27 Dec

Social media tools for small businesses

There are surely more than a few small business owners who were happy to proclaim their independence from ‘those annoying social networks’ when the latter started booming. These same business owners no doubt felt unwell when Facebook and Twitter kept the boom going and grew to what they are now – an instrumental tool to engage past, present and future clients.

If your social media presence is in a good place, consider yourself lucky – the hardest part is over. Moving onwards, you’ll want to manage said presence to become someone people enjoy following and talking about – here are some social media tools to help you do this.

HootSuite: One of the best social media managers, HootSuite is so rich with options it might make your head spin: it will let you post frequent scheduled updates on various media sites, monitor past and present mentions of you anywhere on social media, tell you exactly how fruitful your social media endeavors are and much more. Many small business owners feel as if HootSuite is the best choice, with other similar programs being better-off in the hands of either larger enterprises or those dealing with a lot of online traffic.

Rival IQ: Every good businessman knows when it’s time to spy on the competition. Rival IQ will make doing so a breeze and won’t alert your competitors in the process. The tool focuses on the social media presence of your ‘rivals’ much more than your own – you’ll know what they’re posting, when and where they’re doing it and how beneficial it is to their business.

Mention: If you’d like to keep track on every single mention of you everywhere on the web, Mention is the tool for you. You’ll get a real-time alert as soon as the mention is made, no matter how brief it is and what site it happened on – from social media to some of the most obscure websites, you’ll know when you’re being mentioned, why and by whom.

Social Rank: As a small business, you probably don’t have tens of thousands of Twitter followers. That being said, even a couple hundred followers might be more than you can keep track of – not to mention, every follower becomes that much more important when you have less of them. Social Rank is a tool that will help you keep track of your followers by giving you three top ten lists: most valuable, most engaged and ‘best’. The first will include followers with the strongest Twitter presence and most influence on the site, the second will list those who most often interact with you and your content in some way and the third will show those with a favorable combination of both. Think of it as the VIP list of your Twitter followers.

Tweeter Spy: If you thought a VIP list of Twitter followers was useful, how about a VIP tweet list? This tool will tell you which posts on Twitter drive most traffic to your site – think of it as a smaller, more specific version of Google Analytics.

24 Dec

How to use Facebook for a small business

Facebook isn’t there just to let people know what a great vacation you’ve had – if you’re a business owner, it’s an outstanding platform through which you can choose to interact with your clientele. Scratch that – if your competitors are engaging their clients through Facebook, you can’t afford not to do the same. Here’s how to use your company’s Facebook page to gain more recognition and get more customers.

Posting with your business profile

Using your business profile to post on Facebook is another good way to gain exposure and make your brand more known. You can post on any related pages, pictures or videos offering knowledge, valuable insights, your services or even just to say something funny.

Be warned, though – you can’t let loose when you’re logged in with your business page. As a business owner, you will always represent your company with every action – much more so if you’re actually posting under the business name. To stay professional-looking, keep any engagement unrelated to your profession strictly to your personal Facebook account – this stands doubly true for any opinions you might have.

The all-important media

Do you have relevant media uploaded to your gallery or is it just a generic 64×64 pixel image of a wrench? Having pictures and videos on your site will put you ahead of many of your competitors – every customer wants to know as much as they can about a business before doing work with them.

If you’re the owner of a small business, you probably boast solid work ethic and attention to customers. Why not show it on Facebook? Talk to your employees about uploading pictures of them on the job looking as if they’re doing hard work (make sure they don’t look dissatisfied in any of the pictures). How about some pics of workplace get-togethers? Of course, you can’t do without the timelessly-effective before-and-after pictures that will show the improvement on, say, someone’s rug after your company’s rug cleaning and/or repair efforts.

As your Facebook profile becomes more established, you can upload videos that show the work being done as well as those that explain what you do – videos will generally have less impact, but might prove even more useful with certain customers looking to work with you on something larger.

Keep in mind, though: before you start snapping and recording, you’ll want your workplace clean and modern-looking, your employees well-kept with contention on their faces and a general aura of satisfaction over a job being well-done being present. No PhotoShop!

Keeping people’s privacy in mind

We mentioned that you should talk to your employees before sharing their pictures on your page, and for good reason – no matter how happy they are to work for you and how much fun they have on their jobs, being posted up on social media without notice might rub them the wrong way. If they object to pictures being posted, don’t give them a hard time and simply obey their wishes – the same goes for tagging them.

Also, while creating a presence is something you’ll be working on a lot, it’s important to avoid getting up in people’s faces when they don’t want you to. People won’t mind reading about or hearing from you when they’re searching from something related, but might not appreciate you trying to sell your services when they’re looking to relax after a long day at work.

23 Dec

The best way to leverage Angie’s List

If you’re not on Angie’s List and you own a business that provides services, you should be on Angie’s List. Like Yelp and similar pages, the List creates a necessity to be included for virtually every business, even those that hate the idea.

There are several things that Angie and her entourage do better than their competitors. For one, the site is managed much more actively, with the site’s owners aiming to engage the multi-million-strong user base on a regular basis. The site is also notably geared towards small businesses offering cleaning, repairs, construction and so forth – if your business falls in this category, it pays to learn how to leverage Angie’s List for your benefit. Here are some ways to do it.

Writing relevant posts on Angie’s List

Angie’s List is chock-full of useful posts explaining what to look for in a business, offering DIY advice, listing reasonable prices and so forth. A good way to leverage the List would be to have your post featured on the site.

In the post, you’d explain an intricacy regarding your profession and things you encounter. If your company performs rain gutter repairs and installation, you could make a post that explains why so-and-so rain gutters aren’t good for so-and-so environments and how the readers can prepare themselves for incoming rough weather.

Your name and business will be featured in the post – if it’s useful enough, it’s sure to get people to notice you and have them at least consider doing business with you.

Using ‘Who to do business with’ posts for your benefit

We mentioned that Angie’s List informs its users about the dos-and-don’ts of doing business with a contractor, but you can also use it to improve your company in the eyes of others.

Find the most frequently-visited posts on the site that explain what makes a good contractor in your niche and try to minimize any negative sides of your business that are listed in the post. Ideally, none of your practices or behaviors would ever be listed, but if they are, you should at least look to conceal these negatives until improvements can be made.

Keep an eye out for posts like these in the future, too, as industry standards are always being updated and so is general awareness of good and bad practices.

Introduce an ‘Angie’s List discount’ to your services

Using Angie’s List is a bit more difficult than using Yelp or Google Maps, which is why many people can’t bother going through the account-creating and review-making processes.

Every good review you have on this site stands to do a lot for your business – if you’re confident in your service and your people skills, there’s no reason to expect bad reviews. Therefore, you can introduce a small discount for any customer that’s an approved member of Angie’s List – of course, while you’re offering the service, it would be good to ensure that they actually end up posting a review.

See it as an investment – if a few 5% discounts for Angie’s Listers grant you a single new customer (which they very well might), the money you passed up on will return multi-fold.

22 Dec

Best email auto responders for a small business

As a business owner, you’ve no doubt had your share of worry over not being able to respond to emails in time. Leads come and go in minutes – believe it or not, many people will send an inquiry to a company and keep looking mere minutes after they have not received a response.

In such an environment, the company that replies first often ends up getting the customer. Since you won’t be monitoring your inbox 24/7 if you hope of having any semblance of a personal life, you’ll have to opt for the next best thing – getting an email autoresponder to do the work for you.

Email autoresponders can be very effective – depending on how you use them, they can also drive people away from your business. Here are a few good ones that a small business can use to great effect.

AWeber: Not related to Andrew Lloyd Webber in any way, AWeber’s been at the top of the auto-emailing game for a while, and it’s not hard to see why with just a simple check of the website. The powerful software offers to do more than just reply to emails automatically and ensure that the message goes through – it will also manage your mailing list, send out any kind of newsletter you might have in store and integrate well with signup forms. Other than its many features, another simple reason why a small business owner might want to get AWeber as his autoresponder of choice is the price: pricing starts at $20 for 500 subscribers, which should be more than enough for smaller businesses. It’s important to note that even the lowest pricing plan has all the features included, making this auto responder truly worth considering as your virtual secretary.

MailChimp: What does this email auto responder program have over its competitors? Well, it uses an adorable mailman chimp as its icon – how’s that for a good feature? Jokes aside, MailChimp is another powerful auto responder with a full range of features that should satisfy business owners big and small. Like AWeber, MailChimp does a lot more than just respond to emails by itself – for example, a single action on your website can send several different emails based on your preferences (as an example: one to you, one to your marketer and one to your sales representative). The pricing plan is another thing this responder has going for it: even the most basic plan is free and full-featured with pro versions offering more tools like statistics monitoring and testing options.

ONTRAPort: Formerly known as OfficeAutoPilot, this software suite also aims to do more than autorespond to emails and SMS messages – as its old name might imply, it can automate several other office tasks you might want off your hands, like capturing leads on Facebooks and publishing content. The basic software suite costs $80 a month with the full-featured version being $300 monthly – it’s certainly more expensive than many other auto responders, but has all the features needed to justify the price and is worth considering if you’d like to take some time off work without losing efficiency.

20 Dec

How to get help marketing your small or medium business

Yellow pages. Newspaper advertising. Mailbox flyers. Press releases faxed out. – Dead, all dead. The traditional methods of advertising your small or medium business have changed greatly over the past 10 years. Yet, many small business owners are simply too busy doing what they know how to do to have an opportunity to stop and truly think about the effectiveness of their current marketing.

One of my favorite authors, John Jantsch, has several books out on helping small and medium businesses. His first one, called Duct Tape Marketing, addresses the many challenges that SMBs face while trying to build their businesses. He goes into detail with not only many examples that plague SMBs, he actually helps you understand, in clearly laid out steps, just how you can take a few hours and actually see a process that you can follow to get a handle on your business marketing… and grow your sells.

In Duct Tape Marketing, John begins with the first thing… first. Identify who your true ideal client is. You see, if you don’t do this first, everything that follows will be a complete mess. You also need to write out what your 3 month, 6 month, 1 year and 2 year goals are. Beyond that, you are just making things up. Really at 2 years things get blurry as well. So write out your 3 month goal first and then work backwards. Once you know what you are truly trying to accomplish, then you can better understand if the “ideal customer” you think you have will help you reach your 3 month goals. By doing this exercise, you will very quickly begin to get a picture of how well your business can do and understand if that ideal customer will be the path to getting there.

So let’s take a chiropractor as an example. I love my chiro. And we have discussed this very thing with his business. If your average patient pays $60 per visit and they come once a week, that client is worth $240/month. Your goal is to make $10,000 per month in revenue. How many patients do you need to reach that goal. So 10,000 / 240 = 42 patients. Does he have 42 patients coming each week? Does he have a mix of patients coming twice a week and some coming every other week. Can he get them on a plan to come at least once a week. You see, if you don’t understand where you want to go, you’ll never get there.

Once you have your ideal client identified and you understand that you can reach your goals with that ideal client, then you can move forward in the process. If you find out that who you think is your ideal client won’t get you to your goals, you have some work to do to identify an ideal client that will.

I hope that helps you in the first step of getting a handle on your business. We will discuss this more in future blog posts. John Jantsch also has a great blog that you can find called, of course, Duct Tape Marketing.