what he's up to.

Richard Branson @richardbranson
As founder of Virgin Airlines, Richard has redefined first class air travel. Thanks to his success he is open to new ventures through his Virgin Investments. He is the very definition of  a risk-taking entrepreneur.

Al Gore @algore
Got a new tech idea that is "green?" You might be able to rope in former Vice President Al Gore who has made a second career in promoting eco-friendly industries. His firm is Generation Investment Management and if you have an idea that is zero carbon footprint rated send him a tweet.

Mark Cuban @mcuban
Each week on "Shark Tank", Mark Cuban shows what an angel investor is all about. Folks with business ideas come to him, pitch their ideas and try to convince him to invest in their companies.  There have been many success stories to come out of the "tank" but that's not the only place he looks for possible investments.

Fred Wilson @fredwilson
His company, Union Square Ventures, is described as a "early stage venture capital firm." This means Fred likes to get in on the ground floor. IT is their primary focus and in the pasts 17 years Union Square Ventures has helped over 40 companies get up and running.

Om Malik @om
Om is a general partner at True Ventures, a Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm that has around $600 million in funds to play around with. According to Crunch Base, the firm "..maintains a strong founder community and offers innovative educational opportunities to its portfolio, helping entrepreneurs achieve higher levels of success and impact."

Chris Sacca  @sacca
His company, Lowercase Capital, not only offers funds for start-ups and late-stage companies but they also pride themselves on their advisory role. Chris is not someone who is just going to write a check and walk away.

Kevin Rose @kevinrose
Google isn't just a search engine. They've also got money to invest. Among the type of start-ups that Google Ventures invests in are Internet (obviously), software, hardware, clean-tech, bio-tech and health care. Their goal is to invest at least $100 million a year. Not too shabby.

Evan Williams @ev
The Obvious Corporation that Evan is a part of was founded in 2006. Since then it has dedicated itself in helping companies create new cutting edge technologies "which have the power to affect individuals, organizations and society." Since Obvious was behind the creation of Twitter, it stands to reason you should be following Evan.

Guy Kawasaki @GuyKawasaki
When you consider that Apple was started in a garage, it makes sense for this venture capital firm to be so named. Since setting up shop in 2005, Guy has lead his company through many important vestments covering a wide range of tech start-ups. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

How to Land a Celebrity Client

We live in the age of the celebrity. Although it can be dicey to align your company with a star only to have them implode, for the most part a celebrity endorsement can provide a solid boost for your bottom line.

If you provide your product or service to a celebrity and they later tweet about it or promote it on a talk show you've hit the jackpot. Think of this as an "bonus promotion." 

How can you land a celebrity client? 

Consider these insider tips: 

Work the referral.

Success in business requires hard work but it could also help if you know the right people. That is especially true when it comes to gaining access to a celebrity. If you take aim directly at the star you won't get very far. However, if you can find out who represents them or manages their business affairs you could find an in that way. You'll be on much stronger ground if you can work a referral as opposed to cold calling a star.

Be prepared to do the end run.

Depending on the celebrity, they could have several layers of "protection" in the form of an entourage. This could mean a whole gaggle of assistants, drivers and even bodyguards which will keep you from direct access. There are always ways around these walls. For one, you can try to befriend some of the support staff. If you're trying to connect with an agent or manager, try calling at off hours when you can go shoot through an inner office phone directory. You might get lucky if that person answers their own phone!

Make your own brand a happening brand.

Don't stake your entire business on a free celebrity endorsement. As mentioned, that is bonus but you can get there by making your product a "must have." This could mean providing items for award show gift bags. It's an investment but it can get your product directly into the hands of the celebrity.

Always be kind.

Once you've gained access you'll want to thank the people who got your there. Make yourself available to the staff for further special orders. Don't hesitate to send them a gift as a way of saying "thank you."

Create a great website and online profile.

Suppose you're selling a cool new boot and you want to attract a celebrity. Think about what appeals to them. They might end up doing a little research on your company before accepting a product. That's why your website should be current.  Make sure that your website tells your brand story well. Use videos, blogs and social media to communicate your message.    

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Social Media May Drive More Traffic Than Search Engines

The owner of a typical brick and mortar storefront depends a lot on foot traffic to insure that their business is a success. That's why location is so vital when picking out a place of business. For an e-commerce company, getting high visibility on search engines or access to a large source of traffic is just as equally important. Getting that traffic directly to a company's website is the goal of any online marketing campaign.

The prevailing wisdom has been that search engines will do the trick provided you can increase your ranking on those pages. However, it appears that social media networks are giving the search engines a run for their money in terms of providing them with organic traffic. You only have to look at the numbers to appreciate where most internet users are spending their time.

Where Are The Users?

A recently published report put out by Forrester Research has found that 50% of 18 to 23 year olds and 43% of 24 to 32 year olds list social networks as their go-to internet-discovery resource. In that arena, Facebook and Twitter are holding sway as the number one and two forms of discovery for nearly a third of all American users alone. That represents an 18% increase for "discovery-use" on those sites since 2010.

The good news for search engine sites is that 54% of American users regularly depend on those search results to find what they are looking for. The bad news is that number is dropping. It was 61% in 2010.

More Fun Social Media Facts

The vast majority of Fortune 500 Companies have a Facebook page and/or Twitter account, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are using those resources effectively. For a business start-up looking to get a foothold in customer traffic, social media could be a productive resource to invest in. 

Here are some more of the findings from the research report:

·         26% of internet users discovered company websites through branded emails. That's an 11-point increase from 2012.

·         18% of internet users proclaimed that paid search results got them to where they wanted to go. These would be all those click through ads on Facebook.

·         28% of all internet users find new websites by clicking through to links on sites they are visiting. 

How can you make that work for your company? A simple quid pro quo will do. If you link to a business ask them to link to you. Obviously, you're not going to find much traffic with a competitor, but landing an affiliate site would be ideal. Write a lot of guest posts and have the articles placed on industry websites.  

Does all of this mean you should give up on search engine optimization all together? Absolutely not. 

However, it is clear you should be dividing your online marketing strategy equally between SEO and social media.

You'll probably find that they work hand in hand.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

How to Get Customer Referrals to Grow Your Business

Before heading out to see the latest Hollywood blockbuster do you check the reviews? There are certainly plenty of places to read other viewers opinions. The same can be said for any type of service company. On many levels, these "reviews" are actually referrals, at least the positive ones are! 

Businesses depend on customer referrals to keep the sales numbers flowing. How are you doing with collecting customer referrals? Is there room for improvement? Try embracing these insights to help gather customer referrals to grow your business.

Collect LinkedIn endorsements.

Your company should have a LinkedIn page up and running. If so then you'll be able to start collecting endorsements from other professionals who you're networking with. In the grand scheme of things these endorsements might not make or break your company but every little bit helps. A good way to generate endorsements is to give endorsements. Stay active on your page and you should be rewarded in kind.

Ask and you shall receive.

You know it never hurts to ask, right? That applies for so many things in life not the least of which is getting endorsements for your business. If you have some trusted clients who you've established a strong relationship with then reach out to them and ask for an endorsement. Make it easy on them by providing the link to where you want that endorsement to go. Your goal could be as simple as increasing your Facebook likes or getting a written testimonial you can post on your website. Be proactive on your hunt for endorsements and you'll be amazed at what can come rolling back to you.

Sift through the recommendations.

If you do your homework right and the recommendations start flowing your way you'll want to sift through them to make sure they are the right recommendations for your company. This ability to sift through the recommendations works best when you're in control like on your own web page or Facebook account. Just because someone says, "I like them" doesn't mean you have to use that recommendation especially if that is all you get. Without writing them yourself, the recommendations should be thoughtful and specific towards what your company is offering. The more details the better the recommendation.

Spread the word.

Securing a good recommendation is meaningless until you can put it work for you. Every new positive recommendation should be shared with your entire social media network. It should also be included in any email blast that you'll be sending out to new customers.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

How To Attract the Clients You Want

Your customers are your company's lifeblood. Without them your business will go belly up. Just because you've got some loyal customers doesn't mean you can rest on your laurels and coast through your next bottom line review. You should always be on the lookout for ways to expand your customer or client base. Here's how to attract the clients you want:

Make customer service priority number one.

The goal is to make it easy for a client to do business with you. That is accomplished with a strident focus on customer service. You don't have to send out "thank you gift baskets" after ever order, but make sure every client has a dedicated representative from your company that they can reach out to. Solve problems fast and listen to what that client wants. By providing this kind of top-notch customer service your clients will have no problem recommending your company to their associates.

Focus on information.

To attract clients you need to provide them with valuable information, not a hard sales pitch. You already know what your current clients appreciate in terms of the services your company provides. Let that be the focus of your marketing. You're trying to build up trust and that can only happen when you can demonstrate that you are focused on a potential client's best interests. 

Put technology to work for you.

With all the communication technology at our disposal, there is no excuse for not staying in contact with a client. You can use SaaS services such as ZenDesk or salesforce.com to keep track of complaints and issues. Make the investment to setup a CRM system and it could go a long towards securing that client's business.

Encourage referrals.

Asking for referrals should be a part of your daily business plan. It might help to have incentives not only for your employees but for your current clients as well. A referral means you'll be getting the same kind of client you're already working with. No one is going to send you a "bad client."

Keep your staff motivated.

After all your hard work of attracting new clients, you don't want to lose them if your staff drops the ball. Make sure everyone is on the same page so that you're presenting a unified front to any prospective client. A happy staff means happy clients and that's going to be less stress for you all around.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Power of Joint Marketing Partnerships

A business can't become a success on its own. Every company needs to develop partnerships with vendors and customers in order to generate profits. The potential for profits can be elevated even further with a joint venture partnership. Case in point, the Yonanas machine.

This was a simple gadget that turned overripe bananas into a frozen dessert. The company was humming along trying to break into the big leagues when they formed a joint partnership with Dole. That translated into 100 million bunches of bananas having stickers challenging consumers to "Turn me into a Yonana!" The machines flew off the shelf. Can you think of a joint partnership that would benefit your business? Think about these tips for achieving stronger marketing through a joint partnership.

Power Up Your Facebook Page

Billions of users log onto Facebook every day. Even if you capture just a fraction of those potential "likes" you'll be sitting pretty. Once you've established your Facebook page and have it bursting with fresh content, look for a joint partnership page that you can team up with. If you sell decorative wine corks then finding a wine distributor would be a natural fit. Not only can that cork company team up with a wine distributor, but also a gift basket company. What you'll want to do is reach out to that partner and set up a mutual deal where you're both promoting each other through Facebook updates. That's the power of social media joint partnerships.

Use Backlinks for Your Content

That same exchange of Facebook pages can occur with backlinks on your content pieces. Once again, you'll be working with a joint partner to create content that you can both benefit from. It would be like creating an continuous circle of traffic from your web site to your partner's web site. If you're both using effective SEO then it's going to be a win/win all around.

Share the Goods

As you already know, giving away free stuff is a wonderful way to generate traffic to your web business. However, you don't have to limit yourself to giving away freebies just on your site. You can also share incentives on your joint partnership's web pages. Setting up a contest that shares prizes with a partner's products is another terrific way to pump up traffic between the sites. 

Once you've found the perfect joint partner, there should be no limit to the amount of exchanges you can both engage in online. It will take coordination between the parties but that is easy to manage. Joint partnerships are all about thinking outside of the box and you should already be doing that! 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

How Three Entrepreneurs Bounced Back From Failure

We learn as much from our failures as we do from our successes. That has long been a truth in business as well as in life. Here are some prime examples of entrepreneurs who bounced back from failure.

Nihal Mehta

Nihal Mehta is the founder and CEO Local Response. This is a ad-tech firm working out of New York whose primary focus is on social media targeted ads. Anyone who has been in the tech industry is bound to have a failure or two on their portfolio. Mehta's first tech venture folded in 1999. However, he was able to hold onto the programming assets and merge them into a new company that was eventually sold to Omnicon Group. After that he started up Buzzd, which was a real-time mobile city guide. The initial funding was for $4 million. Unfortunately, Buzzd was ahead of its time and never really caught on with consumers.

Instead of going under, Mehta regrouped and recapitalized the entire financial structure of the company. This gave him a much needed cash boost to rebrand as Local Response, and had him poised for the Smartphone revolution that would come a few months later.

The big lesson was finding a way to stay active. "I learned this the hard way--it was six years from my first company to my first exit," Mehta told Entreprenuer.com "Building products isn't easy, but if you keep working hard, keep throwing things at the wall, you will find a way."

Kathryn Minshew

Kathryn Minshew is CEO and co-founder of the Manhattan-based, The Muse. This is a career-development platform that is chock full of resourceful original content, interactive job boards and insightful company profiles. In 2010, Minshew launched Pretty Young Professionals which was geared as a networking site for professional women. A year later the redesigned site attracted 20,000 young women and that's when the trouble started with her partners.

Everyone had a different idea of where the company should go next. Instead of working through, they decided to split up with an equity and intellectual property agreement being formed on a handshake and notepaper without lawyers. Mistake. Minshew took what she learned to start the Muse, which recently posted an impressive 2 million users over 160 countries. Her take away was to formalize partnerships at every step of the way with proper legal representatives. A shrewd business lawyer will see potential pitfalls.

"It's so important to find people who share your values and ethics," she told Entrepreneur.com. "There are a lot of things you can paper over, and having different sets of opinions is valuable, but not when it comes down to code of conduct."

Frank Jadhavji

Frank Jadhavji is the co-founder and current CEO of JustDeals.com, which is described as "a flash-deal site specializing in consumer electronics and appliances." Dealing in actual products had Jadhavji setting up a company warehouse. The first shipment to arrive was stolen. The big problem was that inventory was already sold to waiting online customers and the way out was hunkering down in crisis management. This meant expediting insurance claims and reaching out to the customers to make them away of the situation. 

This was a classic case of "anything that can go wrong, will!" Jadhavji suggests hiring a management team who can handle a crisis with swift action.