Archives for business development

Blogging is Doing

Search engines are used by billions of people every day, helping them find products to buy, stores to buy them from, information on anything imaginable or the directions to their grandmother’s house. Because search engines are such a huge part of consumers’ lives, they have become a huge part of how companies do business. Users are often unaware of the existence of businesses because they don’t show up on the first page of search results, creating the need for business to employ search engine optimization (SEO) in order to gain a wider audience and generate profitable conversions.

Having an official blog is an effective method of gaining rank in various search engines, particularly since Google’s Panda update was rolled out, favoring pages with high quality content over weak, shallow pages. As part of both a social media marketing campaign and a service being provided to customers, a well-maintained, attractive blog featuring informative, useful content can provide tremendous support for a business.

By emphasizing valuable content and displaying the knowledge of the company’s employees in their field, a corporate blog can build relationships with customers while gaining the positive attention of Google and Bing. Integrating the blog into social networking initiatives and making it part of a cohesive brand will increase the likelihood of being ranked highly in search results and of increasing customer retention and brand awareness.

Content is King

Google’s Panda update made it clear that the search engine values quality content over anything else, particularly the overuse of keywords. While websites could formerly get away with having long pages of machine-generated, mostly incoherent text that included repetitive uses of the same keywords, the method for gaining ground in the post-Panda world revolves around well-written pieces that match the context of the site. By writing content with customers and potential customers in mind, businesses can satisfy both their intended audience and search engine bots.

Show What You Know

In addition to providing well-written, pertinent information on their blogs, companies should provide useful information for consumers. Blogs should not be used to advertise a company’s products (though a short post announcing a new product is okay) but should instead educate customers on frequently misunderstood aspects of their business or field. For example, a heating and air conditioning repair company could feature blog posts concerning tips for homeowners to keep their HVAC systems running efficiently or posts describing the various heating and cooling options available to homeowners, along with their strengths and weaknesses. By providing valuable information to consumers, businesses have an easier time maintaining brand awareness with potential customers and being seen as leaders in their field.

Get the Word Out

Every blog post should be accompanied by social buttons that will allow readers to share the post with their friends and colleagues on the most popular social networks, such as Twitter, Google+ and Facebook. Integrating the company blog with other social platforms can increase the visibility of each post–and the blog as a whole–to both consumers and search engines. By keeping the user experience integrated and as seamless as possible among the various social platforms and the company’s website, users will be able to recognize the company and its brand more readily and search engines will notice the uniformity and rank the site more highly.

Learning to streamline

Many business professionals begin their habits early in college. From the first time they pick up a Franklin Covey planner or buy their first mousepad made of detachable pieces of notepaper, they’ve developed an organizational routine they’ll carry through to the business world.

For many of today’s students, those habits revolve around social media. A smart student has cleared their profile of any drunken photos and chosen a business-appropriate photo by the time they turn 21. However, many business students are going beyond the normal social networking standards and are actively using each of their profiles to network and reach out to leaders in their area. It’s these students that businesses can learn from and utilize in their companies.

Students are juggling profiles on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn, Monster, Careerbuilder and often a professional network or two. The smart student is also involved in an internship while taking classes. Maintaining a positive, contributive social profile isn’t easy—after all, that’s a job description in itself nowadays. Students maintaining that many platforms on their own are likely utilizing apps and in-browser tools.

If you’re looking to become more social media savvy, take a page out of a college textbook, and look into some social media management apps.
One of the newest of these tools to come out of Beta is Yoono. It works off of the desktop and allows users to quickly switch between profiles and stay logged in to multiple profiles at once. In addition to that, it also posts updates on the bottom right of your screen. Unlike Skype notifications, though, they’re small and rarely in the way. Yoono’s major drawback is that it doesn’t connect with Google+, but it does hit the major players.

HootSuite is designed more with a business in mind, but students still regularly use it. Its main strength is that users can update their networks from their smartphones. You can also use it to set up an RSS feed and access the analytics behind your posts. If you think your business closely follows statistics, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen a second-semester college student who’s looking for a job. Tweetdeck is another student favorite. It’s designed to handle around five profiles, whether they’re all Twitter or mixed in with Facebook. Tweetdeck is great for a single person managing multiple profiles.

So what can an established business professional get out of all of this? Chances are you’re learning to juggle your networks too. You can take a page out of the nearest college students’ book and try out a couple apps to see what will work best in your life or for your business.

Another takeaway is that it might be worth looking into hiring an intern to take care of your social media. They’re already experienced with juggling them, and they’re likely to know what the younger generations are looking for out of social media. In addition to that, there’s nothing wrong with learning from someone straight out of college. Because the venue for education has changed, many students are getting an online degree, which only add to their social media prowess. Try creating a position for an intern, and then asking them to teach you a few tricks. They’ll be excited to share their knowledge, and you can teach them about more traditional business aspects.

Catalyst

With the American economy mired in the mud and fears of a double-dip recession looming, the professional world, it seems, has stagnated.  These can be worrisome times for businesses, as comparisons to the Great Depression are being regularly drawn.  However, a lot has changed since the last time this country has seen such financial turmoil, so entrepreneurs have more options available to them as they navigate the morass and lead the way into the future.  With fewer employees, the time it takes for those retained to do specific jobs must be balanced with the expense of keeping them on staff.  Thankfully, there are many tools which are available that can help this idea become practical.

Internally, software development has allowed businesses to streamline and increase productivity exponentially.  Doctors’ offices are now able to use medical billing software from companies like Kareo, freeing up office staff for more important tasks.  On a much smaller scale, improvements with small business accounting in programs like Quickbooks and Peachtree almost successfully automate the financial process.  There are also companies that can remotely manage your payroll, help you set up your company’s 401k, and other services.  In choosing these things, the company must (again) balance the expense and needs against such investments.

Externally, one of the most important innovations to date is the emergence of various social media outlets.  Businesses now have the ability to advertise their services in a forum where many different pairs of eyes can see, and consumers have the ability to show their like or dislike of businesses, services, even individual employees. With these new ways to externally promote and streamline your business, customer traffic can increase, and customer service can be refined.  In the past, most marketing was the result of many months and thousands (or millions) of dollars invested in make sure the product or service would be accepted by the public.  Now, in the world of viral videos and SEO, those results come in real time, and are measure through actual results of both use and opinion.

In addition to the external and internal, there is the “gray area” which exists in the form of apps and other resources available to the owner.  Adding to this smorgasbord are various phone apps, many of which are free.  Whereas cell phones used to be a novelty, most people have one now, and use them for far more than just making and receiving phone calls.  Foursquare, for example, is a free app that allows users to let their friends know where they are, and what is going on there.  If you happened to be the business that is being discussed, this will not only bring more people to your door, but it will also tell you what is noteworthy to your customers.

The thing to remember in your business is that there have been many who came before you, who felt the same apprehension and doubt that you are likely feeling now, as you watch news reports and listen to accounts of Wall Street.  But fear not!  Through innovation and maximum usage of the resources that are available to you, you can maximize your chances of success and lead your business into the future.  Whether that success is aided by medical billing software, or a simple points system generated by a social media outlet, is entirely up to your company.  The promoter which pulls your company to the next level may be something as simple as the organic nature of social media, or the many different adjustments made both internally and externally.

War, the Marketing Strategy

Sun Tzu The Art of War

What is your strategy?

There is often a parallel between business strategies and war strategies. Many of the same rules apply in both business and combat. Reaching your customer requires a concise strategy that includes all available resources, from email marketing to direct contact. The business is, after all, competing against all other suppliers of goods and services within its field. One is chosen because of an indelible first impression and continued excellence. How can a business survive and maintain a sustainable competitive advantage within these environments?

Old School — Sun Tzu versus von Clausewitz

The Art of War by Sun Tzu, and On War by Carl von Clausewitz are two profound works illuminating military strategy. Sun Tzu relies on specific battle axioms that are to be followed regardless of the situation, while von Clausewitz emphasizes the genius of adapting to circumstances.

Business follows both strategies. There are fixed maxims for both defensive and offensive tactics. It is the creative mind, however, that can visualize and measure approaching trends that influence consumer behavior.

Broad Strategy

Michael Porter’s Strategies are often considered when developing strategic plans, but they are generic by nature and intended to serve as starting points rather than conclusions. All are geared toward the highly coveted “sustainable competitive advantage” that bestows the needed edge against the competition:

  • Cost Leadership: Price is king. This strategy is characterized by targeting price-sensitive customers who are looking for the best deal. This is by far the hardest for any new entrant to succeed in, given the retail giants (Wal-Mart, Meijer, Target, etc.) that already dominate the market.
  • Differentiation: Value is king. This strategy emphasizes the value of the product as perceived by each customer. The product itself is priced higher as a result of this perception. Most differentiated companies employ multiple product lines in order to meet demand, and therefore can measure the mood of the buyer through sales of the strongest product. The danger in this strategy is  that costs incurred during the branding process have to be recouped, and products must be innovated continuously in order to stay ahead of the competition.
  • Niche: Focus is king. Most businesses are not retail giants, and therefore must focus on a particular customer segment through their product or service. The danger with this strategy comes with extreme focus; the company pursues too narrow a niche and raises the chances that the need for the product or service will disappear. Tastes and trends change, it is smart to be ready for that shift.

The business axiom associated with Porter’s Strategies is “Do not get stuck in the middle”.  Simply put, a business needs to pick a strategy so that its resources will be focused. No business, especially in this economy, is made of money. A weak or non-existent strategy will waste monies that, if concentrated, could have a lasting brand effect. This being said, there are no rules to say that strategies cannot be changed or blended.

While there are specific rules that govern the battlefield of business, the true collective genius of a company is reflected in its ability to adapt during the battle. Businesses flank each other, maneuver into better positions, gain high ground, and die. The difference between a mortal wound and a flesh wound can be the position in which a company puts itself and how it maneuvers on the field.

In a limited economy where resources are scarce and customers are few, utilizing a strategy and predicting trends goes hand-in-hand with survival. If managed correctly, survival can be translated into success, and success into a win that by definition equals a sustainable competitive advantage.


Joseph Baker’s business experience in management spans more than 15 years. A leader of development and management teams, he also implemented budget reductions professionally and as an independent contractor. Joseph led strategic planning and systems of implementation for nine organizations, public and private, and worked extensively with small businesses.

He holds a Bachelor of Science in Marketing from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, and an MBA from Kellogg School of Management.

Social Media: The Big Four (part 4)

The old spice man

Old Spice created one of the most successful social media campaigns ever. It was on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and their blog.

No surprise, the Big Four of social media are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and blogs.  Ok, maybe that last one was a surprise. In Part 3 of our analysis of social media marketing trends, I talked about the rising influence of blogging in marketing. The Social Media Examiner’s 2011 Social Media Marketing Industry Report reveals the trends and where marketers are focusing their efforts.

Facebook is the number one focus, and businesses are investing more into Facebook as the cornerstone of their social marketing strategy.  There has been a lot of discussion on the effectiveness of Fan Pages for business development, but as a Business to Consumer (B2C) marketing tool, it is very strong.

Though Twitter is not as big as Facebook it is growing fast, and all levels of marketers use it. In fact, 77% of businesses are planing to increase their Twitter activity.   More people are finding the value in Twitter as a source for information and as a networking tool. Many marketers, including this one, would argue that Twitter can be a better tool than Facebook for forging partnerships, creating strategic networks and making sales.  Twitter facilitates active communication and does not restrict conversation between businesses and individuals the way Facebook does.

LinkedIn maintains a strong presence.Though many large corporations utilize LinkedIn, it is primarily a business tool for the small business or solopreneur. It is also used primarily for Business to Business (B2B) networking.  LinkedIn is best for small businesses and individuals because it is not meant to serve as a direct sales tool. It is highly valuable for group forums and the ability to network with business people.

YouTube is an area that marketers really want to grow. Large companies and experienced marketers are the ones who are really integrating video. 82% of businesses with more than 1000 employees said that YouTube was a key growth area for their social media strategy. Professionals who spend 40+ hours per week on social media are investing more into video content.  What this tells me is that video and video blogs are being dominated by companies with dedicated social media departments.  It is a very powerful social marketing tool, more accessible to those who have the time and tech resources to create quality content. People who create good video content are tapping into the potential to truly reach the viral market.

Facebook

  • Marketers of all experience levels are using Facebook
  • Number 1 preferred social media network
  • Used more for B2C than B2B
  • Increasing focus for B2C
  • 92% of marketers use FB
  • Top focus for people getting started

Twitter

  • Marketers of all experience levels are using Twitter
  • Number 2 preferred social media network
  • 73% of marketers plan to increase their activity
  • 77% of large businesses are likely to increase their activity

LinkedIn

  • Small businesses and self-employed are more likely to use LinkedIn
  • More B2B

YouTube

  • Large businesses are more likely to use video
  • Marketers with 1-3 years of experience are more likely to integrate video into their social media
  • Marketers who invest 40+ hours per week are more invested in creating video content
  • 82% Businesses with 1000 or more employees indicated that this is a key growth area

Social media marketing is on the rise. 73% of marketers plan to increase their use of YouTube, blogs, FB and Twitter; 86% do not plan to use MySpace (so you shouldn’t either). Facebook and Twitter are the undisputed places to be.  While you are at it, try to make a video or two, you might like the results!

The Cost of Facebook

Top hat overflowing with money, with the Facebook logo on the front of the hat

Facebook does have a cost. It is the cost of investment.

On one of my posts about Facebook Fan Page updates, and the outrage about the wall filtering issue, Steve Silberberg emailed me some very interesting comments. You may remember Steve, he wrote the post: Social Marketing, the Online Tupperware Party. Essentially he pointed out that Facebook is free, so do we really have a right to get uptight about some change they made? The “if you don’t like it, don’t use it” strategy.

This got me thinking about the actual cost of Facebook. It is free, so it should cost nothing right?  Well, if you are using Facebook for business it is not as simple as that. The platform is free, true. But there are costs of doing business on Facebook.

The Cost of Facebook

  • Ads
    If you use Facebook Ads, there is a direct cost. In fact, the better you ad does, the higher the cost.
  • Custom Tabs
    Many pages have custom landing tabs. These are specialty pages on your Fan Page that look like a mini website. Often you see them when you first visit a Fan Page. The landing tab will be custom designed, and will try to inspire you to Like their page.  These cost money.  Most people are not fluent in FBML, or even know what it is (it is the coding language used in Facebook, like HTML). If you do know what FBML is, then you also probably know that it is a bit cumbersome. There are programs out there like Lujure that easily allow you to design a Facebook landing page.  And though they might not be expensive, they still have a cost.
  • Social Media Marketing & Strategy
    If you want to create a successful social media presence for your business, you need to have a strategy. Many people use social strategy firms to develop a social marketing strategy. This is an excellent way to make sure you are getting the most out of your social media.
  • Social Media Manager
    Many businesses hire a Facebook manager to post for them, take care of FB admin, Like new pages and respond to comments.  This is a great way to make sure your social media strategy is being implemented properly.
  • Time
    Even if you don’t run ads, learn FBML to create your own landing tab, design your own strategy and manage your own account, the one cost you cannot get around is time.  Your time has a value.  Facebook engagement can take a lot of time. They payoff for your business is worth the investment, but it is still an investment.

There are other places you can invest money: app development, stores, Paypal fees for running stores or fundraisers, analytic services, etc.  When you put all of these together and assume Facebook is free – well, it’s not.  Free is the hook, because once you sign up for the network there is a cost.  So when you ask if we, as Facebook business users, have a right to protest changes that affect our business usage in a negative way, the answer is a definite yes.  We have an investment with our branding, our time and our social marketing.  It is in our best interest for Facebook to operate while keeping in mind the best interests of its users.  Sure you can “Just say no to Facebook” but for most of us that is not a viable option.  I have invested in Facebook and I want it to work in support of my business Fan Page, not against it.

Dr. Shannon Weekly Question

This week Dr. Shannon Reece asked “Who is your hero? “What single person has had the greatest impact on your business success to date, and why?” See my answer and what the other amazing entrepreneurs had to say.

Click here to read the full post.

Question of the Week

This week Dr. Shanon Reese asked:

What was your biggest business obstacle in 2010, and how did you successfully overcome it?”

Click here to read our answers

Contact Me! Capturing leads on your blog

Have you been wondering how to build your email list?  How to generate leads from your website? Wondering how to encourage people to get in touch with you?

When you look at the hits to your site, every single one is an opportunity to make an introduction. Every visitor is a potential lead.  But how do you capture them?  How do you convert hits to leads?

This is an important question and there are many tactics that can be used. Calls to action, promotions, subscriptions and newsletters are all techniques that work. However, not every lead will automatically be product based. Not everyone is ready to subscribe to your RSS, get your newsletter or buy your product. Some leads want to talk to you first.

This is the beauty of the contact form.  The contact form gives your audience a non-specific way to get in touch with you.

Why is a contact form better than just an email response address?

A contact form captures information.  When people use the form, you have a name and an email address.  This is is an easy way to start building your list.

A contact form can be less intimidating to a potential client/customer.  Sometimes when sending someone an email, they might worry that it is not going to the right person. What if there are multiple emails on the site to choose from, and you select the wrong address?  Some of us like knowing that we are reaching the CEO, others may feel a bit intimidated about emailing someone so important in the company.  A contact form takes away the guess work. It is a safe, generic way for someone to get in touch and feel confident that it is going to the right place, because the form is designed specifically for inquiries.

A contact form can also be set to go to an email address that multiple people receive on your end.  You can establish an email just for the contact form and have it forwarded to multiple email addresses.  This way, if the person who usually responds to inquiries is on holiday, the inquiry will still get attention.  If you are not the usual respondent, but are one of the people receiving the email, you can keep track of the types of inquiries.  With multiple recipients you can also make sure that the right person is responding to an email and the potential client does not feel like they are being bounced around from person to person, but having their question addressed by the right person right away.

Contact Me is a great plugin for blogsites. This will put a “Contact” tab on your pages, making it easy for your visitors to see how to get in touch with you.  Their site also provides a contact management solution so you can keep track of your contacts and even create tasks for follow up communication.

Contact Form 7 is another good one for creating custom forms that are built into your page. These integrate easily and seamlessly and are very professional looking.

*just a side note, neither SM Cubed or Lauren MacEwen is being paid to promote any contact form plugin.

Whose ideal are you? Everyone is someone’s inspiration.

A woman stading on Sandia Peake

When we focus on our business and professional development, it is easy to get caught up in where we are going. We focus on our next goal and where we want to be.  This is actually a good thing.  To invoke some sports analogies: see the goal line, be the ball, make the shot.  Keep your goals in view and make sure that you are working toward them every day.

However, we may get so involved looking ahead that we forget to appreciate where we are now.

Speaking to someone the other day, I was hit by a realization about appreciation and perspective.  I was quite taken aback by this metaphorical slap.  I was in a dialogue with a young woman who is highly ambitious and has been culturally successful in her artistic ventures, though not yet monetarily successful. She expressed her admiration for my professional success. She said she wanted to be like me and wanted to attain the success that I have reached.

I was so honored by what she said.  I realized that we spend so much time looking at where we are going, or trying to go, that we often forget to acknowledge where we are.  But even that is not necessarily enough to give us the feeling of accomplishment that we sometimes need. We can even consider where we have come from and see our growth and progression, and still not have a feeling of accomplishment because we are always gauging our success on our goalS.

Sometimes it is important to realize that you may be someone else’s ideal. In their eyes you are the person they aspire to be. Just as you may have someone in your circle who is your role model, your work and accomplishments may represent that for someone else.

I was given a great gift by being made aware of this.

Who are you inspiring?