Small business improvement ideas
Do you know that 91% of consumers look online for local good and services?1 And 56% do not trust a business without a website?2 You know you need a website, but how do you get started? What parts do you need, and how do you get it done?
I get asked these questions all the time.
Over the years, I’ve worked on building a website. Some I’ve built myself, but usually, I’ve worked with a designer to get them built and designed more quickly and more elegantly. I have a checklist of things, in my head that I need to go through to make sure a website has all the necessary pieces for launch, and that it is able to be improved later, when the business I’m working with has more money, more time, or their business changes.
Some of the things I think about for myself and with my clients are:
- Please pick a domain name and find a great web address. – I recommend you find a .com whenever possible.
- Understanding what is critical now – and what can be improved upon later
- Develop a list of the requirements for your site – including the number of pages, the content on those pages, links to social media, where those links should be placed, optimizing your site for mobile traffic, and finding an easy way to make content updates
- Decide if you’re going to do-it-yourself or if you’ll hire someone to do it for you
- Choose what you want to build your website on (WordPress, SquareSpace, Concrete 5, straight HTML, or whatever else)
- Figure out where your site will live (called a “hosting company”)
- And a bunch more things.
Now I’ve known for a long time I should have a checklist for building a website, but I never put it together.
Thankfully, I found a website building checklist that has all the things I would include, and more. Go check out the website checklist now – and get your business online to grow your web presence sooner than later, so you can beat the pants off your competition. It contains all the stuff I mentioned above, and much more!
So what are you waiting for? Go get your website checklist now!
I found this great infographic that breaks down what business find to be the most effective selling channels. In the end all three are used effectively by 30% of business. This is great if you are looking to diversify your retail business, and for financial advisors who inspire others to see their potential growth.
I am really excited about today’s guest post, especially since I am now involved in the #ShutUpShow with my very good friend, Berni and my friend, Noeleen, is fantastic and offers up some great tips for you!! Please let me know which ones you find most useful.
Noeleen McGrath is the President of McGrath Comm. Her firm specializes in executive media training and executive presentation skills coaching. She recently launched a podcast, “Eat The Lens,” where she offers bite-sized tips to help you improve your on-camera performance. You can also find her on twitter as @McGrathComm and on google+.
As an executive media trainer and executive presentation skills coach, I work with many people to improve their on-camera performance. While the executives I work with usually perform at a very high level, occasionally I work with people who are new to being on-camera. Some are even trying to produce their own videos to promote their practices and businesses. Typically I start my coaching sessions with these professionals by reviewing videos that they have already produced. Without fail, I see the same mistakes over and over again. But with a little coaching– and a better understanding of video production—they show great improvement.
Here are some tips to help you improve your on-camera performance and appearance.
FIVE TIPS FOR BETTER VIDEOS
#1 Get some light on your face. Good lighting makes a HUGE difference to your on-camera appearance. The inexpensive option is to go outside. The downside is that if you’re like me you’ll squint in the sunlight. That’s why I invested in a professional video light for my office. I just set it up about five feet from my face and I look like a million bucks.
#2 Keep your messaging tight. Figure out what you want to say and don’t repeat yourself. That’s one of the biggest mistakes I see beginners make. They are trying to talk their way through what they want to say and they wind up babbling like a brook. Practice off-camera first. Then record yourself.
#3 Keep your videos short. If it’s just you on-camera, don’t go longer than a minute. That’s a long time to watch someone, especially if they aren’t really charismatic. If you’ve got some video to cover when you’re on-camera, then you can probably go two minutes.
#4 Make sure your camera is level with or higher than your face. The fastest way to create double chins is to have your camera or laptop shooting up at you. My advice is to buy a tripod for your camera. Or if you need to raise up your laptop– stack some dictionaries or phone books underneath it until the chins disappear.
#5 Smile! Nothing will endear you more to an audience than a great smile. Make it real. Make it warm. You will find that people will forgive most of your mistakes while you’re learning how to perform on-camera if you flash those pearly whites.
I am honored to present today’s guest post from Tom Snyder. Tom Snyder, is founder, president and CEO of Trivera, a seventeen year old strategic marketing and communications firm that has embraced the web from the very beginning. Tom oversees the day to day operations of the firm, and lives in suburban Milwaukee, Wisconsin with his wife Marjie and their two dogs. When Tom isn’t busy making his clients look like marketing rock stars, he’s also a wine snob, music junkie, Ex-Milwaukee Radio Guy, HDTV expert, political wonk, hopeless romantic and author of “The Complete Idiot’s Mini Guide to Realtime Marketing with Foursquare,” from Penguin Books.
Broadcast advertising: DEAD! Print advertising: DEAD! Direct Marketing: DEAD! Trade Shows: DEAD! Web sites: DEAD! Email Marketing: DEAD! Long Live Social Media!!!!!
A lot of folks have been regarding me as a go-to source for Social Media marketing for several years. My marketing firm, Trivera, produced Social Media University, the first major Social Media conference in Milwaukee in 2009 (we picked Phil Gerbyshak as one of our professors).
So what I’m about to say may surprise you.
If I see one more expert blog about the demise of any traditional marketing vehicle at the hands of the next new shiny Social Media object, I just may vomit.
News Flash: NONE of them are dead, or even going away any time soon. And as much as some would like to believe that Social Media is the low cost silver bullet that will allow you to ignore other marketing vehicles, those people are kidding themselves.
Old time Marketers who have been around for awhile (i.e. since before SXSW), will tell you: New platforms don’t make it easier or cheaper to market your business. They never have and they never will.
Decades ago, there were marketers who hoped that this new fangled TV thing would be their savior, and they’d no longer need to use radio to reach their audience. The smart ones (and even the not-so-smart ones) soon realized that they needed to figure out how to strategically use BOTH to reach different market segments.
More recently came the promise that the web was going to eliminate both print and broadcast media. While some forged that path, others stubbornly refused to even pursue web-based marketing. But again, the most successful marketers figured out how to use all of them together. It cost more, but generated an even greater return.
Then came the marketers who rejoiced that email marketing would deliver them from the “high” cost of print and direct mail. The wise ones found that successful digital campaigns, if done properly, could actually be even more expensive than the printed predecessors. But ironically, while even more expensive, those campaigns could still be more effective…and produce a greater ROI…when combined with direct marketing efforts using personalized URLs.
And now, most recently, businesses who resisted the high investment required for a strategically and professionally architected, effectively-developed, search engine optimized, well marketed web presence are celebrating the coming of “free” Social Media. With messianic fervor, they proclaim “the website is dead” only to be disappointed as they bounce from MySpace to Facebook to Twitter to Foursquare to Pinterest with Wac-a-Mole-like effort, only to become serial Social Media failures. Now Instagram Video and Vine are the new shiny objects that will help them achieve their elusive, unfulfilled dreams of amazing success with little investment.
“When this 6 second video I shot for free with my iPad goes viral, my brand will finally take off!”
Here’s the deal. Effective marketing is hard. It requires expertise. Chances are you don’t have that expertise. So you’ll need to find help from someone who does. And I don’t mean a friend’s son who “knows computers,” a Social Media “guru” whose only credentials are that they’ve been on Twitter since 2009 or even a 30 year old ad agency whose “digital division” is a WordPress theme hack.
An effective marketing campaign is one that will start first with an understanding of your brand (not your logo, but the promise of an experience). It’s only by knowing why your ideal customers love, trust and do business with you, that you can then know where, when, why and how to find more just like them. Once you’ve done that, then you need to understand what will generate awareness, interest, desire, and action for that group, and then be able to effectively (and measurably) execute the plan to make it happen, regardless of the media necessary to get it done. That may mean Social Media, but it might not. That may not mean radio or TV, but it might. It might require email, Direct Mail or both. PR, content marketing, video, outdoor, and even the back cover of the phone book could each be the ideal ways to reach them. One thing for certain: it WILL require a web presence. Whether it’s a micro-site, an informational website, a fully functional eCommerce site, an intranet, the data source for a mobile app or all of the above, there will be a web component. Part of that web component will be the tools to measure the success of every marketing channel being used and monitoring what’s working (so you do more of that) and what isn’t (so you stop doing that).
Obviously a single individual will never have the knowledge and experience to do all of that. So what you really need is a team. A team with a combined knowledge of every one of those media, and how to use them all correctly, either independently or in concert with any of the others. A team that can measure your key performance indicators, and continually improve them. It requires a team that understands your brand, and can use the right mix of tools to reinforce that brand and increase sales. A team that understands…and can deliver…meaningful Return on Investment. Find that team and let them help you succeed.
Competition for reaching a market share and turning it into meaningful conversions will never be easy. Neither will the choices of marketing and transactional tools. There are no short cuts. It will require an investment. But the one thing that will never change is that strategic marketing done right will come back in spades.
And that is the only real silver bullet.
On May 31st, 2010, I completed my last day as a corporate employee. My last work day was May 27th. It was a wonderful Friday, and I turned out the lights in the place as the last manager on duty before a nice long 3 day weekend for Memorial Day. I didn’t turn in my company issued BlackBerry or my access card. My e-mail wasn’t shut down. And I knew I’d see everyone in a few weeks when I got back from some work I had already booked out of state, as my former employer wanted me to work on a project for another 90 days as a consultant.
The lessons I learned started in earnest three years ago. They’re not the things I expected to learn or that I thought I would need to know in order to be in business. They’re not your typical lessons, but they are my lessons.
While my former employer wanted me to be around full-time for 90 days (which would have made my salary nearly 2 times where I was when I left), they didn’t have enough work for me to do, so I worked part-time for 75 days, and then they ended my contract early. They didn’t have enough work for me to do because they didn’t know the scope of the work they were asking me to do, as they’d never done it before. Without a contract, they could just cut off my services at any time – and they did. I also could do whatever I wanted to do, so if I got a better offer from another client, I would work with them and not go in to my former employer that week. That was a verbal agreement we had. It worked for us.
Earlier this year I had a client that provided 25% of my monthly income have someone in their corporate office decide they wanted a full service agency to handle all of their marketing. We didn’t have a contract, so I got very little notice from corporate, causing me to scramble to make up the lost income. Thankfully I had plenty of prospects in the pipeline and I live a fairly simple life so this affected me much less than it could have. In this case, no contract caused me unnecessary stress.
Lesson learned: I’m not saying you have a contract. I’m also not saying you shouldn’t have a contract. I’m saying if you don’t have a contract, be ready for things to change faster than you think. And be prepared with a plan B, C and D – just in case.
Cash flow matters more than profit and loss – and clients who pay quickly are clients I love. Again, my former employer was very good to me. They processed my invoices quickly, and I could walk up to the payroll department and they would cut me a check the same day my invoice was approved. I had another client who would cut me a check within an hour of receiving my invoice. Some other clients paid me within 10 days, which is what the net was on my invoices. And I tried to bill a month ahead.
One client however decided to pay me at their own pace, which was 45 days – after the month was over. So they were not only not net 10 as my other clients were and as we agreed to (verbally) but they were really 65 days behind, as was their corporate policy. I didn’t know this at first, nor did my contact, so the first 2 months, we both spent a great deal of time chasing after accounts payable to find out what happened to my invoice, if it was received, if there were questions, missing paperwork, whatever. Finally we got a name and e-mail contact in AP, and sent an e-mail asking a question. The nice person there responded that company policy was not to pay ahead for consultants, and she would pay me 45 days after the month was over. I wasted a lot of time, and caused myself a lot of stress, because I didn’t know the terms of the company I was working on.
Lesson learned: Get the terms spelled out and agreed to (maybe even in writing) before you plan to pay your mortgage with money you don’t have. And love the clients extra much that can turn an invoice around same day.
One of my clients wanted a robust social media plan to attract new employees. The problem is, none of their potential employees use social media. And if they do use it, they use it to meet potential dates – not to look for a job or to get any sort of news on how to do their job better. To make matters worse, this company actually blocked all social media internally at the company, so my contact had to work with me outside of normal business hours, or on her smart phone, or occasionally on a guest wireless hot spot she could get on periodically in her office. All of these things would have been good to know before I took them on as clients.
I’m not saying these are things my clients should have told me up front. These are things I should have asked before I took on the project. Initially I thought we were going to re-do their website and write blog articles and attract people to them by focusing on search engine optimization, and by sharing their articles. They decided that wasn’t in the budget for the foreseeable future and that my work would only be funded at 50% of the level we initially agreed to, for the “hard work” was off the table.
Lesson learned: What clients say they want and what they can actually do is another thing altogether. Ask LOTS of questions up front before taking on a project – and if the scope of work changes, think long and hard if you can achieve the goals you set out to do.
These are three of my biggest lessons from three years in business. My hope is by sharing these lessons that you can avoid them for yourself, or at least go into things with your eyes a little more wide open. They are not the only lessons I learned. I learn more every day.
YOUR TURN: What’s the biggest lesson you’re willing to share about YOUR business – or your biggest question about being a business owner? Leave a comment below and let’s talk about this.
One of the most important tools you have as a small business owner is the power of storytelling. Your story makes the difference between someone buying from you, and someone buying from someone else.
Not directly mind you, but indirectly. All of the marketing you do, all of the people you hire, and yes, all of the reasons you’ve started your business, they all matter to somebody, often to you.
What story gets passed down from generation to generation? That your company had another record year in 2008? Or that your company was founded in 1997 by a single dad looking for a better way for his son not to have to play baseball by himself because Dad came home after working a 16 hour day as a mid-level manager in a non-descript company, and he felt guilty about missing so many baseball games? Obvious, don’t you think?
Take the time to think about your stories. Some of the best stories might be about:
Why you started your business
Why you hired your first employee
What your promise is (and why your customers should care)
Who you are and what you stand for
How you knew you needed to do what you do every day
Stories impact clients and prospects in many ways. They give them content to connect with. They give them context to see them in our business. And most importantly, stories humanize the business brand, helping move from a logo and a building, to a cause, a reason for being, and a greater good. A well told story allows customers to get lost in your story, to see where they fit in your story, and most importantly, they help them see how your product or service can help them make an even better story than without you.
Practice your stories. Write about your products, your services, your brand, yourself. Figure your stories out and then share them with your world.
YOUR TURN: What’s YOUR best story about your company? Share a link or a comment below and let’s get the story telling started.
When you’re starting a business, one of the most valuable assets that you can have is a great lawyer. However, when a business owner is first getting started, it’s also quite helpful (and cost effective) to learn as much as possible about law and possibly to even obtain a bit of legal education.
Those with a background in law have an advantage because they can avoid fines and penalties, perform much of the legal paperwork themselves and take advantage of as many tax breaks as are legally available to them.
There are many laws that businesses will need to be familiar with, including zoning laws, licensing laws and trademark and patent laws. For example, there are restrictions on which businesses can be established in which areas. Most businesses also need to be very familiar with employment laws.
But one of the areas that would benefit small businesses the most are knowing the tax laws, and perhaps arming yourself with one of the many tax calculators available online. Tax laws influence how much taxes the company will have to pay and also allows the company to avoid paying large fees for improperly filing their business taxes.
The structure of the business plays a major role in the size of the tax bill that a business has to pay at the end of the year. There are four main types of taxes that businesses have to pay:
- Income tax
- Self-employment tax
- Taxes for employers
- Excise taxes.
How the entrepreneur reports these taxes is largely determined by the structure of the company. For example, sole proprietorships report their personal and business taxes on the same form while the owner of an LLC has separate forms for his business and personal taxes.
In addition to the potential tax deductions that business owners with legal background can receive, another major benefit of having a legal background is that the entrepreneur will understand the type of personal liability that the business needs to have, which is based on the typical risks that the type of business faces. While the lawyer may not be specialized in this area of law, having a general understanding of legal principles gives a business owner an advantage over competitors.
For those business owners who do not have a legal background, there are fortunately resources that are available. LexisNexis lawyer marketing is one of the most reputable resources for legal professionals who are interested in pursuing business opportunities and also has valuable resources for those who do not have a legal background.
The best time to start thinking about and legal needs taxes is yesterday. The second best time is now.
Disclaimer: I am not an attorney, and don’t play one on TV. I strongly recommend you consult an attorney before doing anything legal (or illegal). Actually, just don’t do anything illegal, ok? Thanks!
One of the big differences I see between successful business owners and unsuccessful business owners is one word:
Successful business owners know their why, or at least are on the path to their why.
Your business and personal WHY can be found in the answer to these 2 questions:
Why do you get out of bed in the morning to do what you do, day after day, week after week.
Why do your customers care, or really, why does ANYONE care?
These are tough questions to ask, to be sure. But if you can answer them, and if you can continue to move towards your own why AND help your customers move towards their why, you can get and remain successful.
Simple? You bet.
Easy? Heck no.
So here’s a video that shows some examples, and hopefully inspires you to take action, inspired action, and find your why, today, or at least, this week, or this month.
At least it should inspire you to start looking.
Video link: Simon Sinek – How Great Leaders Inspire Action
It’s your turn: Have you found your why? How did you do it? Any tips for those of us still on this journey?
Recently I watched an inspiring video, about rethinking unpopular. One of the biggest takeaways was a key point, illustrated by the following screen capture.
The difference Erika makes is a very interesting one:
- Unpopular people focus on the 2 most important groups of in our lives; those who will love us no matter what – and ourselves.
- Unlikeable people think it’s all about them.
And I am a huge fan of Erika, as she always is who she is, and never hides from it. Her confidence radiates through in all she does, and I love that quality in her, and others like her.
And Erika, like me, believes you need to be who you are, ALL THE TIME, to give people every opportunity the ability to love us – or hate us. But not to feel indifferent about us.
How can you do that?
Erika offers two simple steps in this 17 minute video:
- Stop apologizing
- Start being honest
That’s easy to understand – and it’s hard to do.
How can you incorporate those into your life’s work?
2 ways to be more comfortable with being unpopular and to incorporate them into your life’s work:
Take the 17 minutes and watch the video. Seriously. It’s that good. I’m going to watch it a few more times myself, as a reminder that it’s good to be unpopular, to polarize, and to find your true audience and true customers.
So what’s stopping you from becoming more unpopular – and more successful?
Disclaimer: Erika did not send me a free copy of this book. And she didn’t ask me to write this article. I just think she is awesome and has ideas that can resonate with you.
I just got back from my 20 year high school reunion, and I realized something: small towns rule, and the rules of small towns are applicable to businesses of all sizes. Things like great customer service, being approachable and being connected all matter – and small towns have known and done this for years. But there’s so much more to that, and so much more strategy you can implement in your business, if you learn about how small towns operate.
I’m fortunate to be friends with an expert in small town ideas, Becky McCray. Becky is the co-author (along with Barry Moltz) of the outstanding book Small Town Rules. You’re fortunate Becky’s my friend too, because she is willing to share some of the most important parts of her book in an interview I did with her a few weeks back.
Becky starts out by talking about the “human scale” which is something all businesses can do, and then goes on from there with TONS of suggestions for thinking smaller – and growing your business.
Our interview goes about 22 minutes, and it’s a lot of useful insights from Becky about the how (and the why) behind why small towns rule. I think you’ll enjoy it, and I encourage you to take some notes and learn as much as you can from Becky.
Want more from Becky McCray?
Visit her blog Small Biz Survival, follow her on Twitter, or buy her book Small Town Rules. All are stocked with many great ways to learn more about how your business can think smaller – and take advantage of the lack of scale your business has to blow the doors off your competition.
Disclosure: I receive many free books throughout the year, and occasionally a book will be relevant enough for my audience that I’ll take the time to interview the author(s). This is one of those times that I got a free book, though I have bought copies of this book for others. If you listen to the interview, you can tell that I was in no way swayed by the free book and that I truly enjoy it, and you can rest assured other interviews are done in a similarly ethical fashion. I just needed to tell you this because of the FTC guidelines.