Small Business Marketing Archives - BuildFire

The Best Customer Success Software for 2021

It goes without saying that retaining customers is vital. Not only does it heavily impact revenue in the short term, but it also increases your customers’ lifetime value. It can even play a role in new customer acquisition—as happy customers are more likely to refer you to their friends, family, and colleagues. 

But how do you go about retaining customers, if you don’t know whether they’re content or ready to jump ship?

The truth is, it’s difficult.  A lot goes into a customer’s experience. If you don’t have a way to track, measure and optimize it, you can wind up losing people or missing opportunities to deepen customer loyalty.  

Luckily, there’s a way to see exactly how your customers are doing and how committed they are to your business. It’s called customer success software. 

What is Customer Success Software?

Customer success software is all about helping your customers reach their desired outcome with your products. By gathering data on their use of your products, customer success software enables you to see the health of each customer, find ways to help them better use your products, and uplevel your overall customer experience. 

Why Do You Need Customer Success Software For Your Business?

There are loads of benefits to using customer success software.

For one, it helps you pinpoint customers that have or likely will stop using your product, so you can bring them back onboard. It also shows you how you can improve your products and support systems to increase customer satisfaction. The right software even enables you to identify opportunities for upselling, by showing you which features your customers could benefit from using. 

Why does all of that matter? The answer’s simple. The happier and more satisfied your customers are, the better business will be. If your product or service helps them be successful, they’ll stay longer, spend more money and tell more people about you.

Bottom line, customer success is a game-changer for businesses. But, in order to capitalize on it, you need to have the best software available. That’s why we researched the five best options on the market and compiled them into a list for you.

Let’s get started. 

Best Customer Success Software

  1. HubSpot Service

  2. Intercom

  3. Zendesk

  4. Customer SuccessBox

  5. PlanHat

1. HubSpot Service

 

As the only 100% free option on this list, HubSpot’s service product is a great option for businesses of all sizes.  

Using its universal inbox, you can keep all of your customer interactions (including email, Facebook messages, live chat, and forms) organized in one place.

This makes it impossible to lose track of communication and eliminates the need to bounce from channel to channel, looking for pieces of customer information. It also helps you provide timely support to your customers, by allowing you to turn an email or live chat into a support ticket and route live chat customers to representatives who can help them.

At the same time, HubSpot is designed to help you close the loop with your customer success efforts. You can build surveys directly into your support channels to get relevant, timely feedback on your customer service.

Pricing: HubSpot’s service features are completely free.

2. Intercom

From data collection to analytics, Intercom is a great tool for managing customers and helping them find success with your platform. Its centralized dashboard collects data on customer behavior and interactions on a daily basis, so you can stay informed and up-to-date on your customers’ needs.

You can also integrate it with loads of external apps to deepen your understanding of your customers and enhance their experience. 

Where Intercom really shines is with its communication features. By leveraging its customer support features, you can interact with customers on multiple platforms from a single inbox, create a knowledge base for customers to help themselves, and build workflows to automate various nurturing efforts and marketing campaigns in your customers’ lifecycle.

Pricing: Intercom is accessible for a wide range of budgets, but pricing starts at $39/month. 

3. Zendesk

Best-known known most commonly as a customer service platform, Zendesk is a great tool for managing support tickets. However, at its core, Zendesk is all about customer success. 

With its Support Suite, you can chat with customers on multiple channels, collect customer data in a single database, and plug that data into different reports to get a 360 view of your customers. You can also customize this space to make it exactly what your team needs, so you don’t waste time getting up to speed or maneuvering around a platform that doesn’t work with your process. 

However, Zendesk offers a lot more than just a basic helpdesk. It also allows you to communicate with customers in a variety of languages on any channel, including social media, email, live chat and more. 

Pricing: Zendesk Support Suite starts at just $5 per agent. 

4. CustomerSuccessBox

As a top-rated Customer Success platform, CustomerSuccessBox offers solutions for every stage of the customer lifecycle, from onboarding to retention and upselling. You can set goals, plan tasks and track milestones to ensure that you make a positive impression on your customers in the first few months they use your product. 

Once successfully onboarded, CustomerSuccessBox is built to help you retain your customer base, by sending you alerts when milestones are reached or certain actions are not taken. 

You can also create tasks and assign them to specific agents, to ensure that all customers are taken care of at the right moment. And all of this data is stored in a single dashboard, where it can be used to score customer “health” based on product adoption, financial, service and relationship factors. 

Pricing: Customer SuccessBox plans start at $499/month.

5. PlanHat

Built for both startups and full-fledged enterprises, PlanHat is an entirely customizable Customer Success platform. Using its various modules and features, you can see everything relating to your customers’ experience, including purchases, support tickets, and interactions with your customer support team. 

PlanHat isn’t only an option for companies with a small customer base or loads of time to manually check in on every customer, though. 

In fact, PlanHat is designed to help teams be as hands-off as possible. By allowing you to design workflows, set alerts and create reminders, PlanHat keeps your team focused on customers that need nurturing and helps you connect with them at exactly the right moment. 

Pricing: PlanHat plans start at $500 per month + $1 per customer/month.

Conclusion 

Regardless of what you offer and whom you offer it to, it’s vital to have a plan in place to help your customers be successful. 

However, as with all tools and apps, the Customer Success software you choose should be perfectly aligned with your needs and the needs of your customers. 

Just remember, when one of you wins, you both do. 

Geofencing for Small Businesses

Small businesses can’t survive without the customer.

While this statement holds true for all companies across every industry, the bigger players on a larger scale won’t crash and burn if they lose one customer. But small businesses can’t afford to lose any.

As a small business owner, I’m certain that you’re aware of this. You’re used to interacting with your customers on a daily basis and you understand how valuable they are for your survival.

Here’s something you need to closely monitor. What’s your customer acquisition cost? If this number isn’t something that you know offhand, it could be a problem.

If customer acquisition costs get out of hand, it could have a snowball effect on your company.

Rather than focusing your efforts on customer acquisition, you can spend more time on customer retention. You’ve got a much higher chance of selling to an existing customer as opposed to a prospective customer.

sell to existing customer

If your retention tactics are getting stale and don’t seem to be working, you can use new technology to assist these efforts.

You can use geofencing to get your current customers to spend more money and also acquire new customers at the same time.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with geofencing or don’t know how to apply it to your company, I’ll explain what you need to know.

Geofencing technology can make drastic improvements to your small business. Here’s how you can use this strategy to your advantage.

Continue reading “Geofencing for Small Businesses”

How to Build A Massive Following with Effective Content Curation

The internet is inundated with content. The challenge for today’s internet users is not finding information, but discovering quality content that they can trust, learn from and share. And herein lies an opportunity for content marketers to build a following of loyal subscribers.

Content curation has helped Dave Pell of NextDraft build an email list of over 160,000 subscribers and earned Maria Popova of BrainPickings over 350,000 Twitter followers and 150,000 plus email subscribers. It also helped Rand Fishkin of Moz rack up an impressive 374,000 Twitter followers (and increasing!) and build a highly engaged audience.

It’s no wonder then that 68% marketers swear by content curation as a content marketing tactic, according to a report by Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs. But great content curation doesn’t come easy.

This article discusses how you can discover the best content, save it in way that it is easy to share and the best tools to help you get the job done.

 

Discovering Great Content

This step involves a major chunk of work, and is perhaps the most difficult to crack.

Most content curators either share great content that everyone’s sharing, or average content that no one’s reading. Your job is to hit the sweet spot: find content that people will devour with a passion, from sources they are yet to discover themselves.

In this section we explore four major sources to discover content that separates the good curators from the great:

 

Communities

Communities are virtual meeting points for like-minded people sharing content they’re passionate about. Sounds like fun? It is!

Communities give you access to a great deal of content relevant to the subject you’re interested in, all in one place, and you can instantly see what type of content resonates with your audience.

Here are a few examples of the most popular communities:  

 

Reddit

Billed as “the front page of the internet”, Reddit is an all-too popular online community for link sharing and discussion. While the front page of the site itself can be a little daunting, it’s great to keep a tab on the hottest news on the internet.

You’ll have to dig a little deeper than the front page though to find really unique pieces of content for your curation efforts. Reddit has various subreddits for specific topics, from broad ones such as Startups, Books, and Movies, to niche topics such as Personal Finance, Visual Representations of Data and Android.

Reddit has a robust set of moderators and strict posting policies, keeping spam content at bay. Be sure to check out not just links with the most upvotes, but also those that look promising to you. Subscribe to a few subreddits and check in for a few days to see if it makes sense to stay. Beware of subscribing to too many though, or you’ll soon have a front page cluttered with pointless links.

 

Quora

Quora’s premise is simple: ask questions, as basic or complicated as you like, and get answers, often from experts such as Seth Godin, Lena Dunham, James Altucher, and Robert Frost.

Quora is more than a question-answer website though. It expertly blends fascinating questions with expert and first-account answers that make for a great read. Some of the things discussed on Quora include life in prison, global warming, making of TV shows and a crew’s opinion on a film they worked on.

I’ve found Quora to be a great tool for finding new writers, blogs, personalities, most importantly insights into things I’ve never thought about myself. All in all, Quora is an awesome tool to add to your content curation box.

 

Niche Communities

While the first two communities are general in nature, you might want to branch out into niche communities to find highly targeted content for your audience. Some examples of these include Growth Hackers, a community that dissects startup growth, and Hacker News, a place for tech geeks.

There’s a community for everything; you name it and you’ll find it. A simple Google search will throw up niche communities on any topic you’re interested in. For instance, my search for “online community for dog lovers” lead me to the 18 Social Media Networks for Pet Lovers.

 

Newsletters

Email is still one of the most popular means of receiving and consuming content, and curated newsletters are a gold mine of interesting links and news. Newsletters go a step further than communities, with their content. Instead of simply aggregating and serving you the most upvoted links, newsletters provide you with the cream of the crop.

Now, your goal with newsletters is to discover new sources, blogs and websites that you’re unfamiliar with, rather than simply copy-pasting or tweeting out the links they contain. You might be tempted to share one brilliant article or two, but don’t make it a habit.

Here are some examples of great newsletters that you might want to dig into:

 

NextDraft

Dave Pell, writer of the Next Draft, refers to himself as the “Editor of the Internet”, and rightly so. His newsletter is packed with the ten most important links of the day, along with his often-entertaining views on the same. The email is peppered with news that is relevant, fascinating and unique, on a wide spectrum of topics such as politics, entertainment, and business.

 

SwipeFile

A personal favourite, SwipeFile is a newsletter for “people who want more from their work”. It contains riveting links on topics such as business, self-improvement, productivity, and just great content in general. Overall, I find this newsletter a great source of new websites, blogs, and writers to follow.

 

Niche Newsletters

Just as there are niche communities, so are there niche newsletters. Ones that have a laser sharp focus on a particular topic. One example is Hiten Shah’s SaaS Weekly, a staple for SaaS businesses. You can use a tool like Letterlist to find a newsletter specific to your niche, or try good old Google search!

 

Content Curation Tools

While each of the sources discussed here can be referred to as a content curation tool, the ones in this section are a bit more specialised in nature. The other sources mentioned are good sources of content discovery, but the following tools are designed specifically to simplify your job as a content curator, helping you find and save great content with ease and share it in a jiffy.

Here are some of the best content curation tools to add to your arsenal:

 

Feedly

Feedly is one of the best tools out there for staying up-to-date with all your favourite sources in one place. If you’re unsure where to start, the app has a handy set of collections you can explore. Collections are tagged and arranged into topics such as fashion, marketing, news and tech. Each of these contains a huge list of sources you can choose from.

Once you figure out which sources you want to follow, be it a blog or website, you can then create one of your own. When you click on a collection, it looks something like this:

With Feedly, you can also see how popular a particular website or blog really is,how many posts it puts out per week, and also how popular its individual posts are. Additionally, the tool offers save-for-later and quick sharing options that are a boon for curators.

 

Nuzzel

The premise of Nuzzel is simple: a daily email with the most popular stories from your Twitter network. Instead of sifting through a barrage of tweets from everyone you follow, you get to see the most popular stories of the day, all in one handy email.

Not just that, you can also choose to follow Nuzzel feeds of people you like, and get updates from the people they follow. The website also has other features such as “Recently Read Stories” and “News You May Have Missed”.

 

LetterList

With so many useful newsletters out there, keeping track of the best ones, or simply finding one in your niche, can be a bit of a task. LetterList does the work for you by featuring some of the best newsletters on topics such as design, growth, startups, travel, tech, and more.

It features a lot of the regulars that you might be familiar with such as Austin Kleon’s Weekly Newsletter, SwipeFile, and NextDraft, and others I hadn’t heard about such as Breaking Smart, Strands of Genius, and NowIKnow.

Flipboard

While Feedly is more of a replacement for Google Reader, Flipboard is your tool to keep track of news from all your favourite sources. This means you can select topics you’re interested in keeping a tab on, and Flipboard will present you with stories on them. You can organise articles into read-it-later lists and even create your own magazine if you like.

One of the features of Flipboard that I’ve really found useful is the newsletters they send. They have various newsletters such as a Daily Digest of all topics you follow, and Ten for Today, Flipboard’s own picks of the most interesting articles for the day. You can choose to unsubscribe whenever you like, or change the frequency of the emails.

 

Social Media

This one’s a no-brainer, but most people don’t use social media for the powerful content curation tool it is. The key to finding great content on social media is to use its various filters and keywords, and focus only on the people who share the type of content you want to read.

Let’s take a look at two of the best social media tools for content curation:

 

Twitter

If you take a look at the list of people you currently follow on Twitter, chances are it isn’t half as organised or focused as you’d like it to be. Result: only noise that drowns the great stuff. Even if you’re following a whole lot of people on Twitter, be sure to arrange them into Twitter lists so you can read the tweets of your most important sharers in one go.

As far as finding people to follow is concerned, there are a couple of ways to go about it. You can search for keywords you’re interested in  and look for people who share content related to it. Another good tool to use is Buzzsumo, to see who all have shared your favorite articles and then check out their feeds.

Avoid following news outlets that you already follow on Flipboard or Feedly. And remember to keep refining the list of people you follow from time to time, to stay on top of the best content. Don’t be too obsessed with follower counts, go for interesting, share-worthy content instead.

 

Pinterest

You might know Pinterest as a tool to collect recipes and home decoration ideas, but it can be a lot more than that. The website can be a great source of finding new content to share, that is relatively fresh and hasn’t been shared a million times already.

Pinterest is not really a mainstream social media tool and thus, less saturated with done-to-death links. You can expect to find off-the-beaten path links, and websites and blogs that are yet to be discovered. You can use its refined search feature to find highly targeted content on topics you love.

 

Saving and Filtering Content

While you now know all the various sources to discover brilliant content, it will all amount to nothing if you don’t know the art of saving and filtering content. This is critical and what separates you from the average content curator.

Read on to find out how you can best select and save content for your own curation:

 

Choose A Few, But Reliable Content Discovery Methods

There are so many ways to discover content, but if you subscribe to every newsletter and download all of the apps above, you’re likely to get little else done during the day. It helps to try out all of the tools one by one and see which ones stick.

Try not to have more than three to four ways of discovering content, including communities, newsletters, content curation tools, and social media. If you have more than that, all you’ll be doing is sorting and filtering content. Also, for tools that offer targeted content, throw in a few offbeat topics in the mix, to “accidentally” help you discover new favorite sources.

From time to time, you will come across a website that you absolutely love. To know if this particular website is worth bookmarking, all you need to do is look around and find out how often they post, how many comments and shares they receive, and if the website is well-designed and formatted. These aspects usually provide a clue to a website’s reliability.

If it does check all the right boxes, add it to your own list of go-to websites. On days when your feedreader is barren, it helps to have your own little arsenal of websites with great content you can always rely on.

 

Find Your Hidden Gems

If you’re sharing content that everyone else is, you aren’t doing it right. Your audience really needs you to find the hidden gems for them, so that they don’t have to plod through a dozen websites. This may take a little, or a lot of, digging and reading.  

Look at how the pros do it: Maria Popova of Brain Pickings reads a whopping 10-20 books a week, in addition to gleaning articles on the internet.

And this is the daily routine of Dave Pell, writer of NextDraft, as shared on Product Hunt: “Each morning I open about a 100 news tabs and then begin my process of finding and sharing the day’s most fascinating news in the NextDraft Newsletter and App.”

As you can see, great content takes time to find. That doesn’t mean you spend hours every day simply finding content, but dedicate a reasonable amount of time to find truly unique content.

 

Save Articles To A Read-It-Later App

It helps to save all the articles you find interesting in a read-it-later app. This prevents you from getting distracted with other links while reading.

Apps like Flipboard and Feedly give you an option to save articles for reading later. If you don’t want to keep switching back and forth between apps, you can save all articles together in Pocket and then read them. This also makes it easy to share content; more about it in the next section.

 

Sharing Content Quickly

As important as it is to spend enough time on finding and reading quality content, so is it essential to spend as little time as possible on sharing all of that content.

In this section, we explore tools that take the hassle out of the content sharing process:

 

Tools For Social Media

If you’re sharing a large volume of content on social media, say tweeting every hour or so, you can’t expect to do it manually. Even if you do use a social media scheduling app, manually adding links one by one to the app could take a while.

In this section, we’ll discuss tools to help you speed up the process of sharing on social media, so you spend no more than 15-20 minutes on sharing per day. There are two types of apps you need for automating the sharing process on social media – if-this-then-that apps and scheduling apps.

Remember we told you a read-it-later app would be handy? Here’s where you’ll know how. The premise is simple. When you perform an action on an article in your read-it-later app (Pocket, for example), your if-this-then-that app is triggered to add that article into your scheduling queue.

For instance, let’s say I mark an article as a favorite in Pocket. This action triggers it to be added to my social media scheduling queue.

Let’s take a look at two of the most popular if-this-then-that apps to understand this better:

 

IFTTT

IFTTT, or If This Then That, helps you to connect two services so that when you perform an action in one service, another action is triggered in the other service.

IFTTT already has existing ways you can automatically add articles to your scheduling apps. For instance, you can add articles you favorite in Pocket to your Buffer queue, as well as automatically Buffer articles you save for later in Feedly.

 

Zapier

Zapier is another popular way to “make your apps talk to one another”.

Zapier also has existing “Zaps” or workflows such as Buffer new Pocket favorites, Buffer new tagged Pocket items, and share Pinterest Pins via Buffer.

And now on to the social media scheduling app:

 

Buffer

You may know what Buffer is by now, an app for scheduling posts on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, and Instagram.

After automatically adding all of your content to your Buffer queue, you can customise each post so as to add value, add images of your own and then schedule it for a suitable time.

While there are many social media scheduling apps out there, Buffer is easily the most popular, and also has ready workflows for adding articles automatically on IFTTT as well as Zapier.

 

Tools For Email Newsletters

Emails existed way before social media did, and so did these tools. In this section, we look at the different tools you can use to make an appealing curated newsletter:

 

MailChimp

MailChimp is one of the most popular email software, letting you automate tasks such as welcoming subscribers, running ads, and engaging with subscribers easily. While it is more of a specialist for ecommerce and online selling, itcan also be used to make simple newsletters.

 

TinyLetter

TinyLetter is a specialist for newsletters, with a simple email writing experience. Additionally, it also has features to help you build your list with landing pages and social media.

 

Campaign Monitor

Campaign Monitor gives you beautiful email templates to work with, that look great on all devices. It also provides you with signup forms and more to grow your email list.

 

How To Be A Content Curation Rockstar

If you really want to take your content curation to the next level, you need to do more than subscribe to a few newsletters and schedule content quickly. You need to infuse curated content with your own personality and present your own side of the story, so that it truly shines.

Here are a few tips to become a pro content curator:

 

Pick A Niche

NextDraft is for the day’s most important news, SaaS Weekly is for SaaS, and Austin Kleon’s newsletter is for creatives.

As you can see, picking a niche helps readers know what to expect from you and decide if you’re worth following.

See how NextDraft’s Dave Pell picked his niche for the newsletter:

“I felt like, “Well, if I want to be somebody’s news source, I need to cover everything and make sure that, if there’s something happening at the US Embassy in Iran that’s on the front page of the New York Times, I have to cover that because it’s big news.” But then I decided, “No, I just want to focus on what I have something to say about and what I found particularly interesting that day.” That’s really when NextDraft started to take off.”

Don’t try to make your newsletter or Twitter feed “a little something for everyone”. Try to cast your net too wide and you’ll end up being a generic newsletter, that no one finds any value in.  

 

Add Your Own Point of View

One of my favorite comics, Zen Pencils, provides an excellent example of how you can add value to existing content. The comic illustrates a famous quote, in a meaningful and interesting way. While this is not exactly a curation example, you get the point.

You don’t necessarily have to be a cartoonist in order to make it more valuable, but it’s important to add value to the content you’re sharing. Merely sharing the headline of the content, on social media and elsewhere, is plain boring.

Take a cue from Austin Kleon’s Weekly newsletter:

Source: Austin Kleon’s Weekly newsletter – Don’t mess with my fantasy

The newsletter contains ten links about creativity, writing and reading in general, along with the writer’s commentary, related links and reads, making for an overall, highly valuable newsletter.

You can also add your favorite snippets of the content, just like Jimmy Daly from Swipe File:

Source: Swipe File – Happiness does not equal Productivity

If you’re looking for inspiration for better sharing on social media, take a look at how Rand Fishkin shares articles:

Source: Rand Fishkin’s Twitter

Note that he even adds a new image for good measure.

The bottom line is: tweak headlines, add your own viewpoint and jazz it up!   

 

Make it Interesting With Visuals

While you have may heard over and over the importance of visual marketing, here are a few statistics to consider, from an article on the Buffer blog:

Tweets with images receive 150% more retweets, 89% more favorites, and 18% more clicks.

Images also help you add additional value to existing content. While you can always use images existing in the article (which tools like Buffer help you with), you can also take it a notch higher by finding your own images.

There are various places to find royalty-free images. Be sure you always cite sources of images, and play with different visual forms such as videos, infographics, GIFs, and more, to keep it interesting.

We hope this article provided you with enough fodder to kickstart your content curation efforts.  Do let us know your own ways of discovering, sharing and curating content in the comments below!

 

About the Author: Farheen Gani is a freelance writer and content marketer.. She writes about the best tools for startups, marketing and PR, and major startup ecosystems at StartupBlink. Say hi on Twitter!

21 Best Marketing Blogs You NEED To Read

Which blogs do you follow and read?

If you’re into digital marketing, then you need to identify marketing blogs that will nudge you to keep at your game.

You already know there are thousands of online marketing blogs out there and it gets overwhelming for marketers and businesses to find and read the right ones.

But I’ve done all the heavy liftings for you. If you religiously follow and read the blogs below, your insights, experience, and conviction will take on wings and your business will fly.

It’s high time you stay updated on everything that’s happening in the marketing industry worldwide.

Here’s a list of 20 best marketing-related blogs that you should read and learn from:

 

1. Unbounce

Unbounce is the official blog run and owned by Unbounce which is a platform that helps marketers create, convert, integrate, and optimize landing pages.

Their blog covers topics related to landing pages and conversion optimization. It publishes scientifically-proven tips and best practices about landing pages.

If you’ve always struggled to create landing pages that convert and do the job, Unbounce blog is where you’ll find all the answers.

22 Brutally Honest Landing Page Critiques is my favorite post from Unbounce blog that criticizes 22 landing pages and shows you what’s wrong and how it has to be fixed.

 

2. Copyblogger

Are you struggling with content marketing and copywriting? Copyblogger is the place you should be.

Brian Clark and Sonia Simone are the two big guns behind the blog. You’ll get to learn the best tips, guides, and strategies on copywriting that will make you a better blogger and copywriter.

My favorite post from Copyblogger is The Ultimate Copy Checklist: 51 Questions to Optimize Every Element of Your Online Copy. This post will make you a better copywriter than you are now.

 

3. QuickSprout

The QuickSprout is a marketing blog by Neil Patel where you’ll find guides and tips on everything digital marketing with a focus on traffic generation. If you religiously read QuickSprout, I’m sure you’ll never have to struggle for web traffic again.

My favorite article is none other than The Beginners Guides to Online Marketing. If you haven’t read anything on online marketing, this guide will be more than enough.

 

4. Marie Forleo

As a marketer, there are times when you need motivation or life-changing advice from an expert. Marie Forleo is the blog where you’ll find ideas and resources that will help you change your life.

Let’s start your journey with Marie from this vlog: What to do when you feel useless and alone.

 

5. Mirasee

Mirasee is a brand founded by Danny Iny. The purpose of Mirasee is to provide businesses with resources and education that help them impact their audience and change the world.

This is what exactly you’ll find on their blog. It covers topics ranging from businesses to audience engagement to digital marketing to case studies and more.

My favorite guide is their inspirational 10 lessons from debt to 7 figures. You’ll not earn 7 figures exactly but the lessons you’ll learn will change the way you do business and earn.

 

6. HubSpot

Inbound marketing seems to be incomplete without HubSpot. The have a massive marketing and a sales blog where you’ll find data-driven blog posts, case studies, templates, guides, expert opinions, and everything about inbound marketing.

If you cannot find it anywhere else on the web, chances are, you’ll find it at HubSpot.

State of Inbound 2016 is my favorite report by HubSpot that shares data and information that is worth millions.

 

7. John Doherty

This blog is run by John Doherty, who is an entrepreneur, marketer, and a top consultant. John mostly writes about SEO and content marketing. One of best things about this blog is that you’ll find exclusive case studies and best content from around the web. John reads, summarizes, and shares the best content on marketing with his subscribers every week.

One of the most insightful posts and my favorite is SEOs are Growth Hackers. Do read it.

 

8. Content Marketing Institute (CMI)

Joe Pulizzi founded CMI who is a content marketer, entrepreneur, author, and speaker.

Content Marketing Institute (CMI) publishes new articles on content marketing and copywriting every single day. Not just that you’ll find content marketing guides and templates but they talk about recent news and events in the content marketing space.

I love the post by Brody: 12 Things to Do After You’ve Written a New Blog Post. It is old but still valuable.

9. Buffer

Buffer isn’t just an interesting social media scheduling app, their blog is even better.

At Buffer blog, you’ll find posts on social media marketing, digital marketing, case studies, and posts on news and trends. The real beauty of Buffer blog is their in-depth and detailed blog posts that cover every topic in extreme detail.

The first thing that you should read on Buffer blog is the Sidekick case study: 7 Powerful Social Media Experiments That Grew Our Traffic by 241% in 8 Months. You’ll love it.

 

10. Econsultancy

Econsultancy is an ecommerce data-driven blog that publishes content on marketing and analytics. It publishes statistics and opinions on marketing and ecommerce. If you plan to learn more about ecommerce, econsultancy is your best bet.

My favorite blog post on the blog is: What marketers need to know about Facebook’s ethnic affinity ad targeting. If you get a chance, do read it.

 

11. BigCommerce

BigCommerce blog provides you with some of the best and latest content on eCommerce. The blog posts regularly on the topics related to ecommerce, ecommerce design, payment processors, shipment and fulfillment, ecommerce marketing, and more.

If you want to stay updated on what’s happening in the ecommerce industry, stick to the BigCommerce blog.

My favorite recent post is: Instagram Shopping: The Future of Mobile Ecommerce + 19 Tips to Increase Conversions Now.

 

12. 9Clouds

9Clouds is an inbound marketing blog that is must for those in the automotive marketing niche. While you’ll find articles on pretty much everything on marketing but since 9Clouds is an automotive digital marketing platform, therefore, most of their content is based on automotive marketing.

My favorite article: An Excerpt From the 2017 State of Automotive Marketing Report

 

13. GetResponse

Get Response is an email marketing platform that helps businesses with email marketing, landing pages, marketing automation, and more. Their blog is one of the best in the market that talks about marketing, productivity, automation, and email marketing.

Nobody writes better than Get Response on email marketing.

My favorite article: How to Start a Video Content Campaign the Right Way

 

14. ConversionXL

Founded by Peep Laja, ConversionXL is the leading conversion optimization blog that publishes resources, guides, courses, and case studies on conversion optimization.

If you plan to learn more on how to get better at conversion optimization and how to grow revenue, subscribe to ConversionXL.

My all-time favorite blog post is: The Beginner’s Guide to CRO. It is a collection of several valuable articles that will enable you to get better with conversions.

 

15. Social Media Examiner

There is no better blog on social media marketing than Social Media Examiner.

Not just social media marketing but they publish on other marketing topics too like content marketing.

Whether it is new research, case studies on social media marketing, latest events and conferences or talk shows, Social Media Examiner is every marketer’s best resource.

My favorite article on Social Media Examiner: Essential Facebook Marketing Resources: A Complete Guide.

 

16. Inside AdWords

Inside AdWords is the Google’s official blog about Google AdWords. They post the latest news, best practices, guides, and updates about AdWords.

You’ll not see new posts very often but every time they post, you will learn something awesome and probably before your competitors.

Subscribe to the Inside AdWords blog if you use AdWords, you’ll never regret it.

One of the best recently published articles is: A fast start to 2017 for click-to-call ads.

 

17. GetApp

GetApp is a home to more than 5200 apps for businesses. They blog about business apps including the best marketing apps, marketing plugins, marketing software, and more.

GetApp blog has several articles on employee management, business, customer engagement, sales, analytics, and more. You’ll find everything on apps and latest tools at GetApp.

My favorite article is: How to Choose Marketing Automation Software: A Handy Checklist.

 

18. Marketo

Marketo blog is a leading marketing blog that publishes extremely valuable and insightful articles on marketing.

The blog covers all types of marketing topics including automation, content marketing, modern marketing, lead management, branding, etc. There is hardly anything that you won’t find at Marketo.

One of the best things about Marketo blog is that it categorizes its posts on the basis of B2B and B2C that makes it easier to find the right content.

My favorite article is: The Definitive Guide to Engaging Content Marketing.

 

19. GetFeedback

GetFeedback is an online survey software. They publish insightful content on topics related to customer experience, surveys, salesforce, audience engagement, and data collection and analytics. If you’re planning to create a consumer survey to collect data from your customers, GetFeedback blog will provide you with some great articles.

My favorite post is: 3 Ways to Increase Retention with Customer Feedback.

 

20. Wistia

Wistia is a video platform for marketers and businesses. Their blog is your best resource for video marketing. It publishes tips, news, guides, and case studies on video marketing that will be helpful for video marketers.

My favorite article: Your Business’s Videos Should Include Faces. Here’s Why.

21. G2 Crowd

 

G2 Crowd’s Learn blog is an educational resource for leading marketing, sales, design and general business topics. The blog consists of ultimate, long-form guides, resource roundups, infographics and other valuable content.

 

My favorite post is: how to build a website from scratch.

 

Conclusion

Essentially, you’re what you read and who you follow. If you frequent blogs that inspires you to do your best work and impact your world, you’ll be fired up to do just that.

These 20 marketing blogs aren’t the best, but they will keep you engaged all year long, and prepare you for what lies ahead. Constantly reading new posts on these blogs will keep you updated on latest happenings in the marketing industry, and help you build a thriving business.

How To Promote Your Business: 20 Proven Strategies

Success in business breaks down into two simple things:

  1. Can you supply something that people want at a price they’re willing to pay?
  2. Can you get your offer in front of those people?

Nine times out of ten, people start a business because they are capable, competent, or even brilliant at that first part. They know their industry and they are able to supply what people want.

The second part is where things get tricky. How do you get your offer in front of the right people? Or in other words, how do you promote your business?

Today, we’re going to be looking at # incredibly simple yet highly effective ways to promote your business. You can implement all of these quickly without needing special expertise or significant investment.
If you’ve been looking for new ways to reach your target audience, you’re in the right place.

 

1. Insert Calls To Action In Your Team’s Email Signatures

The average office worker sends a receives 122 emails per day. For a business with ten staff, that adds up to around 600 outgoing emails per day.

These emails are actually a tremendous promotion opportunity, but not using traditional email signatures. Nobody is going to take notice of your employees’ job titles or websites. Nobody cares about your favorite quote.

What CAN get attention is a big obvious Call To Action button.

pasted image 0

Notice how well this CTA stands out and attracts attention.

When you view email signatures as a marketing tool, they become dynamic ways of introducing your products or services to potential customers.

For a single email, you can simply set something like this up via your email client, but if you are interested in rolling it out across your entire team (most beneficial), you’ll want to use an app like Sigstr, which will let you manage signatures and rollout campaigns across your entire team at once.

The best way to take advantage of email CTAs is to offer some sort of lead magnet or freely available offer that will interest your target audience and push them forward in your funnel.

 

2. Set Up A Google My Business Account

Google is not only a search engine, but also a small business directory. Take advantage of these tools. Setting up a Google My Business Account provides three major benefits for companies who rely on local business:

  • Your local business is listed on Google maps and search.
  • It’s good for search engine optimization, so that your business gets found easier by the people who are looking for the services or products you provide.
  • It’s good for when your customers start adding reviews of your business; these reviews help Google display your business in their “3-pack”, which gives you free advertising at no cost.

Google My Business Reviews have earned these companies the top spots in Google search results.

Your GMB listing is the baseline for all your online citations and listing, and it’s important that every listing matches your GMB listing, particularly when it comes to your three primary pieces of information, known as NAP (Name Address Phone Number).

 

3. Audit Your Online NAPs

NAP stands for Name, Address, Phone number, also often referred to as citations.

Out of Moz’ top 6 “Foundational Ranking Factors”, (for search engine ranking), 3 are related to NAP quantity, quality, and consistency, and out of the top 13 “Competitive Difference Makers,” 6 are about NAP quantity, quality, and consistency.

If you’ve listed your company on Google My Business, you need to make sure the details there are the same for all your online listings.

Image Credit: Moz

If any of the details elsewhere are not the same as it is listed in Google My Business, then you might not be “rewarded” by search engines and it could also damage your search ranking.

A suggestion is to keep an Excel spreadsheet of all your listings, to make it easy to keep them consistent.

Moz offers in-depth information about NAP audits and how to do them.

 

4. Set Up A Joint Venture

As I mentioned earlier, promoting your business is all about getting your offer in front of the right people. One of the easiest ways to do this is to find existing audiences filled with the “right” people and simply place your offer in front of them.

In some instances, that can be done via advertising, but an even better option in the short term is to partner with non-competing businesses marketing to the same people as you are.

Joint ventures are a brilliant way of getting more customers fast. Take Teachable, which was started in 2014 by Ankur Nagpal. He says that 6 months into starting the business, they had less than 20 active customers making money from courses. In 2015, they created a joint venture which gave them more customers fast.

Nagpal lists a few examples of joint ventures they’ve since used in their marketing strategies, one of them being a simple affiliate partnership with marketer Melyssa Griffin. Teachable gave Melyssa a unique promotional tracking link plus 50% commission on every sale.

melyssa affiliate.jpgt1490606936311width698namemelyssa affiliate

Melyssa Griffin, affiliate marketer and joint venture partner with Teachable.

Find out more about joint venture examples from the founder of Teachable, which now boasts a monthly growth rate of more than 20% in 2016, increasing its revenue tenfold in one year, with more than 1 million students.

 

5. Create An Email Marketing Strategy

Email marketing is the cornerstone of online marketing.

From a technology standpoint, email has withstood the test of time as a communication channel. From a marketing standpoint, email converts at a higher rate than nearly any other channel.

As recently as 2016, email marketing was the leading marketing expense among global business leaders.

Email marketing allows you to nurture relationships with potential buyers over time. It allows to place visitors who aren’t ready to buy into a funnel that keeps them connected with your business instead of having them forget about you.

To begin taking advantage of email marketing, you’ll need to create something valuable that can be given away for free in exchange for a visitor’s email address. Digital info products are often best for this purpose.

Next, you’ll want to create a series of emails designed to introduce the new lead to your offer, establish your authority in the industry, and deliver educational value on related topics of interest.

To learn more, check out these fantastic email marketing examples.

 

6. Offer a Free Or Discounted Product/Service

In a similar vein to the lead magnets we just talked about, offering something free or at a discount is a great way to draw in new customers. Depending on your business model, it can even be effective to take a loss on this in order to pull in market share.

There are many iterations of this that can be used to drive leads, sales, referrals, etc. Ecommerce stores in particular have had amazing success with introductory discounts.
Here’s an example from lingerie e-retailer Yandy.com:

Other possibilities include free software apps or free trials. For example, BuildFire allows prospective customers to create an app for free, allowing them to experience the actual product before being required to pay anything.

 

7. Give A Presentation or Webinar

This strategy can be equally effective online and offline. By offering a webinar or workshop, you can attract your target audience and collect their contact information for future followup.

First locate where your target audience hangs out, then set up meetings. For instance, AwaiOnline recommends “Lunch ‘n Learn” sessions of one hour. Organize lunch and do some advertising to the right people, and then teach them something in one hour, over lunch. Try hosting it at your local Chamber of Commerce or other business networking groups.

Copywriter freelancer Steve Slaunwhite used online “Lunch ‘n Learn” sessions to promote his copywriting services to his target audience and said, “The Virtual Lunch ‘n Learns would get me in front of my target audience and position me as an expert at what I do. Of those who attended the teleconferences, some would decide to give my services a try. These were small numbers of prospects, but they were high quality. I got several leads and referrals and some very good clients by doing these sessions.” (Source)

Mary-Ann Shearer, health guru, whose vegan restaurant is located in an area known for its affinity for meat, educates people by holding talks for groups at gyms, running clubs, churches, etc. When she does, she gets email addresses from people that are already “sold out” to her, because within minutes, she is able to prove herself as an authority on her subject. When her presentation is over, she has collected well qualified leads; people who are sure to start buying products from her online store.

Mary-Ann Shearer conducting a group talk about natural health at a local gym.

If you don’t want to go the offline route, you could instead host a webinar or podcast interview (I recommend using PodMatch.com to quickly get booked on podcasts), or do a joint venture with a partner who hosts a webinar, as a way to collect email addresses.

Jeff Rose hosted a webinar on “How to Protect Your Investment Portfolio”.

8. Ask for Reviews

54% of people visit a website after reading positive reviews about the business, and 84% trust reviews as much as they trust a personal recommendation. (Source)

Reviews build trust and credibility for your business, and they carry a lot of weight. You can also use them on your website, specifically your home and about page. But that’s not the only thing reviews are good for. They also increase your search engine ranking, which results in increased website traffic. Why? Because search engines recognize the value of customer reviews.

Bella Luna Toys, an ecommerce company, started using reviews on their website, and since doing so, their conversion rates shot up by 15%. They’ve also generated more than 4500 genuine customer reviews. (Source)

Bella Luna Toys have increased conversions by 15% since incorporating reviews onto their website.

To collect reviews, simply setup your Google My Business listing and other citations that take reviews, and then send the links to your customers with the request that they leave a review. Alternatively, you can use an app like Yotpo to collect written reviews or VocalReferances to collect video reviews as an automated part of your checkout system.

 

9. Comment on Blogs In Your Niche

Leaving a comment on other related blogs can help rank your content on search engines faster, because:

  1. Adding a link to your site from a comment on another site, gets Google and other search engines to pick it up, and if the website you’ve left a comment on, is reputable, search engines are likely to index your content with a higher ranking, because of your association to the website through the link left in your comment.
  2. If your comment adds value, it may get attention from a future customer who is so impressed by what you’ve written, that they click back to your website.
  3. Adding value-add comments on other blogs helps build relationships with bloggers and others in your niche, which may very well open doors to joint ventures.

Example of comments that are well written and add value to anyone reading them.

The image below is taken from a data analytics page and shows how backlinks from comments are counted, even if they are no-follow links.

 

10. Do “It” Better Than Your Competitors

Business are often started as an attempt to do something better than the existing marketplace. The same mentality is true for promotion.

When it comes to any marketing channel, usually the top marketer or two in that channel will captivate 90% of the competition. Instead of being middle of the road on multiple channels, it’s best to identify a channel where you can “do it the best” and pursue that channel.

For instance, an online academic book and technology business in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, wanted to increase their website visitors. A consultant was brought in who compiled a report showing what the worldwide benchmark company was doing, and these are some of the findings:

The benchmark company had a whopping 7394962 Facebook likes, with a 100% response rate, while the other company had a mere 5839 Facebook likes, and a 0% response rate. In addition, the benchmark company had tons of content and their product descriptions were customized.

When analyzing the online activities of a worldwide benchmark company, it was found that their differentiating factor was lots of value-add content.

Next, they checked how their top local competitors were doing online, and found that if they were to implement a content strategy, they could whip all the others in their area.

What they took home from the analysis:

  1. The need to start creating Facebook posts that would attract their target audience, and to start paying for Facebook ads to boost their Facebook page engagement rates.
  2. The necessity of responding quickly to social media messages from their customers.
  3. The need to start writing customized product descriptions.
  4. The importance of website content.

 

11. Write A Bunch Of Guest Posts

Guest posting is one of the most effective ways to promote your brand online.

Guest posting is where you can write an article for another website that they then publish and promote to their audience.

While guest posting will rarely drive any significant amount of actual traffic, it can be very valuable for a number of reasons:

  1. Establish yourself and your brand as an authority in the space
  2. Get backlinks to your website from popular, high-ranking websites
  3. Get your brand directly in front of your target market
  4. Network with influencers in your niche (potential joint venture partners)
  5. Link to people who will then link to you in their own guest posts

Silvio Porcellana is the CEO and founder of Mob.is.it. The company provides a tool which helps agencies and professionals build mobile websites and native apps.

When he realized that the website needed more organic search traffic (visitors brought in from search engine results), they decided to implement a guest blogging campaign.

Within 5 months, they published 44 guest posts on 41 different blogs. The result?

The website’s search traffic increased by 20%.

Here’s an illustration by Writers In Charge of why guest blogging is so effective:

 

12. Utilize Facebook Instant Articles

Facebook Instant Articles is a distribution platform where you can share content just like you would on your own website, or on Linkedin articles, but with interactive elements that enhance the mobile viewing experience. The content on Facebook Instant Articles is accessible to Facebook users on Android and iPhone devices.

It’s especially valuable if you want to build value, credibility and brand awareness. The benefits of using this function is:

  • Fast load time. Facebook reports that Instant Articles has 70% lower bounce rates and 30% higher share rates than most of the web articles accessed via mobile devices.
  • You can make money right from the platform with your own display and media rich ads and you also have the ability to display Facebook Audience Network ads if you so choose.
  • You have control over your own branding.
  • The platform allows integration with other measurement tools like Google Analytics.
  • Interaction for a better reader experience.
  • You can add content that’s already been published on your website, and there’s a plugin to make it all easier if you’re on Wordpress.

Gray Television integrated local news with Instant Articles and generated $250,000 in revenue from the Facebook Audience Network.

Gray Television integrated Instant Articles with local news.

 

13. Use Visual Media To Build Your Social Media Presence

There are 2.3 billion active social media users. Whatever your target audience looks like, you can find them on social media, and visual content is one of the best ways to expand your social presence.

Here’s a good place to start:

  1. Create visual content that is relevant to your niche
  2. Use high quality images or video
  3. Get your customers involved
  4. Tap into trending hashtags and current events

In the beginning, before you have an audience of your own, it’s important to engage with people directly and tap into your target niche. One of the easiest ways to find these individuals is hashtags.

These are images that were uploaded to Instagram, all hashtagged, “veganrecipes”:

If you wanted to get in front of people in the vegan niche, finding out what people are talking about and favoriting around #veganrecipes would be a great place to start.

For more insights into this strategy, read this case study about how Fusion Farm used hashtags to promote an event.

 

14. Create Content That Attracts Your Audience

Some of the tops blogs in the world make an average of $15,000 to $30,000 a day.

People love consuming blog content online, and it’s highly unlikely your niche is exempt. In order to tap into that demand, you simply need to create content that attracts the same audience you wish to sell to.

For example, Glen Allsop, founder of PluginID, was a complete newbie in his field when he first started blogging. Because of adding great content to his site, his subscription list grew to 26,000 subscribers, many of whom also became customers, helping his business take off.

Glen Allsop’s internet marketing blogging content grew his subscriber list to 26,000 in a short timespan.

And just like we are giving you ways to promote your business, you will also need ways to promote your blog content.

 

15. Promote Your Content

Promoting blog content is a great way to build authority in your niche will also directly promoting your business. In fact, it’s one of the few ways you can get away with shamelessly promoting yourself. You can share blog posts is a lot more locations than you can directly advertise a product or service.

There are many, many ways to promote content, but here are some of the best ones I’ve tried:

  1. Send the content to your email subscribers
  2. Share it with your social followers
  3. Share it on Reddit and other community sites
  4. Use the best paid promotion channels you can find
  5. Answer questions on Quora
  6. Etc.

There are many different ways to promote content, and to know what will work for your business, at the end of the day, you’ll just have to experiment.

 

16. Implement Search Engine Optimization

Search engine optimization, mostly known as SEO for short, is a way to optimize a website  for search engines and improve your search engine rankings.

The goal is that when people search via Google for phrases that are relevant to your product, your website shows up as quickly as possible.

Unlike most other promotion tactics, getting your site ranked for various keyphrases will result in increasing amounts of traffic over time, or at least for as long as people continue to use search engines.

You get traffic month and month after month, and outside of the expense to rank the site and maintain your ranking, the traffic is free.

By incorporating an SEO strategy, Candoni Wines experienced a 70% improvement in organic search traffic within 6 months. In addition, their site ranks for more than 1000 keywords, and as a byproduct, 20,026 Facebook page likes were added throughout the initial campaign.

By implementing an SEO strategy, this website experienced a 70% improvement in their organic search traffic within 6 months.

 

17. Participate in Community Events

We live in a predominantly digital world, but promoting your business at physical events is still a great way to grow.

As Digital Vidya discusses, both offline and online marketing are essential:

“As the marketing maxim goes, consumers do not make purchase decisions based on a single ad or message alone. The marketing ‘rule of 7 ‘ states that consumers need to be exposed to a message seven times, on average, before purchase. Buyers gather bits of information from various channels and piece them together in making their decision. Data gathered, from multiple channels, through multiple stages of the buying process, are the building-blocks of sales. Integrated messages that build upon each other, make a compelling case for purchase. Consistency across channels, renders messages more impactful and increases the probability of conversion. As such, integration (of online and offline marketing) is not just about brand synergy – it is about improving ROI.”

Going back to a graphic we looked at earlier, we can see that offline events still make up a sizable percentage of investment for most business decision makers.

This chart shows that global business leaders are still investing in offline events in their marketing strategies.

Participate in those community events where your target audience are. For example, if you are targeting a national audience of retailers, being at a big trade show (see the next point) makes sense. Or  to save costs, you could join another company in the same niche at the trade show.

If you depend on local business, local events can be a great way to get new customers, or at least add new people to your email list.

Another idea – if it’s relevant to your business – is to check online event sites for local events.

You just need to figure out what events will be most beneficial to you according to your target audience and goals.

 

18. Exhibit at Trade Shows

A whopping 99% of marketers say they find unique value from trade shows that they don’t get from other marketing mediums, probably because trade shows pull together a mass group of buyers and sellers in particular industries, who can be considered “hot leads”:

  1. According to Exhibit Surveys, Inc.,67% of attendees represent a new prospect for exhibiting companies.
  2. According to CEIR, 81% of tradeshow attendees have buying authority, and 46% of them are in executive or higher management.

Trade shows can be costly to set up, so how do you know if you should take the gamble? Colleen Francis, an influential sales person, recommends participation only if you can make 10x the revenue back within 6 months of the show vs. what it costs you to be there.

Xeikon, a digital printing company, used a trade show as their one main marketing focus for the year, gearing up towards it and following up after it. They experienced these results:

  • About 1,000 prospects were identified
  • A 14% response rate from email marketing efforts
  • 140 new, qualified leads
  • 300% return on investment

Find out more about using the sales funnel approach to managing tradeshows.

 

19. Join A Paid Membership In Your Niche

If you can find some sort of group that requires money to get in AND caters to your target audience, you’ve just struck marketing gold. Joining some sort of paid membership is a perfect, if perhaps a bit sneaky, way to get in front of your target audience.
Paid memberships create an automatic level of trust. The monetary barrier ensures, at least theoretically, that everyone there is committed to being there and on the same page. It’s very easy to promote your products and services in a group you have paid to be in, provided you do so in a subtle way that seems helpful as opposed to spammy.

Examples of this could be local business groups, mastermind groups, paid clubs, course communities, etc.

 

20. Pay For Advertising

Many of the methods provided in this article help to build a customer base over time, but one of the most effective ways to get quick and consistent exposure is to pay for advertising.

Three of the current most popular advertising methods include:

  1. PPC ads
  2. Facebook ads
  3. Television ads

In 2015, the Content Marketing Institute, conducted a survey of 3,714 worldwide marketers, and found that 76% of B2C marketers use paid advertising; 64% rated search engine ads as effective, and 59% reported that they found paid social ads to be effective:

Paid advertising requires some expertise to get right and some experimentation to find the right channel. This is one of the more common promotion activities that business outsource to agencies.

 

Conclusion: How To Promote Your Business

I hope this article has given you a better feel for how to promote your business. These relatively low investment methods will help you get the ball rolling.

Ultimately, there is no single guaranteed winning strategy for promoting a business. It’s a lot of trial and error, and this list should get you started.

21 Small Business Marketing Trends For 2017 (From 18 Experts)

The way marketing works is fundamentally changing with shifts in the sheer volume of people using the internet, emerging formats (mobile) and many other new factors at play.

To help us identify all of these new trends and tell you what can be done to pivot your business to align with these trends – we reached out to hundreds of experts to ask about the trends they see.

From those we narrowed the responses down to 18 of the most impactful trends that will inevitably impact your small business’s marketing in 2017.

Let’s dive in…

 

Even More Content Marketing

SEO is inescapable in the modern world of business – you need to make sure your company has a high ranking in the search engine to attract as much business as possible. Because of this, content marketing is more important than ever. Keep your website content up to date, as well as having a News or Blog page of fresh and engaging articles – you can either write these yourself or hire an agency to keep it updated for you. Google looks very favourably upon sites which have organic and original content.

Grand van der Harst – Anglo Liners

 

Mobile is King

The world has gone mobile. There are more website visits on mobile. There are more searches conducted on mobile. Voice search will push forwards the total search volume even further. Unfortunately, most businesses are yet to truly embrace mobile within their marketing efforts. Sure, many businesses have a responsive website and we were talking about responsive web design as far back as 2012 yet there is much more to consider to truly optimize your website and digital presence for mobile users.

In my most recent search engine land column I looked at 25 key factors that businesses can implement to optimize their website and digital assets for mobile users. This goes far beyond just responsive design and loading speed and looks at truly optimizing the user experience for site search, commerce, form entry, calls and general mobile usability.

Focus on mobile in 2017 and you improve your ROI from all digital channels that drive prospects to your website – you will likely boost your traffic from search engines in the proceeds. This is a true strategic advantage for the early movers in the small business space.

Marcus Miller – Bowler Hat

@marcusbowlerhat

 

Outsourcing For Growth

Small businesses are finally beginning to understand the importance of bringing in expert level marketing support and strategy services and are outsourcing to freelance and executive counsel again for the first time after nearly a decade of declines. This lack of strategy and competence in marketing internally for most small businesses, led to a significant amount of rather mediocre marketing and as a result, lackluster growth. With this newfound enthusiasm and optimism for growth, small business are finally going to get that collateral updated, make a great online presence with a fresh website, and actually get back to the creation of a strategic, integrated and executable marketing plan – and stop trying to do it themselves (poorly) or the constant revolving door of unqualified or entry level talent coming in to “manage” marketing.

Outsourcing of marketing is going to be a major trend for small business in 2017 and moving forward, and get the non core competency out of that business and off to expert who can properly advise and competently execute.

Rodger Roeser – The Eisen Agency

@eisenhotnews

 

video-advertising

Video Advertising is King

Video advertising has been quickly gaining traction in 2016: think introduction of Facebook video ads or longer videos on Instagram. In 2017 the trend will continue to grow, making social media more (if not completely) video-oriented. To keep competitive edge, small businesses need to focus on video marketing, and on social videos in particular. Facebook is going to slowly but steadily gain momentum as the top ranking video platform (along with YouTube), so investing marketing budget in Facebook video ads is highly recommended for SMBs to get the most out of their advertising efforts.

Anastasia Melet – Animatron

@Animatron

 

Getting Noticed Through Guest Blogging

One of the most important trends for small businesses this year is guest blogging. Most people don’t like the idea of writing something for free, but with guest blogging you on a popular blog you will increase your exposure, gain kudos and have those ever important brownie points from Google – backlinks to your site. To start there are a few things you can try. Firstly use twitter for a call out and ask for opportunities. Use the hashtag #guestblogging or #authorrequest and see what comes back. Also research on google the types of blogs you would like to feature in and approach them with a quirky story or angle, give them links to your previous blogs and give your pitch some personality to get noticed!

Helen Cox – Cox Marketing

@helencmarketing

 

Video Marketing is Making a Splash

Gone are the days when big brands were the only players who could make video advertisements, as the cost required to produce them and pay for television advertising space was so high. Now, social media enables all businesses to reach customers in cost effective and highly targeted ways. A trend set to only increase in 2017 is the use of video. Videos get roughly 7x the engagement of any other types of post on social media and, with Facebook heavily pushing its Facebook Live feature and Twitter well integrated with Periscope, the options available to small businesses are ever increasing.

But how to market via video? Get creative. If your brand relies heavily on online sales without much interaction with your customers, film people around the office to show the humans behind your brand. Do you have a technical edge over your competitors? Use video to explain and demonstrate why your product is a game changer. Got a great product but struggling to get your brand message across? Film a TV-style ad yourself! The camera quality on modern smartphones means that you probably have the equipment you need for this at your disposal, but look up filming techniques and editing programs (smartphone apps like iMovie and Power Director can do this on your phone) if you want to make it perfect. Finding the style of video that suits you might not be easy, and it might take more time and effort to make videos than to just send a tweet, but it’s a great way for small businesses to promote themselves in a way that had been exclusive to big brands for too long.

Arron Richmond – High Speed Training

@hst

 

Mobile-First Marketing is Picking Up Steam

More than half of all search queries are performed on mobile devices, shoppers are increasingly looking for local businesses while on the move, and consumers are doing more and more of their shopping and purchasing on smartphones. Google has recognized this trend for years and has over time adjusted its algorithms and practices to promote mobile-friendly online properties. For example, Google’s search results favor responsive websites, the company is pushing the AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) project, and recently began penalizing mobile sites that use the disruptive full-page ads called interstitials. Small business owners, especially those with local retail locations, must get on board with this trend. If you’re in this camp, make sure your website works well on mobile devices, and make it really easy for users to convert (complete forms or make purchases) on smartphones. Explore developing an AMP version of your website. Update any directory listings and complete Google My Business pages for each of your locations so they appear properly in response to map searches. Format your email and social media promotions to look their best on mobile devices. It is vital for small business owners to do these types of things if they want to continue to capture their share of business in a mobile-first consumer world.

Jacob Dayan – Community Tax

@communitytaxllc

 

Small Business-izing of Marketing Technology

The most important trend I see is what I call the ‘Small Business-izing of Technology’. Cloud based technology is bringing enterprise class business software to small businesses, which 10 years ago was only available to large companies with big technology budgets.

In the past, the big tech companies like Oracle and SAP focused on high quality and high expense solutions to Fortune 500 companies. Today, even a small business with just a handful of people can get fantastic marketing software (e.g. Hubspot) to grow their business. This takes so much of the complexity and cost off the table, and clears the way for small businesses to innovate and better market their business.

Steve Benson – Badger Maps

@SteveBenson

 

Emphasizing Customer Retention is Key

With the rising cost of digital ads, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to make your voice heard in an ecommerce space.  This intense competition has forced small businesses to seriously reconsider their marketing budget because, let’s face it, it’s a little difficult to compete with Amazon.  There is a solution, though, and that solution is an emphasis on customer retention.  By capitalizing on retention strategies like a loyalty program, small businesses will be able to double down on their most profitable customers while improving their customer experience throughout every step of the customer journey.  In a world where customers have easy access to competitor information no matter where they are, establishing real relationships is key to securing lasting brand loyalty and profitability from customers on a daily basis.  With these considerations front of mind, 2017 can be the year that small businesses in every industry significantly grow their business and make an impact in their respective industries.

Kirsten Burkard – Sweet Tooth

@kirstenburkard

 

Incorporating Big Data Into Your Marketing Efforts

A trend we are capitalizing on with respect to our small business marketing is incorporating big data into our marketing efforts.

Big data does not have to be scary a small business, it really is easier to integrate than you think .  We leverage our data, combined with publicly available census data, for marketing insights.

For example, in a recent campaign we ran in Nashville, TN , we ran pay-per-click (PPC) Adwords campaign with one ad targeting the entire metro Nashville area. The headline read ‘Local Lawn Pros in Nashville are a click away.’ and I thought the performance of the ad was good with a click through rate of over one percent and conversion rate of over 10 percent on the Nashville landing page but we needed to improve on it.

We thought, how can we make this more contextual and relevant to the viewer? Se we researched census data, looking at the average income and home values throughout the Nashville area.

We found that East Nashville, an up-and-coming neighbourhood, was populated with more working class, and a creative class demographic and we hypothesized this customer segment would be price sensitive but still not want to cut their own lawns. So we segmented those zip codes and only ran a specific ad for them, with a headline ‘The Cheapest Lawn Mowing in Nashville. Lawn mowing from $20.’”

We then created a matching landing page. After running the ad for one month, on-page analytics proved the guess to be true. We saw over 200 percent lift in click through rate and and 30 percent lift in on-page conversion.

Studying the data your own business generates can tell you which of your online marketing campaigns works best. Do the ads appeal to your target market or another market altogether? The data may also point to completely new areas of customer interest.

Bryan Clayton – GreenPal

@YourGreenPal

Facebook Ads Now Reach 1 Billion Viewers Per Month

Small businesses can’t afford not to implement Facebook ads in 2017 (at least if you’re on the B2C side, anyways). I keep thinking that FB will start to slide, but it never does—they recently announced that their Audience Network reaches 1 billion people per month. Within the social network itself, advertisers can target demographics with greater precision than Adwords, and the CPC is substantially cheaper. Now that you can opt into the Facebook Audience Network as well, you can increase your ad viewership by up to 16% beyond the social FB audience. Facebook’s new publishers include the Washington Post and Rolling Stone.

We’ll definitely see more FB ads from small businesses this year, and now that FB is implementing mid-roll video ads, small biz will start producing more video content as well.

Adam Gingery – Dmi Partners

@AdamGingery1

 

True Authenticity Matters in Marketing – A Trend That Won’t Go Away

Businesses in nearly all industries are capitalizing on the trend of authentic storytelling and brand messaging. You’ve seen it. Think about the commercials that show how a bank has helped a local business or a shoe store that writes their company’s mission and vision on the wall. It’s a way to connect with consumers authentically and create committed fans.

But what happens when you do a social media campaign about local farmers growing grains, but your business sources all of its ingredients from three time zones away? Or when your chocolate company wants customers to see their manufacturing process and you stage a production center that actually isn’t where you produce your chocolate bars at all?

That’s fake authenticity, and it ain’t cool.

Bottom line is this: Make your marketing message true to your business’ operations and values in every aspect–from ad copy to the customer experience. The marketing trend toward transparent company-consumer connection is not going away. Do it right.

Sara Lancaster – The Condiment Marketing Co.

@condimentmktg

 

Turn Your Website Into A Question Answering Machine

Search engines continue to focus on both mobile and voice searches. These search queries increasingly are resembling questions rather than a few targeted keywords. For 2017, when you are building pages on your site, research and optimize for question-based terms. Two questions that do well are “How” and “Which” questions. These relate to the learning process that consumers undertake while attempting to learn about products.

Brian Childs – Moz

@thegrowthpilot

 

Be More Personal

Marketing automation solutions have become readily accessible and many small businesses are using this for parts of their marketing strategy. The biggest challenge with automation though is that it often lacks a personal, human touch.

In a competitive ecosystem where consumers have more choice than ever before, it is incredibly hard for a small business to stand out; especially since they can’t fight bigger companies in a one-on-one war of marketing dollars spent. What small businesses can however do is be more personal and deepen their relationships with their customers.

The ways to do this is to increase the number of one-on-one interactions you are having with your customers. Get on the phone and ask a customer how they’re enjoying their last purchase. Add live chat to your website, so that your customers can have a real-time conversation with you. Or send your most loyal or passionate customers a handwritten note (and / or gift) just to say thanks for their support. Your customers won’t expect these surprise moments of delight and are very likely to reward you with their ongoing support.

Adii Pienaar – Conversio

@adii

 

mobile-first-marketing

Going Mobile

I think you’re going to see optimizing for mobile will continue to be a huge trend in 2017, so if you’re a marketer, you better make sure that your business has a website that is mobile friendly. In fact, I would go so far as to say that a lot of startups should use a mobile-first strategy, in which their site design is heavily focused on mobile users. Why? Because there are more than one billion mobile device users throughout the world, and increasing numbers of them are using their devices to make purchases, engage on social media and share what they find interesting.

Live Events

Live streaming will just get bigger and bigger in 2017, because it is an effective way for marketers to connect and engage with consumers in a relaxed setting. Companies can do live events for product launches, Q & A sessions that invite consumers to find out more about products and services and even “Get To Know the Team” sessions in which they introduce their employees to consumers. The big key with live events or live streams is to ensure that users are engaged at all times. You can do that by encouraging users to ask questions and make comments throughout the event, and also by offering free and valuable content such as eBooks, guides and free samples.

Marketing Through Influencers

There’s an old saying that “game recognizes game,” which means that people who are successful are more likely to befriend others who are successful or on their way to success than they are those who have no ambition. How does that relate to digital marketing? You have to create outstanding content that will get on the radar of influential people in your industry who will then share your content and provide you with the credibility you need to establish authority in your field. Influencer marketing must be a major part of your strategy in 2017, whether this strategy is done through financial investment (paid influencer marketing) or through earned influence marketing based on outstanding and relevant content.

Tabitha Naylor – TabithaNaylor.com

@TabithaNaylor

 

 

2017 Marketing Will Be Micro Not Macro

In 2917, highly effective marketers will be going extremely deep with customized messages and specialized platforms to a highly receptive and loyal audience will replace wide approach mass marketing. Follower numbers are not as important as interactions and engagements. More soft or no ask/call to action marketing focused on community building, experiences and lifestyle over product specific messaging. It’s not enough to publish your content, you have to show how you made it. Make the audience part of the process. Exclusives and extended versions for different channels as well. These channels (and new channels to come) will be used to share by the creator and reshared by fans and like-minded content producers. Repetition and cross platform will be come the norm, not just for exceptional marketers. Modern attention spans and the overrun of media sources makes it more likely even those who engage you regularly miss a lot of your content posting. This requires multiple post/repost of the same chopped-up content.

Kyle Golding – The Golding Group

@KyleGlding

 

 

Omnipresence Within Tight, Defined Markets Will Be King

Every business always wants to be everywhere – it’s the first thing they say to their marketing person or team. But being everywhere is worse than being no where. It’s a long, hard road to losing a ton of money.

There are 3 key questions you need to ask yourself before building your audience: who are you, what do you do and why are you doing it. Without truly understanding the answers to those questions, you’ll be lost in the shuffle of freebie offers from big brands.

When you have established who you are in your clients eyes, what you can specifically do for them and why you are doing what you do – you have the trifecta needed to narrow in your marketing and go after the absolute best customer possible. It just so happens that while doing this, you’ll also narrow in your market size and be able to literally be everywhere to that hyper specific group of people who will see you as a king in your space.

Corey Gladwell – 5X5 Media

@CoreyGladwell

 

 

Expect Seamless Mobile Usage Experiences to Emerge in The Mobile Apps Market

While there is room for advertising to grow in mobile, there are clear differences between mobile and other platforms. After all, mobile is a very personal channel and is often the “hub” or focal point of a consumer’s decision making. Mobile is contextual, location-based, pervasive; and already integrated within powerful payment channels. Today’s advertising solutions incorporate some of these dimensions, but there is room for more innovation that could offer significant benefits to brands.

For example, instead of simply targeting high-income females in New York City, a brand could specifically target females who have purchased premium facial products and only recently moved to New York. Or rather than serving an ad to a user located in Times Square about a steakhouse because he ate at a steakhouse last week, an advertiser could use historical data to see that this consumer ate a late lunch and is more interested in seeing a musical. Instead of serving up an ad for the closest Starbucks, an ad could prompt a user to order their favorite drink via Starbucks’ own ordering and payment app. Then all a user would have to do is walk down the block to find their hot drink awaiting them, already paid for. Clearly, there are vast implications for seamless user experiences and increased revenues for advertisers.

Mobile Advertising Will Triple in Value

Most traditional brands and advertisers are not fully satisfied or confident with existing mobile advertising options—and that’s reflected in their limited spending in this category. Instead, they continue to spend their ad dollars on mature advertising mediums, such as television, print, social media, and display. Those who actively use mobile as an advertising medium tend to be mobile app publishers. These companies not only understand mobile, but also their business models directly benefits from the infrastructure of mobile advertising. For example, mobile app companies can directly track which ad-backed downloads lead to new users. This is an advantage that’s not readily available to most other brands.

However, the advertising ecosystem as we know it is about to change. The market expects that mobile in-app advertising will surpass search advertising on desktop PC as the biggest revenue driver of online advertising. Advertising revenue streams for PC search advertising are expected to remain flat over the next two years, while all key domains of mobile advertising will triple in value. And out of those mobile advertising domains, native mobile in-app advertising is expected to be the largest.

Hannu Verkasalo – Verto Analytics

@hverkasalo

 

There you have it…

The most essential small business marketing trends you have to watch out for and pivot to align with for 2017.

Enjoyed the information you’ve read – share this article on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin or Google+!

Feel like we missed something or have a question? Comment below!

9 Small Business Trends Everyone’s Doing, But Few Talk About

In case you can’t tell from other posts I’ve written here on BuildFire, I’m no fan of generic advice.

In fact, I loathe it.

I’m the kind of online small business owner who’s fanatical over the juicy, intricate details. I’m much more concerned about the “how to” steps than the “what.”

Anyone can point their fingers and tell you what to do, but it’s a true leader who’s willing to walk through the trenches with you and help you uncover the things that’ll guide you to your next level of success.

So in this post on small business trends, I don’t want to talk about Facebook Ads or creating “conversation” on social media. (Social media is a big duh, and you’re either using it or you’re not, depending on your business type.)

I’m also not going to talk about the “chip vs swipe” for accepting credit card payments, because in the grand scheme of things, that’s such a minuscule detail that will take care of itself with time.

Instead, I want to talk about the actual brass tacks of business for small business owners.

You know, the things your successful peers are doing and things that you probably need to do too if you want to really spread your influence in your niche and grow your bottom-line revenues.

The trends don’t have any over-arching theme except for core business growth, so don’t be surprised when you’re reading about one trend and then we jump to the next one and it’s totally different.

Small business management is an adventure and requires you to wear a ton of hats, so in this post, we’re going to honor that.

 

1. Marketing to Maturing Millennials: 24/7 ‘Availability’

Believe it or not, the “older” millennials are now in their early 30s.

It’s generally agreed on that the “millennial” generation starts with those born in 1982 (and ends in 2004), so the oldest of this generation are 34 years old.

One of the biggest markers of the millennial generation is how info- and tech-savvy they are, relying more on the research they do themselves and how they feel about a company rather than historic public opinion.

They’re huge fans of how technology can integrate into their lives, and with evergreen content living on the internet, there’s never an on/off time in regards to having a conversation with them—it’s always on.

This doesn’t mean you have to be available around the clock for that conversation though. It just means that for a long-term strategy, you need to plan out how you’ll have your constantly-available information presented (Facebook? Google? Blog? All 3?) and the messaging you’ll use to connect with the millennial audience.

And because the first millennials are starting to mature, this means that for the next few decades, keeping them at the center of your marketing will be important since they’ll continue to have increasing incomes as they age and get more professional experience, promotions, and raises.

The smartest small businesses are either already implementing a millennial “always on” marketing strategy, or are planning out what their messaging and strategy should look like.

Side note: Not all businesses market to millennials, I realize this. If you focus on children or older adults, this is not your niche, so don’t worry about it.

 

2. Referring to Data Dashboards Before Decision-Making

Today, everything you do in business is trackable by software.

You no longer have to keep a pen-and-paper ledger of transactions, items sold, and inventory.

Instead, you can scan everything into a bookkeeping and inventory management system (like QuickBooks) and have all of that tracking done for you.

So let’s say you’re thinking about introducing a new project, or you’re thinking about pivoting your marketing strategy a little bit. Addressing your data tracking dashboards for past and current trends will drive smart (not just emotional) decision-making and help you optimize for the best bottom-line results.

And even if you don’t want to make a change, keeping tabs on your data by reviewing your dashboards every few months is a great way to notice trends you wouldn’t have seen otherwise and figure out ways to optimize them.

And honestly, if you’re not using data tracking, you need to start.

Sure, you can have a successful business without it, but why put it to chance?

Also, access to data tracking software is pretty inexpensive, especially when you consider your potential for profit from them. (If one costs you $20 per month but shows you patterns that increase your monthly profits by $200 and then $2,000, it’s worth it, isn’t it?)

image00

An inventory tracking software like this one (Quickbooks shown here) lets you see the history of how well products sell, which can give you good ideas for new products or seasonal marketing campaigns.

 

3. Hiring VAs (Virtual Assistants)

Since so much work can now be done remotely and online, a lot of small business owners are benefitting from saved employee costs.

You no longer have to hire someone on-site to manage your books—you can hire a firm or a freelancer to do it for you, remotely and part time.

You no longer have to have a “web guy” when you can hire for the exact task you need done via Upwork or other platforms.

And you certainly don’t have to produce all your marketing materials and strategy from within your own four walls.

You can do all those things, but it’s unnecessary and is becoming more and more popular for small business owners to outsource their most mundane tasks to workers in other states or overseas. Because… why not?

It helps you manage your profit margins with a little more breathing room, and opens up more bottom-line revenue you can use to reinvest back into your business to grow it to the next level.

 

4. Crowdfunding / Online Lending

A lot of small businesses have to start out with a loan of some sort.

If you don’t have the cash to fund your first six months yourself—or the business model to bootstrap from $0.00—you have to borrow money from someone to get started, it’s just the way it is.

You can go with a bank loan, which you pay back over a number of years in full with interest, or you can go with investors, who fund you up front in exchange for a percentage of your long-term profits.

With a bank loan, you’re responsible to pay the amount back whether you’re successful or not.

With investors, you’re not necessarily responsible to pay them back (it’s presented as a risk on their part), but you do have a moral obligation to make sure the people who trust you with their hard-earned money don’t totally lose out.

The bad thing, though, is that proving yourself “good enough” for a bank loan or investor money is a lot of work. (And if we’re totally honest, it usually takes some money upfront to test your business idea and “prove” it before you’re granted a loan or an investment.)

With crowdfunding and online lending though, the playing field is more equal.

People who don’t have the cash to front in their businesses can still start one, provided they’re willing to invest the time it takes for successful marketing via the fundraising platform they’ve chosen.

Kickstarter is a pretty infamous one, which is especially popular with unique product-based businesses. Others include Indiegogo and Peerbackers.

image02

For example: this non-toxic deodorant company on Kickstarter. Instead of returning a percentage of profits back to their investors, they promise products or other valuable things based on the amount given.

For loans that don’t involve suit-and-tie meetings with your local banker, check out a platform like SoMoLend.

 

5. Boomer Businesses for Sale

Baby boomers were born between the years 1946 and 1964, which means they currently range in age from 52 to 70 years old.

Which is also, coincidentally, around the time most people retire.

And for baby boomers who own small businesses, especially if they’re not handing it down for family management, it means selling their business so they can exit and enjoy their work-free retirement.

So if you’re a small business owner who’s still got years of business left in you, this can be a great thing for your business’s growth.

Basically, because there’s simply so many baby boomers, the market will be flooded with businesses for sale, giving you a better deal if you’re in the market to buy one.

And the benefits of buying an already-established business rather than starting one from scratch is huge.

You don’t have to put in all the startup work, you already have dedicated customers, and you can put it under the umbrella of your main business as a way to expand your operations and bottom lines… maybe even doubling them.

6. Implementing Automated Funnels

As a small business owner, you usually don’t have to do things at scale like huge corporations do.

In fact, you’ve probably actively avoid it, since having a personal touch is such a key differentiator between you and your corporate competition.

However, a lot of small business are learning a lesson from corporate operations and putting the bulk of their marketing on autopilot anyway.

Your marketing can still have a deeply meaningful message, but letting software handle the grunt work and not re-doing everything over and over again by yourself is a huge benefit for your productivity.

Having that extra time will free up your mental energy so you can allocate it to the rest of your business, so you can focus on growth rather than maintenance.

If you decide to follow suit, you’ll spend less time and money on grunt work, but you’ll still be able to put automated actions and messages in place to make sure you keep your customer loyalty strong.

Most of this automation happens online, and you can use it to do the following:

  • Collect visitors and leads from your website
  • Show them relevant lead magnets for them to sign up for
  • Deliver the lead magnets via email
  • Do at least 90% of you sales qualifying via email
  • Decide on different “personal” touches to show people depending on how they interact with your website and the content you send them

And honestly, since there’s a lot of competition in this area, nearly any tool you sign up for to help you do this will be really good, so you can just choose one.

Once that’s done, you just need to map out the course the vast majority of your customers take in your current marketing strategy, and implement it to happen automatically.

It might not be perfect at first, but if one piece isn’t working well, your data  dashboard will tell you, and you can fix it for an A/B to figure out what does work.

 

7. Mobile Beacons & Geo Tracking

There’s been a lot of buzz in the past few years about mobile beacons, so I’m kind of breaking the rules I set out in the beginning of this post by talking about them.

But I’m going to go ahead and do so, because I think they’re so, so important to how you can market and do business as a small business owner that they absolutely shouldn’t be ignore.

Plus, as these things are getting wider and wider acceptance rates from more small businesses in more locations, you’ll be putting yourself behind the curve if you don’t use them for yourself or partner up with a business who can help you take advantage of their technology.

If you’re just getting started in mobile marketing, having your own app and location-enabled notifications might be out of the question for the moment. But you can totally take advantage of other companies who’ve invested in the technology and are willing to help small businesses get ahead via their apps and investments in beacons and geo-tracking.

On a super basic level, letting people do social media check-ins at your location is a great way to boost simple word of mouth—and it’s free. All you have to do is setup your location and log it within the platform (like Facebook) and people will happily tell others that they’re patronizing your business.

On a more advanced level, you can use location-based mobile ads or sign up to work with apps that specialize in helping shoppers and diners find good deals close by so you can bring that revenue into your business and not leave it to chance.

These apps are the ones harnessing the geography-tracking aspect of smartphones, and you’re just paying a little bit to access it without having to do all the work yourself.

 

8. Video for Product Marketing

For those of you small business owners who sell physical products online, you know convincing your customers that the product will be exactly what they’re expecting can be a bit of a challenge.

There’s size concerns, color shading, and photography angles that might not always show every side and aspect of the product.

When you put that product on video though, you not only help clear those doubts and show people that your claims are true, but you enhance desire for that particular product.

And the reason is this: when a human sees another human doing a something (anything) in front of them, they subconsciously project their own narrative onto what’s happening.

Further, when they see someone else doing (or using) something that’s desirable to them, they feel like they’re doing it themselves, create a connection with it, and want it more.

So honestly, this is the main reason smart small business owners who sell products are using more and more video.

But recording product video shots and using them in your marketing is also a great idea because it’s speculated (and highly probable) that video ads will soon be included in search engine results.

 

9. Personalization

This kind of goes along with the automation we talked about in #6, but it takes it to a whole different level. (A much better level, if you ask me.)

Because while automation helps you send out the same messages to different people over and over again as and when they sign up to be in your funnel, personalization takes their behavior into account as well.

In simple automation, when someone signs up for your lead magnet, you send it to them via email and then follow up with a sequence of messages that’s exactly the same for everyone.

With personalization, when someone signs up for your lead magnet, you still deliver it to them via email, but if you have data on items they were shopping around for on your site, for example, you can send them emails with more information about those products to help them move their decision-making forward.

If someone opens a sales email and clicks through but doesn’t purchase, you can send them a different nurture sequence than someone who never even opened that sales email in the first place.

Yes, this “personalized” automation takes a lot longer to set up.

But with it, you can speak to people where they are, make yourself far more relevant, and increase your purchases and revenue because of it.

image01

For example, here’s an email I got from American Airlines. I never take them up on their offers to buy miles, so every time they run a promotion like this, all I get are these reminders that the promotion is going on. But I’m willing to bet that people who do buy in get a different “thanks for participating” type of email sequence instead of the constant reminders. It’s basic personalization, but it makes sense.

 

Conclusion: What’s A Cool Trend You’ve Latched Onto Lately?

Alright, so we’ve just talked about nine different small business trends a lot of people are doing, but don’t talk about that much.

If you’ve already started trying some of these, how are they working for you?

If you haven’t, is there anything you’ve started doing in the past year or two that gave you a total “Aha!” moment when you started?

I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

12 Realtor Advertising Strategies to Get More Calls, More Viewings, & Close More Deals

As a realtor, for the most part, your success and earnings are directly proportionate to how many properties you list and how many deals you close.

There’s other factors too, like the price of your listings. But closing deals is the main thing. Because if no deals are done, you’ve got no income coming your way.

So for the sake of this article, we’ll focus on realtor advertising strategies to get more people interested in you as a realtor and the properties you’ve got listed… so you can both increase the number of deals you close AND your income.

By the end, you’ll have at least two or three solid advertising ideas to increase the number of buyers and sellers who come to you within your specific niche, helping you reach your goals for the quarter and the year.

This list is by no means 100% exhaustive, but it is pretty lengthy and the methods have been tested for stellar results.

Pssst…. You really, really don’t want to miss out on #12.

 

1. Create a Listing on Zillow

Before you slam me for being too obvious, let me just say this: 92% of people who want to buy a house use the internet to help them in their preliminary shopping.

Which means that even if people do eventually come to you for help finding the right home, they’re using the internet first.

Plus, since Zillow’s kind of become the default go-to for people like me (read: your typical home buyer) who want to know what kind of homes are available in the area and the realistic price ranges, it’s pretty much a must-do item that should be at the very top of your list every time you get a house to sell.

And here’s some numbers that’ll blow your mind: the site itself gets over 130 million visits per month. That’s like over 40% of the entire population of the United States visiting every single month. It’s a big deal.

So if you’re already using Zillow, give yourself a pat on the back.

If not, drop what you’re doing right now (as in, stop reading this article), and get your listings up there ASAP.

 

2. Use Door Hangers

At this point in my life, I live in an apartment that I rent.

That won’t always be the case, but it floors me how many post card mailers I get offering me help to sell my home… with a clearly-labeled apartment address on the front.

This is an example of a realtor wasting his money on the wrong target audience. (So don’t do that.)

And while direct mail has proven itself to be a valuable advertising method, consider bypassing the mail man & automatic addressing systems altogether and just delivering your message directly to the homeowners themselves.

Yeah, it takes a little more man power, but how often to you read the junk postcards that come in the mail?

Almost never, right?

I know mine go directly to the recycle bin.

But how often do you read the flyers that someone’s left hanging on your door?

Almost always, yeah?

If you want more buyers in your market, you could focus these door hangers on apartment complexes with high-turnover rates and with lots of millennials living there. (They’re the ones entering the home-buying market now, after all.)

If you want more sellers, put your door hangers up on residential neighborhoods.

You don’t know who’s in the market to buy or sell, so most of the door hangers will go unanswered.

But for people who want to or are thinking about it in the near future, they’ll be much more likely to remember you and get in touch with you instead of your competition… giving you more possibilities to earn a commission from.

(And here’s a hint: If you’re not currently working with your “ideal” properties or buyers, use the door hanger strategy in neighborhoods where they live. It’ll get you “to the top” a lot quicker than other methods of climbing the ladder.)

 

3. Create Testimonial-Based Ads

As a realtor who works day-in and day-out with the intricacies of the real estate market, it’s hard to imagine people who don’t have any basic knowledge of it.

But for the average buyer… whether it’s a millennial buying his first starter home or a business owner looking for her first small office space downtown… it’s mostly above their heads.

Sure, they probably have some knowledge of loans out of financial necessity, but the intricacies of how things work are a large mystery.

Which is why advertising with realtor-speak will often be a big turn-off to potential clients.

You could be the best realtor in the area, say the best things, but as humans, we’re inherently suspicious of things we don’t understand.

But something about the real estate market your target market does understand?

How other people feel about working with you.

By asking your previous clients who’ve had a great buying or selling experience to give you a short testimonial, you’re nearly guaranteed to get advertising material that’s in prospect-friendly wording… and evoke the kinds of feelings your prospects can’t say no to.

You can use these testimonials to advertise however you choose: in internet ads, newspaper ads, mailers, or on business cards you leave laying around town.

realtor testimonial

Can you imagine something like this on your advertising materials? (Image from IDX Central.)

 

4. Give Free Advice on Internet Forums

I’ll admit: I’m a little biased towards this strategy as my favorite one, but only because I’ve seen how useful it is to both help people and to drive targeted traffic back to your website.

The idea behind this strategy is this:

As a realtor, you’ve got a ton of knowledge that can help buyers, sellers, renters, and landlords alike.

Depending on your specialty, search Google (or any other search engine) for keywords you think your target audience might type in when they need your help.

It’s not just about the moment they realize they need a realtor to help them either.

It could be homeowners who are trying to sell their houses themselves and are searching for certain answers out of frustration of things not going the way they planned.

It could be landlords who usually list the vacancies themselves looking for advice from other landlords on where to list for more inquiries or to find higher-quality tenants.

It could be business owners just starting their search for office space, and looking for generic information to make a plan to get started.

You get the idea.

When you search these terms in Google, chances are you’ll eventually come across some forums where people are asking questions that you have the perfect answers to. (Yahoo Answers, Quora, and Reddit are some really popular ones if you just want to cut to the chase and search there.)

And while the person you answer may not be the one to reach out to you for help, these forums get viewed by TONS of people everyday… and once your answer is up, it lives there forever.

So by putting up a thoughtful, genuinely helpful answer (not just “Get in touch, I’d love to help you!”), people will see your expertise and follow any invitation you give to learn even more back on your website.

yahoo answers

Here’s a question on Yahoo Answers that could really benefit from quality, unbiased advice from someone in Oregon’s real estate industry.

5. Yard Signs

These are as old (if not older) than the book on realtor advertising. (You know, if there were “a book” on this.)

If you’ve got a listing in a highly trafficked area, you literally can’t go wrong with printing one of these and putting it out for all passers-by to see.

You never know who’s in the market for the kind of property you’ve got on hand… or who will give a word-of-mouth referral to your ideal customers based on a sign they saw while running errands.

template

Here’s a basic for sale sign that lets people passing by know that the house is available to buy. (Template from Signs.com)

Pro tip: Take your sign to the next level—and make your property way more desirable—by putting pictures of the inside of the property on the sign itself. Humans are super visual creatures, and this is an incredible way to increase desire.

sign photos

See how this sign gives you a peek inside the home as well? (Photo from Fit Small Business)

 

6. Write Search-Specific Blog Posts

I’m going to advise this for local keywords only.

As a realtor with lots of other responsibilities on your hands, trying to compete with an enterprise-level website for broad-reaching keywords just doesn’t make sense.

It’s so much work, and for the most part, the vast majority of realtors only care about their local reach anyway… if someone three states over wants to sell a house through you, as much as you’d be flattered, it just won’t happen.

The “advertising” strategy here is free (it just involves your time), and can earn you search engine traffic for years to come.

Here’s what you do:

Go to Answer the Public and type in a keyword related to your niche of real estate along with your city name.

You’ll get a ton of results.

Pick the queries you can answer most easily, and write a blog post for them, with that exact search phrase as the title.

Optimize the rest of the post for basic SEO (I recommend using Yoast to help you do this), and try to get a few backlinks to the page… or at least post the link in places where interested people congregate online.

Works like a charm.

 

7. Network Marketing Groups

If there’s one phrase of useless career/networking advice I could stop hearing forever, it’d be “grow your network.”

I mean, I know it’s a good idea, but that piece of advice doesn’t tell you how to grow your network, what to do, what to focus on, or what the actual point of having a network is in the first place.

But you can cut to the chase of having a network and using that network to grow your realtor business a lot quicker if you join a network marketing group like BNI.

Within these groups, members are encouraged and incentivized to make referrals to others in the group, which can help you get access to your target market a lot faster—and via warm leads—than if you did a lot of cold advertising from behind your computer screen.

These groups usually have a paid membership, but most people who join swear that the fee is worth it.

 

8. Ad Retargeting

Imagine this: someone is property shopping online and they come across something they really like on your website.

They click around to view photos, read details about the property, and look at the Google Maps widget to get a better idea of the location.

But because they’re only at the first stages of the home-buying process, they click away and close your tab because they have eight more tabs open to check out.

They liked your listing, but its details soon got jumbled up with the details of the next three houses they looked at, so they forgot about yours.

Now imagine they’re browsing Facebook or checking out a website that hosts Google AdSense ads.

And right there in their sidebar is an image of the house they looked at on your website and loved so much.

Your house stays top-of-mind, and hopefully at some point (when they get a little more serious and actually want to view properties) they click through on your retargeting ad and get in touch with you to see the property.

Exactly how to setup a retargeting ad can get a little involved, so I’ll leave it to our dear friends at Facebook to explain exactly how they work with the videos on their Remarketing page.

 

9. Facebook Targeting Ads

Guys, Facebook’s ad targeting abilities are incredible.

And I’m in love with what it can do for realtors—especially for those of you dealing with residential properties.

Basically, Facebook lets you hand-pick who sees your ads (and can click on them) and who doesn’t see your ads based on the vast, vast information available in each person’s profile.

One of the most impressive things you can do to target potential new buyers, for example, is to show ads to people who’ve just moved to the area. Or people who’ve just got a new job at a local company who live elsewhere. Or couples who just got married.

It’s incredible. And in my opinion, not an opportunity to be passed up.

 

10. Incentivized Referrals

Here’s where you rely on word-of-mouth advertising, but where you let other people create the buzz for you… which is always a win, if you ask me.

Basically, you want to get in touch with people who have high-touches with others in your niche and who might be in the market to either buy or sell properties.

For a residential realtor, this list could look like:

  • Banks where people open new accounts after moving to the area
  • Marriage counselors for couples just getting married and moving in together
  • Divorce lawyers for couples who will sell the house and split the value
  • Funeral homes for families wanting to liquidate their loved one’s assets
  • HR managers of large companies doing a lot of non-local hiring

You could do a referral fee of a few hundred dollars for each house that you sell, or give them a kickback for each qualified lead they send you, regardless of whether a deal happens or not.

They’ll love you for setting up this partnership because they get to help their customers on an even deeper level, and they get paid for it. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.

 

11. Give Your Ads a Millennial Twist

Believe it or not, millennials are the ones in the home-buying market now.

So especially if you specialize in starter homes, giving your advertising a millennial-friendly slant will serve you well.

According to Forbes, to market to Millennials, you need to make sure your messaging encompasses these six values:

  • Social responsibility
  • Worker’s rights & fair pay
  • Protecting the environment
  • Being a help, not a hinderance
  • Tolerance
  • Diversity

Not all of these values will directly correspond to the relationship between you and your millennial clients, but if you see an opportunity to latch on to some of them, doing so will definitely help you stand out in the millennial market.

 

12. Cold Call Expired FSBO Listings

Unless you’re in a severe seller’s market, FSBO (for sale by owner) listings usually don’t do as well as listings that have the power of an experienced realtor or realty firm behind them.

And because of this, a lot of them expire without ever actually selling the property.

Usually, the people who decide to do an FSBO listing do so with the best intentions—they’re ambitious and feel like the extra work will be worth the money saved in realtor fees.

You can find these listings all over the web… at ForSaleByOwner, Zillow, and the namesakes, FSBO.com.

When you reach out to the owners of the property, you can ask them what went wrong (or if they simply just decided not to sell), and offer some genuine advice to help them.

I wouldn’t make the initial contact all about the sales pitch, but instead about providing value.

For example, if they’ve decided not to sell, you could suggest renting. If they still really want to sell, you could give them a few suggestions of other places to make a listing.

Of course, there’s still a lot of work on them and they’ll probably feel a little defeated after their initial failure.

So when you prove yourself to be helpful, you can then mention advanced services you offer when you feel they’re ready to know more.

Pretty cool idea, isn’t it?

 

Your Assignment: Pick One & Go

Like I said in the section on Zillow, if you don’t have your listings online, make sure that’s the very first thing you do.

But if you’ve got that taken care of, which advertising strategy you choose next to grow your real estate business is up to you. Most likely, there was one strategy that really stuck out to you as something you’d really like to try, so go with that one.

To be honest though, you really can’t go wrong with any of these tactics—they’ll all help you close more deals.

17 Crazy Effective Customer Retention Strategies For a Retail-Based Business

Let me just say: I’ve got huge respect for business owners in retail.

That job takes some serious attention to profit-margin detail that I know I couldn’t handle the stress of if I were doing it day-in, day-out.

It’s one of the reasons I opted to write & give advice professionally instead.

So kudos to you for getting into the business in the first place. I very much appreciate what you do—because I do have to buy things sometimes, and don’t know how I’d get what I need without you facilitating that interaction. So, thanks.

And while I’m not a business owner in retail, I’ve done plenty of retail marketing and have seen how, unlike most other marketing strategies, boosting customer retention can seriously up your bottom line.

Because when it costs around 7x as much to get a new customer to buy than it does to convince an old one to make another purchase? And when that old customer’s going to spend something like 30% more anyway? You need to look for inexpensive marketing tactics.

It only makes sense, right?

So let’s talk about some of those strategies today. We’ll go ahead and dive right in:

 

1. Educate, Don’t Just Sell, Sell, Sell

Sure, you can collect the email address of everyone who buys from you and send them an email every week full of links for them to buy more products.

And yes, it will probably work… a little bit.

But the thing is, consumers (especially web-savvy ones) are tired of being sold to online.

They see ads everywhere, and when your emails to them are nothing but ads cluttering up their inboxes, they’re going to be more likely to delete them than they will to click through and actually purchase something.

And a lot of them will quickly unsubscribe.

Instead, after someone buys something, try educating them.

I don’t mean mansplaining them or talking down to them… but genuinely help them understand their purchase better.

Tell them the history of it.

Let them know where the materials came from.

Give them a sneak peek on the journey you took to find the perfect provider before you ever started production.

Or just email them a list of hints and hacks on how to make the most of what they’ve just bought.

If you do this, it reinforces that their purchase was a good decision, and by making them feel like an educated, proud consumer, they’ll be even prouder to be a customer of your brand.

So when the time comes to pitch them an upsell, a cross-sell, or just introduce them to some new product options, they’ll be far more likely to actually consider the purchase.

London Pass Email

I bought a London Pass for my recent trip to London, and right after my purchase went through, I got this email empowering me to use my purchase correctly and offering more information to make my overall visit a much happier one.

 

2. Sell Services, Not Just Products

Here’s where you can really get creative in deciding what you sell.

Remember, just because retail is strong with competition doesn’t mean your business model has to look anything like your competitors’.

If you sell clothes, offer a style consult.

If you sell furniture, offer to do a Skype call to see the room and offer potential color palettes for a DIY room re-do.

In fact, don’t take your competition into consideration at all.

Instead, start with some brainstorming based in the blue ocean strategy.

Look at your customers and list out their biggest pain points in relation to what you sell.

If you sell spices, is it that they cook all day for refined, picky eaters?

If you sell yard ornaments, do you notice a lot of people talking about how they can never decide how to arrange the flowers in their garden?

These are all wonderful opportunities to offer a service on top of your product to boost customer loyalty.

Not only is it another revenue stream for you, but by doing it, you actively show the people who buy it that you’ve got some skin in the game along with them, because you’re spending time with them one-on-one.

And because of that, as their needs arise for your products, they’ll be far more likely to return to you for purchases before they ever consider your competition.

 

3. Track Data & Personalize Your Messages

Especially if you sell online, keeping tabs on your target market to know what they like is crucial to showing the products they’re interested in.

If you have your own website, you can install cookies to track who views what pages.

If you don’t have a website and sell via a platform like Etsy, you can get a social media monitoring tool to know what’s popular at the moment via platforms like Pinterest and Twitter.

But let’s say, for example, that you’ve got your own website selling screen-printed novelty T-shirts.

A new customer came to your site 3 months ago and bought a gag-gift shirt as a birthday present.

You know they’re interested in gag gifts, so when you send out emails featuring other products to purchase, you can make sure to feature some of those.

But let’s say they then come back to your site three months later and are looking at some of your shirts that support non-profit organizations.

They haven’t purchased one yet, but they’ve looked at two or three.

If you have cookies tracking their activity, you’d have this information and could send them an email with more information on the non-profit they were thinking about supporting, with a link back to your site to purchase that t-shirt.

They may have forgotten about it otherwise, but by personalizing the communications you send to them, you’re ensuring their loyalty and increasing their likelihood of a second (and third) purchase.

 

4. Host Contests & Challenges

Hosting a contest—especially if that contest is challenge-based—really creates a sense of community (read: loyalty) amongst your existing customers and fans.

During these online events, you bring people together to achieve something bigger together, and make them feel included.

Plus, you help them achieve actual progress towards their goals related to why they’re a customer of yours in the first place, which can help drive more sales.

hgtv

I’m in no way any kind of interior decorator or home DIY-er in real life. But the fact that HGTV gives away free houses pretty regularly (and yes, I enter to win them) keeps me pretty loyal to their brand. It all started when they offered a free “urban oasis” house in my city last year, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

 

5. Let Your Customers Refer Their Friends & Family

Yes, referrals are great. (And profitable.)

But I’ll be honest with you: the core goal of this strategy isn’t the referrals in and of themselves.

Yes, they’re valuable when they come through, but this strategy is much more about the psychology behind loyalty than it is behind driving profits.

Here’s the thing: when you get someone to rate how likely they are to refer a friend—even if you don’t offer a way for them to refer for an incentive—you can always correlate the likelihood of referral with their potential profit.

You know how some companies are always asking you to rate on a scale of 1-10 how likely you’d be to refer someone?

referral survey

This is what I mean. We’ve all seen these before, haven’t we?

This is why they do it.

Personally, I’ve noticed CRM tools doing it as well as my old internet hosting company.

For my current CRM, I give them a 10 every time, and I keep buying in—month after month.

But with my previous web hosting, for example, it was always between a 3 and a 5 for me.

And you know what?

That dissatisfaction manifested itself in me canceling my services with them and moving elsewhere.

And you can give a 1-10 scale to your customers too. (It’s usually given after an interaction with customer service.)

If someone isn’t in the 8-10 range, you can ask them why, and work to improve.

But if they’re already there, you can know that they’re happy customers and work on a plan to upsell or cross-sell them products or services that make sense for them.

 

6. Demonstrate Values & Ethics

This is a short one, but buyers love it when the companies they buy from have ethical morals and act out on them.

Especially millennials.

It can be as simple as displaying a non-profit you support every month or talking about how a percentage of your sales goes to an important cause.

Beyond supporting other organizations, buyers also care about how you source your materials and ingredients, so you can be very open about how you do that in an ethical, sustainable way.

This strategy isn’t a hard-driver of more sales from existing customers, but it does help people who buy from you feel better about their purchases, increasing their brand loyalty and your word-of-mouth power.

 

7. Always Respond ASAP

If at all possible, have customer service representatives sitting by phones or online chat boxes to help your customers if and when they run into trouble.

If it’s not possible, at least put some email automation in place that sends out a message the instant someone puts in a support request to let them know you’ll be back in touch with them ASAP.

The reason behind it is this: no one likes to feel ignored.

And people especially hate to be ignored when they’ve got a question they need answered or when they can’t get a purchase to go through. (We’ve all been there… it is frustrating, isn’t it?)

But when you reassure your customers that they’re important to you and that you want to do whatever you can to help them out… even if you can’t do it that instant… you’re reaffirming that you’re a brand to be trusted with further business.

8. Offer Try Before You Buy

If you sell out of a brick-and-mortar location, this is a pretty standard practice.

You either have free samples, let people smell what they’re buying, let people see what a product looks like on display and put together, or you have fitting rooms for them to try on clothes before they drive home with them.

But if you sell online, it’s always a little tricky.

I’m hesitant to buy clothes online because I never know how they’re *really* going to fit or look on me.

Same with new perfumes… you can describe it with beautiful words all you want, but how do I know that I’m going to love the smell?

So if you can swing it, experiment with a try before you buy model.

Fashion subscription box companies use this model… they send you a box of things to try on, and you only pay for the items you keep.

Other companies, like Warby Parker that sells eyeglasses, send out test frames for you to try them on before you put down the money for a pair in your prescription.

This is a HUGE step for helping subside customer fears that something won’t fit or look right.

warby parker

Here, Warby Parker lets you try on your favorite frames risk-free at home… just like you would if you’d walked into a brick and mortar store.

 

9. Use Testimonials & Social Proof

If someone’s a repeat customer, they’re probably already sold on what great products you have and what a great company you run.

But when you can include testimonials alongside your products, you can show them that they’re in good company every time they consider making another purchase.

(Coincidentally, it’ll also help you close deals with brand new customers.)

Sometimes, you’ll see companies trying to employ negative social proof—as if giving an air of exclusivity.

“Only ### in the world have these.” or using a small number to “prove” social proof that really isn’t all that impressive.

Exclusivity can work, but usually only when displayed in other ways.

If you don’t have the numbers to say that you’ve got 5,000 happy customers with one product, all you need is one or two gushing reviews with photos of the customers to push people who are on the fence over the edge to purchasing.

Plus, when current customers see these testimonials and your high social proof numbers, they’ll feel like they’re a part of a smart community and will want to continue to align themselves with you and the other smart people who buy from you.

 

10. Invoke Reciprocity

In simple terms, reciprocity means that when you receive from someone, you’ll look for ways to give back to them so the “debt” can be repaid.

But reciprocity works even better when there’s an element of surprise—as in, you give something to someone who’s not expecting it.

This can be a voucher for a free sample or product, a discount code, or store credit just as a thanks for being a loyal customer.

And here’s the clincher: you don’t have to give away that much for this to be insanely effective.

Some studies have shown that an amount worth as little as $0.10 can get the job done and create a sense of obligation in your customers to either buy from you again or at least send business your way.

east india company

Here, The East India Company is offering an exclusive gift for people who spend $12.50 or more. It’s “exclusive” and “free,” so the pass holders who read this will be a lot more excited to actually visit the shop. (I wasn’t planning to go, but I went in after I read that.)

 

11. Start a VIP Program

And get this: you can charge for your VIP program.

I think we’re all familiar with the model Amazon uses for Prime: they charge you $99 per year (less for students), and that yearly fee includes unlimited free, two-day shipping.

If you don’t have a Prime account, on the other hand, you’ve got to spend $35 before you get free shipping—and it isn’t the fast two-day kind.

But when Amazon charges $99 for their Prime (VIP) membership, something amazing happens: instead of just buying what they normally world from Amazon, customer spending nearly doubles.

Because they’ve already invested a decent amount of money to buy privilege with the company, Amazon customers feel they have to make that money worth it, so they shop on Amazon more often than they would if they hadn’t paid for the Prime membership.

(People who don’t have Prime accounts spend an average of $600 per year on the platform, and people who do have Prime accounts spend an average of $1,100.)

Pretty big difference, no?

And what an awesome way to increase customer loyalty to your business and ensure they shop with you and not your competition.

 

12. Instill a Sense of Community

I bought my first pair of Chacos eight years ago.

And while I still have that same pair, I’ve become so loyal to the company and its product that I’ve sent my sandals in to have new soles put on them and to have new straps put on when the originals were wearing thin.

Sure, it has a lot to do with the product quality and the values and ethics the company displays that we talked about in tactic number six, but I just love the way Chaco-wearers feel a part of a broader community.

You see, Chaco sandals have a very distinct look, and if you own a pair, you can easily spot them on someone else.

And even if you don’t know the person, you know they appreciate adventure and a good, comfortable, warm-weather adventure shoe just as much as you do. You feel like companions even if you don’t know each other.

But beyond that, the company actively creates a sense of community among their customers, encouraging them to use hashtags like #ChacoNation and to post pictures of their sandaled feet on adventures via social media.

Not everyone loves Chacos, but those that do can’t get enough of them.

So feeling like you’re a part of a broader community, even if you don’t personally know anyone else in that community, is a huge loyalty-builder.

For me, it worked in making secondary purchases to update my sandals, and if the time ever comes to fully replace them, I know I’ll buy another pair of Chacos and not some other brand.

chaconation

Here’s some recent images with the #chaconation hashtag on Instagram. Clearly these people sharing their adventures in their Chaco sandals feel like a part of a wider community.

 

13. Loyalty & Rewards Programs

The classic example here is the coffee shop handing out punch cards so their customers get a free coffee after they purchase 10.

And there’s nothing wrong with that sort of loyalty program… except that now it’s kind of expected and a little commonplace.

They work though, so there’s no shame in instituting a loyalty program like that if you’ve got the business model for it.

But to take things to the next level for your own business, think about loyalty programs you belong to and participate in.

Do you collect airline points and use airline-specific credit cards?

Do you take your pet to only one veterinarian in town?

Do you love how your kid’s orthodontist uses a reward system so they’ll brush and floss everyday and keep their braces clean?

What aspects of those programs that you love so much can you implement in your own business?

If you like the way airlines run their loyalty programs, you could also develop a points scheme where your customers get points for buying from you, using your products, and buying from your partners. Then you could let them redeem those points for store credit.

If you like receiving little perks after supporting a business 2-3 times, you could implement your own “secret” rewards system where you surprise customers with a reward after they purchase from you at different levels.

These are all valid approaches, they all improve the shopping experience with you, and most importantly, they’re all really effective at boosting loyalty and revenue from repeat customers.

 

14. Gamify Your Shopping Experience

If your brand had a particularly high “fun” factor, making a game of interacting with your brand can really increase customer loyalty.

I know I talk a lot about airlines, but I remember when the American Airlines / US Airways merger happened.

On Facebook, American Airlines ran a fun game where you could do different online tasks to familiarize yourself with their brand and earn frequent flier miles for your account.

They called it the AAdvantage Passport Challenge.

AAdvantage Passport Challenge 21

Here’s what American Airlines’ gamified experience looked like. (Photo from BoardingArea.)

If you did their trivia games, you could earn up to 700 miles.

For sharing the challenge on social media, you got 350 miles. (I even remember convincing my mom to sign up for it so I could get more miles.)

And if you flew on an American or US Airways flight while the challenge was happening, you could earn thousands more.

I was relatively new to American Airlines at the time, but three years later, I’ve got a credit card from them, and I’ve booked two “free” flights using points I earned during that challenge and other credit card promotions.

To say I’m loyal is an understatement.

But you don’t have to go all-out like this or have a robust program like the airlines for this gasification strategy to work for your business.

Instead, you could do something like hiding “Easter Eggs” on your site and leaving clues for your customers to follow so they can uncover them.

They can end up on pages that give them discount codes, store credit, or some sort of freebie.

The idea though, is to get them interacting with your brand and having fun while doing it—which will inevitably build a strong affinity for your brand and your products.

 

15. Use Nice Packaging

Remember the last time you unboxed an Apple product?

Whether it was an iPhone or a MacBook Air, I know you do. (Mine was an iPhone.)

Those guys have their packaging down pat, and it’s always a pleasure when your lovely piece of technology arrives in the mail and you can enjoy the magical unwrapping process.

In fact, it’s often so cathartic, people will actually record themselves unwrapping their products and post the video of the process on YouTube. (I’m not kidding… look it up.)

But you don’t have to hire full-time packaging engineers like Apple undoubtedly does to give customers who order from you an amazing “opening” experience.

The outside cardboard box is usually pretty standard, but it’s what’s inside that matters.

Is it a beautiful, branded thank-you card with instructions on making the most of the product?

Or is it a cheap plastic bag with lots of confusing tape all over the place?

Is haphazard bubble wrap? Or is the bubble wrap neatly wrapped around the item with a ribbon bow to seal it?

You see what I’m getting at. A little effort goes a long way.

In the movie The Intern, Anne Hathaway’s character orders some of her own products to her home just to see what the unwrapping experience is like.

When she realizes it doesn’t wow her and that some things are just thrown into the box, she goes to the shipping warehouse herself and makes sure the people in charge of the packaging are doing things meticulously, to the T, even if it does take them more time.

Not saying you have to do this… but it is something to think about.

If you were a first-time or repeat customer, would you be impressed by the unboxing experience and delivery of your product?

Or would it just be kind of meh?

If it’s not so impressive, what can you do to improve it?

 

16. Give Things Away for Free Every Now & Then… Just Because

I don’t mean as a part of a promotion either… just give things away to customers once in a while just because you feel like it.

My local Whole Foods is ON this strategy.

In the past six months, I’ve gotten free ice cream because I forgot my wallet at home, a free canister of vegan mayo because of a pricing error on their end, and a cashier in the express line even offered to give me a free cloth shopping bag because she saw me checking them out while I was waiting in line.

I don’t know about you, but no store has ever been so kind as to give me free things… let alone give them to me so freely.

And while Whole Foods isn’t exactly known as the cheapest supermarket in town, they’re definitely the ones that take up the fuzziest feelings in my heart as far as supermarkets go. (Can you feel it in the way I’m writing about them?)

I already loved Whole Foods for being so vegan-friendly, but now I genuinely feel like they care about me too.

I just couldn’t believe their acts of kindness, and it always meant so much to me in the moment.

They’ve never offered to give me a full cart of groceries for free, and I would never expect them to. Just kind, small, ~ $5 surprises.

The idea here is to give away something of low value every once in a while and to just sit back and watch how loyal people become. (And, most importantly, to do it with a kind heart.)

 

17. Send Out Newsletters That are Actually Interesting

We touched on this a bit in strategy #1 (providing education) at the top of this article, but let’s dive in a little deeper.

The thing is, most retail newsletters are nothing but thinly veiled attempts to get people to buy more.

In fact, most of them aren’t even thinly veiled.

They’re like mini catalog spreads with huge, colorful call to actions to BUY NOW! or SAVE 25% TODAY ONLY!

But when you’re looking at the long-game of customer loyalty and profitability, these types of emails definitely aren’t loyalty-inducing pieces.

So instead of using your email (or carrier mail) newsletter to just try to sell more things, make it interesting.

If I buy something from an online store, 95% of the time I almost instantly unsubscribe to their newsletter. I just hate being so overtly sold to in my inbox with no personal touch.

But I’ve been on some email lists for years and have no intention of unsubscribing.

MailChimp, for example.

Yeah, I’m their customer, and yes, there’s things they could upsell me on.

But you know what?

I can’t even remember the last time they tried to upsell me.

They might have sent out some messages about cool new features they did across their business, showing me what I could have if I did upgrade, but I never felt pushed.

Plus, they’re hella interesting.

In 2016, they started their own online store, just for the sake of it… just so they could learn more about selling online and email marketing from their customer’s point of view.

I don’t even work in ecommerce, and I find these messages fascinating. They’re interesting, informative, fun, and story-based. All the best ingredients for good content marketing.

That’s not to say you can’t still sell things, though.

Trader Joe’s sends out a quarterly newspaper-like advertisement, and I eat it up (figuratively, of course) every time I see it in my mailbox.

I usually exclaim something out loud, take it out of my mailbox, deposit the junk mail in the recycle bin, and put their ad on my bed for cozy nighttime reading. (Yes, I’m a nerd.)

And while I’m reading, I circle the items I want to buy the next time I visit. They might be item’s I’d have looked over completely on a normal trip, but I found them so interesting that I couldn’t say now.

I’m thrilled and so is Trader Joe’s. It’s a win all around.

 

Conclusion: Start With One Tactic & Build From There

Alright, so have some ideas on how to implement more customer retention strategies in your retail business?

The important thing when building any strategy is to start small, go one step at a time, and then watch your efforts pay off with a huge snowball effect.

So tell me… how are you going to adapt the ideas talked about in this article… or what are some ways you’ve already put your own twist on these ideas?

I’d love to know—tell me in the comments!

17 Essential Business Trends From 2016 To Help You Plan a Successful 2017

The business world is changing.

If you aren’t informed, you may be left behind. To avoid that, let’s consider a few of these essential trends.

The 2016 business trend is a reflection of the previous predictions made by firms and individual contributors.

Such predictions cover a broad range of areas with technology taking the top rank in the expansion of communication and the general business economy.

Over the past years, the business community has tremendously shown the changing trends with each year drawing an apparent show of diversity. The uniqueness of each year’s business innovations determines the success of the economy.

I have seen companies struggle to embrace new technologies and creative customer-focused marketing approaches with greater determination to take the lead.

Every company employs best practices that would influence its stability positives. These are just but ways of riding to the highest cliffs of the business economy. Sometimes I like the way each year comes with its surprises.

If you own a company, you can only profit if you keep matching with the constantly changing waves of new technologies and marketing opportunities. Only wake entrepreneurs make it to the top.

I did some analysis based on the previous years’ trends and came up with some findings.

The factors below have contributed to the success of most businesses in 2016. Some reflect the company’s’ innovations while others tracts complementary approaches into the mainstream.

Technological Factors Influencing Business Trends in 2016

1. The Internet

With the increasing supplies of the internet to most companies and individuals in the societies, the business community has taken fast opportune in spearheading their business agenda through online platforms.

When compared with the previous decades, the business trend in 2016 and a few past years have shown a greater success due to increased sales and marketing online advantage era.

Internet-based technological advancement has ensured faster and efficient innovation/sale of new brands, exchange of business knowledge or experiences and active online client engagement.

Just like big and booming businesses, small tech businesses have an equal advantage of accessing excellent web tools and utilize them to solve issues affecting their trends in the current market.

From the research done by Independent We Stand (IWS) campaign, up to 97% of the web users utilize internet information to do product analysis before they buy them.

image09

Irrespective of this finding, the Local Search Association Insider Report, communication has between business owners, and clients is a significant barrier since slightly below half the number of companies do not own websites where they can actively engage with customers.

The best way to curb this is through the adoption of internet tech-systems, that is, owning a blog or a clean website to make services available to people. It will consequently support faster and effective communication within the business communities. Social media platform is the significant technological advancement, which supports online marketing and e-business: website users to explore markets available across the globe. It helps to maintain progressive online business deals.

Entrepreneurs can likewise outsource work they battle with or don’t have time for. 99 Dollar Social presents crisp substance on a business’ online networking pages every day.

image12

More so, Hootsuite conveys propelled web-based social networking advancement instruments like the capacity to calendar posts over various stages inside a single dashboard.

Holding nothing back one administration like Infusionsoft, which creates customized advertising programming for private companies, and Yodle, which keeps up a business’ online nearness, help independent ventures including arrangement setting to web-based social networking.

 

2. Online Business Exchange Services

Unlike the past decades, e-commerce has significantly been on the rise. It is the most adopted system, which allows customers to purchase goods and services online without any physical touch.

It has considerably contributed to globalization and a positive trend in the business community.

Most customers like exploring online sales services and settle for the best package with a considerable discount, especially on the shipping or transportation cost.

A customer for a US based product located in Africa will go for the cheapest offers to save finances. The storefronts offer room for smooth online commerce. When given best discounts, for instance, in shipping fee, clients would always want to do more shopping than ever.

What is the best choice for the internet tools?

Some of the best web tools to help you create and advance your online small business include Shopify and Magento. And you can use WordPress to create blogs that promotes your small business.

The best and affordable tool for the starters and small e-commerce owners who have a limited budget is 3Dcarts.

It offers sustainable solutions for the newbies. The Vend, a sale system provides mobile managed online cloud storage for any e-commerce business in a short time.

In addition to this, online business is also possible through mobile devices. Clients with mobile devices enabled with m-commerce services have the advantage of making safe online purchase orders for items.

This is clearly indicated by Forrester report, showing that mobile transactions only have the potential to bring up to $142 billion, which is predicted to surpass $600 by 2017.

image03

 

3. Business Intelligence Software

We have a broad range of software available for both small and large e-commerce enterprises, but business intelligence software beats them all. It collects sorted statistics and decodes it to simple language that you can utilize in advancing your transactions.

Most small businesses with problems in managing big data should take advantage of Business Intelligence software to sort, keep and translate large quantities of data.

The top enterprise dashboards, for instance, Cyfe generates timely, progressive data analysis and evaluation.

Most large enterprises require the dashboards to customize marketing analytics, social media analysis and improve the website’s rankings through search engine optimization (SEO).

However, the micro-businesses need Business Intelligence (BI) software more than any other does.

 

4. Millenials

Are you ready for the estimated 80 million millennials in the US alone, that believes in spending money on what makes them happy?

image24

This modern generation is making a positive progress towards enhancing a sustainable economy. Most efforts made include stage-managing workplaces and workers playing various roles.

The US Chamber of Commerce Foundation report analyses the social-economic effects caused by the young millennial generation aged between 1982 and 1999.

For them, their ambitions revolve around creating a conducive working environment, detailed leadership models and the new ventures within their scope of work, proper teamwork mechanisms, transparency, and accountability for them to succeed.

Consequently, the millennial generation tends to move with faster speed to adjust to the new tech-advancement, which is speedily replacing the old working mechanisms. So far, things have changed with a faster change in technology.

Communication has taken a new direction from one-way exchange of messages to a multifaceted system, 24/7 hour live online chats between e-commerce owners and prospective buyers. In fact, 60% of millennials send and receive text messages.

image06

In most cases, up to 86% of the new generation can analytically make observations through online questionnaires, which they often pose to their customers to gather their opinions or views after the purchase of their products and services.

For business people from the millennial era, the ability to spread data is prime. Millennials also are more aware of the social obligation exhibited via their personnel or employers.

For them to keep that impeccable working environment, they constantly seek for people and workplaces with shared ethics and ideals.

They are often attracted to virtual websites that are interactive. For example, ClickMeeting, WorkflowMax and Memit. This shows the major strides that businesses will experience.

 

5. E-Loans

According to one of the Harvard business scholarly paper titled “The State of Small Enterprise Lending,” which scrutinizes one of the giant developments for micro-business online credit.

image05

This progressive trend in small enterprise lending is pushed by using the “simplicity and convenience of the application technique, velocity of shipping of capital and a more consciousness on client support.”

Whilst conventional banks take small enterprise lending as high-risk, many lenders offer to fund small entrepreneurial startups.

Some specialized lending services are accessible for those with small enterprises.

We have Biz2Credit, Prosper Fundera and lending club, which facilitates Peer-to-Peer loaning between the awarding microfinance organization and the particular receiver businesses through advanced online marketing sites.

image13

Due to the enactment of business startups Act of 2012, the business trend has taken a different direction to adapting the “Online Crowdfunding” opportunities.

It is a marketing strategy commonly done through popular sites such as Indiegogo, Kickstarter & fundable and Angellist.

 

6. Europay, MasterCard and Visa (EMV) Payment Security

In 2016, the EMV payment security has been recognized as critical to entrepreneurial transactions.

The United States national transition to EMV payment standards, also known as microchip debit and credit cards is very crucial to provide full security to their users against any scam.

image04

Due to the massive data breaches and increased cases of fake credit cards, the United States took the forefront in giving directives to the implementation of EMV cards – to minimize cases of fraudulent transactions in October 2015.

However, some revelations by Creditcards.com indicates that only 25 % of debit cards in the US possess chips. Direct exchange of finances on the purchase of items is risky without the usage of the credit cards.

It also indicates that up to 12 million sales systems are yet to be EMV enabled to counteract fraudulent activities.

According to Finance Magnates, the micro-enterprises transacting through the old models are up to 100% responsible for any financial fraud or mismanagement.

 

7. Expansion of Opportunities With The Gig Economy

Gig economy has been realized to increasingly creating more opportunities for people, with an estimated 34% of the American workers benefiting from the online writing jobs in the previous year. Interestingly, 66% of freelancers want more pay and benefits.

image01

Gig economy is rising to higher cliffs and advancing the freelance systems to minimize challenges and to sustain its economy bench-line continuously.

Technology has continuously been supportive to freelance projects as most of its systems are entirely dependent on high tech online and remote models for them to be effective.

The cheaper cloud computing customized working systems and the application of business-based innovations for sole workers has kept gigging trend on the rise.

All these items compounded together have substantially contributed to the steady sustainability of freelance projects in 2016 and the past few years.

 

8. Data Excessively Becoming Bulky

2016 is the year with increased number of companies generating a lot more data than before.

Companies keep competitions high when it comes to client search and traffic. They collect more data as they keep aiming to gain more traction for their brands.

This trend of generating large data is expected to rise by a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 23% annually through 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019.

image23

The report submitted by Forbes reveals that just 15% of Fortune 500 companies are utilizing huge data management systems.

Though this big data is considered inappropriate to small enterprise systems, there is a finding shared by one trade organization report indicating the rise of small enterprises pumping in substantial quantities of assets into it.

Meaning that they will have to advance higher for them to have a comprehensive system to monitor client activities and other entrepreneurial processes for them to be on par with large companies.

 

9. Social Media Sales Go Mainstream

The 2016 brand sellers have emphasized more on social media engagements with their customers for higher sales and increasing of web traffic.

image21

It’s a way of passing messages more efficiently, and keeping customers on toes. A few survey research reports indicate a rise in social media merchandise selling brands:

  • 79% of company sales workers utilize social platforms to market their products.
  • 65% of customers make informed decisions on the purchase of items
  • 53% get advice from the peers.

While these trends are expected to go up, the kind of messages and posts to be tailored for customers remains critical for the business selling success.

Only quality and exciting information catch the attention of clients online, meaning the brand sellers must be ahead of everything to implement various tricks to increase traffic, which will consequently maintain the rising trend of online selling.

For small businesses to continue to exploit and subdue online marketing opportunities, patience in designing their sales tricks becomes critical. It takes a while for an enterprise to rise and mature and sell their products better.

Customers need very convincing and well-coordinated information about the product to be sold before they take the initiative of buying them.

Only enterprises with creative content and advanced information-sharing tactics will carry the day.

10. Medium of Exchange

The way business is being conducted today has changed drastically. In regards to the way, the exchange of goods and services takes place today.

A long time ago the medium used to be through postal letters but today that has been overtaken by events.

The dynamics of change have transferred selling and buying of goods and services into the click of a button.

Either on the computer or the phone. Research conducted by comScore indicate that over 11% of the population that logs on to the internet use mobile devices.

image15

The proliferation of internet websites and applications to shop online has changed the marketing landscape.

Applications such as Whatsapp have a following of over 1 Billion monthly active users, in over 170 countries worldwide. Trust me, businesses with such a broad global audience is done through the click of a button.

image22

Users interact with others in the groups.

Those who want to take pictures of their products and post to members can do it right on Whatsapp. Customers have a one-on-one interaction with the seller. Communication is through texting in real-time. After Facebook Group purchased WhatsApp for $19billion, change of ownership meant that the monthly members increased and engagements increased tremendously.

A new development has been extended to WhatsApp, so that new members can even call colleagues and have real time interaction.

Other platforms such as Skype, enables users to chat, stream live interaction, and see the other person at the other end of the communication device.

The technological landscape is slowly making communication easier and effective. Increased use of platforms such as WhatsApp is making more companies reach a wider clientele base easier.

 

11. Transport

Transport is the vital component in the business world today. The shifts in customers, goods, and services have been of utmost importance in today’s business.

The increase in innovation concerning transport sector gives a competitive advantage in the market.

Companies like Google have gone to the extent of creating self-driving cars that are computer aided. The transport sector deals with many logistics of management.

image14

Different sectors control various sizes of fleets but in the entire main thing that remains consistent is the fact that every business wants to improve.

Every business wants to be ahead. The competition forces the transport sector to mutate to favor the market player.

The emergence of transportation services such as Uber has affected the way business is conducted today.

image07

Clients no longer have to wait for bus transport to convey goods from Point A to Point B. All that’s required is a touchscreen phone. Once you dial the number, you’ll get a transport within minutes.

Uber which started its operations about seven years ago has been expanding both monetary wise and geographically.

The motion of goods and services is at a faster, efficient and safer pace. Giving a clear indication that the business landscape in 2016 has improved to an upward shift.

Use of taxis and services in business, which as far as Uber is concerned, has spread over 65 countries globally. Sources indicate that a further $1.5billion is supposed to be injected into the company for expansion purposes.

Uber transportation model trends are being duplicated elsewhere in the world. The improved transportation has a diverse effect on the population at a totality from the increased accessibility of business ventures.

The government also gains from the improved system by to collecting more revenue. The impact of more revenue to the people is better infrastructure and the growth of more industries.

Moreover, there are reduced transportation and operations costs; which is a key driver towards economic growth.

Technology has also been incorporated in the transport sector via the use of GPS tracking. The inclusivity of GPS maps in vehicles makes traveling to new destinations easier.

The screen mounted on the vehicle uses the satellite navigation system to send signals back and forth during the journey.

This gives real-time feedback on the onboard computer. The driver will be able to view the places where the journey covers.

Business has been enhanced since direction towards clients to deliver goods is no issue at all. Corporate are finding it easy regarding sales and marketing.

Even in sourcing for newer markets, the satellite navigation has come in handy in a big way. Improved GPS system means more sales especially to manufacturers of the onboard computers and navigation system.

An improved Navigation system is also of vital use to the police officers. In the case of an incidence, tracking a vehicle that has done an offense is through the GPS tracking. A better and safer community influences the business positively.

Other Innovations

Technology in business is rapidly changing the environment.

In business, technological advancement is the main component as far as creativity in the market is concerned.

Companies that are not in a position to adapt to new methods of technology have difficulties in surviving the market.

The stagnation of a company’s research and innovation can make its future shaky. Innovation is a tool used to trounce the competition. Different fields have different arch rivals, and so for the business to stay afloat, innovative new ideas are a necessity.

Does the company where you work has mechanisms in place to enhance creativity and innovation? It is a question that has been asked by many working people.

Moreover, the answer to the above question gives you an idea of the plan plan that the owners of different businesses should have. Innovation is part of the solution, which is the driving force of the future of the business.

Wishful thinking that innovation will come by easily is misguided. The above requires strategy and planning and consultations that are to the best details.

In the current business world, creativity is part of the innovative process. An inflow and outflow of ideas and concepts should be encouraged by the company.

Exploration of brand new ideas in the business is the way forward for the business. The outcome of the diversity in a broader perspective will help in dealing with incoming challenges that the organization will face.

The productivity of the business grows tremendously when new ideas are brought forward. Workers are to be supported regarding coming up with new insights into various situations.

The zeal to motivate them places the business in a better position as a far as the market is concerned.

Data collected has shown that despite innovation being a key driver of business success, few organizations and directors of companies can make it happen. The outcome of this is that there is a slow growth rate of the business.

image19

In innovation, so many devices have been created. But the most notable one is the hoverboard – which is used for playing and recreation. Another dramatic innovation is the ever-changing trends in bigger and better phones.

Samsung and iPhone engineers are always competing on the global stage. The advent of front camera on phones gave rise to the selfie generation. 2016 has been that year where selfies have been taken a lot.

Phones such as Samsung Galaxy 7 were released this year, thereby increasing the global dominance of Samsung. Manufacturers of the phone integrates so many new advancements like the eye sensor detector for unlocking the phone.

Dedicated mobile apps for small businesses has gone mainstream

Dedicated mobile apps take the upper hand as the most desirable tools for faster and effective marketing.

This applies to both local clients and the business managers. The mobile apps in most cases are meant for enhanced enterprises. However, the newly established businesses can now take advantage of suitable apps like Microsoft PowerApps and Buildfire.com, which do not require any technical expertise. They can be utilized in a wide range of devices such as Androids, Kindle, iOs and some Windows mobile devices.

While this may sound a bit technical to some users, it is more convenient as one can easily communicate through a single-click-to-voice or live chats similar to that of Agora.io technology.

If you are a manager for small enterprise, this model of technology is a better deal for coordinating working schedules among your staff members.

The other possible high-tech models is that of Hello Talk Company, which has adopted the Agora.io’s innovations to provide an easy way of learning the language to interested clients across the globe.

image00

It is simply a lingual-multidisciplinary learning app, which brings people of different languages together with the course of exchanging language skills. It is a universal application accessible to those with interest to study different languages.

The big question here is, “how can this affect your small enterprise?”

Yes, to those who want to advance your customer support services, this probably becomes the best innovation to adopt.

It offers you a platform to easily reach out to your clients in a more personal manner and to build your credibility.

 

Online-Customer Relationship Management

For any business to succeed there ought to be an effective and smooth client communication strategy.

image11

Every business deal to be signed between the customer and the business owner depends on the interaction and general orientation of the product.

A more advanced Customer Relationship Management model allows room for customers to have access to a variety of services.

Some packages such as Salesforce, Insightly, and OnePage CRM are now the most popular products used to capture client information – including the response rates and client demographic data, which is then entered into sales software to give a reflection of the current marketing demands.

 

Expanding The Business

Every customer has a different expectation to small businesses, but it is a fact that majority of consumers will intend to go for medium sized or small enterprises for convenience.

Unlike huge business enterprises with high standards, the small businesses ensure close customer interactions and efficient service delivery.

Consumers will always go for small businesses but still benefit from low cost items that promises a faster and effective product delivery.

It has now become a norm for businesses in 2016 to focus on what the consumer wants. The large retail enterprises are in a continuous struggle to keep the consumer demands within their means.

image02

2016 is believed to be the year of the free cloud administration stage. Autonomous cloud administration frameworks permit SMBs to effectively bridle the readiness and comfort offered by people in general cloud.

This pattern will see more SMBs increasing their dependence on the general population cloud for their registering needs and thus observe less processing servers conveyed inside workplaces and their related server farms.

Free cloud administration frameworks will likewise permit SMB to lessen their on location IT costs by empowering for the relocation off exorbitant VMware stages to more financially savvy hypervisor stages like Microsoft Hyper-V. — Jay Litkey, president and author of Embotics

In 2016, openness to enormous information has achieved a record-breaking high, and to contend with popular stores, independent venture proprietors are RSVPing to the huge information party.

Private ventures have two roads to tackle huge information: oversaw administrations and advertising mists. Overseen administrations include one-on-one collaboration with information deals agent.

While the data generated from such a relationship can be to a great degree significant, some independent ventures discover the expenses to be huge as well.

Promoting mists that incorporate access to and the capacity to work with enormous information have the minimal effort of the section, straightforward UIs and implicit applications that permit even beginner advertisers to execute complex multi-channel showcasing effort.

Not just have nourishment trucks made a respectable road for culinary specialists to dispatch a vocation, yet more vitally they have demonstrated that going versatile is a practical plan of action.

This has generated various thoughts. For example, pet prepping, salons and barbershops, dentistry and retail treatments.

Everybody is presently looking long and hard at run of the mill physical organizations and imagining them as a portable choice. — Kush Kapila, originator, and CEO of Sterlings Mobile.

Acquisition strategies are changing at the nearby and national level with a more grounded fondness for private ventures.

A few bills are gliding in Congress that will improve private company contracts. Also, numerous states, groups and foundations—healing facilities, colleges—have ordered approaches to get locally; some even have built-up edges and commands.

At the Federal level, the Federal Bill measure H.R. 4341, otherwise known as the Defending America’s Small Contractors Act of 2016, got consistent board [support] and is presently moving to the full House of Representatives for thought.

Lyneir Richardson, official chief of The Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development at Rutgers.

 

One-Click Interactive Engagement

Many scholarly research reports indicate that the average concentration of human mind is currently 8 sec, which is a significant drop from the previous attention span of 12 sec as recorded in 2000.

image16

This phenomenon is widely supported by scientists who reveal that the rise of modesty communication devices has significantly been found to reduce the human attention span.

The introduction of smart mobile devices is the contributing factor to the low rate of concentration. Hence, many firms should focus more on the gaming activities that catch most the consumers’ attention.

The young dot.com generation also known as “millennial” can spend a substantial amount of time with their smartphones – playing fun games and listening to music.

image08

In 2016 the focus on the current marketing trend revolves around designing of these communication gadgets to actively engage with the millennial generation, who make a significant contribution to any business development.

While games can be either electronic games or traditional games, the most pertinent issue is making them enticing and catchy to draw and retain their attention for a while.

However, when focusing on fun and gaming, the ultimate goal for the enterprise should be tailored to achieving desirable results.

 

Integration of Content Marketing Goes Mainstream

Consumers are usually not moved by what the peers inform them of a particular product in the market. but on what they can read

The sellers might not reach every individual with the product package, more often than not, they’ll convince the target consumers.

This is a vivid indication that there will be more sells if small businesses invested more on producing relevant and valuable content to engage their customers. Although producing enough targeted content is the number 1 business challenge.

image17

Most customers will often enjoy when they have access to information online and have freedom to explore different contents to make informed decisions on what they should purchase.

This is where invaluable content becomes crucial if you want to build a loyal audience and thrive in today’s business world.

image10

Compelling content will give your clients the opportunity to know more about your brand, and why they should do business with you.

It helps to support clients to settle on fair business deals. Marcus Sheridan, founder of TheSalesLion, has used content to build a multimillion dollar company.

In his words, “The top companies reflect an image of being the best service providers based on what they do, but smart companies will always invest in integrating relevant and valuable content to help consumers make informed decisions before purchasing a particular product.”

According to Content Marketing Institute, approximately 88% of businesses use content marketing.

image18

Content creation has been on the rise worldwide, with freelancing companies taking the better portion in the ranking. Companies such Writer Bay, Upwork, Freelancer, just to mention a few have evolved rapidly in organisation and content structure.

Website owners looking for content have the option to either create it in-house or outsource to professional freelance writers.

With this in mind, 2016 becomes the best transitional year for sales marketing trends as realized in most companies.

 

A New Way To Generate Revenue

It’s evident that currently there is a new shifting trend facilitated by investors in pumping resources and build a culture that will help you generate more revenue with your content.

The report generated by New York Times Bestselling Author, J. Baer indicates that $9 billion is spent on customer support services and $500 billion on annual marketing.

image20

This is evidence that many businesses are not working towards client retention, but only concentrate on customer awareness on the availability of certain products in the market.

 

Conclusion

This is a risky trend to be looked at or examined. More consumer retention approaches will ensure rapid growth of individual enterprises, and may be the only viable way to expand more opportunities to people across the globe.

Robert Richman, the author of Culture Blueprint and former Culture Strategist for Zappos, identifies the need to nurture organizational culture through maintaining internal systems and consistently involving the staff team in brainstorming and spearheading organizational issues but not by imposing information on them.

Consequently, paying more attention to customer service brings a new experience in merchandise performance, which Walker noted that by 2020, only the buyers’ experience will be crucial than the value of the product you are marketing.

Generally, 2016 is a transitional year with many changes being observed across many sectors.

Why Marketing is Important

My business coach is a huge advocate of the claim that marketing isn’t the thing that books you business.

And I agree with him.

I know that’s not what I’m ‘supposed’ to be writing in a post with this title, but there it is.

And before you get too frustrated with me, let me explain:

I’m a B2B service professional. My target market is pretty small and rather well-connected (especially compared to those of you in the B2C space), so for me to get booked solid, networking actually does work a lot better than marketing.

The thing is, though, not all businesses operate on the same model as mine.

In fact, I’d venture to say most don’t.

I provide a service that most of my customers already know they need before they even come to me, so in comparison to those of you selling “unneeded” things, my job is really easy.

And for those of you who can’t land enough business just by chumming up to people in your network, I want to talk for a little bit about why marketing is so crucial important to you.

I might not need to do marketing for my own business, but I still do because I know how beneficial it is for the long-term.

I’ve also done it for my employers before and I continue to do it for my clients who don’t have the same business model as me.

So in this post, we’ll talk for a little bit about what marketing does (and what it doesn’t do), and why—for most of you reading this—marketing is so important.

 

What Marketing Does

Marketing, at its core, exists for the purpose of getting the word out to a select group of people (your target market who you want to eventually buy from you).

You probably already know who your target market is, but the problem every single business faces is getting the people within that target market to buy so the business can stay afloat, grow, and thrive.

But before anyone’s going to buy from you, they actually have to know about you first.

Which is where marketing comes in.

Marketing, unlike networking, lets you connect to people and let them know about who you are and what you offer at scale.

When you’re networking, you can only do that for one person at a time. Which, when you only service 3-5 clients at once, is totally fine. But when you need 20 people buying from you every day, it doesn’t tend to work so well.

You need something with a little more oomph behind it… which is what marketing is.

 

What Marketing Doesn’t Do

While marketing can do a lot to create awareness around your brand and what you sell, it won’t ever actually do the selling for you.

You can automate your sales to attach seamlessly onto the end of your marketing, but that’s another post for another day.

And because marketing doesn’t sell is why service professionals like me can be successful without it—we still have our sales process, but with networking instead of marketing beforehand.

As long as you understand that you need to think about sales separately from your marketing, though, you shouldn’t have any problem using your marketing to help prompt those sales.

Got it?

(I know you do, you’re smart.)

Okay, so on to why marketing is so important:

 

1. You Use it to Convey An Image

Remember in high school, when the store your shirt came from, the color of your hair, and which jewelry piece your wore with that outfit mattered a lot?

It’s a juvenile example, but it’s how we act at that age based on the human need to feel like we’re seen and truly understood by others.

If they see us the way we want to be seen, then (our brains reason), they understand us the way we want to be understood.

Kind of like marketing our own individual, angsty personal brands.

As a company, though, especially a company that serves the public at large, you need to be hyper-focused on how people are perceiving and understanding you.

When you proactively do your own marketing and make sure your image is out there in front of your target audiences in places where they’re already hanging out, you have the influence over how they perceive you and think about you.

But when you choose not to do marketing, you leave your image in the hands of other people.

If no one bothers to write about you online, that’s fine… until you get an outrageous, unhappy customer who’s hell-bent on trying to image-smear you.

When people do this, they aren’t in a calm, rational state of mind and will go out of there way to post nasty things about you on multiple websites, doing the best within their power to talk about how terrible you are.

But just because you have one bad customer experience doesn’t mean you’re a bad business. Statistically, it’s bound to happen to everyone.

But if you haven’t done any marketing to establish your company’s brand and image online before an outrage like this takes place, the potential customers who search for you online will see the outrage but none of the other wonderful things there are to say about you.

In contrast, though, if you’re engaging people on your Facebook page, have asked happy customers to leave reviews, and take ownership over your Google listings, one rotten apple won’t detract too much business from you.

 

2. You Can Appeal to Customer Needs, Wants And Pain Points

Love, sex, and money.

It’s crass, but honestly, those are the three boiled-down reasons why people buy anything.

(Safety and security are big ones too.)

Beyond just getting your message out into the public like we talked about in the point above, marketing also lets you agitate and appeal to customer pain points.

In the B2B world, it’s almost always about making more money.

It could be about safety if you’re selling legal services, but it usually boils down to keeping a business afloat and bottom-line results.

In the B2C world, it’s a lot of belonging and sex.

Judge me for being crass if you want to, but most people don’t seek out weight loss solutions just for the sake of a lower number on the scale.

Instead, they’re after feeling sexier so they can have more confidence… and therefore more and better sex.

Or maybe their doctor gave them a health scare, so they want to lose weight for their own personal preservation. (Which, in this case, is safety from the danger of dying or a sub-par life.)

You might not like the crudeness of my examples saying we’re all after sex, but I bet if you press yourself, you can find the real benefit behind why people would buy from you is either love/acceptance, sex, money, or safety.

And when you know that, you can use your marketing to talk about those things with your target audience, reminding them of their underlying, driving needs, boosting their possibility of paying more attention to you and buying from you.

 

3. You Establish A Reputation in Your Niche

Even though as a service provider I can get booked solid without marketing, I still find marketing really useful.

And here’s the main reason why: with it, I can differentiate myself from the competition I have within my niche.

Yes, I’m a copywriter. Yes, I’m a marketing consultant. And yes, I help people with their branding.

But there’s sooo many kinds of copywriters out there that I think it’s dangerous to just label myself that and call it a day.

There’s sales-focused copywriters, lead magnet copywriters, email copywriters, niche-specific copywriters, bloggers-for-hire, and copywriters who are jacks-of-all-trades.

And I’m sure there’s similar dividing lines in your niche too.

If you sell soaps, for example, you can sell all-natural soaps, PETA-friendly soaps, soaps that smell so good you want to eat them, frontier-style soaps, or commodity brands. (Among many other types of soaps.)

No one type of soap business is better than the other, but you’ll have a hell of a time selling to your right target audience if you don’t differentiate yourself from others in the soap-selling niche.

If you sell all-natural soaps, people shopping for commodity brands will scoff at your pricing. If you sell frontier-style soaps made with animal fat, you’re not going to do so well amongst vegans looking for PETA-friendly soap.

So with marketing, you can state who you are and what you do in a “loud” and profound way that automatically targets the right people and kindly excludes the others, making sales a lot easier for you to manage.

4. You Drive Demand

Like speaking to your target audience’s pain points, marketing lets you drive demand for your products and services in a way networking doesn’t.

Networking exists so people can know about you or refer to you when a need for your services comes up.

Marketing, on the other hand, proactively creates the need so you don’t have to rely on pre-existing market needs to drive your business.

For example, let’s say you run an accounting firm that likes to specialize in small business taxes.

Every small business owner knows that they’ve got to do their taxes once a year, and they usually do their best to save their receipts, track their income, and note their expenses before they come in for a meeting with you.

But as someone who’s in the “inside” of the industry, you know that a small business who has regular appointments throughout the year with an accountant not only does a lot better come tax time, but also is usually much smarter with their money—sometimes even earning more of it.

This is where marketing comes in.

You could wait around until tax time and run your business on the needs the market knows it has, or you can actively market your business and bring in more clients for more, better, year-long services if you market the idea of those services to them.

By using marketing as an educational tool, you can show your prospects what having a year-long accountant on their side can do for them, and let them come to you with the requests that you’ve created out of your marketing efforts.

(In other words: marketing your services makes you more profitable.)

 

5. You Learn Your Metrics

Especially with online marketing, metrics are easily available.

Almost every single service or software you buy these days has some sort of reporting dashboard to show you how well your campaigns perform.

These dashboards are a constant source of new ideas on what to maximize, what to minimize, and what to A/B test.

They’re also incredibly upfront about whether or not your messages and your efforts are working at all with your target audience… so engaging in marketing just to know your feedback is a great way to know what works, where it works, and who it works with.

But beyond dashboards for online marketing, there are programs that will help you assign specific codes or special phone numbers to brochures so you know which pieces of physical marketing work best and who they work with.

Metrics are more than just annoying numbers you have to sit around and crunch all day, they’re the things that help you predict if your business will succeed or fail on its current path. (Which, if you ask me, is a pretty big deal.)

They also tell you whether or not a pivot was a good idea, and whether or not you should re-pivot or stick with the change you’ve just made.

For example, heat map software Crazy Egg helped a company called Softmedia identify page elements that were distracting their visitors from completing the call to action.

With that data, they removed the distractions and increased their conversion rates by 51%, which is nothing to cough at.

 

6. You Can Build an Email List

I love, love, love my email list.

Every serious online marketer I’ve ever met swears that there’s money in the list, but to be honest with you, I haven’t sold a thing to my email list yet.

But I love them because they’re loyal readers of my blog, help me spread the word about new posts I publish, and, when I do decide to sell something to them, I know a percentage of them will convert.

But you know what? While a handful of them did come from my networking efforts, the vast majority of them came from my marketing.

Which is part of what makes marketing so beautiful: even if you’ve got enough business for now and the next quarter, you can keep up some small marketing efforts to keep your list building.

They’re a great source of referrals, and you know that if you do find yourself in a rough spot in the future, they’re loyal enough that some of them will buy from you if you offer them something.

There’s a Seth Godin quote I love that sums this part of a marketing strategy up perfectly:

“One way to sell a consumer something in the future is to simply get his or her permission in advance.”

When someone gives you permission to get in touch with them by joining your email list, they’re also giving you permission to sell to them at some point in the future, if you choose to.

 

7. You’ll Make Mistakes

Finally, one of the best reasons why marketing is important—at least in my opinion—is because you make mistakes doing it.

You spend hours writing the perfect guest post for a popular blog with 300,000 subscribers that gets you exactly zero subscribers to your own list in return.

You run an ad campaign that totally bombs.

You hire an assistant to do outreach for you and realize that, at least for now, you’re the only one who can effectively do your outreach—at least until your brand does a better job of speaking for itself.

The mistakes suck, but at the same time, they’re lessons you would have never learned if you didn’t get involved in marketing when you did.

And, coincidentally, they’d be lessons still waiting for you to learn when you do decide to market.

And, as the saying goes, the taller they are, the harder they fall.

Which is why, even though I can get totally booked solid without marketing, I’m still a total fan of marketing anyway.

I’d rather make mistakes and learn from them when my business is in the small and growing stage instead of when my business is larger and has a lot more at stake.

Plus, it’s been hugely important in helping build a bulletproof brand—because even if I’m not actively selling to my target audience via marketing, I still have data on what they respond well to and what they don’t really care about. (Which, by the way, are not things I could have guessed on my own just by reading marketing advice. In fact, some of the results have surprised me quite a bit.)

 

Conclusion: Try Your Hand at Marketing

The good thing about marketing too, is that it doesn’t have to be perfect, and you certainly don’t have to do all of it at once to benefit from it.

If all you feel like doing is Pinterest marketing, that’s all you have to do.

If you just want to do AdWords + email autoresponders, that’s all that’s necessary for you.

If you think your best bet will be via newspaper and radio ads, give those a try and nothing else.

You’ll still get the kind of data and feedback you’re looking for, but you won’t have to burn yourself out with a huge, robust marketing plan.

If you need help, consider hiring a branding consultant to make sure you’re conveying the right message to the right people in the right places.

But other than that, trusting your intuition is always a good place to start. It may not turn out to be the best place, but at least that’s something you’ll learn after a bit of trial and error.

The Ultimate 4 Step Business to Business (B2B) Marketing Plan

Do you feel overwhelmed with the prospect of B2B Marketing? There’s certainly one hell of a stigma attached, and there’s no end to fear-mongering list posts on why B2B Marketing is so much harder than B2C.  If trying to come up with a high-level B2B marketing strategy stresses you out, you aren’t alone.

Once we peel back all the fear and anxiety that’s been piled on top of B2B marketing, putting together a solid strategy is as simple as knowing the right questions to ask.

So…let’s start with, why is B2B Marketing so much harder than B2C marketing anyway?

Short answer: it’s not!

Slightly longer answer: Because you’re making it harder. What you need to do is reframe that fear.

There are many people…and I happen to be one of them…that believe business to business marketing is actually far easier than marketing to consumers.

Convincing someone to purchase your product or service when you can tie it directly to their bottom line (or their promotion) is a piece of cake.  Of course, you’ll need to find the people who are actually committed to improvement…but once they’ve started receiving value from your company, they have a vested interest in providing feedback that continues to improve their experience – it only makes their job easier.

Your buyer should have clearly defined goals – they are ultimately either trying to increase cash flow or establish brand recognition for the long term.  You do need to put in the work upfront to know what these goals are, but once you do, the job of your marketing is simply to deliver value and demonstrate authority in that space.

Actually, let me make that even simpler.  Your marketing has one job: prove you understand your customer and that you know how to solve their problems.

Marketing doesn’t have to be hard – in fact, you most likely know everything you need to know to optimize what’s already working in your business.

In this article, I will take you, in 3 simple steps, through establishing a marketing strategy, implementing that strategy, and iterating until it works.

You’ll learn the exact questions you need to be able to answer about your business and your clients in order to create a winning strategy.

This article is going to be super helpful for you if…

  1. You’re selling a product or service to other businesses and you want to scale or automate your marketing efforts
  2. You’re just getting started with a product idea and you have no idea how to turn it into a business

There’s no magic bullet or secret technique – it’s just learning to understand the true purpose of marketing, then putting a system in place to make sure you know where to focus your attention.

Once you really take the long view on your marketing efforts, you’re not going to have to worry so much about your day-to-day marketing decisions.  With a clear plan defined, you’ll know what the best next steps are no matter how your campaigns go.

 

Stop Making B2B Marketing Harder – Plan First!

Look, I get it.  This isn’t the sexy part of business – you want to see all kinds of bar charts and graphs with exponentially increasing numbers of social shares or likes.

[example of a useless graph – number of people who think our cat’s with construction equipment pictures are cool vs. actual sales]

But if shares and likes don’t correlate to purchases, you’re wasting your time and possibly headed towards burnout and the end of your business.

So our absolute first step…as in, do not pass go, do not collect $200…is coming up with a solid strategy that you’ll use to qualify your decisions every step of the way.

But before we do that…let’s make sure we’re on the same page.  Not everybody has the same understanding of what marketing is, and I define it quite broadly.  Kinda like this guy:

“Marketing is not only much broader than selling; it is not a specialized activity at all.  It encompasses the entire business.  It is the whole business seen from the point of view of the final result, that is, from the customer’s point of view.  Concern and responsibility for marketing must therefore permeate all areas of the enterprise.” — Peter Drucker

pablo

Caption: So Peter Drucker agrees with me.  No big deal.

“Peter F. Drucker,” by Jeff McNeill is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The long and short of it is, your B2B marketing strategy should inform what you sell, how you sell it, who you sell it to, and how much you charge them.  Marketing even informs your customer service and how you implement feedback from users.

But everything relies on building a solid strategy as the framework…

 

Step 1. Develop a Strategy

Yes, every single article on marketing starts with “first, let’s put together a strategy.”  But let’s be honest…every how-to article ever should start with this advice!

“He who fails to plan is planning to fail.”

-Winston Churchill

pablo 2

“Churchill,” by Matt Brown is licensed under CC BY 2.0

And yet I still talk with business owners and clients who want help fixing a non-converting ad or an opt-in that no one is downloading. That conversation usually goes something like:

Me: So tell me about what you’re trying to accomplish with this feature.

Client: Well, I want people to learn more about me.  And also to get a sense of what our product can do for them, and how it works, and how it will save them time.  Wait, should I be offering a coupon in that first email or is that too desperate?

Me: Wait, hold on…you need to prioritize those goals.  What’s the number one thing you want your visitor to do?

Client: Well, they’re all important!

Me: Of course, but what’s the first thing they need to do before they’re ready to buy your product?

Client: Um…

Right, so…that’s not going to get you very far.  We have no idea…

  1. What the potential buyer is supposed to be doing at this stage of the buying process.
  2. How to measure the success of the campaign.
  3. How to tell if a successful campaign will actually result in increased revenue.

And it’s not uncommon!  Smart Insights reveals that “47% of businesses are doing digital marketing without any kind of digital marketing strategy.

1a. There’s No Way To Fix A Problem Without Knowing Why It’s A Problem In The First Place

The first priority when setting a strategy is knowing your goal.  A problem is only a problem that needs fixing if it’s preventing you from reaching your goals.

As you can already tell from the above example, you need to know a good deal about your sales process before you can start identifying those goals.

In sales and persuasion psychology, it’s been long established that getting people to say yes to small things makes it easier for them to say yes to increasingly bigger things.

So your sales process is very much a series of small conversions.

Neil Patel explains it this way: “When [leads] respond affirmatively to the first request, they will later agree to the larger, because they want to justify to themselves that they are indeed the type of person who responds ‘yes’ to such requests.”

On top of this, for most businesses, the purchase comes down to a key decision that’s made during the sales process – sometimes much earlier in the process than you’d expect.

As an example, I had one of my clients (a startup architecture firm) look back over all her contracts for the previous 24 months.  She found that the clients who were happiest with her work – and, not surprisingly, who she most enjoyed doing work for – had come as references by several heads of construction companies in her network.

The goal became to optimize that one step: make referrals from those connections the focal point of her marketing strategy.  She now operates with a constant waiting list, to the envy of many of her fellow architects who’ve been in business for decades (who’ve factored the ‘lean times’ into their yearly projections).

So, how did we get there?  You can follow this process:

  1. Identify your top outcome goals (e.g. identify the offer your market responds best to, move leads from cold to ready-to-buy, get people registered for an event, etc.)
  2. Prioritize those goals  (it may not make any sense to generate lots of traffic until you have one or two solid ideas for the offer you want to make, for example)
  3. Propose solutions that would help you achieve your goals (e.g. facebook ads to test Call to Action headlines and lead magnet offers, content marketing that addresses the biggest concerns that stop your market from buying, publishing pieces in trade publications, etc.)
  4. Determine the best way to deliver your intended solution to your audience (e.g. attending conferences, running ads in trade publications, hosting an event, an autoresponder series, etc.)
  5. Break that down into a minimum viable solution (try out your presentation for a 100 with a small group of local business owners over coffee, test out ads for your webinar before ever writing the script, etc.)
  6. Set campaign milestones (e.g. 10 new opt-ins daily, 50 scheduled demos per week, etc.) so you don’t label something a failure that’s actually succeeding

This whole process is incredibly powerful, and literally every successful business on earth is doing this. Ryan Deiss goes one step farther and actually calls this whole ‘funnel’ process Customer Value Optimization.

So the best way to develop a successful strategy is start looking at the sales funnel you already have in place (and if you’re just starting out, don’t worry…I’ll explain how this whole process can work for bootstrappers at the end of the article).

1b. Marketing Strategy Starts With What’s Working Right Now In Your Business

Your sales funnel is the process a potential customer goes through in order to become a buyer.  The primary function of your marketing strategy is to scale the funnel that’s already working for your business in order to optimize the value of every customer.

ASF Sales Funnel 1

Source: https://blog.artstorefronts.com/caveman-romantic-art-seller/

Some of you will have already put a lot of thought and prep into your sales funnel, so if that’s you, bear with me while I introduce a couple of key terms we’ll need as we put together our strategy.

But, real quick, if you’re one of those people who likes to say that you don’t have a funnel, stop right there.

If you have customers, you have a funnel.  In fact, if you have a list, you still have a funnel, it’s just not monetized.

Traffic Sources

Every sale started with a potential customer who was learning about your company and solution for the very first time.  Someone told them about you, or they found you on google, or your niche blog post answered one of their nagging questions.  Those are your traffic sources, which is more of a digital term and isn’t always used to refer to offline sources for leads, but they all serve the same function for our the purposes of our strategy.

Lead Capture

Next up, every sale you’ve ever made went through an initial conversion process…in other words, they said yes in some small way.  Maybe it was to get on a phone call, or to download a white page, or to view a demo.  Most likely, no money was exchanged.

Once money has been exchanged, even if it’s just paying $1 for some small asset (commonly called a tripwire in the digital marketing world), they become much more than a lead.

Nurturing From Lead to Buyer

Don’t think that tiny purchase is what you’re going to rely on for business income.  As Bryan Harris bluntly puts it, There are a lot of reasons to sell a product for $5.99, but making money isn’t one.”

Psychologically, the power of tripwires relies on human’s many, many cognitive biases. We can’t get into all that here, but the short version is: the sooner a lead pays you, the sooner they will buy more.

Ryan Lee makes a solid case that ‘tripwire’ sounds a lot like we’re tricking a lead into becoming a customer….  So if taking advantage of common, irrational mistakes made by human beings makes you feel a bit icky, just remember – it’s up to you to make sure your product or service is truly beneficial to your target market.  If you know it will help make their businesses and lives better, than marketing becomes a moral imperative.

Follow Up

Any good marketing strategy is going to involve lots of follow up.  And not just after the sale, but after every yes you get from the potential buyer.  Each step is an invitation to a greater relationship between your business and theirs.

Think about this.  What does a funnel look like if you looked down instead of across?

top down funnel

Each time a potential customer says “yes” to you, they are letting down their guard and asking to come closer to your inner circle.  And your marketing strategy needs to honor and respect that level of trust.

So while there’s going to be a good deal of “lead nurturing” in the early stages, and more follow up and quality assurance in the later stages…it’s helpful to think of all these conversion moments in terms of conversations that build a relationship with your leads and customers.

1c. Conversations That Build Relationships

Brian Clark calls building “real relationships with those who can help get the word out” one of the three most important things he’s done to build his online business.  You need to figure out:

  • What kinds of questions are your leads asking at each stage of the buying process?
  • How can you anticipate and automate the answers to those questions?
  • What does a lead absolutely need to hear/see/know/believe at each stage before they’re ready to move on to the next?

When you know the answer to the above questions, you’ve got the bulk of your marketing strategy.  Here’s an example:

John has a SaaS app that helps local service businesses set appointments more easily.  Most of his customers contacted him after seeing his presentation at the local chamber of commerce.  A few customers joined after being referred by his other customers.  His site gets a decent amount of traffic thanks to mentions in a few online publications specific to his industry.

His churn rate is higher than he would like, but after talking to some other business owners, it sounds like it’s within the normal range.  So he’s not going to prioritize that.

Ultimately, he wants to focus more of his time learning from users and creating even more value with the features of his software.  At present, he spends most of his time answering pre-sale questions by phone and email, and then with onboarding.  Therefore, his marketing efforts will focus on:

  • Generating content that answers his leads’ most common questions right as they arrive on the site
  • Creating copy that walks a site visitor through the same sales process John goes through with buyers over the phone
  • And creating an autoresponder sequence that walks users through the first 14 days of using the software, making the onboarding process mostly automated

1d. The Next Step is To Think Bigger

At this point you’ve established a prioritized list of goals to achieve with your marketing, and you’ve identified how you’re already achieving those goals (to some extent) in your business. Now we’re going to look at how we can expand that into something much bigger by doing what already works at scale.

Before we actually go bigger, we need to set some milestones that allow us to measure the success of our efforts and the progress we’re making toward our goals.

We want to avoid this scenario that Seth Godin points out: “When you measure the wrong thing, you get the wrong thing. Perhaps you can be precise in your measurement, but precision is not significance.

In our example above, John’s going to be predominantly measuring the success of his efforts by seeing how often his new content is being accessed, how well the sales copy converts compared to his sales phone calls, and how the total time on site is affected by switching to the autoresponder onboarding sequence.

Once the numbers seem adequate – and a lower conversion rate than his old method might still be okay, since it will allow John the time he needs to focus on feature improvements – John will decide to either optimize his organic traffic or run Facebook ads to test how well his funnel converts with paid traffic.  Either way, he will pick one source of traffic and scale it fully before moving on to another one.

 

Step 2. Put Your Strategy To Work

We want to be systematic in how we implement this strategy.  You’ll notice everything that’s gotten us to this point is basically just prep work.

Well, we’re not done getting ready yet.

Remember when I said we wanted to start with the minimum viable solution?  This goes for everything in marketing.

As Pamela Wilson over at Copyblogger points out, when you start with a solution in mind instead of your audience, you are building your business backwards.

There’s no reason to put all of your time, budget, and energy into a campaign before you know if it can convert.

That means testing:

  • The method of delivery (is the webinar the right format, would it be better as an ebook?)
  • The length of the content
  • The title or headline of the content
  • The offer for the content
  • The way you offer the content (a button on your home page, a sidebar ad, article specific calls to action (CTA) in each blog post, in person, over the phone, etc.)

Ultimately, you’ll also want to know how people convert at every single step of the process.  For example:

  • How many people who came to your website clicked to opt-in?
  • How many of those people actually opted-in?
  • How many opt-ins confirmed their email address?
  • How many then downloaded the content?
  • How many actually consumed the content?
  • How many follow the CTA in the content?

And so on.  As you can see, there’s an infinite number of things you can monitor and test, so let’s lay out the absolute basics:

  1. The less things you are testing, the easier it is to find the problems.  In other words, don’t split-test multiple headlines, white page lengths, brand voices, etc. all at once.  Just set it so that half of your visitors see one CTA headline, and the other half see a different one.  (This is commonly referred to as a split test.)

You’ll probably have numerous customer avatars that you’re trying to appeal to, so you can write a CTA for each of them and see which convert the best.

  1. Let’s simplify that some more: if there are two possible free offers you could make, you can split-test each of those using the method we just laid out.  Half of your visitors would get an offer like “The Best Times to Reach Out to PR Connections”, and the other half would get an offer like “The Best PR Email Template”.Since we’re going “minimum viable” here, don’t write either of them until you start getting opt-ins.  Prioritize the one that gets more requests.
  1. And hey, we can simplify even more if we want.  Turn your website into a landing page that has the bare minimum information the lead needs to get to the next stage of your product.  Maybe it’s simply a site with a quick explanation of your product, and the only options are to either opt-in for a free resource or to schedule a demo call.The less options a visitor is given, the better.  Psychologically, they are more likely to not feel overwhelmed and actually go where you want them to…and from a testing perspective, you get a much better sense of how enticing your offer is when there’s only one.Note: From an SEO standpoint, this may not be the best long-term solution…good thing we have a prioritized list of goals to see where organic search traffic fits in!

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Does your site answer the main questions your target market is asking…in the right order? In other words, is the first thing a new visitor sees something that doesn’t matter until much later in the sales process?
  • If you can speak to the customer in their own unique voice and explain their problem better than they can, they will trust you.  So the copy on your website needs to be written for them and not for you.

That’s it, pretty much.  If you get distracted by the latest marketing craze or your supervisor starts demanding an updated explainer video, you can go back to your prioritized goals and see how this new concept fits into the strategy.

If it doesn’t, it’s an easy No.

 

Step 3. Iterate and Improve Your Strategy

Keep iterating and improving until you’re getting good conversion rates at each step.  Then fully optimize a traffic source before you move onto the next one.

For example: Let’s say every $5 you spend on facebook ads results in a $200 sale. You can keep increasing your budget, but since you are targeting a very specific list, eventually you’ll milk this avenue dry.  This isn’t B2C, right?  You have a limited number of potential customers in your targeted industry and eventually all of them are going to see your ads on one channel.  So the next step would either be to try another ad network or to see about improving the conversion rate on the purchase.

Charles Ngo spent 6 years struggling to turn a profit online, but once he picked one traffic source (facebook ads) and focused specifically on that, he was able to replace the income from his job in just 3 months.

Once you’ve hit your milestones, you can start all over again with a new strategy that takes into account your current business needs.

For example: Sales might now be coming at a decent rate, with a highly effective funnel and onboarding sequence.  You could now focus on making sure your current customers’ needs are being addressed. You can create content, email sequences, and webinars that make them feel important to your company, and direct them to under-used or brand-new features.

But now that you know how to effectively strategize, what if you’re stuck starting a business – or launching a new product or service – from scratch?

 

Step 4. Marketing Strategy When You’re Just Starting Out

You now have a good sense of what to do once your business is rolling.  You know how to leverage what you’re already doing well and market it into a super tight and profitable business.

But meanwhile, you might still trying to decide on your logo, brand colors and fonts, and website hosts.  You don’t even have a single client.  How can you put together an effective strategy?

So first of all…STOP.  You have everything you need right now.  Remember when I said in the beginning to take a look at the solutions you already provide to customers, turn them into evergreen materials, and test them as minimum viable solutions?

Let’s take a look at Amir Khella’s Keynotopia product.  He turned a solution he created for himself into a super popular product.

It’s an old story at this point – Amir launched Keynotopia back in 2010 and wrote-up the whole thing on his blog – but I can’t think of a better example of how simple it is to use a basic marketing strategy to create something entirely new.

So let’s break down his strategy here and see how it applies to the framework I laid out above:

  • Amir wrote a blog post about a successful solution he used for himself
  • He offers to share the minimum viable solution in exchange for email addresses
  • This allows him to directly ask for feedback on the usefulness of the potential product
  • After collecting the feedback, he published another blog post that explains how he and others have used the solution (case studies) and includes a link to buy a more complete solution

How freaking simple is that?  And six years later, people are still buying the product.

It’s not even a complex marketing strategy.  Granted, Amir already had traffic when he implemented this, but traffic isn’t hard.  If you don’t have people you are regularly talking to, then that’s simply your first step.  There are plenty of articles out there on how to start building an audience but to keep it simple, you need to be able to answer these questions:

Where are your potential customers?  What are they doing?  What are they watching, reading, listening to?

If you know the answer to those questions, traffic is a breeze, because you know where to target them and what kind of mood their in (which informs the tone of your delivery).

 

Conclusion

An old aphorism goes, “If I had 5 minutes to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first 2 and a ½ sharpening my axe.”  That is the essence of why we spend so much time strategizing, and the rest of the time just following the plan.

I just want to make the following crystal clear:

If you go in with a plan, consistently improve along the way, and keep your priorities in sight, you will succeed.

Success might mean finding out your proposed solution isn’t the right fit for your target market…but that just saves you the time and money to go try another solution.

Good luck!

About the Author: Rick Richards is a content creator, idea generator, and creative problem solver. He helps innovators build rock-solid digital content strategies that drive their businesses forward. Explore his work at rickwritesforyou.com or Connect on LinkedIn.

19 Awesome Marketing Strategies For Small Businesses

Today, I’m going to show you 19 different marketing strategies that have a proven history of success for small businesses.

Half of these options will probably be viable growth strategies for your unique business.

Four of them are probably worth testing out over the next month.

And one of them has the potential to skyrocket your growth over the next year.

These work really well if you want to find inexpensive ways to promote your mobile app.

Once you’ve achieved product/market fit, your growth is simply a matter of smart marketing on the front end and a good customer retention on the backend. By the end of this article, you will know exactly what to do next with your marketing.

But before we get started, let me share a secret with you.

There Is No Magic Marketing Strategy

There is no magic bullet.

The goal of marketing is to connect your business’ value to the right customer base. It’s a simple concept but it can take on a million different shades.

  • What demographics make up your customer base?
  • Where do they live?
  • Where do they hang out online?
  • How do they look for products in your niche?
  • Who do the listen when making decisions relative to your product?

The answers to these questions determine which marketing strategies will be viable and which will be a waste of time.

In other words, the key to success for your business is not Facebook Ads.

It’s not SEO.

It’s not conference networking.

There is no magic, universal strategy that will revolutionize your business. I have literally no clue what will work for you, because I don’t know you. I don’t know your business. I don’t know your customers.

But fortunately, you DO know your business! You DO know your customer base!

And after reading this guide, you will have an expanded awareness of viable marketing channels, any of which could hold the key to your future growth.

Eight of the channels we will discuss are strictly digital strategies, which will be conducted online. The other eight are a bit more general, with strategies that can be conducted offline (although many have online applications as well).

Let’s get started.

1. Facebook Advertising

Two million small to medium sized businesses advertise on Facebook; it’s an inexpensive and effective way to market to virtually any audience.

Facebook-Ads-ibisinfotech.com_.jpg

Image Credit: ibisinfotech.com

Facebook ads excel at advanced targeting. They allow you to target a specific audience based on location, interests, age, sex, online behavior, and many other factors.

Creating Facebook ads is very easy. You just need a solid headline, a bit of descriptive copy, one image, and a link.

Promote your app icon here as well.

The Facebook Ads Manager also makes it fairly simple to run and test multiple ad sets, allowing you to hone in on a winning formula and reach profitability without needing advanced technical expertise.

That said, many new users have a lot of difficulty succeeding with their initial campaigns. It takes some persistence, but on the plus side, Facebook’s popularity has produced numerous 3rd party tools that can help you succeed.

If you decide that Facebook is the right channel for you, I’d recommend using a tool like AdEspresso to run your campaigns and speed up your journey to positive ROI.

If you run a business that has a strong visual component, it might be worth trying out Instagram Ads instead. As a subsidiary of Facebook, Instagram Ads benefit from the same data base and targeting options, while allowing you to connect with an audience that is better primed for visual sales.

Additional Reading

  1. Facebook Advertising Made Simple: A Step-by-Step Guide by Neil Patel
  2. How to Run App Install Ads On Facebook by Aki Merced

2. Google My Business

Ranking your Google My Business (GMB) listing is one of the most powerful things you can do for your business.

In fact, if you run a local business targeting local clients, I would dare to say it is THE most powerful strategy available to you.

For example, if someone searches for a “Portland contractor”, this is what they see:

image12

What you are seeing here is one paid ad, followed by THREE Google My Business listings before we even see the normal organic search results. If you can rank your GMB listing in these top 3, you can pull in large numbers of highly qualified leads day in and day out without needing to spend a dime on ads.

Google My Business combines all your different Google platforms into one central place, which includes your Google+ profile, Google Maps profile, your Google reviews, access to data on Google Analytics and Google Insights, and more.

If you have a unique brand name, you can even get a large display like this to show when people search for that name:

image02

GMB immediately gives your business credibility and visibility, and as I said before, if you run a local business, it should be #1 on your priority list.

And best of all, ranking your GMB listing is really not that hard. It simply requires you to optimize your profile and then collect reviews and citations.

Additional Reading

  1. How to optimize your Google My Business listing: expert tips by Graham Charlton
  2. 7 SEO Mistakes That Leak Money From Local Businesses by Jacob McMillen

3. Google Adwords

There are more than 40,000 search queries on Google every second. No other advertising method has the potential to get your business before that many pairs of eyes.

image08

Google Adwords is sort of the godfather of online marketing channels. It’s been around a long time. It’s competitive. It’s expensive. And if you know what you’re doing, it can work very, very well for you.

Despite being a paid channel, Adwords’ goal is still to deliver relevant search results to users, and as a result, it will be less expensive for you when you are utilizing proper on-page SEO.

Google assigns a quality score to your ad, which is dependent on CTR (Click Through Rate), relevance and the landing page your ad sends traffic to. This quality score factors into the bid rate you will need to get an ad displayed, with higher scores lowering the bid cost.

Unlike many of the channels we will discuss today, Adwords is a remarkably symbiotic channel that can be paired with many other strategies to maximize output. As a paid marketing channel, it also allows you to obtain immediate results and can scale as far as your budget allows.

Additional Reading

  1. The Complete Google AdWords Tutorial by Jerry Banfield
  2. The Iceberg Effect: How Your AdWords Strategy Is Slowly Drowning by Johnathan Dane

4. Content Marketing

18% of marketers say that content marketing has the greatest commercial impact on their business of any channel in 2016.

image07

Image Credit: SmartInsights

Content marketing is the process of creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience and drive profitable customer action.

Unlike paid advertising, content marketing focuses more on long-term results. The initial payoff tends to be low, but the long-term, sustainable growth in visitors, leads, and customers can single-handedly carry a business.

Content marketing is not easy, however, and requires every element to be done right:

  • Quality content
  • Relevant topics
  • Optimized for SEO
  • Optimized for readers
  • Consistent content creation & promotion

Content is not limited to blog posts. It includes videos, podcasts, online courses, and a host of other mediums in which people consume information.

If you are considering this strategy for your own business, make sure you have the time and capital needed to get going with no initial ROI, and then DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Too many businesses these days are just wasting resources creating mediocre content with no payoff, now or ever.

Additional Reading

  1. Getting Started With Content Marketing by Content Marketing Institute
  2. Why You Need a Growth Model For Your Blog (And How to Create One) by Devesh Khanal
  3. How to Start a Blog in 2020 (and Make Money): Free Easy Guide to Start Blogging Today
     by Ryan Robinson

5. Organic Social Media

Using social media for business is really a non-negotiable.

67% of consumers use social media for customer support, and 33% prefer using social media instead of the telephone. If people can’t find your business via social media, they will look for your competitors who ARE present on preferred social channels.

The real question isn’t whether you should have active social media accounts, it’s how much time and resources you should be investing in growing your social audiences.

For some businesses, it makes sense to invest heavily in organic social media growth.

For example, Instagram users that follow fashion influencers are actively looking to purchase new styles. By building an active, fashion-savvy audience, a clothing retailer can build a consistent direct sales channel.

image10

For other businesses, investing in Instagram might not make sense.

The key is identifying where your customers are and how they like to be approached. If social media is the answer to both those questions, it’s the perfect channel for your business.

Additional Reading

  1. 7 Step Beginner’s Guide To Effective Social Media for Small Business by Jamil Velji
  2. The Ultimate Guide To Creating The Perfect Social Media Calendar by Sandrine Sahakians

6. Coupon Deal Sites

Whether you sell a product or offer a service, you can use coupon deal sites like Groupon to quickly promote your business.

Coupon deal sites amass massive audiences, grouped by location, and then allow local, regional or even national businesses to offer limited-time discounts to their members.

image05

Benefits include mass exposure, targeted local advertising, increased brand awareness, and an influx of new customers. The cost comes in the form of low revenue per sale. In the case of Groupon, you are required to discount your product by at least 50%, and at least half the revenue goes to Groupon.

In other words, unless you are running a 300% markup, you will lose money on your Groupon deal. It’s essentially paid advertising.

The primary purpose for using coupon deal sites is not sales. The more significant your discount, the more popular your deal will be. The goal is to get people in your door or trying your product, and from there, your customer retention strategies kick in.

As an added bonus, many new potential customers will browse your website even if they don’t decide to purchase the deal.

But be warned!

If your deal gains traction, you can quickly be overcome by more customers than you are prepared to handle, and if you don’t do the math correctly, you can lose a lot of money. It’s important to be ready and to have a plan for handling different tiers of new business.

It’s also important to have flawless customer service during the period after running your deal, with the expectation that your coupon-driven customers will be even harder to please than normal customers.

DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Follow deals going on in your area and see how they play out. If you can, talk with fellow business owners who have run deals and learn from their experience.

And make sure – for the love of all that is good and decent – make sure you do the math.

Additional Reading

  1. Doing The Math On A Groupon Deal by Jay Goltz
  2. The Real Cost of Groupon and What it Means to Your Marketing Planning by Mana Ionescu

7. Email Marketing

Email marketing is the cornerstone of digital marketing.

Most of the people who visit your site will not buy from you immediately. Capturing contact info for additional marketing and “lead nurturing” is the best way to sell in 2016, and email remains the highest converting channel for interacting with leads.

Email marketing funnels begin with a “lead magnet”. This is something compelling you offer your website visitors in exchange for their email address. Possible options include a free digital download, a free service trial, a “seat” at a webinar, site membership, a coupon, etc.

Here’s an example from HubSpot:

HubSpot offers a reliable and feature-packed email marketing tool that’s suited for growing businesses — for free. The tool allows you to create professional marketing emails that engage and grow your audience. You can start from scratch, with the easy drag-and-drop email builder, or use one of the goal-based templates available. 

Other benefits of email marketing include:

  • Low cost
  • Global reach
  • Easy to automate
  • Easy to segment
  • Immediate communication
  • Easy to setup and run
  • Easy to track and optimize

There are a lot of marketing channels that are hard. As you may have noticed from the above list, email marketing is one of the few that can be described as “easy”.

Additional Reading

  1. 21 Powerful Ways to Quickly Grow Your Email List by Jacob McMillen
  2. How to Build Your Email List: The (Better Than) Ultimate Guide by Aaron Orendorf

8. Webinars

A webinar is essentially a seminar that takes place online. It can be in the form of a presentation, demonstration or discussion.

image00

Image Credit: boss.influxentrepreneur.info

Webinars are often used as lead magnets for email marketing and the right topic can drive a large batch of new subscribers to your list. It can also be used to build credibility with your current subscribers.

Webinars can also be recorded and used as standalone products or even a series of products. They are a great medium for both live and recorded training.

Webinars tend to be more engaging than simple videos, even if they are used in exactly the same way. The actual start time and live Q&A tends to make people feel like they are receiving significantly more value than if they were watching a video with the exact same information.

You will need webinar software to run a webinar that utilizes the following functions:

  • 2-Way Audio – the presenter speaks while the viewers are muted, but the presenter can “turn on” individual viewers so everyone can hear their question
  • Screenshare – the presenter can share their screen or switch to video for whiteboard teaching or live demonstration
  • Polls – the presenter can invite viewers to take a poll or provide feedback in other ways

Webinars work very well in certain niches. You’ll have to test one out to see if it works with your target audience.

Additional Reading

  1. Webinar Marketing: 15 Steps to Revenue Generating Webinars by Georgiana Laudi
  2. How to grow your business with webinar marketing by Ross Beard

9. Promote A Free Consultation

When it comes to professional services, people want access to expertise.

If you have done a good job of positioning yourself as an expert or authority in your niche, promoting a free consultation is a great way to generate new leads. If you have a good interpersonal sales process in place, it also sets you up to close a large percentage of leads.

image03

A lot of service providers worry about disclosing too much info in a free consultation. They feel like potential clients will just take the info and run.

In reality, the exact opposite is true. While freeloader types might grab and go, they were never going to buy anyway. The type of people interested in paying for quality will be impressed by the value you provide in the consultation.

After all, if you can provide so much value in 30 minutes to an hour, they will believe that your claims are true and that hiring you is the right decision.

This can be used both online and offline. It can be advertised via pamphlets, newspapers, signs, or even word-of-mouth. And it can be prominently displayed on your website and social media channels.

This strategy won’t be ideal for every businesses, but if you offer an expert service or a high-priced service, it is very much worth considering.

Additional Reading

  1. Should You Offer Free Consultations? by Courtney Johnston
  2. 6 Ways To Make Free Consults Work For You by Laura Simms

10. Offer Staff Incentives

Referrals are one of the best ways to find new customers, and who better suited to obtain referrals than your current staff?

Your employees know your product or service. They know your customer base. Some of them will take initiative without financial motivation, but most won’t, and those you bring in new business should be encourage to repeat the process with financial or otherwise meaningful reward.

Offer incentives to your staff members who refer new clients. Research proves that it doesn’t necessarily have to be monetary; incentives can even come in the form of:

  • A sleep-in day: staff get to to sleep in late for a certain period of time.
  • Membership to publications (of their choice).
  • Vouchers for massages, movie nights, restaurants.

Like any type of compensation, incentives are about matching your business’ goals to the goals of your employees. If you can find out what they want most, you can motivate them to help grow your business.

It’s also important to give them the tools they need, whether that’s a customized landing page, printed coupons, a special discount for employee referred clients, or whatever.

Hold training sessions and teach your staff how to effectively promote your business, but remember that this form of marketing will only work if they genuinely feel good about your business and are properly motivated to pitch it to friends, family, and acquaintances.

Additional Reading

  1. How to Create a Referral Program that Boosts Retention & Rewards Employees by Joe Flores
  2. Determining The Most Effective Rewards For Employee Referrals by Dr. John Sullivan

11. Advertise In Niche Print Media

While much of the world has moved online, print media still exists, and in some niches, it still thrives.

In fact, as recently as 2014, retail consumers cited printed materials as the chief sources of information behind their purchasing decisions.

image06

As print media continues to decrease in overall popularity, pricing for ad placement lowers as well. In the right niches, it is now possible to run effective ads at incredibly affordable prices.

That said, print media is rarely effective as a solo marketing strategy. It is best used in conjunction with online marketing strategies, with the two channels arranged to compliment each other and create an engaging experience for potential buyers.

Additional Reading

  1. How To Combine Print And Digital Marketing Campaigns by Jeff Bullas
  2. Is Print Marketing Really Dead? by Chris Holloway

12. Write A Column

If you are a decent writer, sharing your expertise in the form of weekly or monthly write-ups can do wonders for your brand.

This isn’t usually a situation where you get paid, but it’s also not a situation where you have to pay. These columns give you the opportunity to make consistent contact with an audience, building an actual relationship with the publication’s readers. That audience then begins to think of you when they think of experts in your field.

On the more accessible end, local newspapers or non-profit magazines are often looking for quality contributors. One the more exclusive end, publications like Forbes, Inc, and Fast Company are made up almost exclusively of unpaid expert columns.

But believe me. These experts make bank thanks to their place on these influential platforms.

Make sure that what you write about is valuable to the target audience. This isn’t lowkey advertising. It’s a chance to access and build trust with an audience someone else worked really hard to build.

Plus, even if you don’t land a column, you might be able to land a guest post, which can be incredibly valuable as well.

Some ideas for articles you can write include:

  • How-to guides
  • Current events commentary
  • Interviews with interesting people
  • List posts
  • Reporting on trends or events

Additional Reading

  1. How to Secure Guest Posts on Big Publications (WSJ, Forbes & HuffPo) by Sujan Patel
  2. How I Wrote for Fast Company, Copyblogger,& Entrepreneur by Aaron Orendorff

13. Join Local Business Groups

Joining local business groups will give you the opportunity to meet up with other like-minded people who already share some common ground with you: owning a business. While a lot of more general entrepreneur groups exist, there might also be some niche-specific groups and meetups in your area.

These groups are a great opportunity to bounce ideas off other smart people, share referrals, find talent, and identify new opportunities.

They are also a major catalyst in expanding your network around the city in which you live. Connections tend to multiply, and if your group takes networking seriously, you can leverage your seemingly minor connections into much significant ones.

While these groups are typically best found online, it’s preferable to have in-person meetups for the bulk of your interactions.

Lastly, these groups can lead to joint ventures and profitable partnerships, which we will discuss more in the next section.

Additional Reading

  1. Top 10 Business Networking Groups You Should Join by Brian Morris
  2. How To Find A Mastermind Group by Pat Flynn

14. Partner With Other Businesses

Teamwork is always more effective than singular effort, and combining resources with another business can help you do things you could never accomplish on your own.

It’s typically best to target companies in your local area, even if your clientele isn’t local. Your goal is to work out a complementary arrangement that provides mutual benefit for both businesses.

Some joint venture examples include:

  • A PPC agency could partner with a CRO agency to refer clients to each other.
  • A coffee shop could offer free coffee vouchers to a plumbing company’s customers.
  • A marketing company could partner with an accounting firm to recommend each other’s services during new client onboarding.
  • A beauty therapist could offer free manicures for a hair stylist’s clients.

There is really no limit to what’s possible. Simply identify crossover in your audience and a non-competitor’s audience and then find a way to tap into that crossover in a mutually beneficial way.

Additional Reading

  1. Why Small Businesses Should Partner Up With Other Brands by Web Smith
  2. 5 Tips To Partnering Alongside A Business For The First Time by Deborah Sweeney

15. Direct Mail Marketing

Like print media, direct mail marketing is not dead.

As online channels become more and more saturated with content, fewer companies look to direct mail, and that means opportunity for you.

Like with any marketing strategy, success comes down to targeted creativity. You can’t just spam people and expect a return on your investment. Just like you need to compel people to click your blog post headline, you need to compel mail recipients to open your letters.

Start with the envelope, which will never be opened if it looks like a run-of-the-mill promo piece. Stand out. Use a colored envelope. Use an unusual shape, size or material. Make it look interesting.

If possible, handwrite the address on every envelope or include something bulky inside to make the envelope lumpy – anything you can do to grab attention

Compare this envelope:

image11

Image Credit: Freelogoservices

With this one. You’re more likely to open the following envelope, right?

kezzyscreations.com_.jpg

Image Credit: KezzysCreations

The next thing to focus on is the content. If you want the best results, your headline has to be enticing, and your copywriting needs to hold the reader’s attention through the duration of your pitch.

Like most offline campaigns in 2016, direct mail is typically run in conjunction with an online marketing funnel.

Additional Reading

  1. How to Create a Direct Marketing Campaign by Entrepreneur.com
  2. How to Plan Your Direct Mail Marketing Campaign by George Oliveira

16. Speak At Events

In terms of branding and establishing yourself as an authority, few things are more impactful than being a speaker at popular events in your niche.

While invitations to speak at larger events are often extended as a result of accomplishments or visible influence, you can also work your way into these opportunities by becoming a talented speaker and delivering great talks at smaller events.

Or you can simply use it as another marketing channel, by speaking at some of these types of events:

  • Local clubs – think Rotary, Lion’s, Chamber of Commerce.
  • Business networking groups.
  • Specific interest clubs (photography, hiking, sewing, etc.)
  • Browse local events on Eventbrite.com and Meetup.com.
  • Schools.
  • Churches.
  • Check events in your local newspaper and magazines.
  • Big companies and their employees.

Be prepared, and treat every event like a big deal.

Additional Reading

  1. How To Start Speaking At Events by Chris Brogan
  2. Why I Get Invited to Speak at Events (And How You Can Too) by Rohit Bhargava

17. Small Business SEO

Small businesses are often tempted to give short shrift to SEO in their overall marketing, perhaps because mega-corporations such as Walmart and Amazon invest millions in dominating the search game. While it’s true that there will always be a competitor out there who has built a better small business SEO operation, it’s also true that today’s small business owner can’t afford to neglect search.

Here’s why:

  • It works. A well-planned and executed SEO strategy will yield results in terms of increased organic traffic and better positioning.
  • It’s cost effective. Compared to pay-per-click, social media marketing, and even purchasing email marketing lists, SEO delivers a respectable return on investment.
  • It dominates market share. About 90 percent of consumers search a product or service online prior to making a purchase. They won’t find your business if it doesn’t show up in search.  
  • Mobile search is exploding. This year, Google announced that mobile search outpaced desktop search for the first time, and in fact, Google Search is the 4th most popular app in the United States.

Of course, if you operate a local business, you really can’t afford to ignore SEO in your marketing plan. Google’s latest algorithm favors local businesses in its search results in an effort to deliver the highly relevant and individualized results today’s consumers demand. This is especially true for consumers who use Google on their smartphones, tablets, and wearable devices.

If your business has a mobile app, give yourself kudos for being ahead of the curve for marketing and SEO. The exponential growth in mobile search is a huge boon for businesses who capitalize on the SEO advantages of a mobile app.

Your mobile app helps SEO in two distinct ways:

  • Google is now treating as a “universal” result in mobile search. Apps with optimized titles and good ratings and reviews will float to the top, displacing even mobile websites with top organic rankings.
  • Google considers “high quality” apps to be a positive factor in ranking mobile search results. This means that deep links between your app and website could improve your mobile search rank.

If your business markets to a highly mobile audience or relies on mobile search for traffic and leads, you might want to consider adding a mobile app to your marketing strategy.

18. Link-Building for Small Businesses

The Google algorithm factors the quality and quantity of sites that link to you in your search rankings. In fact, some SEO consultants even recommend that fledgling businesses actually buy links to boost their ranking. That tactic, however, may do more harm than good.

There is no question that high quality links build authority and credibility, ultimately improving your ranking, but changes in the Google Penguin algorithm actually penalizes sites containing too many low-quality or “spammy” links. The key is building links the old-fashioned way—by creating useful, relevant content that people want to share.

For SMEs, this means investing the money and resources to develop highly shareable, top quality content. Long-form blog posts and in-depth articles, infographics, and video tutorials are examples of high performing content likely to garner links.

19. On-Page Optimization

If keyword research is the foundation of your SEO strategy, on-page optimization undergirds the rest of the search infrastructure. On-page optimization includes everything from optimal keyword density to site load speed that helps Google evaluate and rank your page. Great keywords won’t deliver results without good on-page optimization. Here’s a look at the basics:

  • Title Tags

Page titles should have an H1 tag (most content management systems do this automatically) and include a keyword and your brand name, if applicable. Limit your title to about 55 or 60 characters, which is all that displays in search results.

  • Meta Descriptions

While metas aren’t technically factored into search, they do give the searcher more information, entice them to visit, and often serve as a call to action. Limit them to about 150 characters or so.

  • Site Load Speed

Use Google’s Page Insight tool to see how your site stacks up. Aim for a score of 85 or better and make any recommended changes or fixes marked with a red exclamation point. If time and resources allow, make “yellow” fixes, as well. 

  • Schema Markups

Adding schema markups is one of the most powerful ways to boost your website in the SERPs. Schema tells the search engine what your content means, not just what it says, which changes the way the content is indexed. Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper makes it easy to add schema markups to your site.

  • Keyword Density

While there is no “optimum” keyword density percentage, there are some best practices to follow, such as including keywords in the title, meta, and anchor text, and avoiding keyword stuffing on the page. Use natural language and aim to drop the keyword at least once in the first 100 words of copy on a page.

  • Social Sharing Icons

Social media has a prime place in small business SEO; Google bots make a direct connection between your website and your social media profile pages. Include relevant social icons on your web pages—it not only improves your search, it adds credibility for visitors who land on your site.

Be sure to look at all your pages, including landing pages, product pages, and your company blog and implement SEO best practices across the board. Don’t forget ALT tags for images on your site; while the impact is small, the cumulative effect could make a difference in your rankings.

Conclusion & Summary

Well, that’s the scoop: 16 proven marketing strategies that have worked for thousands of businesses and can work for you.

Here’s the full list:

  1. Advertise on Facebook
  2. Rank your Google My Business listing
  3. Use Google Adwords
  4. Invest In content marketing
  5. Grow your organic social reach
  6. Run a coupon deal
  7. Build an email marketing funnel
  8. Host a webinar
  9. Offer a free consultation
  10. Incentivize employees to refer new clients
  11. Advertise in niche print media
  12. Write a column
  13. Join a local business group
  14. Partner with other businesses
  15. Launch a direct mail campaign
  16. Speak at events
  17. Small Business SEO
  18. Link Building
  19. On-Page Optimization

While only half of these are probably worth considering for your unique business, I’m guessing at least four of them are great fits, and as I said at the beginning of the article, one of these channels has the potential to skyrocket your growth this next year.

Evaluate the criteria I talked about at the beginning.

  • What demographics make up your customer base?
  • Where do they live?
  • Where do they hang out online?
  • How do they look for products in your niche?
  • Who do the listen when making decisions relative to your product?

Use the answers to select four viable channels from today’s list of marketing strategies for small businesses, and then run small tests with each strategy to see what fails and what performs.

Avoid These Blunders to Keep Your Email Subscribers Happy

One of the keys to online success is to have a thriving and growing email subscription list. Your email subscribers are vital to your business and should be treated like gold. If you are good to your email list, you will have a community of engaged followers that will be ready to read your content and buy your product. One of the best ways to grow (and keep) your email subscribers is to ensure you send out quality material that they will want to read. Sound easy? It actually takes a bit of work. There are several common blunders that overzealous business owners make that will send your precious email subscribers running for the hills. You need to avoid these pitfalls at all costs to keep from irritating your followers.

 

Common Email Subscription Mistakes

Too Many Emails: If you send too many emails, you are guaranteed to lose your audience. People might click on your emails for a few days, but they will not continue to open up emails if they get bombarded. There is no exact best number or frequency of email that is perfect for every list, so you will have to experiment. Some audiences will naturally need more interaction than others. One way to find out is to ask your un-subscribers why they chose to leave your list. If the answer is too many emails … well you have your answer and need to dial it back.

Not Enough Emails: On the flip side, are you only sending out emails once a quarter? Once a year? While you definitely do not want to flood inboxes, you also do not want people to forget who you are in between emails. There is a fine balance. Learn what that balance is for your particular audience.

Endless Promotions : You have to build trust with your email readers. Trust doesn’t come from being an endless money-hungry promoter. Yes, you want to sell! Promote your brand. That is how you make your money and why you are sending emails in the first place. But don’t try to sell something in every single email, and never sell multiple products in one email. Need a guideline? Try to sell something in one out of every 5 to 10 emails.

Deceptive Subject Lines: Creating subject lines to entice people to open email is an art. Go ahead and be creative, but always ensure your subject line is relevant to your email content. Deceptive email subject lines are a surefire way to anger your email subscribers once they realize your email has nothing to do with the subject that captured their attention in their email inbox.

Generic newsletters: Gone are the days where a one-size-fits-all email does the trick. A single email message will not work with multiple personalities, and it sends your subscribers a message that they are simply a number on a list. There is no reason with today’s technology that you cannot hone in on your different target audiences. Group your audience into different buckets and write emails that match the specific demographics. Don’t be lazy! You will be more successful this way.

Sharing your subscribers: Giving out your subscribers’ information out is a huge no-no. They have trusted you with their email address because they want to hear what you have to say. They will not appreciate being sold to someone who will SPAM them with stuff they never signed up for.

Not optimizing for mobile users: Almost 50% of all emails are opened on a mobile device. If you do not optimize your emails for your mobile subscribers, you will lose them. No one is going to take the time to zoom in and scroll. If you do not want to lose half of your email list, make sure your emails are properly structured to be opened and read on a phone or tablet.

No clear “Call to Action”: The last thing you want to do is have your reader finish your email and then think “What was the point?” Every single email you send your subscribers needs to have a clear call to action that is easy to see and simple to understand. Whether that is a reply, a link to click on, a resource to download, or a video to watch.

Poor Grammar and Simple Slipups: How many times have you sent an email off and forgotten the attachment or realized you misspelled a few words? Embarrassing! What about having a link that either doesn’t work or takes you to the wrong site? Little mistakes like these really add up and irritate your subscribers. Always proofread your emails before you hit send. Slipups and poor grammar make you look unprofessional.

Long Emails: Humans have short attention spans. Avoid lengthy emails or you will lose your readers before they get to your call to action.

 

Indications You’re Irritating Your Email Subscribers

There are usually clues that you are doing something wrong. Instead of sticking your head in the sand, look for these signs and do something about it! Data is your friend. Data doesn’t lie. Analyze often and tweak your approach. Look for the following signs that you are irritating your subscription list and try to understand what you are doing wrong.

Drop in Open Rates/Click Rates: Each time your email is opened, your email subscriber is letting you know that he or she wants to read what you have to say. Track your open rates and trend them over time. If you notice that your open rates are dropping, try to figure out why. What has changed that has decreased the number of people that open your email?

Once people open your email, do they click on your links? If not, somewhere between opening your email and your call to action, your reader has lost interest or become annoyed. Analyze your open rates against your click rates. In a perfect world, these numbers would match.

Unsubscribe Rates: Your unsubscribe rate is straightforward. If people are hitting that unsubscribe button more often than usual, something is amiss. Instead of getting cranky or thinking that it isn’t a problem with your material, get critical with yourself. What can you do better?

Negative Feedback: You may get actual negative feedback from your email list subscribers. While it is never good news or pleasant to get negative feedback, use it as a chance to learn. At least you know why they are unhappy. Most people will not invest the energy to type and send feedback at all. They will just unsubscribe. Use the feedback and tweak your emails as needed.

Always strive to provide value in each and every email that you send. You are marketing your business, and you always want to have a quality product. Your email subscribers are royalty, and you NEED to keep them happy. This will help you make as much money as possible. As a rule of thumb, ask yourself if you would get irritated with an email campaign similar to the your own. If the answer is even a maybe, it is time to rethink your approach.

 

About the Author: Melissa Ricker is a writer for JobHero, a free resource that helps job-seekers with various steps of the job search process by providing resume samples, cover letter samples, job descriptions and more.

15 Small Business Management Tips That’ll Save You 40 Headaches Everyday

When you’re just getting started with your small business, simply deciding which goal to tackle first—and knowing what to do and when—can be a job just by itself.

None of us are born with business smarts or an entrepreneurial playbook pre-printed into our brains. It’s stuff that we’ve all got to figure out along the way, and that most of us make some sort of horrible mistake over.

And especially when we first get started in business—when we don’t have years of experience to help us make smart, educated guesses—business management tips and advice from others can be incredibly helpful.

So today we’re going to focus on management tips—people management, time management, money management—you name it.

But they’re all tips that’ll help you as a new small business owner manage your business better so you can avoid unwanted headaches and just push forward to the progress you want.

 

1. Set Up an LLC (or Some Form of Official Business Entity)

Even if you’re totally self employed, don’t have anyone else working for you, and are 100% self-funded from your own pocket, you need to set up your business as a separate taxable entity from day one.

Some service professionals like writers, designers, and coaches feel safer skipping this step while they’re still ramping up their client base, but it usually costs $1,000 or less and almost instantly protects your personal assets from any legal trouble your business might get into.

I’m not saying your business will get into legal trouble—most small businesses never do.

But just in case you accidentally used a name that was copyrighted elsewhere in your state or get a totally horrible client that completely screws you over even though you have a contract… the worst thing that can happen is your business dissolves.

Which would suck, but at least you wouldn’t have to foreclose on your house just to pay off what you’re getting sued for… you know?

Headaches saved:

– Business financial troubles seeping over into your personal finances

– The IRS breathing down your neck

– Getting sued for everything you own

 

2. Separate Your Personal & Business Finances

Let’s say for some reason setting up a legal entity isn’t an option.

Or for some reason your paperwork is being held up, but you just can’t wait to get cracking on your business.

Please, please, please, by all means, don’t accept payment in your personal business account or put business expenses on your personal credit card.

Most banks will require official business paperwork to open something up in your business’s name, but at the very least, you can open separate personal accounts that are designated for only business transactions.

Regardless, even if getting your LLC paperwork was a breeze, this is something you have to do.

Since you and your business are separate taxable entities, you need to have separate finances. Otherwise things just get messy and you might as well assume you’ll have to deal with an audit—even if you’ve got nothing to hide.

Headaches saved:

– More trouble with the IRS

 

3. Pay for Accounting Software

A lot of brand-new business owners—especially those who are bootstrapping—are constantly looking for ways to save money.

So much so that tasks like accounting and bookkeeping—or keeping track of money in/money out—is something they assume they can do on their own.

But honestly, there’s no need to go full-out and hire an on-staff accountant. At least not at first.

There’s so many options for good, easy-to-use accounting software, that it’s just silly not to use them.

And honestly, for as little as they cost, they almost always pay for themselves with time saved.

You can get basic versions starting at $10 to $20 per month, and if sending invoices are a thing you do, they’ll look so much better and take so much less time to make than if you tried to fumble around Excel and do it yourself.

Headaches saved:

– Losing receipts

– Forgetting about your major expenses

– Not looking like a 7-year-old “playing business” while sending an invoice

 

4. Invest in Your Education

Heart-to-heart right now: the best money I’ve spent on my business has been on my own education to further it.

If I don’t know how to do something, I know it’s silly for me to keep trying to Google solutions, go through months and months of trial and error, and maybe get it right after that.

Instead, it makes a lot more sense to pay a few hundred dollars (sometimes even a few thousand, depending on the skill) to have someone who’s been there, done it, and been successful at it teach me how to do it right the first time.

Because even though those courses cost money upfront, they more than pay for themselves in return on saved mistakes alone… not to mention how much they help me actually make more money because of the things they teach.

I’ve done courses on how to set up my business, how to manage clients, how to market, how to advertise, how to write, how to pick colors and do basic web design, how to network, and how to create an info product.

Free courses are available yes, but they only scratch the surface. Paying money to dig deep into the topic and really learn it goes so, so far. Trust me.

Headaches saved:

– Wasted time

– Wasted money

– Failed experiments

– Leaving sales on the table

– Googling for 13 hours straight while your eyeballs bulge out of your head

 

5. Train New Employees Well

Recently I heard John and Kate (the couple behind Entrepreneur on Fire, not the reality show stars with 8 children) on a podcast talking about how when you hire someone, you should actually expect a temporary increase in work instead of immediately being able to offload responsibilities and have the free time you dream of.

That’s because, even if you make the smartest hires in the world, they’re not going to understand and acclimate to your business right away.

Instead, they’re going to need time to learn the ins and outs, to understand your expectations, and to mentally put the puzzle together to see how all the small pieces add up to your larger goals.

They’re not going to hit the ground running on day one, and you shouldn’t expect them to.

Train them well to do their jobs—even if they’ve filled the same role five times before at five different companies and you assume it should all be the same. (It’s not all the same.)

If you’re not sure how to put together a training plan, check out this guide on Inc. and its dig deeper resources.

Plus, when someone feels more competent in their job, they feel more empowered and proud of what they do.

Headaches saved:

– Harsh firing

– High turnover

– No wasted time going back to un-do employee mistakes

6. Ignore Your Inbox the First 4 Hours of Every Day

No doubt you’ve read productivity articles that have advised you not to check your emails first thing in the morning.

Because it’s a piece of advice repeated so often by people doing nothing but parroting one another, it can be easy to ignore.

But, it does serve a purpose, and a good one at that.

The thing is, when you’re actively going through your emails, your brain feels busy. It is busy, actually, but not with the most important tasks of the day.

And studies have shown over and over again that decision fatigue as the day wears on and as our brains keep thinking is very much a thing.

Which means that if you spend the first four hours of your day weeding through emails from those SEO spammers, you’re burning your brain power out on things that don’t even matter.

Which means you’ve got a lot less brain power left over to think critically about important business decisions and situations that can actually make you more successful. (Unlike those fake SEOs.)

Plus, when an “emergency situation” pops into your inbox and you don’t see it until the afternoon, at least the majority of your to-do list is taken care of before you have to handle it.

Headaches saved:

– Not getting behind on your to-do list

– Not making decisions you regret

 

7. Invest in Marketing

An “Open for Business” sign on your front door and/or a website that’s finally gone live isn’t enough to get you customers.

It’d be nice, but that’s just not the world we live in.

The world we live in requires small business people like us to force our way in front of people, show them something valuable, and somehow have them listen to our pitch.

Because without that, ain’t nobody going to just be compelled out of the blue to buy from us.

So to invest in marketing properly, you’ll need to do a little research to find out what works best for your business model and your market:

  • Renting a booth at a festival?
  • Online content marketing?
  • Ads in the newspaper?
  • PPC ads in Google?
  • Facebook ads?
  • Network marketing and referrals?

Whatever it is, you’ll want to start doing it from day one.

Or if you’re really smart, you’ll use it to start building hype, loyalty and anticipation before day one.

But whatever you do, don’t sit around and twiddle your thumbs and then decide that maybe you should look into marketing when you realize your business isn’t as profitable as you initially planned.

Do it right away and you’ll thank yourself.

Headaches saved:

– Sore thumbs from too much twiddling

– Zero cash flow

– Going in debt because of no income

– No funds to pay yourself or your employees

 

8. Schedule Meetings With Yourself

As the business owner, you’ve got a ton of decisions to make.

You’re the one responsible for your company’s ultimate success or failure, you’re the one all your employees look to for direction, and you’re the one that’s got to see the big branding picture to know what moves to make next.

But because running a business—even a “small” business—requires so much work and such a long freaking to-do list, we often get so caught up in feeling accomplished by getting that work done and those to-do items checked off that we forget to check in with ourselves as business owners.

In short, we get caught up in acting like an employee to such an extent that we forget to be the boss.

So every week—I schedule mine on Friday mornings—take 30 minutes to an hour to have a meeting with yourself as the chief strategist of your business.

To start off the meeting, acknowledge what your big-picture goals are and then for each of those goals, figure out if what you’re doing right now is aligned with making those things happen.

If it is, great.

If it isn’t, figure out what you can do to change it.

If it kind of is, but there’s room for improvement, figure out what that improvement needs to be.

When I do this, I often find that the things I’ve let myself get heavily focused on probably need to be set to the side for a week or two while I get something else in order.

And even though I don’t make progress on the thing I set aside for half a month, when I do pick it back up again, the progress is always smarter and faster because of these meetings with myself.

Headaches saved:

– Getting behind on your goals

– Not keeping up with the market or your competition

– Watching part of your business crumble

 

9. Pay Your Taxes Every Quarter

I’ll admit, this is something I didn’t always keep up with until this year.

And the reason I’m keeping up with it now was because when I filed my taxes last April, I had to pay a fine for not paying my minimum amounts on time.

I had every intention of paying my taxes, I just assumed it wouldn’t matter if I paid them ahead of time or if I paid them at the time of filing. But I was wrong. The IRS wanted your money within 3 months after I made it.

It makes sense… if you pay sooner they can make better use of your money and/or earn interest on it.

So if you’re not already paying your taxes on a quarterly basis, talk to your accountant to see what your quarterly minimums should be and make sure you send them in.

The best part is, you don’t have to do the filing paperwork every quarter. As long as you send in the checks (or pay online) and keep track of what you’ve sent, you’ll be good to go and now have any sort of fee to pay.

Headaches saved:

– Hard-earned money spent on unnecessary fees

– No IRS employees breathing down your neck

 

10. Ban Multi-Tasking

Because really, who are we kidding here?

It astonishes me that I still see job descriptions seeking “competent multi-taskers” when it’s been proven in one study after another that multitasking  is both impossible and that attempting to do it makes you about 3,000 times less productive.

So don’t let yourself or your employees multi-task.

Don’t think you can absorb the information in an instructional podcast while also blasting through your email inbox.

Or deal with your Twitter notifications while you’re on a conference call with your suppliers.

At any point you’re paying attention to one while the content of the other is just coasting right over your head without any cognitive recognition from your brain.

By doing one thing at a time—and only one thing at a time—you’ll find that you actually get more done in a day, that your work rises to a much higher quality, and that you’ll make fewer mistakes that you have to go back and undo later.

Headaches saved:

– Embarrassing typos in emails sent to important customers

– Having to go back and listen to the same podcast episode for the 3rd time

– That frazzled feeling in your brain when you have to constantly switch back and forth between tasks

– People not taking you seriously because they think you’re a space case

 

11. Have a Go-To Accountant

In addition to the advice to have accounting software that I talked about above, it’s also smart to have an accountant you can go to as-needed.

Again, I’m not talking about hiring one to keep on staff with you.

Instead, I mean finding a certified CPA who you can hire to do your taxes when the time comes and get financial advice from as and when you need it.

It also never hurts to have an accountant review your business’s cash flow to make sure you’re covered for a risky economic situation—even if it’s unpredictable. (Remember 2008?)

If you know your numbers and stay on top of them, you’ll always be in a better situation than if you kind of think you’re doing good enough for the time-being.

Headaches saved:

– You don’t suddenly find yourself in the hole

 

12. Leave 20% of Your Day Open

If you’ll be “at the office” for five hours, only schedule four hours of work.

If it’s 10 hours behind your desk, only eight hours of work.

Because the thing is, there’s always something that comes up last minute that you have to deal with. There’s always a phone call with a needy client that goes 60 minutes over it’s allowed 30 minutes. And there’s always something you thought would take an hour to finish, but it takes two.

And if nothing like that comes up one day?

Perfect.

You now have time to catch up on your emails, read up on what’s happening in your industry, or dedicate more time to your passion project within your business.

Or, you know, you could just take that time off for the sake of your mental health.

But by leaving 20% of your day open, you know that you can confidently take care of those last-minute things that come up without scrambling around and worrying how it’s going to affect the workload of the rest of your week.

Trust me.

I used to book my days, Monday through Friday, at full capacity.

I wanted maximum profitability, I was healthy, and I knew I’d have the weekends off, so I didn’t see any problem with it.

But when all of a sudden on Tuesday morning I realized I had to go to the store for an external hard drive to have enough space to store my videos?

Geez.

I started calculating in my head whether or not I should cancel Thursday night’s date or if it would really be that bad to work an hour or two on Saturday morning.

Not a fun problem to solve.

But now that I now the value of scheduling in white space, I don’t have that problem nearly as often anymore.

I still have packed and busy days, but I can usually get through the week without procrastinating something or having it suck up my precious weekends.

Headaches saved:

– Necessary weekend office hours

– Involuntary late nights

– Cancelled plans

– Your friends and family hating your workaholism

 

13. Use the Pomodoro (Or Similar) Technique

Productivity articles and advice are a dime a dozen, I get it.

But making sure you squeeze the most—and the most productive—work out of the time you’ve got is essential to meeting your goals.

The way I do this is by using the Pomodoro Technique.

Basically, it’s this: work for 25 minutes, break for five minutes, and repeat until you work four 25-minute segments.

Then take a longer break.

Then come back and repeat it again.

Each set of four lasts for about two hours, and I’d swear you’d get at least three hours or more worth of work done.

Because you can “only” work for 25 minutes before taking a break, you feel like you need to have something to show for that time, so you automatically stop wasting your time on Facebook.

Also, because it’s only a 25-minute work segment, there’s absolutely zero pressure to finish a project in one sitting, eliminating the stress of getting started and making it easier to make progress.

I started using this technique months ago and haven’t stopped. I get more work done, I stay on task, and I finish my work day earlier—leaving more time for myself.

Headaches saved:

– Procrastination

 

14. Be Relentless About the 80/20 Rule

While this rule makes 100% sense in theory, it’s one of the hardest things for us to implement as small business owners.

For one thing, analytics are never fun to set up or look at (for most people)—so that in itself is a huge barrier.

But also, we take a lot of pride in our work and don’t want to realize the things we’re passionate about and have been working on don’t pay off for us.

Believe me, I get it.

But the thing is, if you’re wasting our time marketing on podcasts and no one from the podcast-listening world ever converts on your website, it’s probably time to cut off podcasting from your promotion strategy.

And with the time you save from not podcasting, you can use it towards areas that are actually growing your bottom line and generating a profit for you—like guest blog posting or working on your Facebook ad strategy, for example.

Because the thing is, when you implement the 80/20 rule, you have less wasted time and you make more money.

And with more money and time, you can always leverage your business for even more growth.

Headaches saved:

– Wasted time

– Missing out on potential profits

 

15. Once You Train Your Employees, Avoid Them

Okay, I’m not talking about not helping your employees out once in a while.

But like we discussed above, if you’ve got a good training program in place, once that training is finished, they should be empowered and competent enough to make most of the decisions that fall within their job role on their own.

Plus, if an employee has constant access to you—especially if he’s new and doesn’t have a lot of experience—he’ll take advantage of it.

So set up structures that allow your employees to contact you in ways that don’t interfere with your own workday.

In the beginning, using email can work—that way you respond when you have time.

As things get more sophisticated, a project management software where you can collaborate with multiple employees without everyone having to sit together in a meeting to decide on one thing can be a great idea.

Don’t get me wrong, weekly face-to-face meetings definitely still have their place. You still want to maintain the feeling of working in a team as much as possible.

But at the same time, the reason you hired your employees was for them to be able to do work you didn’t want to do or didn’t have time to do… so having them suck up your time just doesn’t make any sense.

And if you have a separate office, set certain office hours where people are welcome to come and knock on your door for help. (In other times, it’ll be off limits.)

Headaches saved:

– Annoying, repeat questions

– People constantly knocking on your office door

 

Conclusion: It’s a Lot to Take In, But You’ll Get it Down (I Promise)

Okay, I realize I’ve just totally inundated you with a lot of “do this!” and “now do this!” and “don’t forget to do this too!” kind of advice.

And I realize that you’ve already got a to-do list a mile long, but if there’s anything on this list that you haven’t done yet or that you haven’t incorporated into your management style, consider adding one item at a time to your to-do list until you get them all checked off.

There’s no rule that says you have to master everything all at once. (Thank goodness, right?)

So take a deep breath, pick one thing off this list to tackle, and forge ahead with the confidence in yourself that you’ll take care of the rest later. (So no need to stress over it right now.)

8 Great Places To Get Free Small Business Advice

There’s nothing close to a shortage of free small business advice online.

Just Google the term and you’ll be inundated with more than you could ever possibly read.

This isn’t a bad thing—it feels great to know that the people on the internet have your back and are ready and willing to offer you advice when you need it.

But at the same time, since most of this advice is written in an article or recorded in a video, the person giving the advice doesn’t know your exact situation.

They’re giving advice based on assumptions of what happens in most business, so the advice isn’t tailored to your specific situation.

They might be giving you great advice and telling you to make sure you have an email autoresponder in place to sell people an introductory offer as soon as they download your lead magnet—but what if you don’t have an introductory offer yet and the only services you sell are really expensive?

What do you “sell” them on then?

Or they might tell you to make more money, you need to raise your prices.

But what if you feel like you’ve already maxed out your prices in your current market and are too scared to jump into a new market without a security net to catch you?

What if they’re telling you to outsource your easy-to-replicate processes to a VA, but you’ve already tried it a few times and it was a complete failure?

The advice in and of itself isn’t bad, but the fact that it isn’t tailored exactly to your business and your current needs inherently means it will fall short at some point.

And while hiring a personal business coach to see you through these problems is always an option, it starts to get pricey after a while—especially when you’re a small business without super gargantuan profits.

Fortunately, there’s places you can go to get personalized attention and advice (for free!) to grow your small business, get past your challenges, and learn how to start off on the right foot in your new venture.

Don’t worry—I’m not going to suggest any blogs or online forums where just anyone can log in and give half-assed advice.

In fact, if it’s online—for this post anyway—it’s off-limits. (I do make one exception, but you’ll see why.)

I want to show you places where you can go to get free, personalized, in-person business advice from people who’ve been there and done it.

 

1. SCORE

score

SCORE, which stands for Service Corps of Retired Executives, is the ultimate place to get free, quality advice from people who already have a lifetime of experience growing successful businesses.

Every member of SCORE is a retired executive or entrepreneur.

They’ve had incredible successes, experienced crushing mistakes and failures, and have kept going and kept their businesses profitable. And they’ve got a wealth of information, experience, and advice they’re ready to share.

Their core work is to connect small business owners and entrepreneurs to mentors who can guide them in building a successful business.

And better yet, it’s free.

It’s sponsored by the Small Business Administration and a slew of other sponsors like Google, Intuit, Microsoft, Staples, Office Depot, Vistaprint, the Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, Inc, and The Wall Street Journal, among others.

With such high-level names backing the project, you already expect it to be incredible. And from my personal experience, it is.

Where I live, SCORE members are hugely involved in the local entrepreneurial and business community and are always looking for ways to reach out and help us.

Since making my first connections with SCORE members, I’ve been asked to speak at some of their events and received a free panel review from a small handful of retired executives to help me spot how to take the next step in my business when I was feeling stuck.

But even if you haven’t run into SCORE members in person yet, you can still take advantage of their free, personalized advice by requesting a mentor here.

And the advice is there for anyone at any stage of business—not just for people getting started.

For example, Designing Digitally had been in business for 10 years, and though they were successful, their owner was facing new challenges like process, production, planning, sales, marketing, and managing his own task list. So he got in touch with SCORE for some advice.

“Once the mentors helped us work through improving our processes,” the owner said, “we focused on building a stronger pipeline between the sales person and the production team.”

With twice-weekly meetings with their mentors, the company is taking on more workloads and hiring and training sales staff to take them to their next level of success.

 

2. Community College Small Business Centers

Most community colleges will have a small business center that’s funded at least in part by the government.

The reason they’re there and that the government invests in them is to support the local economy and help bolster its growth. And many times, the best way to do this is to offer support to motivated individuals, as it often proves to be an incredible investment with a great ROI.

The Small Business Center page from the community college in my city sums it up pretty nicely: “We aim to increase the number of viable businesses across the state by providing high quality, accessible assistance to small business owners, which in turn, leads to job creation and retention.”

And one of the main services they offer to help do that is professional business counseling—given at no charge.

They’re there to help you with legal questions, planning, growth, cash flow, setting goals that make sense, and reaching those goals.

They even offer free services like HR, accounting, patents, web design, marketing, and business management.

 

3. MeetUp – Startup Planning Sessions

meetup

I’ll admit: this strategy for getting free, quality business advice is a little more hit-and-miss than the two options mentioned above.

Especially since when you have a free, open-to-the-public group, you’ll inevitably get plenty of wannapreneurs or people who are all talk and no action.

But, if you hone in on the event descriptions of the MeetUp groups, you can really help yourself weed out the bad apples and go where the good (free!) advice is.

Because when you do get a hit, it can be one of the most valuable things ever.

Within entrepreneurial MeetUp groups in your area, look through their past events for these things:

  • A healthy number of RSVPs
  • Comments from attendees about how valuable the MeetUp was
  • Each meeting as a topic of focus
  • There’s workshop-style meetings happening where everyone comes to work on their business and not just talk about how great it is to be self-employed
  • It’s a group that’s been going strong for more than a few months

And if you really need some good, solid business advice, I’d suggest really looking for and going after MeetUps that are labeled with “workshop” or “working group” or “working session” or something similar.

Another tip is to go for planning-focused sessions. In my city, there’s a MeetUp focused solely around the Lean Startup methodology, and every single meeting is focused around helping attendees plan out their business. The best part is, it’s led by people who have experience starting businesses and making them successful, so if you bring your ideas there, they can give you their own experienced input.

4. BusinessAdvising.org

bao

Okay, is technically a website, but the “online” part only matters in that it’s how they match you with a volunteer advisor… and that the advising can happen virtually.

But I think we can all agree that meeting with an advisor (for free!) via Skype is almost as good (if not equally as good) as meeting with one in person—especially when that advisor is hand-picked for your specific situation.

And according to their home page, small businesses who work with an advisor via their program grow their revenues by 26% and create jobs 11 times higher than the national rate—which is not an opportunity to ignore, if you ask me.

The only potential drawback though, is they don’t serve brand new businesses.

The requirements are that you’ve got to have been in business for at least two years, have at least $150,000 in annual revenue, have a minimum of at least two full-time employees, and either be focused around creating jobs economically underserved communities or have a compelling social mission.

But, they do say they’re flexible, so if you don’t meet the criteria 100%, you can still get in touch. (It doesn’t hurt, and honestly, what do you have to lose?)

Each advisor is asked to commit to five hours per month per person they mentor—meaning that’s at least a one-hour call every single week.

Kipper Clothiers, a socially-oriented business that didn’t have the experience to scale as they got more and more orders, turned to BusinessAdvising.org for help when they needed it.

After working with a mentor, the founders restructured their marketing plan, gained new clients, and learned how to put on amazing events.

Angela T. Jones had never run her own business before she started Super Woman Productions and Publishing. And as her business started to grow, she realized she really needed some advice.

Her mentor helped her improve the marketing of her offerings, increase engagement with her target audience, and see the big picture of her efforts.

 

5. Avoo

Avvo logo

Okay, I know I promised no websites or forums, but I’m going to include one because it’s just too good not to ignore.

Avoo is a company that helps business owners hire experienced lawyers to help them with their legal issues and problems.

But as a part of their site, they also have a page where you can submit a question and get an answer from a real lawyer for free—often within a day.

Which is perfect if you’ve been Googling yourself silly trying to find an answer to something you just can’t figure out, but you know it’s a question a lawyer could answer easily—so there’s no reason to hire one to consult with you for an hour.

And yes, it’s free.

avoo

Here’s the question form where you can request free legal advice without having to pay a lawyer’s hourly consulting fee.

 

6. Small Business Legal Clinics

Ironically, even though this post isn’t about focusing on websites, I don’t have a single website to point you to for uncovering information on this one.

All I can tell you to do is to Google something like “small business legal clinic + [city]” or “small business clinic + [city]” and maybe substitute “clinic” for words like workshop, center, class, support group, or seminar. “Pro bono” is also a good term to throw in there.

It’s a little bit of work and a little bit of an art, but it doesn’t take that long to figure out if there’s anything near you, and if there is, it can be a great place to go for free, quality business advice.

For example, when I Googled it, I found NC LEAP, which I never even knew existed before.

It provides services to low-wealth entrepreneurs for whom even bootstrapping would be a stretch—helping make sure they get what they need to succeed rather than becoming a statistic of another failed business.

Access to all the legal services for participants are pro bono, meaning the lawyers are offering them on a volunteer basis and they’re free to you as an entrepreneur.

Other events like this include things offered by independent law firms, B2B business who have Pro Bono offerings and events, and you’ll also probably see your community college and SCORE offerings (mentioned above) show up in this search.

 

7. Women’s Business Centers

owbo

The Small Business Association (SBA) started the Office of Women’s Business Ownership (OWBO) in 1979 to make sure women—who’ve been historically excluded and under-served in the entrepreneurial world—participate more strongly in the economy.

Beyond training and counseling, the OWBO also offers things like financial resources via business loans, access to procurement opportunities, and local offices where you can connect within your own community.

The tool on this page helps you find Women’s Business Centers in your state—complete with addresses and phone numbers so you know where to go and who to call if you find yourself needing help.

And because they’re a part of the SBA network, they’re also heavily connected with resources like SCORE and community colleges to help you get the most out of all the free resources available to you as a small business owner.

 

8. Veterans Business Outreach Centers

VBOC newlogo

With 19 different participating centers across the United States, these centers are not as readily available as others, but if you’re a veteran with a small business, they’re definitely something to take advantage of—even if the closest one is two states away.

The program is designed for veteran entrepreneurs who either already own a small business in operation or who are thinking about starting one.

If you’re just thinking about starting your own business, they offer concept assessments, pre-business plan workshops that address issues of self employment, business plan prep, and feasibility analyses to predict your likelihood of success.

And once you’ve got a business up and running, they offer counseling, training on entrepreneurial skills necessary to keep a business growing, mentorship from experienced individuals, and access to services like international trade, online marketing, accounting, and franchising.

Better yet, it’s currently led by Barbara Carson, who herself has 20 years of military experience and who has been an entrepreneur since 2006. She’s someone who’s been there & done that in all aspects of being a military veteran and an entrepreneur, so she’s got your best interests at heart.

 

In Conclusion: Awesome, Free Advice is Just Waiting for You

So basically, as you can see, awesome, free business advice from kind people who’ve “been there, done that” is out there just waiting for you. All you have to do is take a little bit of initiative to uncover where it’s sitting in your city.

I’ve been floored about how forthcoming and nice people are about helping me when all I do is simply ask for it. And it’s definitely helped me see the bigger picture of my business outside of my own perspective, which has been crucial to planning smart next steps that make sense for growth and not just my own personal comfort.

If you’ve ever used any of these free resources, what did you think about them? (Personally, I think SCORE is my favorite from the list because the people are just so knowledgable and helpful.)

7 Step Beginner’s Guide To Effective Social Media for Small Business

I still remember the days of traditional media, when a lot of money is spent to gain popularity through billboards and TV advertising.

At the time, you have to pay through your nose.

But it’s a different story today. Social media has changed everything, and small businesses have been placed on the same pedestal as the big companies.

As a small business owner, you don’t have to run helter skelter looking for thousands of dollars – before you can reach the target audience with your offers. There’s no need for that again.

The need to build a strong brand has drifted from traditional to social media. It’s high time you capitalize on this new trend.

 

Why Social Media?

Well, your ideal customers live there presently. They don’t just live there, they’re active social media users, and making purchases as they interact on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and more.

You’ve got to reach your ideal customers wherever they are.

As you create more awareness through social media, you build interest, which in turn generates sales. The social media purchase funnel explains it better:

image31

Social media has become the main driver of internet activities and every online business revolves around it. Therefore, it’s important to learn how you can grow your brand through it.

If millions people are active on Facebook alone, then there’s no doubt that social media has become the fulcrum of digital marketing.

 

What is Social Media Marketing?

According to Mashable, social media marketing refers to the process of gaining website traffic or attention through social media sites.

In a nutshell, it’s the process of using social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and more to promote your brand and increase revenue.

image08

Shout it:

“I need social media because your audience is there.”

When you start generating traffic from social media sites, you can redirect the leads into your funnel and build relationship with them.

Apart from generating leads, you can use social media for several other objectives. For example, Cadbury’s leveraged its Facebook page to gain 40,000 new fans and 350,000 motivated people who participated in its campaign.

L’Oreal uses social media for recruitment purposes, and got 153 applicants.

As you know, if your customers don’t come in contact with your products and services, they will never have interest in it. Or do you expect your customers to fall for a brand they no nothing about?

Did you know that out of 2.4 billion people accessing the internet, 74% of them use social media networking sites?

You can build online community by capitalizing on social media networks. With this community, more people can become aware of your products.

So many brands have benefitted from social media marketing. For example, Tchibo company invested in social media and had 1.3 times ROI.

Do you really need social media to grow your small business?

Absolutely.

The ideal customers you’re looking for are already interacting with their friends, colleagues, and family members on social media sites.

According to Cloudswave, almost 50% Facebook users are friends with their parents.

image35

When it comes to social media marketing, remember that your audience wants to be entertained and engaged.

Social media gives you direct access and communication with these potential customers to grow your brand with little cost.

Social Media is the fastest way to create awareness. It’s only through social media that a post can go viral within minutes, with no restrictions.

You have to leverage on the benefits of social media to grow your brand. If you neglect it, I guess you’re still comfortable where you are, and you will still remain there much longer until you change.

Taking the first step is always a big problem for beginners. This in-depth article will guide you. To help ensure that your small business stays in the black, take the time to familiarize yourself with these social media tips:

 

1. Know Your Numbers: Collect User Data

“Small business owners need to know a lot of numbers.”

Barry Moltz, QuickBooks

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could predict your small business’ social media success?

Do you know your numbers?

As it is with financial matters, so it is with social media marketing and building an online business in general.

Through marketing automation, you can collect user data and use them to make smart decisions. Truly, automation is almost everything these days.

Funny enough, 54% of big brands surveyed by KiteWheel in 2014 said they would like to detect and reply automatically to consumers on social media, while 34% are currently working to automate their social media.

image06

As a marketer who wants to generate quality leads, you need to measure and understand your key performance indicators (KPIs).

As you collect intelligent user data, you’re well-positioned to improve and effectively manage your social media campaigns online.

Striving to collect and analyze data manually is almost impossible these days. I said “almost” because it can be done. But you don’t want to waste your precious time cutting an iron with a wooden saw.

The good news is, there are specific tools for measuring social media performance. In particular, Twitter has a lot of analytics tools.

Twitter Archivist is an analytics tool that helps track a hashtag campaign, monitor your brand on Twitter, capture a tweet during conferences, concerts or sports events, and more.

image29

What does Twitterachivist.com do?

On the dashboard, you’ll see the statistics of Twitter followers per week, and those who unfollowed your brand. You also get to see tags that people are reacting to and why. Isn’t that wonderful?

Twitter Archivist allows beginners understand what’s really engaging followers, particularly on Twitter.

Learning how social users behave is critical to your success. If you’re going to reap the rewards of social media for your small business, then you must not ignore these user behavioral data.

For one, the data you collect and use when people like your page on Facebook is something to shout about.

For example, users submit their full names, locations, likes and dislikes, academic status, and more.

These are vital information; which in turn becomes an an asset for marketers to use in reaching and engaging potential customers. The more engagement you create, the more customers you’ll send to your business.

In case you’re not aware…

You can actually acquire paying customers from social media. Several case studies have proven this to be true. Social media networks aren’t for meeting people and leaving them the way you met them. Far from it.

According to HubSpot, 67% of B2C companies have acquiring a customer through Facebook.

image24

What differentiates traditional media from social media is the ability that businesses have to use customer’s data to reach and communicate with them in a language they understand, rather than using billboards, TV commercials, Radio jingles, and more to advertise. Social media marketing pulls people in, traditional media interrupts and has the tendency of annoying viewers.

With powerful tools like Twitter Archivist, you get insights into users’ behaviors, their level of passion on your brand, mode of interaction, and the potentials that these users will become influencers in the nearest future.

There’s no alternative to knowing your audience. Science and Technology can’t replace it. Ideally, define your audience by gender, age, interest, profession, and so forth.

image11

Conduct exclusive research to know your audience’s pain points. And device means to solve their problems in an interesting manner. Remember, it’s still “social” media.

One important point…

If you want to drive targeted traffic and acquire customers through social media marketing, you need to eliminate uncertainty.

Once you’ve identified a group of ideal customers on social media networks, you’re ready to take the plunge and adopt them. To successfully seal the deal, you’ve got to ensure that you eliminate every trace of uncertainty from your buyer’s mind. How?

Isn’t it obvious?

Anyways, the simple way to do it is by answering their questions. There are Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) that you should answer about your brand, culture, products, team, and everything in between.

In a recent post that appeared on The New York Times, the author Mark Cohen shared an inspiring case study of how Marcus Sheridan, founder of River Pools and Spas spent $250,000 a year on radio, Television, and pay per click advertising – but got no tangible results to show for it.

image03

But it didn’t end there. Because when Sheridan started answering prospect’s questions via his blog, social media channels, and other platforms, his company’s revenue went through the roof.

Interestingly, a single blog post he wrote that answered an important question netted the company a $2,000,000 contract.

image30

Note that you can answer questions, not only on Twitter or Facebook, but also on your own website.

Most ecommerce websites have a FAQs section on their websites. It usually appears at the top-level navigation, where site users and customers can easily find it.

You don’t have to call it “FAQs.” You can get creative and choose a better description. For example, Shopify refers to this dedicated page where all the frequently asked questions are answered “Help Center.”

shopify.png

All the questions that you’ll ever ask when planning to use Shopify shopping cart software has been answered.

common-questions.png

When you click on any of the topics, you’ll find an answer to the question of how to use shopify (e.g., for Reports and analytics, Payment settings).

The last time I checked, my question was clearly answered, and I browsed the knowledge base hoping to find a bunch of other questions I didn’t even know I had.

One of the major reasons why knowing your audience is an all-important social media strategy is because it helps you during segmentation. And of course, it’s a lot easier to segment email subscribers than Twitter followers.

That means you should endeavor to send your social media fans to your landing page. Once you’ve them on your email list, you can start building relationship with them.

So why do you need to segment your audience?

It’s because sending the same content to every email subscriber is a mistake of the century. But sending custom content based on subscriber history, persona, stage of the buying cycle, and purchase history will get you more conversions.

 

2. Prove Your Expertise so People Can Follow You

Why would people follow you on Twitter or like your Facebook page?

Do you’ve the expert power to prove your expertise, help others, and more importantly, stay humble?

expert-power.jpg

Are you sure you’re an expert in your field? If you claim you’re, then you need to show it – and not necessarily talk about it.

According to Lisa Sasevich, “credibility is kind of like credit, you’ve got to have it in order to get it.”

You can to prove your expertise, especially if you’re new to your niche. Doing this will give ideal customers a firm grip of your brand and they’ll go the extra mile with you.

Following you on Twitter is just a small part of what credibility can give to you.

In case you’re not aware, your audience likes to associate with unique and famous brands.

There are several ways to prove that you’re an expert. Lisa shares 3 simple but powerful strategies:

image01

Additionally, post free and helpful content that answers people’s questions. This would inspire more people to follow you. Who doesn’t want to associate with a marketer or brand that can solve their problems?

Absolutely no one.

Coin a  content that will be celebrated and shared. Why the celebration?

Your content should be engaging and entertaining. Do not bore your followers with generic content. Create variety of content to lure Twitter users.

image27

Give away valuable freebies like, ebooks, software, apps…, with these, you are motivating users to follow you, stick to your brand and refer others.

And talking about getting more Twitter followers, here are 3 powerful tips that you can implement today:

i).   Create compelling Twitter description: How do you recognise a good description? It’s got to have the target keyword and power words in it. When people visit your Twitter page, they should know what you’re all about.

Since the goal is to attract the right followers, mention the keyword that you’re after and if possible the group of people that will benefit from it. Also, keep your description simple and clear.

ii).  Use hashtags approach: You simply have to subscribe to a few relevant hashtags. This enables you to find the right people to follow, and those who will follow you.

You’ll notice that some influencers – Twitter users who get retweeted a lot and cover similar topics will likely follow you and amplify your reach.

iii).  Retweet useful posts: Social media marketing, especially on Twitter is all about reciprocating kind gestures. For example, if people follow you, you should follow them as well.

Retweeting useful and interesting posts can equally bring new followers to you.

How do you feel when someone retweets your content? You’re excited right? Well, it’s time to spread the news.

Deliberately find useful content and share it. Social media was created for this after all. The users you want to attract will notice you quickly and follow you.

Most brands are scared of retweeting their competitors, but you shouldn’t be. In fact, you should do it more often. When sharing posts, be sure to @ mention the source of the content if it’s not your own, it’s the right thing to do and a good social strategy, too.

Once you’ve generated the followers, don’t stop there. You’ve got to sustain them. To sustain customers, you must be good at what you do.

A lot of small businesses have benefitted from social media marketing. For example, Brafton used content and social media to build brand awareness for 200% more organic visits.

image34

Remember that bombarding your followers with content every now and them is not the solution. Ask yourself this question, “how has your content helped your audience and brand so far?”

When the audience clicks “like” to follow you, they are expecting a lot of value from your brand. If you fail to deliver, they will opt out.

One statistics shows that 51% of social users sometimes get bored on social media after accessing their account.

image28

To really excite your Twitter followers and build relationship with them. Learn to curate and share useful content. I’m talking about content you didn’t create yourself.

When you visit industry blogs and discussion boards and find a helpful content, share it with your fans. They’ll love it and deliberately choose to be with your brand.

 

3. Listen And Share (i.e., Social Listening)

The truth is, you don’t want to communicate or share off-topic content.

That would drive your social media fans away. Yes, we’re advised to niche down and focus on a particular group of market, and it’s good.

But don’t make the mistake of communicating with people when you have not listened to them.

Have you heard of the term “social listening” before?

Social listening, also referred to as media monitoring is the process of searching the web and social platforms to know what people are saying and how to get into the conversation.

image22

You need to have an open mind if you truly want to know what’s happening in the social space.

Yes, every feedback (whether positive or negative is important).

Sadly, most marketers were excited and happy to generate followers, but occasionally they get negative tweets from these followers – and this made them unhappy. They forget that over 80% of customers related tweets are negative.

image25

And 93% of customers expect a response within an hour. Imagine the type of response they expect after leaving a negative tweet.

But as a small business owner, it’s your responsibility to respond in a thoughtful manner nonetheless.

You should care about users and what they think of your brand.

Do you have a feedback channel or tool for monitoring what’s going on with your brand; what people dislike about your product?

Or you just don’t care?

Spend time listening to your followers. If you’re too bored and irritated about complaint, you’ll find it hard to make much progress via social media. Worse, it leads to epic social media fails.

image17

What do you expect when your followers aren’t satisfied?

The insights you’ll gain from a customer’s complaint and feedback are priceless. They are your tool for work, these information are your assets. If properly utilized, you will grow your small business faster.

Here are simple ways to listen to your audience and share useful posts with them:

i).   Search for keywords your audience is using:  Use Google Keywords Planner to know exactly what your target audience is entering into Google search, what they’re interested in, and what they’re complaining about.

image20

When you don’t research your keyword before writing, you will be like a medical doctor treating infertility on a patient with a bone fracture.

Listening is priceless.

Compete tracked success story of marketers that listened, researched and were on track to get keywords that represents the customer’s pain points.

Through content marketing, Compete recorded dramatic customer engagement – all because the social media team listened to the audience.

ii). Through conversation, get to know your customers pain: When you chat with your customers, enquire about their lives, businesses, and lifestyle. Interestingly, their responses will serve as clues of what you’ll write next.

iii). Identify your key influencers and advocates: Encourage your key influencers by sharing their posts, retweeting their links, leaving a useful comment on their blogs and supporting them.

Reward your brand advocates with gifts, you’ll build strong engagement at the end of day.

iv).  Know where your social community is located: Whether they’re on Twitter or Facebook you should know the particular social media channel that gets your ideal customers excited and interested.

v). Improve on your customer service: Be timely and polite in your response. Train your staff to be polite, too. Deliver on your promises. Don’t be too hard to reach.

 

4. Create a workable daily plan for social sharing

Because there are so much to do with little time, you need to develop the right plan for effective social media marketing. Do your small business this favor, so you don’t get overwhelmed with the daily tasks ahead.

Tweeting alone is demanding. For example, Tristan Barnum went from 0 to 100 Twitter followers in just 7 days by tweeting no less than 11 times per day, not including stuff he’s retweeting.

image04

Don’t just share posts on social media platforms anytime you like.

You’ll never be effective that way.

Interestingly, you could use a social media strategy template.

It’s simple. When you’re armed with a social media strategy, you’re ready to bridge the gap between where you currently are with your social media goals and where you want to be. With this strategy, you’ll succeed.

image12

You can use a template to develop a social media strategy. Of course, this will help you in social sharing and other activities.

Ideally, you need to respond to important questions in each step to establish what your core goals are, how you will achieve them, and how you will measure success.

Don’t forget a particular task that you need to execute. Hence the need for planning.

For instance, you can tweet and retweet 3x per day, schedule the times for each tweet, to which category of your audience. To a large extent, the more tweets you send, the more engagement you’ll create.

Schedule a single post for your different social media accounts, share links and “like” other people’s links. Remember, it’s a social network, you have to create time to socialise.

image10

Create an action. Initiate conversation, ask trending questions, be controversial sometimes (but have a back up), engage your followers, comment on postings and lots more.

In social media, no room for idleness, everybody need to be busy.

Learn to appreciate users who share your posts and retweeted. They’re the future of your digital marketing. Call them if possible, make them feel homely, so that they will do more.

Remember that traffic never happens except you work for it deliberately. You’ve to be on top of your game to grow your small business online presence.

5. Leverage Social Media Advertising to Drive Results

If you want to drive visitors to your small business website, you can’t continue with the free social media marketing strategy. Sure it works, but it can take years to produce enviable results.

You need paid social advertising. Why?

Because this ROI is encouraging. In fact, 96% of CMOs are beginning to look beyond sales goals and web metrics to identify the value of social marketing efforts.

image05

At some point, you have to set some money aside for social media paid advertising.

If your brand hasn’t gained much traction online, it doesn’t matter how useful your product or service might be, the right people may not be interested.

You can set up a Facebook ads campaign and drive tens of thousands of visitors to your websites and make more money.

For example, Lange Financial Group spent $181.93 targeted content to local audience on Facebook and generated 594 people to their page.

image18

Facebook advertising works if done correctly.

Navid Moazzez spent $4,159 on ads and generated $36,449 in revenue from his Virtual Summit Mastery course.

image33

Are you taking advantage of social media PPC advertising?

Take for instance, Linkedin offers opportunities for small businesses to reach a specific audience and increase your brand visibility.

Don’t ignore social media advertising. Use it now before the competition gets off the hook.

 

6. Develop A Good Social Media Strategy

This should be on your to-do list as a small business owner.

We mentioned developing a social media strategy earlier. It’s worth mentioning again because of its importance.

Social media plan is the step-by-step approach you take when developing a strategy. It shows you what comes first, and the sequence.

image16

If you start integrating social media to grow your online presence, it might seem like a trial and error at first. Because you don’t know what you stand to gain from it.

I mean, it’s hard to predict what the future holds.

However, with a good strategy, though you may not predict accurately (and you’re not required to) how much revenue you’ll generate, but you surely will know that you can’t fail. It’ll only get better.

Sharpie, a permanent marketer company based in the US developed a social media strategy that puts spotlight on the customers.

This helped the company increase customer loyalty and retention. How does Sharpie achieve this?

By sharing samples of customer’s artworks and featuring case studies.

image15

You can use social media in virtually every aspect of your business. You can use it in marketing, sales, customer support, customer engagement and retention, and more.

A recent article that appeared on Forbes revealed that 78% of salespeople using social media sell more than others that aren’t using it.

image09

Of course, you don’t expect to get overnight results with social media marketing. Smart marketers stick to it, and learn along the way.

At the surface, it may look easy. But there’s a difference between being “simple” and “easy.”

The first time I dived into a swimming pool, I tried to imitate the professional swimmers there. I had never been to the swimming pool before, because I couldn’t swim.

Funny enough, it appeared very easy until I made my way into the water, then I realized how difficult it’s to float on the water without sinking. That was when I came to understand what differentiates a newbie, from an already practicing fellow.

That’s just how it is with developing a good social media strategy.

Though you might have a clue on how to get there, but it would be perfect if you have a plan.

Because according to a Survey result by TMS, it was clear that corporate strategy (in this sense, plans that are no longer favorable to the company) contributed 45.41% to company failures.

image21

If that’s the case, then you can imagine how critical it would be to start social media marketing without a proper plan or no plan at all. That would be disaster.

Therefore, before you begin posting on Facebook, Twitter and so on, you need to have a plan of action.

If you don’t know where to start, here are few steps to guide you in developing a good social media plan:

i).   Decide your social platform: Despite the relevance of social media to your business, you need to use your time well. All social sites are not created equal.

In like manner, your results will differ.

image00

To get better at social media marketing and eventually get results, save your time and pick a handful social platforms that are relevant brand and products.

In my own experience, Instagram and Pinterest are best for fashion, lifestyle, and niches where marketing is effectively delivered through visual content.

ii).    Complete your social data: By completing your social profile and filling in all the required data, it gives the impression that you’re fully out for business, more especially your bio/info and brand culture.

Share a glimpse of what people stand to gain by following your brand on social media.

iii).   Develop your brand voice: You need to relate with people personally. Sometimes, it’s not the authenticity of the message or content that counts, but how you say it. That’s your brand voice.

image32

Your brand voice has to be unique and useful, and your audience won’t get tired of revisiting your social pages.

iv).   Choose post type and when to post: The type of content you publish determines how engaged your audience will be – and whether or not they’ll abandon your brand.

That being said, consistent posting will keep your audience engaged, but you need to know how frequently to publish on each of your social platforms.

Brands that tweet multiple times per day see great results. For example, this case study shows that posting once every six hours during work hours, will gain more visibility for your post.

image19

v).   Analyse your posting strategy: You’ll never know what works best for you, until you try it out. Because what works for me might not work for your business.

With consistency, you’ll definitely know what’s working, when not to post and the type of content that your social fans prefer. Judging on which content, frequency, and timing that works most for you will further improve your social media strategy.

 

7. Organize Your Social Channels

No matter the size of your small business, organization will bring you before Kings.

image02

We can’t deny the power that social media has to connect and and grow businesses of all sizes, and how strong the medium is with influencing purchase decisions.

Did you know that social media marketing has a 100% higher lead-to-close rate, and 84% of B2B brands use social media to grow their brand?

In fact, 17% of sales leads come from social media, according to a study by Aberdeen Group in 2011.

image26

Having several social media accounts can pose a big problem. This can complicate the entire process.

Therefore, organizing your social channels is critical. You can’t afford to log in to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and more, separately.

There are social media management tools that can handle this organization seamlessly. Buffer is my favorite. But you can use Hootsuite, Sproutsocial, and more.

A great social media CRM tool makes it easier for you to maintain a consistent audience engagement across multiple social accounts. You can post to multiple social accounts from a single interface.

Take a closer look at the screenshot below. It shows a post made on different platforms.

Sure they all appeared differently in relation to the platforms. But despite the difference in structure, they’re all aimed at one goal/keyword ‘pee’.

image13

Apart from being on different social platforms, you need to have your own personal account too. If that’s the case, then all you have to do is to separate your business accounts from your personal accounts.

Having done that, pull together all your business social accounts in one list, and your personal social accounts in another.

Add social sharing button on your single blog posts. Then encourage your visitors and readers to share your posts.

In addition to that, you can add live social media feed to your WordPress blog, so that your audience can see your recent posts, and share it with others at the click on a button.

 

Conclusion

I’ve shared a lot of really good advice here on what works and what doesn’t in terms of using social media to grow your small business.

These strategies are great if you want to see consistent growth of your Twitter followers, Facebook fans, and acquire loyal customers to your brand.

If you look in-between the lines, you’ll notice that I didn’t share a single powerful hack for getting your small business off the ground via social media.

I’m afraid there’s no switch to flip as you leverage social media for small business. It takes time. In my own personal experience, the above tactics have been proven – but you MUST be patient, determined, and consistent.

Overall, starting a small business is easy – growing the same business is hard!

In social media marketing, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. You have to take one step and master it before proceeding with another. Did I tell you that you’ll get better results if you take baby steps?

Yes you will.

7 Great Customer Retention Strategies to Increase Your Profits by At Least 25%

In most businesses, customer retention is a big deal.

But in my experience, it’s usually a much bigger deal than it’s given credit for.

Most people are only concerned about retaining customers so their marketing for customers isn’t such an uphill battle, but keeping regular customers on board does big things to your overall profits, too.

In fact, according to a Harvard Business School article by Frederick F. Reichheld and Phil Schefter, “Increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%.”

So forget about the fact that keeping regular customers means you need significantly less time and money for marketing just to keep your business afloat.

Keeping regular customers also makes you way more profitable.

But this post isn’t going to be 5,000 words of me convincing you how important customer retention strategies are.

You’re reading this article, so you’re already more or less aware of. Maybe even more so now since I pointed out that statistic.

Instead, this post is going to be about the actual strategies you can use to nearly guarantee your customers will stay on board with you… so you can stop spending so much on marketing and keep your profits up.

And it’s going to be really heavy on the practical side of things.

Because when I did a Google search on the subject to see what kind of advice was already out there, I found of inspiration, but not a lot of tactics.

I’m not hating on inspirational posts in business. In fact, I think they’re 100% necessary. But I want to use this post to help fill a gap that I saw in the SERPs.

Because I don’t know about you, but the generic advice like “be there for your customers” and “stellar customer service” and “go above and beyond” all sound good to me, but I’m more interested in the actual items I can put on my to-do list to make them happen.

 

1. Retention Metrics > Vanity Metrics

I know it’s obvious to say it, but putting more stock in retention metrics than vanity metrics will benefit your business’s bottom line a thousand times over.

Better yet, don’t even track vanity metrics. Your Twitter followers and Facebook fans might be fun to think about, but profitability is not a popularity contest.

Retention metrics include things like churn rate, purchase amounts, and increasing or decreasing customer lifetime value.

Vanity metrics are things like Twitter followers, the size of your email list, Facebook likes, and podcast downloads.

All of these things are indicators of success, but they’re not the numbers that tell the real story.

A lot of Twitter followers could just mean that you’re hiring someone to spend all day retweeting sensationalist news. It’ll get you more followers, but it won’t do anything to grow your business, keep your customers happy with you, or keep them buying.

But your churn rate, on the other hand, tells you exactly how good of a job you’re doing with keeping your existing customers happy. If someone stops buying from you, you know you’ve done something wrong.

If your churn rate is getting lower, you’re doing a great job. If it’s getting higher, something’s broken and you better work like hell to fix it.

And by focusing on your churn rate instead of your Twitter following, you can more easily identify the subtle and not-so-subtle causes that affect your churn rate… especially when your brain space isn’t cluttered with thoughts of how to get more retweets.

Plus, the metrics you pay attention to are the ones that drive your decision-making.

If you spend half of your monthly marketing meeting talking about vanity metrics and half talking about retention metrics, your takeaways and action steps will be split between the two.

But if you spend the entire meeting talking about retention metrics, the insights and strategies you uncover on how to continually improve those will be hyper-focused on strategies to improve what most affects your bottom line.

For example, if your two main goals are to grow your Twitter following and cross-sell your new service to happy customers, you’ll walk out of the meeting with two separate to-do lists to focus on: one on ramping up the sensationalist side of your brand, and the other on putting together an email campaign to demonstrate the value of your new service.

But imagine if you could cross the worry over Twitter off your list completely and only had to focus on the email campaign?

You’d do a much better job on it, wouldn’t you?

Plus, you’d probably get way better results on the email campaign than if you had to split your attention between the two.

So the to-do item here is this: remove vanity metrics from your to-do list. And, if needed, add retention metrics.

 

2. Constantly Compare & Contrast Their Before & After

If the product or service you sell is improvement-focused, this is a major strategy that’ll continuously remind your customers of where they’d be without you.

For example, if you’re a career coach, you could do an intake meeting with each new client to find out what position they have, what their salary is, their job happiness, and what their ultimate goals are.

As they work with you, you can send them monthly email reports to show them all the things they’ve accomplished towards achieving their ultimate goals, and what kind of improvements they’ve made.

For example, if a client you coach is starting to reconsider whether or not your services are worth the investment, imagine your monthly progress report coming in the next day showing them that you’ve helped them get a promotion and increase their salary by 40% in the last five months.

They’ll remember your value and be more inclined to keep working with you, won’t they?

Or if you have a software business that helps people improve the efficiency of their PPC ads, you could have your software capture their ROI data when they first signed up. Each month following, you could send an email showing the work that’s been done, how their ROI has increased, and the dollar amount it’s meant for their bottom line.

The contrast between the cost of your software and the bottom line dollar amount will really show your worth and remind your customers the value of your service, keeping them on board for the long haul.

 

3. Welcome Complaints

According to Marketing Wizdom, 96% of customers don’t complain.

Which is nice because your customer service department doesn’t have as much to deal with, but it becomes a serious problem when customers start churning without telling you why.

“Whilst they may not tell you what’s wrong,” warns Marketing Wizdom, “they will certainly tell plenty of others.”

“A system for unearthing complaints can therefore be the lifeblood of your business, because customers who complain are giving you a gift,” they say, “they’re still talking to you, they’re giving you another opportunity to return them to a state of satisfaction and delight them. And the manner in which you respond gives you another chance to show what you’re made of and create even greater customer loyalty.”

Think about your own experience for a second… it’s pretty common for companies to ask you why you’ve left once you already made the decision to go, isn’t it?

It just happened to me the other day when I unsubscribed from an email list…. They asked my why I was leaving.

But before, when I was just another number on their list, they never asked me about my satisfaction with the content or if I felt the email newsletter was fulfilling its purpose.

In other words, they didn’t care about me not churning until I’d already churned… which was a bit of a mistake on their end.

And when it comes to actual buying, it’s also not very common for companies to proactively collect complaints from you before something goes majorly wrong, you’re at your wits’ end, and you decide to stop buying from them.

So when you openly receive and proactively ask for complaints, you can uncover every single little frustration your customers are having with what you’re selling.

Yes, it’s more to deal with, but showing an effort to fix even the tiniest annoyances your customers deal with will go a long way in improving their experience, making them feel noticed and important, and boosting their loyalty towards you.

And according to some data collected by Help Scout, you’ll want to proactively ask for complaints for a number of different reasons:

  • 78% of people have decided not to purchase because of a bad experience
  • Only 4% of your unhappy customers will bother to complain on their own
  • For every complaining customer, there’s 26 others keeping their mouths shut
  • 91% of unhappy customers will never buy from you again… but if you resolve a complaint, 70% will buy from you again

An easy way to do this?

Customer satisfaction surveys.

They’re easy to put together, simple to send out, and most softwares that offer the functionality will aggregate the data for you into easily actionable tidbits.

customer survey

Here’s an example of a customer satisfaction survey collecting data on how satisfied a customer base is and the reasons behind it. (Source: Smashing Forms)

 

4. Regular Feedback Surveys

Along with welcoming complaints via customer satisfaction surveys asking how satisfied or dissatisfied your customers are, make sure you also ask for feedback.

You can see the company in the image above does it by asking what people like and dislike about the service, but you can dig a little deeper. Find out what people really think of your product and how well it works into their day-to-day.

If you find out, for example, that your customers don’t use your mobile app as much as you thought they would, you can use these surveys to find out why.

It could just be that they’re not phone people, or it could be something a little more critical… like the app’s UX is confusing in comparison to the desktop UX they’ve become so accustomed to.

The key with the surveys though, is to make sure you’re asking the right questions so you’re getting the right answers.

Questions like “Are you happy with our product?” or “Would you recommend us to a friend?” will tell you whether your customers love you or hate you, but they won’t uncover the subtler nuances in their level of satisfaction that you can actually act on.

So get practical.

Ask questions like:

  • Do you use [product feature] for [function it was designed for]?
  • Why or why not?
  • If you could change one thing about our product, what would it be?
  • On average, how many hours do you spend using our product per week?
  • Are there any little frustrations you run into on our dashboard that you wish were better?
  • What kind of additional (free) training material would you like to see from us?

Make sure they’re not all yes or no questions. Use the rating system, and ask for explanations.

In fact, encourage as much explanation as possible. This is where you’ll get the most valuable, specific insight to act on.

And beyond just asking for complaints so you can collect data on how to make sure your customers aren’t dissatisfied, these feedback surveys give you information you can use to absolutely thrill the heck out of your customers… keeping them around forever.

improve services question

Here’s a short survey that asks for feedback on what needs to be improved in the software to increase customer satisfaction. (Source: ActiveTrail)

 

5. SHOW How You’ve Responded to Their Feedback Specifically

Collecting survey feedback and acting on it is one of the best ways to understand your customers and keep them on board.

But you can take this strategy to another level of loyalty building by going out of your way to tell your customers how you’ve implemented their feedback.

And no, I don’t just mean an automatic message after they finish your survey that says, “Thank you for completing our survey. Your thoughts and opinions are valuable to us. We will use input from customers like you for our future product updates.”

I mean if you add a feature, go back through your data to find out the specific customers who made that feature request.

Then email them a personalized message thanking them for their input, telling them that a few others said something similar, and showing them (with images!) the updates you’ve made and how they can start using them.

Don’t depend on a system upgrade or an announcement sent out to your entire email list to take care of this for you.

Make it personal.

And make sure you ask them at the end of that email if they’ve got any other great ideas.

This kind of attention will show them that they’re much more than just a number to you, and that you actually care about their success.

Help Desk software company Groove’s CEO made it a mission to talk to as many of his customers as possible to ask for their feedback on the product.

He started the process with this email:

asking for feedback

(Source)

And needless to say, tons of people took him up on his offer.

But a few others who didn’t schedule the call to tell him their grievances in person, did send back emails like this:

email wince

And

suggestions

Do you see how easy this makes it for the CEO—or any member of Groove’s customer service team—to reply with a personalized response when the suggested updates are made?

 

6. Onboarding, Onboarding, Onboarding

“It’s estimated that 40-60% of software users will open an app once, and never log in again,” said Len Markidan on Groove.

Which is a pretty serious churn rate, if you ask me.

“How much of that churn is due to poor onboarding depends on your specific product,” advises Len, “but there isn’t a business out there that can’t score a few more retention points by optimizing their onboarding.”

If you have a software product, you can take a customer through the on boarding the first time they log in.

iphone

The first time I started my iPhone, it took me through 46 different tips to help me make the most of my new phone’s capabilities… some things that I would have never even thought of. It really helped me make the most of the device much more quickly than if I’d just been taken to the home screen and left to figure it all out on my own.

But if your product or service isn’t software based, you still need to have some sort of onboarding to set customer expectations and given them information on what to expect.

 

7. Make Getting in Touch Easy & Obvious (And Respond ASAP)

There’s nothing more annoying than trying to find a company’s contact information while you’re pulling your hair out trying to solve a problem with whatever it is you bought from them.

There’s no phone number to call, there’s no chat box, and the best you can find is an email address that might get a response in three days… if you’re lucky.

Sure, putting up barriers to communication with you means you don’t have to invest as much in customer service, but it also means your customers are cursing you under their breath every time they can’t figure something out.

So simply put, make it easy to get in touch with you.

Make it easy, and make it obvious.

Put a pop-up chat box on your website.

Publish your customer service number loudly and proudly.

If you sell software, put those things within the software UX itself, too.

And respond.

Respond ASAP.

Do not leave your customers waiting for an answer.

Make sure you’ve always got someone there—at least during normal business hours—to take care of all the inquiries that come in within a matter of minutes, not hours.

And make sure you’ve got enough people to handle it, too.

There’s nothing worse than being on hold and wasting your time for 45 minutes while you wait on other customers.

And yes, this is enough to make or break someone’s decision to be a customer with you.

Last year, I switched my hosting company for exactly this reason.

The one I was previously with always took a minimum of 20 minutes before they ever answered me… and it usually ended up being more like 45 minutes.

The company I’m with now is at the same price point, but I can’t remember one instance where I’ve ever waited more than five minutes for a response when I called in or used their chat feature.

And that’s incredible customer service.

I’m not a tech genius, so any time there’s a problem, I need someone to hold my hand, and explain the situation to me. I do not want someone to just try to rush me off with a mediocre solution so they can get to the next customer who’s also been waiting for 30 minutes.

And because this new company offers that—because they’re so easy to get in touch with and get a valuable response from—they’ve won my business.

And now that I’m a customer, I’m sure my LTV with them will be worth thousands of dollars.

 

Start Where You’re Feeling the Pain

A lot of times in business, we’re often told to start with the easiest stuff first: to tackle the low-hanging fruit before we move on to bigger and better challenges.

But with customer retention, I’d encourage you to skip over that frame of mind for a different one.

Instead of tackling the strategy that’s easiest to implement first, tackle the strategy that’ll immediately address how and where you lose most of your customers.

If people aren’t renewing their subscriptions, implement email sequences that show them the improvements they’ve made while they’ve been working with you.

If they just kind of drop off without any reason, get going with some feedback surveys to find out what most of your customers wish was different, and then work like hell to implement those changes.

If a common complaint of churning customers is that they just felt like a number to your company, start scheduling individual customer support calls.

These won’t be the easiest, lowest-hanging pieces of fruit to take care of, but they will have the most impact on your bottom line… which I think is the ultimate goal of customer retention in the first place, no?

13 Customer Relationship Management Software Tactics to Turn More Leads into Sales

Small business owners handle a lot.

Not only do they have to make sure things get done in the day-to-day operations of their business, but they’ve also got to make sure there’s actually business there to do.

In other words: they’re also the ones with the ultimate responsibility of getting more customers in the door and buying their services.

In fact, 47% (almost half!) of small business owners handle all of their marketing efforts by themselves.

And most of the time, unfortunately, the marketing and sales cycle looks like this:

  • Go on a short-term marketing blitz to generate a lot of leads.
  • Talk to the leads.
  • Find out which leads are ready to buy and put together a sales pitch for them.
  • Deliver the sales pitch.
  • Cross your fingers to close the deal.
  • Close the deal.
  • Deliver the work.
  • Repeat.

It works, yes, but it’s far from ideal.

Ideally, the leads would be a lot steadier and you’d be able to do something with the leads you got from the marketing blitz that weren’t quite ready to buy yet.

But since systems take a ton of work to put into place and most small business owners aren’t refined marketers, it doesn’t happen.

Fortunately, there is a system that most small business owners do use that can really help alleviate the burden of such heavy marketing cycles.

It’s a CRM (or customer relationship management tool), and although they’re pretty commonplace and underrated, most of them are actually way more robust than we give them credit for.

So in this post, I’ll walk you through 13 hacks you can use to make something of the leads you capture that aren’t ready to purchase right away.

You’ll be able to keep them in your system, continue marketing them, and turn them into customers when they’re ready… without having to go through another expensive marketing and ad blitz just to get more contact information.

And the best part is, once most of these “hacks” are set up, they keep working for you on repeat, keeping your marketing and sales efforts way more sustainable, and making your business more successful.

Note: You’ll notice a lot of the screenshots below are from Nimble. That’s only because I use Nimble in my personal business and have access to take those screenshots, not because BuildFire is in any way trying to push you towards Nimble. Also, neither I nor BuildFire have any vested interest in pushing you towards one CRM or another. It’s all your decision.

 

1. Set Reminders to Get in Touch

This “hack” is primarily for all of those leads you’ve gathered in your marketing blitz that would be an ideal customer… but weren’t ready to buy.

It’s not so much a “hack” as it is a habit that you do on a regular basis, but since almost every CRM has the capability to remind you of it, I’m counting it.

The idea is to take the leads you’ve gathered via your marketing and advertising campaigns, put them into your CRM, and set a notification on each one to make sure you’ll stay in touch at least once every 30 days.

The getting in touch message doesn’t have to be (and shouldn’t be, if you ask me), “Hey, so, you ready to buy yet?!”

Instead, it should be in line with any sort of conversation you’ve already had with them… or about the lead magnet they downloaded that turned them into a lead in the first place.

Rather than seeing how quickly you can turn them from a lead into a customer, this strategy is more about getting them comfortable with you, showing them that you care, and building up their loyalty towards you (and your brand) as someone who genuinely cares in the business world.

You can ask them how they are, how a strategy you discussed is working for them, send them a link to something you think they’ll find interesting, or, if you feel comfortable, introduce them to someone you think they should know.

Michael Port, author of Book Yourself Solid, made this a core part of his Book Yourself Solid strategy simply because it works so well for gaining customers and generating word of mouth.

“The focus is on sincerely and freely giving and sharing, and by doing so, building an deepening mutually beneficial relationships with others,” he says in his book.

To set this up in your CRM, go to each individual contact and set a reminder to come up 30 days after your last touch with a contact.

stay in touch

Next to a contact’s name in Nimble, there’s a drop-down selection for how often you want to stay in touch with that person.

Some CRMs may have this functionality with lists, so if you have all of your prospective leads on one list, you can set the monthly reminder for everyone on that list at once.

 

2. Make Notes on Every Single Interaction

If you’re running a business where you juggle lots of potential clients at once, this hack will save you a lot of embarrassing moments and help you come across as someone who remembers and cares about even the tiniest details.

Usually, a CRM will have a section for custom notes on each contact that don’t fit in with standard data fields like job title, industry, or location.

If a lead sends an email to collect more information on your services, make a note of it and the information you share with them. If they tell you what their current focus areas are now instead of the one you solve for, make a note if it. If they tell you anything about their personal life, write that down too.

Ditto for any hobbies or outside interests they mention.

This will help you immensely with the hack above when you need something to talk to them about at the one-month mark. Instead of searching for ideas for what to talk about and sounding awkward, you’ll know exactly what to say.

Plus, when you use the information you collect in a conversation with the lead, it’ll really up the loyalty and trust factor… helping you convert those leads into customers at percentage rates you would have never dreamed of before.

For example, let’s say you’re a marketing consultant with a boutique marketing agency focused on social media.

If a lead signs up for one of your lead magnets but isn’t ready for one of your services yet, you’d still have them in your CRM.

When you talk to them on the phone and find out they’re not ready to purchase one of your service packages yet, you make a note of that.

And when they tell you the reason they’re not ready to buy yet is because they’re more focused on email marketing right now, you make a note of that too.

The next time you get in touch with them, you could send them a link to an awesome resource that really helped you improve your email marketing… and that’s it. No sales.

The next time, you could ask them how their email strategy is going, and based on their response, either give them any relevant advice from your experience, or maybe make an introduction to someone who could help them out more.

They’re still not ready to convert into a paying customer, so instead of putting them through an uncomfortable conversation and making them say “no” to you again, you can make the experience enjoyable.

Not only do they not feel uncomfortable talking to you, but they actually benefit from it as well.

So when they get their email strategy down and the time comes to work on their social strategy, you’re the agency they’re coming to for help—no one else.

taking notes

For example, you can see that I’ve added three notes here outside of what happened between me and this contact via email. This helps me remember what’s happened between us when I need to get in touch with her, and makes our conversations more productive.

 

3. Save a Collection of Email Scripts Within Your CRM

Most CRMs have a heavy email focus.

And since most B2B conversations happen via email, this is a wonderful thing for you to take advantage of in your small business.

Instead of writing a message out from scratch every single time you get in touch with someone or respond to a query, you can pick out one of your templates, fill in the blanks, and respond without spending half an hour crafting a message.

Aside from email responses no longer taking up half of your day, this hack also helps you keep in touch with more people in less time.

Because if you think about it, most of the emails you send out fall into 80% or 90% of the exact same categories, every single time.

For my business, these are most of my responses:

  • Sorry, I don’t have any more availability this month.
  • You can view my prices on my “Hire Me” page.
  • Let’s schedule a call.
  • I’m sorry, it doesn’t sound like a good fit.
  • No, I don’t work for free.
  • Here’s the pitch ideas you requested.
  • Your invoice is overdue.
  • Here’s your outline/first draft.

And I’ll admit, most of these emails don’t take that much time to write from scratch.

But it’s a lot faster if all I have to do is open the email in my CRM inbox and choose the option to reply with one of my pre-set templates.

For the most part, all I have to do is insert the name of the person in the salutation line, and I can hit the send button.

A few others take a little more thought and writing, but the intros and conclusions of those emails are always the same, so why not save myself some time writing them out?

add template

In most CRMs, adding an email template is super easy. (I know, I know. Shame on me for giving advice I haven’t followed yet.)

email template

But look, it was so simple to do that five minutes after taking the above screenshot, I’ve already got a template saved. All I have to do now (instead of typing this out by hand every time) is insert the person’s name and the work they got in touch with me about. Easy.

Each CRM is different in how they have template responses set up, but most will have a tutorial video showing you how to use that functionality. (And once you figure it out once, you’ll be good to go for any and all templates you want to create in the future.)

 

4. Have Conversational Scripts for Your Sales Reps

Just like email responses are anywhere from 80% to 90% the same every single time, so are the queries salespeople deal with.

And just like email templates, CRMs are the perfect place to save conversation templates for new salespeople to follow to make sure the conversations they have are productive and land leads into the right stage of the funnel.

These scripts more or less work exactly like those funny decision-making sales charts we see across the internet.

funny decision script

Sales scripts are kind of like these decision charts. Except a little more serious and they all end up with you making money. (Source)

Except, of course, you use them to guide a conversation with a customer to decide on best course of action for them… even if that course of action is nothing more than sending over a free lead magnet and making a note to get back in touch a week later.

It follows an “if this then that” logic pattern.

And since being monotone and only reading from a script is a huge no-no, that’s not what I’m advising here.

I’m not advising a word-for-word script, but I am advising to have a sort of  flow setup that takes you from one stage to the next so you know how to intelligently listen and guide the conversation so it’s as beneficial as possible for the potential customer.

“A lot of sales reps have strong fluctuation in terms of results they deliver,” said Steli Efti on Close.io. “Some days are amazing, and some days suck, and it’s very much dependent on the state of the individual sales rep. By having a script, you basically create a safety net for shitty days that prevents shitty performance.”

5. Integrate Your CRM With Your Email Provider

So excuse me for sounding blatantly obvious here… but if someone signs up to receive your lead magnet, they are in fact a lead, and should be treated as such.

Like I said, it sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many people just collect email IDs for their newsletter list but then never actually do anything to turn those leads into customers.

Well, okay, they might blast out an email newsletter every other week and just cross their fingers that those leads will eventually buy from them… but I’m not about to advise a finger-crossing strategy. Because finger-crossing is based on happenstance good luck, whereas a to-do list strategy is based on making your own good luck.

So let’s focus on the to-do items.

Integrating your CRM with your email provider so that new leads get instantly added into your CRM into a “New Leads” list is absolutely a hack that you need to employ if you’re wanting to make the most of your lead-gathering efforts.

As soon as they sign up, you can start getting in touch with them to figure out which point they’re at in your sales funnel and decide which information to send them next.

Because once those leads are in your CRM, you can start nurturing them and priming them for the sale with whatever method you prefer… whether it’s giving them a call the next day, feeding them an email drip campaign, or collecting more information from them so you can know how to stay in touch with topics that are interesting to them.

zoho crm

For example, Zoho CRM integrates with a handful of different email providers: MailChimp, ConstantContact, Contactology, and GetResponse.

 

6. Choose a CRM that Does More Than Just Email

The first CRM I ever used only tracked interactions that happened within my inbox.

Conversations on Twitter or LinkedIn didn’t matter, phone calls didn’t count, and there wasn’t any way to manually log an in-person meeting.

Long story short: it was really frustrating. Especially because I was paying for it and it was costing me more time than it was saving me.

Yes, I run my business online and do a lot of interactions via email.

But I also use Skype. And my phone. And (gasp!) sometimes I even meet people over lunch.

And heaven forbid I ever start a conversation via social media or in a Slack channel.

Yes, free and budget CRMs are easy on the wallet, but it’s almost always worth it to spend a little bit of money to get a tool that will track interactions elsewhere and let you manually insert anything that doesn’t happen via an internet connection.

Personally, I only pay $15 per month for Nimble, which is pretty heavy in tracking social interactions… which is important for me.

social networks

I’ve connected all of my social accounts to Nimble, so it knows who in my contacts I follow and who follows me. But the cool part is, even if I’m not connected with someone on a particular network, I can still see what’s publicly available in their feeds and/or get to those profiles to make those connections.

 

7. Email Drips… Automate Your Lead Nurturing

Email drips, also called autoresponders, are one of the coolest features available in higher-functioning CRMs.

(Tip: If you have a cheap CRM like I do, you can usually set this up in your email provider.)

It’s a funnel put into overdrive and set on repeat to run itself every time a new lead comes onto your email list and enters your funnel.

Let me explain it like this:

Let’s say you have a business that teaches productivity to people.

If someone signs up for your free ebook called “5 Ways to Cut House Cleaning Time in Half,” you can keep sending them emails even after you’ve delivered the ebook to them.

After your first email delivering the goods, you can give them time to read your ebook—maybe a day or two.

After that, you can deliver a second email with a case study showing how one reader who used one of the tactics to slash the time she spent cleaning her apartment and used her extra hour and a half every single weekend to finally finish the gorgeous painting project she started months ago.

A day later, you can send an email with some advice you use for yourself to stay on track with your cleaning productivity.

And on the third day, you can send out another call to action for another download or inexpensive purchase that gets your prospect to the next step in your funnel. Maybe this time it’s a tutorial video on using the Pomodoro Technique to blast through an entire weekend’s to-do list in only three hours.

And the best part?

You’ve already written all of these emails beforehand, saved them into your CRM in a sequence, and given them the green light to send out automatically.

Read: You do nothing and your leads get nurtured into sales-ready prospects.

You know, those same leads that you’d just write off and forget about otherwise.

How freaking awesome is that?!?

And honestly, setting up an email drip doesn’t have to be that complicated.

Every CRM and email provider will vary slightly so I won’t be able to give you a screenshot-by-screenshot tutorial, but the process is pretty much like this:

  • Identify the end goal of your email drip. Is it to download another lead magnet? Sign up for a webinar? Make an inexpensive purchase?
  • Identify where your prospects are at when they start receiving the email drip, and what they need to get to do the action that’s the end goal of it. (Like buying something from you.)
  • Outline your emails and write them.
  • Create the autoresponder sequence for the appropriate list within your email provider, making sure to space out each email by at least 24 hours.

In MailChimp, for example, this process is done via what they call Automation Workflows. In Infusionsoft, they’re called a Follow-Up Sequence.

It doesn’t matter how you have to set it up depending on your tool set, just do it.

Especially since 73% of leads are not ready to buy when they first give you their email address (Marketing Sherpa study), you’ve got to get creative so you don’t waste those leads.

If they’re handing over their contact info—even if they don’t want to buy yet—they have proven that they are in fact interested, and if we want to turn more of our leads into sales, we really need to start taking advantage of that.

 

8. Set Notifications & Timers to Respond ASAP

When a lead gets in touch with a question, the faster you respond, the better.

“According to a Lead Response Management study, the magic number here is five minutes,” said Jon Miller on Marketo. “ A five-minute lead response means you’re four times more likely to qualify that lead than a 10 minute response, and a staggering 21 times more likely to convert than after 30-minute wait.”

So basically, the faster you answer someone’s burning question, the more likely they are to buy from you and not your competition.

And no, we’re not talking about phoning it in with one of those annoying, meaningless messages that reminds the customer of how important and busy you are.

There’s nothing more annoying than wanting to know an answer and seeing some shitty automated text that reads:

“Thank you for your query. All of our customer service representatives are busy at the moment. Your ticket will be answered in the order it was received.”

Instead, respond with a real answer—or at least with the intent to help the lead uncover a real answer—the instant the query comes in.

Just like your lead magnet delivery happens instantly when someone signs up for it via your site form, so should a happy customer service rep (you know, if your business has one of them) ready to provide an answer.

The CRM hack that comes into play here is going into your CRM settings and allowing desktop or push notifications to come through on your devices every single time you get an email from an existing lead or a new site query comes in via email or chat box.

With notifications popping in front of you in a way you can’t ignore, your chances of answering your leads in five minutes 0r less (and therefore gaining the advantage of converting them into a paying customer) increases greatly.

Not all CRMs will have this feature, but if yours does have an option to run push notifications to your desktop or your phone, you should absolutely enable that permission.

 

9. Stay on Top of Social

Inside of all of us exists a little, small child just wanting to be recognized for doing good so he or she can feel special and appreciated for a moment.

The thing is, most of the time as adults, people don’t acknowledge our accomplishments… no matter how major they are.

We don’t ask for the acknowledgement because we don’t want to seem desperate and like we’re always fishing for compliments, but at the same time, it feels really good when people throw us a bone and give us a shout out.

And when you can create that feeling for other people, believe me, they will remember you.

Which is why it’s so, so important for you to take your relationship with your clients out of the inbox from time to time and give them a shout out in front of their peers. That kind of shout out we’re all desperate for that tells us we’re doing a good job and validates our efforts.

You can comment on their blog post, upvote their article on Inbound, or share their post on LinkedIn Pulse.

Even something a simple as a virtual pat on the back via a 10-second tweet goes a long way.

By nature, our mental and emotional barriers are lower on social media, so anytime someone interacts with us there in a meaningful way, we notice them.

For most of us, a public accolade on Twitter is way more effective (and less creepy or off-putting) than someone we’ve never met jumping directly into our inbox with it.

Because imagine for a second if two people you’ve never met or heard of read and really liked a blog post you published.

Person one tweets the article, says it was awesome, and tags you in the tweet.

Person two digs to uncover your email address and sends the same message to your inbox.

Yes, person two made more of an effort—but you’re also way more suspicious of person two and what kind of ulterior motive they might have behind starting a conversation with you in such an intimate setting.

And there’s nothing wrong with you, that kind of suspicion is just natural.

But, by using your CRM to link to your social accounts and the accounts of everyone in your list of leads, you can make more of these effective, low-barrier touches that make your leads feel noticed and special before you ever go in for the kill of starting a conversation about suggesting some of your resources to them… or even sales.

And another reason why this is so effective?

(Especially on LinkedIn, in my opinion?)

Is because no one takes the time to pretend like they care about the things you share online by liking your LinkedIn Pulse posts or commenting on your work anniversaries or profile updates.

You see that other people post there, so you know others are seeing your stuff too.

So when you do that for people, not only do they know that you noticed, but they know that you cared enough to make them feel noticed, which goes a long way with the principle of reciprocity.

twitter mentions

When I log into my CRM, for example, I see all the different engagement opportunities I have on social media from people who have mentioned me. Since they gave me a shoutout, I can return the favor, follow them, or start a conversation based on what they’ve said.

ows tweet stream

Then, when I click through on a contact, I can see their stream of social media posts, where I can see what kind of stuff they’ve been accomplishing and sharing, which gives me great material to give them a shout out if that’s what I want to do.

As you can see, my CRM makes this incredibly easy for me, and I’d encourage you to look for a CRM that does the same. It’ll super-charge your person-to-person networking better than any solely email-based CRM could.

 

10. Group Your Leads by Time Zone

Unless your business is hyper-local, you’re working with people in different time zones than you.

And it’s quite likely that you’re dealing with people in many different time zones.

In the US alone, we’ve got four time zones in the lower 48 states, and six total.

Not to mention if your business is international and you’re dealing back and forth between Europe and Asia as well.

“It probably doesn’t make sense to hit prospects from the West Coast at 8 a.m. EST,” said Craig Ferrara on Quota Factory. “The executives we call may get to work early, but 5 a.m. PST may be a bit of a stretch.”

And one way to hack your CRM to make sure you’re getting in touch with people at times that actually make sense for them is to batch leads together based on their time zone.

So, like in Craig’s example, if you do go into work on the east coast at 8 a.m., you’re probably using the first hour or two of your day to reach out to leads in Europe, then talking to people on the east coast after their morning meetings and morning rush of to-do items are finished, and then moving westward as your day progresses so you day finishes with talking to prospects on the west coast during their afternoon.

Of course, yes, it’s possible to just click into every single contact, see what city they’re in, and do mental math to make sure it’s a good time to call them.

But that kind of effort and mental energy builds up and really eats away at your efficiency.

Plus, if you’re like me, if it’s not a good time, you’d probably just end up sending an email instead of calling—and though email is convenient, it does take away that nice, personal touch of a friendly human’s voice that can really help turn a cold prospect into a warm lead.

same city

In my business, I’m a little less concerned about time zones, but I do want to know who else is in the same physical location as I am so I know who’s available to network with in person. I’ve tagged the people in my city with a tag labeled “Asheville,” and the entire list of them is just one click away.

 

11. Have Your Leads Schedule Appointments Instantly

Some CRMs, like Agile CRM, are actually built around appointment-setting features so you can send a link to interested leads to they can instantly pick a time that you’re available that fits with their calendar too.

This ensures that the meeting gets set, and that the intent isn’t lost in the back-and-forth of deciding which times work and won’t work for both of you… and ultimately either not having the meeting or not having it until a point until three weeks out.

“You want to check calendars and schedule appointments immediately to keep momentum going with customers,” explained Claritysoft. “You don’t want to wait to get back to the office to schedule the next meeting and risk losing the deal to a competitor.”

agilecrm

This screenshot on the Agile CRM website shows how a CRM structured around setting up meetings works. Leads choose their time slots, and the best day and time period that works for them. They finalize the booking by providing their contact details so you don’t have to email back and forth about that, either.

And even if appointment scheduling isn’t a function of the CRM you use, you can still “hack” your CRM with this tactic by using a third-party scheduler like Calendly.

So instead of sending out a message with a link to your CRM’s availability calendar, you’d send out the link of your Calendly calendar for people to follow and schedule an appointment with you on.

The best part of these calendars that automatically schedule time slots for you, if you ask me, is that they work for you 24/7 and don’t suck any of your time that you’d rather be spending polishing off your email inbox or ditching your desk to start your weekend 30 minutes earlier.

Plus, and admittedly a little more importantly, they make sure you don’t lose out on any appointments that should be set—meaning you don’t miss out on appointments that could eventually mean thousands of dollars (or more) in new deals for your company.

Win-win-win.

 

12. Standardize Job Titles

If you’re doing a good job of marketing to your target audience, chances are a lot of your leads will have more or less the same job within their respective companies.

But the thing is, no one company uses the exact same naming standards as the next company.

One person might list herself as “Director, Marketing” while another guy lists himself as “Director of Marketing” or “Marketing Director.”

Some companies will use “HR” and others will spell out “Human Resources.” Others will just say “Hiring” or “Talent.”

It seems minuscule, and while it is relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things, standardizing the job titles you use to label people within your own CRM presents an opportunity to hack your own information for personalized, targeted automation and nurturing that really goes above and beyond.

Normally, most of us use the email lists people opt in to for themselves to decide which resources, email funnels, and sales pitches to put them through.

And while that works, there’s another level of sophistication you can take things to by targeting certain email sequences towards certain profile data points—like someone’s job title.

And job title is a great one, because it pretty much tells you exactly what their day-to-day responsibilities and stresses are like, and what their major concerns are.

So when your CRM pulls profile data from LinkedIn, it pulls the data exactly how it’s written.

It doesn’t try to be smart about predicting which category it should go into, rearranging words to match your order of preference, or even fixing typos.

So when you enter a new contact—or a new set of contacts—into your CRM, take the time to make sure the job title of each person matches one of your standardized titles.

This way, every single time you want to send out a targeted offer or communication based on job title, you don’t have to manually search through your contacts crossing your fingers that you’ll get everyone.

Instead, you can type in ONE search term and KNOW you’ve got every single person you need in that list of results.

It’s a time-saver and it helps you provide more targeted communication to more people… turning more leads into sales.

For example, I haven’t employed this hack in my CRM, but I should. When I want to look for people who are self-employed and have their own business, this is what I have to search:

  • Entrepreneur = 10
  • Business Owner = 0
  • Solopreneur = 1
  • Self-Employed = 3
  • Owner = 5
  • Founder = 20

I have to do six searches… and I may or may not be leaving people out depending on how they label themselves.

But imagine if I had my own internal naming standards so I could do one search to uncover all 39 people instead of haphazardly guessing and hoping no one’s left out?

 

13. Set Up Trigger-Based Alerts to Get in Touch

It happens more often than not that someone signs up for your lead magnet and doesn’t turn into a paying customer within a month.

In fact, according to statistics, the vast majority of your leads won’t become customers within the time span of the first funnel you put them through.

But just because they don’t buy right away… or within the first year… doesn’t mean you have to give up on them.

Not at all.

In fact, once you’ve got them in your CRM and have them pixeled on your site, you can track their activity.

You might not want to set a trigger every single time the read a new blog post… that would be just a little creepy.

But you could set a trigger to get in touch with them if they sign up to receive a new lead magnet.

Or after they attend a webinar you host.

This way, you can keep tabs on how their business is evolving and continue to offer them advice, resources, and support until they’re ready to start buying from you.

But these trigger-based notifications don’t have to be just for leads and yet-to-be customers.

You can use them on your current customers too to increase loyalty and decrease your churn rate.

Let’s say, for example, you’ve got a customer whose plan will be up for renewal in two months.

This is the perfect opportunity to set a trigger to get in touch with him and show him the before and after of his data from when he started working with you to now. Or to show him new ways to use your product to maximize his results even further.

Or to just make him feel heard, appreciated, and understood in general.

Other amazing triggers to use with this strategy include:

  • A free trial is about to end
  • Someone hasn’t logged in for a few days
  • Someone reaches a goal or an important milestone
  • They publish something on LinkedIn Pulse
  • They sign up for one of your other lead magnets

My CRM doesn’t have this functionality, so I can’t show you how to set these up with a screenshot.

But basically, it’s an automation feature that you can set up in your CRM’s backend as a workflow.

The first action item in the workflow is the reader taking that specific action: downloading a lead magnet, signing up for a free trial, or even clicking a specific link in one of your email campaigns.

Once that action is taken, you tell your CRM what you want it to do next: send out the next email as a part of a sequence, send a notification to your dashboard to call them, or send them a link to schedule a demo with you.

workflow

In this video, Social Sinergy shows how to setup a trigger-based automated workflow inside of their CRM interface. (Most CRMs will more or less follow along this same model.)

 

Suggested CRM Tools

In this post, I’ve used a lot of screenshots from Nimble because that’s the CRM I use.

But this is not a post to promote Nimble. Believe me, I fully realize that with B2B CRMs, one size does not fit all.

Nimble fits me in ways that something like InfusionSoft never could. But then again, there’s InfusionSoft users who could never imagine using anything else… especially something as simplistic as Nimble.

So let me introduce a few of the most popular CRMs to you with their most prominent features so you can start to make this decision for yourself. (Especially if it’s a decision you haven’t already made… choose one!)

 

Nimble

nimble

The reason I use Nimble is because it’s socially-centered, integrates well with email, and is only $15 per month.

I don’t have a lot of robust needs for a CRM… mostly just something that tracks my interactions and my calendar, lets me log anything that happens in person, and reminds me to get in touch with people I haven’t talked to in a while.

I’m not yet interested in using my CRM to track on-site behavior, implement triggers, or changing an autoresponder sequence based on the links someone clicked on, so it’s perfect for me.

I don’t think you can get much more budget-friendly with a CRM than $15 per user per month, so if you’re willing to sacrifice some functionality (or just don’t need it yet), this could be the perfect CRM for you.

 

SalesForce

salesforce

SalesForce, even though they’re huge and are known for serving enterprise-level clients, has a set of solutions aimed at helping the special needs of small businesses too.

The software within the platform helps you find more leads, turn more of those leads into customers by winning deals, and keep those customers around so they continue to buy from you after their first purchase.

Given the name, it is much more sales and deal-centric than other solutions.

It’s much more robust than budget options, and their customers love that it makes it easier for their customers to come to them and do business with them by taking care of things like paperwork and distributors.

 

Sugar

sugar

SugarCRM is more focused towards businesses with teams of people (even if they’re small teams) than it is solopreneur businesses and small mom-and-pop shops.

The core of the software is automation of your marketing funnels, trigger-based responses, and even your sales. (So depending on what you’re selling, you may not even have to get on the phone to close the deal.)

But beyond the machine-driven automation, it is still very relationship-focused, giving sales representatives the data points they need to make every relationship they start with a lead incredibly valuable.

 

InfusionSoft

infusionsoft

InfustionSoft is known for how insanely robust it is. I think you could easily rely on it to take care of all the hacks we’ve talked about in this article and then some.

And once you get it up and running, it can be one of the most powerful lead-converting (automated!) engines you’ve ever imagined.

So it’s totally worth it for that.

The only drawbacks though, especially for smaller businesses who are still in or who’ve just exited the bootstrapping stage, is $200 per month starter price and the fact that you’ll probably need some help setting it up properly.

 

HubSpot

hubspot

I take back what I said about $15 per month being the most affordable option.

HubSpot’s got a CRM for small businesses that’s free. As in, $0 per month for as long as you want to use it. (Which is about $180/year more affordable than Nimble.)

It automates tedious things like data entry, tracks interactions with your customers on your site, in email, and on social, and it’s designed to be focused around your sales pipeline, so you’re constantly moving leads forward towards the ultimate goal.

There’s an option to pay a fee for HubSpot Sales features if you want to focus more on selling, but even if not, the tool is still free for as many users and contacts that you want.

 

Start With One Tactic & Get Moving

It’d be silly of me to think you would read this article, drop everything, and start hacking away at your CRM until every single little piece of advice I’ve given in this article was taken care of.

I know you’re busier than that, and I know not all of these tactics are equally suited to every business model.

But of the 13 tactics we went over that will help you turn more of your leads into sales, I’m sure at least one of them really resonated with you as a good idea…. Which is the one you should put on your to-do list to start implementing ASAP.

There’s no such thing as a perfectly-run business or a perfectly-run sales funnel, but there is such a thing as taking what you’ve got and making it better… even if it’s already pretty good.

How to Design the Best Logo for Your Brand

You’ve just been given the assignment to design a logo for a company brand. Congratulations! It’s an awesome responsibility that, when done right, will have a huge and lasting impact on that business and your career. In essence, the logo you design for a brand can become your brand. So now what?

First, consider that there are three types of logos: font-based, illustration based and abstract graphic-based. Font-based is just that: a simple spelling of the company, such as Google, IBM or Microsoft. But just because it’s a font doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with colors or even creating your own font:

multiple logos

Illustration-based logos work when a plumber spells their name with pipes. As for abstract graphics, think Nike swoosh or Pepsi circle. As part of your pitch, you could craft versions of all three types, but you’ll be called on to pick your favorite. Make it count! Here are some other guidance tips to help you get started with your logo design project.

 

Embrace the Logo Laws

A logo is what the company depends on for brand identification. To that end, the logo you design needs to be simple in nature. This isn’t the time to show off your George Seurat skills of painting with dots. Yes, your logo can be quirky, but it shouldn’t be complicated.

A logo also has to be memorable. This is especially true for those logos like the aforementioned Nike swoosh. You don’t even need to see the word Nike. The swoosh says it all. Of course, this kind of brand identification doesn’t happen overnight. It also helps if the product reaches the apex of being a cultural phenomenon.

nike

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swoosh

That brings up the next logo law: your logo needs to be enduring. Think of it lasting a lifetime through all kinds of advertisements and product integration. Can your logo stand the test of time?

Finally, your logo has to be versatile. This is especially true today. It’s not just going to pop up on a billboard or the side of a bus. Instead, it’s going to be blasted across all kinds of social media platforms. The goal is to reach for becoming iconic.

 

Look for Inspiration Everywhere

Your logo ideas can begin to bubble up by looking for inspiration everywhere you go. Bookmark Logogala to search a vast array of logo samples. You might also want to spend some time falling down the “rabbit hole” at Deviant Art. It’s an online community of thousands of artists and photographers sharing their work. Remember: you’re looking for inspiration and not “lifts.”

 

Do Your Logo Homework

Anytime the ad executives on “Mad Men” were brainstorming a new campaign, they often tried out the products for themselves. This is why liquor and cigarette campaigns were so popular! As the designer of a logo, you want to come up with your own process that will help you understand the company you’re working for. This will help you make more money in the long run.

If an extensive design brief is your style, then be sure to pour in all the research you can. Don’t just ask the company for their stockholder pamphlet — instead, hit the streets! Spend time in the places where that logo is going to show up the most, such as grocery or retail outlets. You want to pull in as much information about the company’s product or service as you can, to the point of near-exhaustion. You’re going to become an expert on that “thing.”

 

Come Up With a Solid Quote

Obviously, you’re going to be paid for this hard work. The question becomes: “How much is your work worth?” It would be nice if you got a royalty agreement for a logo, but that’s not going to happen. Instead, approach the project from the perspective of time. How long will you be devoting to this project? That’s not just the initial design phase, but all the revisions and adjustments (of which there will be plenty).

You also have to consider overhead. That holds true if you’re working alone or in an office as part of a team. The other thing to consider is not pricing yourself out of the market. You might get to that level someday, but starting out means you might have to work within a company’s budget. There’s nothing wrong with asking up-front what that budget might be. If you like that number, then lock it down!

 

Toss Out the Clichés

Just because the company you’re designing has the word “global” or “international” in their name doesn’t mean the logo should include an actual globe or picture of the planet. Those ideas are going to pop up in your first round of design. That’s okay! Just be sure to get them out of your system. The general rule of thumb is that if you thought of it first, it’s probably because you’ve seen it somewhere else. And so has your client.

The same can be said for borrowing designs. Just because you’re flipping fonts or colors doesn’t mean you can call something your own. You might have gotten away with that back in the “Mad Men” days, but Google Image search will come back to haunt you every time.

 

Keep Your Client Involved

As a designer, you might have images of landing the gig and then going off to create. Weeks later, you show up at the boardroom with your concepts in tow. One look and the client is popping champagne. Reality check: It doesn’t work that way.

Instead, you should be involving your client in every step of the way. It might help to share some preliminary thoughts just to make sure you’re not going down the wrong path. After all that research you conducted, you might be thinking the brand means one thing while the client is on a totally different page. You need to get on the same page.

Start Building a File of Sketches

Your actual logo design work will begin with doodles. What if you make a swish here? What about a blob there? These are the kinds of things you probably wouldn’t want to show a client, because they’re too rough and just musings. However, you should absolutely keep them in a file or box throughout the entire design process.

If you get stuck, go to the box and see where you started. Circling back can often reveal a new way forward.

 

Map Your Moods

You wouldn’t be a designer unless you saw things with a unique visual aesthetic. It will help the process if you dedicate a white board or even an entire wall to mapping your moods with regard to the logo. What are the words most associated to the product? What are some of the visual images that spring to mind when thinking of that product? Spend some time thinking about color, too: there’s a multitude of hidden meanings and feelings you can invoke when you use color wisely.

Write, cut and paste whatever pops in your head. There’s nothing wrong that you can put up on the mood board.

 

Take the Grid Approach

Often, a logo can be broken down as fitting into a perfect grid. It’s also a way to build out that timeless nature of the logo. Consider the case of Shell Oil. This is a logo that has gone through many revisions since its inception. However, it’s always remained true to the original grid pattern. In other words, all those shells can fit into the same box. That’s very effective logo design.

shell

Of course, you don’t want to go overboard with your grid rationalization. Some logos will require a certain level of fluidity. You need to allow room for a logo to “breathe.”

 

Think About Space

The space around your logo is often as important as the space within your logo. This is where visualizing where that logo is going to appear really comes into play. Will it always be on a white background? Does it work to put the logo in the box?

Then, there’s the use of negative space. This is where you find a way to utilize the space within your logo. Classic example: FedEx. Although it’s subtle, the arrow between the “E” and “X” reinforces that FedEx is always on the move. Brilliant in its simplicity. That is the kind of logo you could retire on!

fedex

 

Make Room for Experimentation

There are plenty of companies with entire generations of business success. They might not want to stray too far off the mark with regard to their logo. On the other hand, there are just as many startups who want to be considered hip and trendsetters.

This might allow you to experiment with designs that would never be considered “traditional.” You can alter a background, incorporate layers or even approach from a 3D perspective. Go wild, but keep it focused.

 

Try Different Sizes

Once you home in on a few logo concepts that seem to be gelling, you’ll want to start playing around with sizes. What if that logo is going on the back of a baseball cap or the front of a t-shirt? Does it get all mushed together? Can it be identified without the aid of a magnifying glass? All things to consider.

 

Don’t Chase Trends

Google “most popular fonts.” You’ll come up with a solid top ten list. Then, Google that again a week later and that list will change. As we all know about trending topics, they don’t last very long. The same can be said for all those “cool” fonts. Remember: you want your logo to be timeless.

Finally, after you’ve put yourself through all this work, it might be time to take a break. Find a way to go off-grid and give your creative space a chance to reboot. You might just come back with a fresh approach. One more “Mad Men” reference: The final episode has Don going off to find himself. What he found was peace, harmony and a way to sell Coke.

 

About the Author: Lexie Lu is a designer and blogger. She actively contributes to the design world and usually has a cup of coffee in close proximity. She writes weekly on Design Roast and can be followed on Twitter @lexieludesigner.

The SMART Approach to Goal Setting: Does it Work?

“Everything that happens is a small part of our journey. We can choose to be passive or we can be proactive and overcome our fears, set our own goals and do the best to reach them. For better or for worse, we always have a choice.”

– Giorgio Pautrie

If you’re leading product development teams, work output is likely to be a key consideration for you. As project manager, you’re responsible for ensuring that deliverables are met and that everybody is organized. To achieve this, it’s important to have the right productivity tools for your business but also that you’re a motivating manager. Setting targets is a proven way of keeping a multi-disciplined team working towards a common goal and popular methodology for this is SMART goals.

It seems that everyone these days is implementing SMART goals. They help to encourage you and your team, and guide your company’s long-term vision. And because SMART goals conform to predetermined criteria, and are measurable, they create transparency and accountability.

SMART goals help you organize your time and resources and, as you reach each one, you will feel a sense of accomplishment. Measuring your progress also helps you evaluate the efficacy of each goal, and make adjustments along the way.

Ultimately, implementing this strategy will help you keep costs low and make more money in the long term.

SMART goal-setting follows a simple formula; each goal must be:

S = Specific (or significant)

M = Measurable (or meaningful)

A = Attainable (or action oriented)

R = Realistic(or rewarding) and

T = Time Based (traceable)

If you’re starting on a new brief or project, start by identifying your long-term goals. Then, break these down into smaller steps or targets that, once achieved, put you closer to achieving your overall objectives. For each goal you write, ask yourself questions like: what do I want to achieve, how much, for whom, for what purpose, and with what constraints. Here are some tips on how to set your SMART goals:

 

When Stating Each Goal, Be Precise & Use Positive Statements

“Create valuable content that is useful to my audience based on the following needs and interests…” is better than “Don’t publish subpar content.”

Use dates and base each goal on a KPI (key performance indicator), for example, “increase traffic to my website via Facebook by 10% in three months” is better than “increase Facebook engagement and website visitors.”

 

Give Each Goal A Priority Status

When you are dealing with multiple goals, be sure to indicate which take priority. This will keep you from feeling overwhelmed and help you focus your attention on higher-priority objectives. It also helps team members understand the bigger picture. This is especially important if one person can’t start a dependent task until someone else has complete their own.

 

Make Each Goal Small & Incremental With Milestones

Lofty goals are difficult to achieve in short spurts and can leave you feeling as if you haven’t accomplished anything. Be sure each goal is part of a larger objective, but small enough to complete before moving forward. Break down larger goals into smaller tasks. As you achieve milestones based on specific dates, you will feel more in control and that you are making progress.

 

Be Specific

Specific goals are focused and well defined. If you set out to “increase revenues by 15% through B2B partnerships in six months” you will come much closer to your target than if you work towards “increasing revenues in 2016.”

Being specific forces you to hammer out the strategy needed to achieve a particular goal. How will you reach out to potential partners, and with what message? What is the current industry landscape, and what is the six-month forecast?

 

Be Sure Each Goal Is Relevant

Again, your business climate will help you determine if a particular goal is relevant. If a recession is looming or two new competitors are quickly gaining traction in your market, then a goal to increase revenues by 50% may not be possible in the short-term. You may want to focus instead on nurturing relationships with your current clients and attracting new ones, perhaps by redefining your branding or ramping up your marketing efforts with case studies and testimonials.

 

Don’t Over Reach

Resist the temptation to set goals that aren’t attainable. It’s okay to dream big, but your goal-setting protocols should be based firmly in reality. Investors often overlook companies whose business plans are filled with outlandish goals. Set realistic goals by researching your industry’s growth potential and your own resources. This will also help to keep the team motivated and not feeling like you’re burning them out for the sake of your own glory.

 

Example SMART Goals

  • Achieve 300 website referrals and 30 leads via LinkedIn by August 1, 2016.
  • Grow social media interactions by 500 in the third quarter of 2016.
  • Increase referral sales by five for a total of $300,000 in revenues in one year.
  • Reduce bounce rates by five percent in the fourth quarter of 2016.
  • Increase newsletter subscribers by 100 in six months.

SMART goals can make a huge difference in your company’s growth. Attach an inspirational quote to each goal to drive momentum and keep your team motivated.

And check out this free template by HubSpot for implementing SMART marketing goals.

There are also a few variations to SMART, like SMARTER, which forces you to evaluate and adjust your approach, and SMARTEST, which is meant to significantly improve the quality of your goal setting and increase the likelihood of your success.

But is SMART goal-setting really the best technique? Despite the popularity of SMART, some commentators aren’t convinced of the value of every metric. For example, Forbes contributor Mark Murphy says the achievable and realistic parts of SMART goal setting may be an impediment to realizing goals, “and actually encourage mediocre and poor performance.”

Still, few will argue that it’s just plain smart to write down your goals, and the steps you’ll need to achieve each one (as long as you look back at your progress and adjust course when necessary).

Further Reading

For more information on formulating SMART goals, see this post from Syracuse University that provides definitions of each element of SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound, as well as examples of how each should be written.

HubSpot Academy also provides a comprehensive guide to formulating SMART objectives, which is particularly helpful for marketers who use the platform: “Typically, marketers might have goals for Visits, Contacts, and Customers for the year, quarter, or month and the numbers are closely related to each other. We’ve found that focusing on one of these specific segments gives the clearest vision of success.”

The UK’s Project Smart offers variations on the SMART theme and a template for creating SMARTER goals.

If you’re a blogger, check out this post by maximizesocialbusiness.com called 5 SMART Blogging Goals to Set in 2016, which helps you set actionable goals for both your personal or business blog.

Similarly, WebHostingSecretRevealed.net says you can “grow your blog strategically with SMART goal-setting.” Once you define a goal, this post suggests:

Begin by breaking down your goal into objectives. What steps do you need to take for your goal to become reality?

If your goal is to earn $1,000 in your first year of blogging, you can start by making a list of ways to earn money (you can get ideas from our post on 23 Clever Ways to Monetize Your Blog).

Break down your goal into monthly steps. If you’ve decided to try to land sponsored posts, your list might look like this:

  1. Redesign blog and clean up sidebar clutter by the end of February 1st
  2. Start an email list by March 1st
  3. Create a media kit by April 1st
  4. Compile of list of brands I’d like to work with by May 1st
  5. Starting in May, reach out to 5 brands per week

In contrast, searchenginewatch.com speaks directly to PPC professionals, suggesting SMART goals for AdWords is “not a smart move for advertisers.”

And psychologytoday.com goes so far as to suggest, “Goal setting may be counter productive if not a waste of time.” For examples of goal setting gone wrong, see their post here. It offers advice from psychologists and Harvard Business School faculty who believe there are better alternatives to goal setting, particularly by “focusing on small wins in combination with process improvement [to] drive your organization forward without the negative consequences of stretch goals.”

In addition, author Ray Williams offers advice to those who must set goals and explains the psychological manifestations that occur when goals are not achieved. Worth a read!

Do you currently use SMART goals? If so, which ones have been successful and what tips can you recommend? If not, what limitations do you believe are inherent in the SMART approach to goal setting? Have you found more value from another technique? Let us know in the comments!

 

About the Author: Gareth Simpson is a marketing manager based in the UK. During his time working for digital agencies, he has learned that inspiring and motivating digital teams is key to success. You can learn more about Gareth on Twitter.