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How to Master Customer Support for your Small Business (Contribution from Keith Coppersmith)

The following post comes to us from Keith Coppersmith, an experienced business consultant who serves small businesses and startups.


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How to Master Customer Support for your Small Business

Did you know that 51% of customers stop doing business after just one negative experience? Research further shows that businesses lose over $62 billion every year on poor customer service.

Precisely because of that, wise small business owners don’t look at great customer support as a cost. For them, this is a chance to increase sales and boost brand loyalty.

Now, when it comes to providing spotless customer support, there is always room for improvement. Here are a few great tactics that will help you take your customer relationships to the next level.

Don’t Overcomplicate Customer Conversations

Providing customer support is not an opportunity for you to showcase your impressive industry knowledge. When reaching out to you, a customer expects to get a specific answer that solves their problem.

Using overly complex technical jargon may cause miscommunication issues and hurt user experience. It may even seem as if you yourself don’t know the answer to the question. To keep your customers happy, you need to speak their language. Simple and effective explanations will boost their satisfaction and motivate them to buy from you again.

Help your Customers Make Payments Faster

The flexibility of your services can get you a long way. Let’s take an example of invoicing, as this is one of the major problems businesses face. Stats say that 64% of businesses have unpaid invoices that have gone unpaid for at least 60 days.

Sure, in the short term, you need to find the right financing method to boost your bottom line. For example, you can improve cash flow with invoice finance. This financing option brings numerous benefits to small businesses and startups. First, invoice finance firms usually pay businesses about 80% of the total sum within 48 hours, meaning you’ll get your money fast. Second, unlike with bank loans, there are no high-interest rates. Finally, invoicing doesn’t hurt user experience and helps you maintain stronger client relationships.

Sure, these are all short-term solutions. To boost your cash flow in the long run, you need to manage your late payments strategically. Here are a few ideas to incorporate into your customer support:

  • Offer multiple payment options to boost their buying experience and encourage them to buy from you.
  • B2B businesses should also have a billing policy, where they would clearly state when and how you want to get paid and how you will handle late payments.
  • Send invoices on time to get customers to take them seriously.
  • Automate your rebilling process. With the help of the right software, your customers will be able to track their payments directly from an app, get informed about any failed payments, and get actionable tips to solve these problems faster.

Answer Customer Questions in Real-Time

The demands of a modern customer have changed. They now use multiple channels to communicate with brands. Unsurprisingly, they expect businesses to use these channels, too. Research says most customers expect to get an answer within 2 hours, while 84% of them don’t want to wait longer than a day.

Precisely because of that, you need to need to provide multichannel customer services. Update your contact information on your site regularly and get listed on all major business directories. You should also provide your email address, links to social media support profiles, and live chats. Multichannel communication increases user satisfaction and helps them resolve the problem faster.

Leverage the Power of Social Networks

Many brands have started seeing the value of social networks in building customer relationships. First, you can use AI-powered software like chatbots to provide customers with timely and relevant answers. Today’s chatbots are smart and they’re constantly learning from customer interactions to understand their intent and give relevant feedback.

You can also use social monitoring tools to track your brand/product mentions on social networks and participate in customers’ conversations instantly. These tools give you a great opportunity to identify customers experiencing problems with your products, help them fix these problems effectively, and turn them into brand advocates.

Collect Customer Feedback Regularly

There are numerous metrics you can track to assess your small business’ performance. And, one of the most important ones is customer satisfaction. You need to understand how your customers feel about your brand, what they like, appreciate, or hate about it.

Collecting customer feedback is one of the most significant aspects of customer support, given that 91% of unhappy customers won’t complain about poor experiences with your brand. They will simply leave you for your competitors.

There are numerous ways to do gather user feedback. I’ve already mentioned the importance of social listening and AI-powered chatbots. These tools let you see what questions your customers usually ask and what problems they experience.

You could also create a dedicated feedback form on your website and even reach out to a customer that abandoned the shopping cart. Live chat support can also be effective. Once a customer support agent helps a customer, they can send them feedback. Finally, you can always call a customer and ask them for their opinions directly.

Over to You

With the rise of sophisticated customer relationship management tools, providing subpar customer services are not acceptable anymore. You need to provide timely customer support, answer customer feedback professionally, and customize your customer services. This way, you will build stronger customer relationships and increase brand loyalty.

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About the Author: Keith Coppersmith is an Adelaide based business consultant with a degree in Media Management. With experience in numerous small businesses and startups, he enjoys giving advice on all things marketing.

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Why Successful Business Owners Need a Background in Marketing (Contribution from Jock Purtle)

The following post comes to us from internet entrepreneur, Jock Purtle, who is founder of Digital Exits, a company specializing in the buying/selling and appraisal of online businesses. This article is based upon his entrepreneurial experience.


 

Why Successful Business Owners need a Background in Marketing

Why Successful Business Owners Need a Background in Marketing

Being successful in the business world means so much more than simply having a great idea. Though you will not get far if you don’t have a unique or innovative idea, there are many other factors that contribute to the success of a business.

Knowing how to market your business is extremely important and can seriously affect how others view your business and the products or services that you provide. Having basic experience or knowledge in the field of marketing before you start your business is a huge asset. This doesn’t need to be a formal degree. It can be a general understanding of marketing fundamentals and an appreciation for the important role they play in growing a successful business.

Business owners who have a background in marketing and who can think like a marketing professional, when needed will have a significant competitive advantage for the following reasons.

Goal Driven – A strong marketing sense will tell you that one of the first things you need to do when starting a business is to have a clear path for where you want to go and have goals that will get you there. If you do this, you will be able to have better control over your business and where you want it to go, rather than going in blind, and not having a plan. Your goals should encompass everything from business development and marketing to human resources and infrastructure.

Vision for the Future – With a marketing mindset, you will be able to create a business that has a vision for the future. There are various ways to ensure the success of your business, but at minimum you must have a long-term marketing strategy in place that will dictate the products and services you provide to your customers, how they’re priced and how they’re promoted.

Knowing the Target Market – Every successful business owner knows how to identify their target market so that they can sell their goods and services to the right people. Identifying your target market will help you when it comes to promoting your business because you will have a highly focused marketing and advertising strategy that will effectively and efficient use your resources.

Depending on what you are selling and who you’re trying to reach, you will market your business in very different ways. For example, if you are running a clothing store that caters to a young, female audience, your social media presence will be highly important. Compare this to a retirement community who needs to reach an older demographic that’s not likely active on social media, and your marketing strategy drastically changes.

Understanding the Competition – Having a clear idea of who your competitors are and how they market their businesses can help you figure out the best way to market your own business. If the strategies that they are using are successful, then you may want to emulate some of their ideas.

However, it’s also important to separate yourself from our competition, making sure you stand out and that your business is memorable. For example, retail giants Kmart and Target are very similar and even sell some of the same products, but the way that they market themselves separates them from each other, and in turn, they attract different clientele. If you can execute a marketing strategy that is different from your competitors’, then you may be able to tap into a part of the market that they don’t normally reach and in turn, increase your overall sales.

Brand Power– Knowing your brand is extremely important when it comes to marketing your business. It has a profound impact on how you connect with your target audience and how they perceive the value and quality of your business.

For example, the WholeFoods brand attracts a very different clientele than people who choose to purchase their groceries at Wal-Mart. Both brands are successful and have become household names, however the fact is they have strategically chosen to establish different brands and as a result appeal to different target markets. Think carefully about how you want people to feel about your business and the goods or services you provide. You must carefully craft a consistent brand to reflect this.

How would you rate you marketing knowledge ad know-how? If you could benefit from stronger marketing skills, consider Upskilled – a company that helps you to study at any level in any field to get the qualifications and skills you need to further yourself in your career. You’re given support from people who have industry experience and knowledge, and you can study from the comfort of your own home.

Upskilled has everything on offer from short courses to Bachelor’s degrees that are suitable for all skill-sets. Upskilled offers a Bachelor of Business (Marketing), that is a valuable enhancement for someone who is looking to learn about business and marketing and how they go hand in hand in today’s economy. Upskilled also offers plenty of other short courses with a business or marketing focus, so no matter where you are in your career, you can expand your knowledge.

Join in the conversation! Do you agree that having a background in marketing in beneficial for business owners? What other qualities create successful business owners? Leave a comment below!

About the author: Founder of Digital Exits, Jock Purtle is an internet entrepreneur who specializes in the buying/selling and appraisal of online businesses. He began investing in websites as a hobby when he was a teenager, but it slowly turned into his full-time job. He works with other entrepreneurs frequently and enjoys sharing his knowledge to help others find similar success working for themselves.

 

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Bennis Public Relations Turns 7 Years Old – The Best Gifts Its Given to Me

Bennis Public Relations Turns 7 Years Old – The Best Gifts Its Given to Me

Last month was the seventh anniversary of a pivotal moment in my career. However, July 15 came and went without celebration or even reflection – but for good reason. July 15, 2011 is the day I officially became the fulltime owner of my firm, Bennis Public Relations. This was the day I took a major leap, without so much as looking back, and have since forged ahead with a drive and dedication unlike anything I had applied to my life leading up to this moment.

Now seven years as my own boss, I realized there are still a lot of people in my life, new acquaintances as well as close connections, that don’t know much about what I do or how I’ve grown to this point. For so long I’ve fully embraced the mindset I learned in college which was “There’s no ego in Public Relations. If you want a byline study journalism.” And while I still believe that to be true, I do think it’s important to stop and reflect on some of the joys this journey has brought me.

Ironically, over the last seven “birthdays” my business has had, it’s been me who has really received the gifts. In sharing what they are, I hope I can inspire a few others to take the path less traveled and to also understand what it means to be a true business owner.

Gift 1: I answer to me.

My schedule is my own. It’s on me to manage my time to get everything done on my task list in a given day. I’m responsible for organizing the matrix that is my Google calendar and making sure nothing slips through the cracks – or it’s on me.

While I thoroughly enjoy having no set work hours, no restrictions on where I have to be at any particular time, and not having to report to a set office with higher-ups to answer to, this also comes with certain tradeoffs. I have to balance project delivery for all current clients with finding time for new business development to keep things growing. I have to determine how I want to price and package my services so that they are competitive but also profitable. It requires a beautiful dance to make it all work – and I’m fortunate that after seven years, it’s a dance I’ve learned to do well.

Best of all, and what really defines being a true entrepreneur and business owner, is having complete control over the services I offer, how they’re priced and packaged and the direction I want to take my business. There is no corporate office that determines this for me – no one pushing out new services or products and telling me what to sell, no one changing prices without me having a say, and no one messing with my profit margins – except me.

Gift 2: I can pivot and grow how and when I desire.

Throughout the last seven years, I’ve extensively grown the scope of services I can offer clients. I’m not limited to one niche, or even one industry really! I can help businesses with anything that falls under the broad umbrella of “external communications,” which is fancy speak for “How we communicate with our audiences.”

Additionally, I’ve identified the services that best answer specific problems within a business and can make educated recommendations to clients based upon what they need, and help them eliminate what they do not. I’m not limited to selling a specific set of services to a niche demographic. If I want to branch into something entirely new, I can – and I have.

Gift 3: I’ve learned – and conquered – the real headaches of business ownership.

I commend anyone who takes an entrepreneurial leap and lands in the role of blazing their own trail. However, I want to be clear there there’s a significant difference between building your own business from the ground up and being a part of a franchise or MLM. At age 23 I used what little savings I had to incorporate my business and structure myself for future success – and protection from over-taxation! I spent hours educating myself on the type of business insurances I need to buy and the potential repercussion of copyright laws and other similar issues that could at any point impact my business – even if by an innocent misstep. I had to put policies and procedures in place to protect myself from people walking off with my intellectual property, making late payments – or no payments at all, and breaking contracts without cause.

I’m grateful to say that by planning for the worst, I have avoided many of the headaches and hardships other business owners often experience along their entrepreneurial journey. In a day and age where everyone wants to call themselves a business owner, CEO or #bossbabe, I wonder how many have had to navigate the real challenges of being a true entrepreneur, versus how many just stepped into the role of a sales rep for another company that really calls the shots in that relationship. There’s a difference, and one I’ll admit I’m a bit sensitive toward because of how much sweat equity and risk goes into the former compared to the latter.

Gift 4: I can forge partnerships at my discretion.

Another gift my business has given to me is the ability to structure partnerships with others businesses that has allowed me to really take things to the next level – and without having to compromise my independence or give up any of my profits.

My current partnerships expand into the industries of Government Relations, Web Design, Advertising, Media and more. It’s quite a beautiful business model. My partner businesses feed me all their clients who need strategic communication services, I complete the work and charge my fees, and they bundle this into their clients’ total packages. We all get what we want out of the deal, and at really fair rates compared to what big agencies have to charge to cover the overhead of in-house staff.

Gift 5: I don’t have to solicit family or friends to “join” my business.

If you’re a true business owner, not just a sales rep for a larger corporation, your business model should not heavily rely on soliciting family and friends to purchase your services/products or join your business.

When you’re just getting started it may be appropriate or helpful to ask personal contacts to keep you in mind or help spread the word about your business, but that’s not a real business owner’s long-term method for marketing. The growth and development of my business is a lot more strategic than shooting out a bunch of social media posts about “how lucky I am to be my own boss – and it’s a huge missed opportunity if you don’t jump aboard my ship.” Rather, I become a member of networking groups, align myself with industry associations and join boards as a way to gain influence and to get my name out there.

I’m happy to mentor people who come to me for entrepreneurial advice, but I never feel the need to force someone on this journey with me. And because I don’t get a “kickback” for someone starting their own business, my encouragement to a fellow entrepreneur comes with no personal agenda.

Gift 6: I’ve enjoyed 7 years of passive growth.

More to the point of not liking having to hard sell my services, I’m grateful to have not spent a dime on direct marketing or advertising. I simply treat clients well, deliver quality service and most importantly am responsive. Consistency is the best marketing tool you will ever have!

All of my clients have come from word of mouth recommendations and referrals. What I’ve found is this produces highly vetted, highly motivated clients who are ready to get started. This also produces loyal clients. I’m proud to say that my very first client still has me on a monthly retainer.

Passive growth has by no means made me complacent. It’s made me smart. I know that I gain the highest quality leads when I invest in relationships, so that’s where I focus my efforts.

Gift 7: There is no one else that can provide exactly what I do.

Forging friendships with other businesses that could be seen as my “competition” has been one of the smartest things I’ve ever done. These relationships have turned into some of my most lucrative partnerships and source of residual leads. Why would “competition” send me business, you might ask? Because when I put the time into getting to know some of these fellow communication professionals, I quickly learned that we serve very different markets and possess very different strengths.

Furthermore, there’s more than enough business to go around! So much so that I’m grateful to know some other people who can fill in the gaps in a pinch when I have a client who needs something that I don’t have the bandwidth to take on. In my experience, this goodwill has always come back full circle.

And one to grow on…

There’s a quote I stumbled upon early in my entrepreneurial journey, attributed to Frank Ocean that says, “Work hard in silence, let success make the noise.” This puts into words how I’ve always felt about promoting my professional accomplishments. I don’t need to bang my own gong. In fact, I’ve found that many of those who do – such as what likely inundates your newsfeed on social media – are those who are trying to compensate for insecurities about the true success of their business – or whose business model demands it out of necessity.

To that end, I’ve also discovered many people, even those closest to me, don’t fully grasp how far I’ve driven my business in seven years, because I work hard in silence. So to my first baby, the one that made me an entrepreneur, I wanted to give you a little moment to shine and say thank you for the highs and the lows, the risk and reward, and the challenges that turned in triumph. I’m grateful for this journey and to have the experience to truly own my own business!

 

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Quick Guide to Creating the Right Brand for Your Business (Guest Blog by Gemma Reeves)

The following post comes to us from Gemma Reeves, a freelance writer and entrepreneur. Learn more about Gemma in her bio at the end of the article. Be sure to learn more about her business here.


Quick Guide to Creating the Right Brand for Your Business

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Any entrepreneur will tell you that establishing and growing your own business is by no means an “easy” career path. Once you have taken the initial steps to build a business model, tasks seem to rain down endlessly in front of you and you may neglect a few important things that greatly matter for your business, like branding.

Whether yours is a small or large business, serving local or international markets, branding is equally important. Creative and effective branding can give your business that edge against your competitors, which is of huge value especially when you are just getting started. Many business owners understand that branding is an essential part of their businesses, but can’t really put into words why.

Before the boom of digital advertising, businesses didn’t have to put as much effort into refining and reinventing their brand as much as they do now. Years ago, branding was simpler. Brands used names, slogans, logo designs, and other symbols that were a fairly obvious reflection of the products and services of the company. Today, these elements are still the basics of branding; however, brands as a whole have become far more sophisticated and less literal. They’re discrete, playful, creative and innovative.

What’s required now for a brand to stand out is it must tell a story, make people feel something and be remembered even when competing against the onslaught of advertisements we’re exposed to every day. In many different ways, a business’s brand drives lasting public perception that can lift you up or cause you to come crashing down.

Spectacular Marketing founder Mark McColluch states that, “You have a brand whether you like it or not. It’s best to embrace that and find the best way to connect your brand with your target audience.” The way your company answers phone calls, addresses customer concerns on social media, and supports the community are all a reflection of your brand.

Having a strong and effective brand is no mistake and its never by chance. Businesses who do this well have a strategy and a team dedicated to implementing this strategy, continuously refining it. More than simply “looking pretty,” the most effective brands achieve the following objectives:

  1. Clearly and consistently communicate the problem your business aims to solve
  2. Reinforce the values and credibility of your business
  3. Elicit the desired emotions from your target audience
  4. Move your target audience to take action (i.e. purchase your products or services)
  5. Make loyal customers
  6. Remain top of mind

Sounds great right? But how do you actually go about accomplishing this? The detailed blueprint to answer that question is far more than what we can summarize in this blog post; however we can offer you some initial and ongoing steps you should take to get started in the right direction. Take a look!

Develop Your Brand Strategy

A consistent and lasting brand is the result of strategy. This may take several months, and ongoing tweaking to reach its stride, but with time and effort you can build a solid branding strategy for your business.

Your strategy should include clear objectives and specific tactics to reach these objectives. It should also include the adjectives and emotions you want to evoke with your brand. How do you want to make your customers feel? What do you want to be known for? These keywords and phrases should drive the focus of your strategy and ultimately the design of your brand.

Research Your Competition

Branding is not just about your company. It’s extremely smart to also study your competitors’ branding strategy. How is the target audience responding to their brand? How does their branding compare to yours? How can you differentiate to stand out? These questions and more should be answered in your research. Most importantly, remember to do everything with integrity and authenticity. Getting dirty with your competitors will foremost reflect poorly on your business.

Be Consistent

Brand consistency is what results in your brand legacy. All too often businesses work to develop a consistent brand in one area of their outreach efforts, but fail to carry it over throughout every area. For example, the branding of your website should match your business cards, email signature, social media, email templates, marketing materials, etc.

Brands that remain consistent throughout time are more likely to gain a stable place in the market and more efficiently use their marketing resources. They don’t waste energy reinventing the wheel every time they roll out a new product or promotion, rather they know to always begin with their existing brand for design inspiration.

The Bottom Line

Anything worth doing is worth doing well. This absolutely applies to the branding of your business. Especially for new and growing businesses that face much competition, your brand can make you memorable, move people to take action and build a loyal customer base. Without a strong and consistent brand, your business will be washed away with each new wave of competition. The most effective way to prevent this from happening is to prioritize creating and implementing a branding strategy right from the start. In doing so, this early investment in your business will reap huge dividends months and years down the road!

Does your business prioritize its branding? Why or why not? Share your thoughts and expertise by commenting below!

gemma reevesGemma Reeves is a seasoned writer who enjoys creating helpful articles and interesting stories. She has worked with several clients across different industries such as advertising, online marketing, technology, healthcare, family matters, and more. She is also an aspiring entrepreneur who is engaged in assisting other aspiring entrepreneurs in finding the best office space for their business. Check out her company here: FindMyWorkspace

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2018 in Business & Success, Life

 

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5 Important Decisions for Every Entrepreneur (Contribution from Jock Purtle)

The following post comes to us from internet entrepreneur, Jock Purtle, who is founder of Digital Exits, a company specializing in the buying/selling and appraisal of online businesses. This article is based upon his entrepreneurial experience.


5 Important Decisions for Every Entrepreneur

For many, the hardest decision you will make as an entrepreneur is the first one: the decision to go out on your own. In today’s fiercely competitive marketplace, the idea of running a business can be intimidating, to say the least. But once you get over this hurdle and realize fear and hesitation are the only things standing in the way of you accomplishing your goals, you’re well on your way to entrepreneurial success.

As you likely already know, though, it’s not that simple. Getting started with your own company is like riding a roller coaster in the dark. Each up and down is intense, and it’s hard to know what’s coming next.

To try and make things a little easier, we’ve come up with a list of five decisions that every entrepreneur needs to make early on in the life of their company. By highlighting these, we hope you’ll be able to focus in a little more on what you need to be doing to make your company work so that you can weather the storm as it comes your way, worry a bit less and take one more step towards success.

The decision making will never end, and it will soon turn into your most critical task, but here are some key choices you’ll need to make right off the bat to set your company up for a healthy future.

 1. Your ideal customers

You’d be surprised how many entrepreneurs don’t take the time to clearly define their target audience. Often times, entrepreneurs are so excited about their idea that they don’t stop to think who might want to spend money on it. A good idea is a good idea, and there is likely a business to be built around it, but without clearly defining your target audience, the initial stages of your business will be a real challenge.

The important thing to remember when going through this process is to be as specific as possible. It’s not enough to just say you are hoping to target urban Millennials. Instead, put yourself in the shoes of your ideal customer and ask yourself how your product or service might factor into their life. What need are you fulfilling? Or, how are you making their life better or more comfortable?

By answering these questions, you will have a more specific idea as to who you need to be going after and how you are going to reach them. For example, you may find that your audience is men between the ages of 20-35 who live in cities, earn above-average salaries and have an active lifestyle. This is vital information, as it will help determine your marketing and advertising strategies going forward.

Furthermore, once you make this decision, a lot of other decisions will become easier. All you need to do is ask yourself: Is this going to help me reach my target audience? If the answer is yes, proceed. If no, then keep working. Taking the time to be very clear about this part of the business right from the beginning is an essential step to ensuring the success of the company.

2. Management style and company culture

While you as the entrepreneur may be the brains behind the operation, you’re fooling yourself if you think you can pull this off on your own. You are going to need to bring in a good team to help you get off the ground, and then once you do, you are going to need a growth plan. What types of employees are you looking for? Which ones are you trying to avoid?

A big part of this is also your management style. Are you going to run things more top-down? Or do you plan to be more decentralized, delegating certain decisions to those more qualified to make them?

You’ll also want to take a look at yourself as a leader and manager and figure out how to improve. There are plenty of things we do without realizing that affect how employees view us and act towards us, and you really won’t see this until you are in a position of leadership.

Take some time to figure out what you want your company culture to be. You may think of culture as something that develops organically, and to a certain extent it is, but you can have a significant impact on the direction it goes. A lot of companies are adopting a more laid-back approach, offering their employees more and more benefits, such as unlimited vacation time and free coffee of the month subscriptions, as a way of trying to foster engagement and buy-in. This may or may not be the right approach for you, and this is something you’ll want to figure out as soon as possible.

All of these things should be figured out in the beginning because as you grow it will be harder and harder to make time for this type of planning. Spend some time as you are getting started and you’ll find yourself managing growth much better, setting your company up for success in the future.

 3. Exit strategy

When first starting out with a company, the idea of an exit strategy seems far away. But it’s actually very important to consider. Planning out your exit strategy means thinking long-term. It allows you to align resources so that you can move forward at the right time.

An exit strategy can come in the form of an initial public offering (IPO), a sale or a merger, but the thing to remember is that you don’t actually need to implement the strategy. If things are going well, you have every freedom to stay with the business. But plotting out from the beginning how you might exit gets you thinking big picture and this can only help your business.

Plus, having a clearly defined exit strategy plays very well with investors. They want to know how they are going to get their money, and demonstrating to them how this will happen increases your chances of securing the resources you need to get your company off the ground and heading towards prosperity.

 4. Marketing and branding

It’s never too early to start thinking about branding. In today’s competitive marketplace, having a strong brand is going to be what ultimately sets you apart. Much like the decisions you’ll make about company culture, choosing your branding strategy needs to be one of the first things you do.

Figure out what makes you unique, determine what you want to stand for and do some research to figure out the best way to communicate this to people. Social media is huge for building your brand, and if your target audience uses this medium, you may want to consider hiring an agency or consultant to help you.

In fact, this may be one of the best decisions you make as an entrepreneur. Successful marketing requires a full-time approach, and too many small companies try to do it on their own, only to end up wasting their precious resources without seeing results. It’s your job to do the high-level strategic thinking. Then, bring in some experts to help you execute your plan.

5. Cybersecurity

Here’s one not too many entrepreneurs think about, and it’s a real shame that they don’t. Cybercrime and hacking is the threat of the future, and small businesses are being increasingly targeted. They’re easier to get to, as they don’t always invest in the right protection, but they still possess valuable information. And the damage a hack causes to your reputation is often far too much for any small company to overcome.

Figure out how you’re at risk and what you need to do to protect yourself. Cybersecurity infrastructures can be expensive, and the last thing you want to do is to have to shut down your website or other services so that you can install new security measures. Don’t let cybersecurity become an afterthought. You’ll pay for it down the road.

Final thoughts

From the moment you decided to become an entrepreneur, you essentially converted yourself into a full-time decision maker. As the business grows, you will be faced with increasingly challenging choices, but with experience, you’ll learn what’s best for your business. However, until you reach this point, things can be a bit stressful. Consider these critical decisions every entrepreneur needs to make so that you can start your business heading in the right direction.

Join in the conversation! Among these five decisions an entrepreneur must make, which one do you feel is the most critical?

About the author: Founder of Digital Exits, Jock Purtle is an internet entrepreneur who specializes in the buying/selling and appraisal of online businesses. He began investing in websites as a hobby when he was a teenager, but it slowly turned into his full-time job. He works with other entrepreneurs frequently and enjoys sharing his knowledge to help others find similar success working for themselves.

 

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Common SEO Myths for Local Businesses (Guest Blog by Michael Hayes)

The following post comes to us from Michael Hayes, founder and CEO of Darby Hayes Consulting, a full service Internet Marketing agency based out of NYC.


Common SEO Myths for Local Businesses

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SEO can be a tricky and sensitive subject, both for professional SEO practitioners and for local businesses. Due to the fact that there is no official standard for how to practice SEO, practitioners have to develop their own theories, methodologies and tactics in order to practice effectively. Eventually these theories combine with bits and pieces of Google’s webmaster guidelines to become part of the collective industry “best practices.”

Then, SEO/marketing professionals and business owners will utilize these best practices to attempt to rank their own sites. This can be effective, but one must be careful to not treat these as “gospel.” Recommendations and best practices are not necessarily set in stone. Google (and SEO) is constantly evolving, and as such these best practices will change over time.

Whenever I come across outdated (or simply incorrect) “best practices,” i.e. strategies that don’t align with my practical experience, I make note of it. These are helpful when educating new clients, testing new theories, or performing audits. Today I’ve gone ahead and put together a few of these “myths” in hopes that I might dispel them, and help readers avoid potential and unnecessary pitfalls.

Myth #1: Directories are bad/good

Forgive the lack of clarity on this one. I’ve seen these myths go either way, both condemning directories as terribly evil or touting them as an effective way to drive ranking. The true story lies somewhere in between.

Directories have a very touchy history in SEO:

  • Like “Web 2.0s,” directories allow people to inject links to their website. This was abused in pre-penguin world.
  • Thousands of nonsense directories began being published, allowing people to list their website for free or for a small charge.
  • Legitimate directories still exist, and are still useful to users. They are usually manually curated and have other uses besides being link farms. Sites like HomeAdvisor, ThomasNet and Best of the Web come to mind.

So what are directories good for? Which directories to consider? Let’s have a look:

  • Do *not* inject anchor text meant to manipulate keyword rankings. Even if it is effective at first, it leaves you open to penalties and will likely need to be cleaned up via disavow or link removal requests later on.
    • Stick with “naked URL” (http://www.example.com), or Brand Name (“ACME Anvils”), and you’ll be fine.
  • Niche directories are great, if you can find them. Industrial manufacturer? Go for ThomasNet. Home service provider? Go for HomeAdvisor. Most niche directories will be hyper-local (City government sites, local chamber of commerce, etc). These are awesome for local businesses.
  • Stick with high authority and avoid the junky, fly-by-nighters. Directories with a DA50+ are probably fine.

Myth #2: SEO is all about “great content”

This section will allow me to flex my tactical SEO muscles while also taking shots at super “white-hat” SEOs that I’ve grown to hate over my nearly 10 years in the business. First, let me explain the history…

Google is trying to reward content that gets naturally popular on the web. This “popularity” is generally about backlinks. Backlinks naturally occur when content is “great” enough to warrant important websites mentioning and linking to it.

This is great and all, but “publish and hope for the best” is not a strategy. If you like blogging, go for it, but I wouldn’t set any expectations for natural backlinks (although you might get lucky). I certainly wouldn’t pay someone any significant sum to do this, not without a specific and detailed promotion plan.

This leads me to my next point. Great content is great, but it’s nothing without promotion. Things don’t go viral on their own, even though it might seem like it after the fact. The truth of the matter is that SEO takes active participation in generating links and exposure. Content is only the beginning.

I’ll go easy on the white-hats for a minute and say that proper outreach to influencers, well crafted and very high quality content can go a long way in furthering SEO efforts. However “publish and pray” is a far cry from this.

Myth #3: Landing Pages Need to be 1000+ Words

I love this myth because it speaks to a much larger problem that effects any blanket “best practice.” The truth of the matter is that landing pages *might* need to be 1000+ words. They might actually need to be 2000+ words. Or they could very well be 500 or less words. It depends entirely on the target keywords.

There is a fun saying that goes, “Google is dumb, but it isn’t stupid.” What this paradoxical saying is trying to get across is that basic SEO is straightforward (domain name + content + keywords + links), but trying to finagle these elements too much won’t get you anywhere.

Just because you need some content on the homepage for a local plumber, doesn’t mean that adding 2000+ words about the intricacies of pipe inspections will make your site rank any higher.

How do you know what word count is appropriate? Simple: take a look at the SERP (search engine result page) for your target keyword. Let’s have a look at one.

Doing a quick search for “Plumber San Antonio,” a very popular local service keyword, we see that local businesses make up 6 out of 10 results on Google’s first page (we’ve removed national sites like HomeAdvisor and Yelp).

See the word counts for these sites below:

san-antonio-plumber-rankings

While we see some instances of 1000+, upwards of 1700 words, the bulk are less than 1000. We even see a site ranking #7 with only 266 words on the page.

Now don’t get me wrong, this is only one keyword and not necessarily typical of your niche. The key takeaway here is to not blindly follow generic recommendations on word count. Sure, more relevant information for your customer the better, but jamming an article at the bottom of the page is a waste of time and a poor user experience.

Conclusion

I hope this has been a fun read and at least a little bit enlightening. Strangely enough, if you take one thing away from this article, it’s that you shouldn’t take any blog post (including this one) as gospel. Trying things out for yourself, see what works, and always keep an open mind, and you’ll go far in any industry (not just SEO).

What myth did you find most surprising? Do you have an SEO question for Michael? Leave a comment below!

mike-hayes

Michael Hayes is the Founder and CEO of Darby Hayes Consulting, a full service Internet Marketing agency based out of NYC.  He can be contacted at mike (at) darbyhayesconsulting.com.  Stay in touch with Darby Hayes Consulting at their Facebook Page.

 
 

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7 Mistakes that Push Away New Business

7 Mistakes that Push Away New Business

When you’re fortunate to have new business come knocking at your door, it’s still far from a done deal. Winning over a client takes time, patience and strategy. In my industry, things always begin with an initial client phone call or an in-person meeting. This casual, first meeting is the opportunity for both parties to feel each other out. Do our visions and values align? Do we share realistic expectations for what can be accomplished with the given budget and time frame? Most importantly, is there chemistry? No, nothing romantic, just a good synergy that will help create a productive working relationship.

Even if all of these things appear to be on target, there are still quite a few ways in which I can push away this new business, if I’m not careful. While the ability to read a client and build a strong connection from the start isn’t something you can necessarily teach, there are a few obvious mistakes you should avoid when trying to win over a new client. Save yourself some future regret but taking note of the next seven items on this list!

  1. Being unresponsive

The first mistake you can make is to be anything but highly responsive to your prospective client. This is the first impression you make. If they call you to learn more about your services, respond to them same day. Even if you’re not able to connect by phone, the least you can do is email them to set up a time for a future phone call or meeting. Carry this level of responsiveness into every phase of working with this client. Chronically late responses are a red flag to the client that you may not be the easiest person work with.

  1. Acting like you have all the answers

In your first client meeting, don’t come in there like you have all the answers. You don’t. You’re meeting this client for the first time and you likely know little about the industry and nothing about their business (more than a website and social media can tell you). I know in my case, people call me in because there are serious internal problems taking place. This is something you can’t know simply by Googling them. Come ready to listen, take notes and ask questions.

  1. Lacking examples of your insight and experiences

While you don’t want to come in acting like you know everything about the client’s particular business, you do want to walk in ready to prove your knowledge and expertise. Offer plenty of examples of past client success stories that relate to the services you may provide to this new client. Real-world examples are not only powerful, they are memorable. Additionally, be prepared to offer some examples of new ideas you have, tailored to the client’s needs. Make them feel like you’re offering fresh solutions and not something canned that you provide to every client.

  1. Pushing a client toward a final decision in your first meeting

Let the first meeting be a no-pressure zone. If you do a good job selling yourself, there is no need to pressure a new client into making a final decision as to whether they want to work with you right then and there. In fact, it’s likely going to be in your favor to have them sleep on the ideas you presented and to get even more excited about them! Don’t be so desperate to close the deal that you end up closing the door on yourself.

  1. Leaving the first meeting with no action plan

Just because you’re not going to pressure the new client into a final decision doesn’t mean you can’t have a clear path for the next steps you will take toward that final decision. You need to leave the meeting with an action plan in place. If possible, leave with the ball in your court. That means it’s on you to get the client a proposal or follow-up with additional information to help them make a decision. This gives you the power to reach out to them on your terms, rather than waiting to hear back from the client.

  1. Not following-up

This loops back to mistake number one and the need to be responsive. Just as it’s important to be responsive, it’s equally important to initiate a response. Give the client some space after your first meeting and after you’ve provided them with a proposal and an outline of next steps. Then, about one week later (or if they specified how much time they need), follow-up! Keep it short and sincere. Ask them if they have any additional questions you can answer. Or if a new idea has come to you, share that with them – along with your enthusiasm for working with them soon. These techniques enable you to stay in touch without nagging them.

  1. Charging a new client for your business development time

Another mistake that pushes away new business is charging for things like your first consultation meeting, putting together a proposal or any other initial communications. If you’re properly vetting your leads, you should be closing just about every new client meeting you take. Your time spent in business development stands to yield far more profit in the long-run than the couple hundred dollars you may make charging your client for every interaction. Furthermore, the practice of nickel and diming a client is sure to make them question your business practices and possibly scare them off altogether. Do your homework, qualify your leads and then invest that initial time at no cost, knowing you have a great shot at making it back ten-fold!

Have you made any of these same mistakes and found that it pushed away new business? Or can you think of something else that is missing from this list? Share your ideas by leaving a comment below!

 

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