RSSAuthor Archive for Daniel Kehrer

Daniel Kehrer, Founder and Chief Content Officer of BizBest Media, is a senior-level leader in digital media, content development and online marketing with special expertise in startups, SMB, social media and generating traffic, engagement and leads. He holds an MBA from UCLA/Anderson and is a passionate entrepreneur (started 4 businesses), syndicated columnist, blogger, thought leader and author of 7 business and financial books.

8 Essentials of a Successful Social Media Plan

social media planSocial media has become a vital piece of marketing for small businesses. But many lack a specific strategy for using social media and end up with a scatter-shot approach that lacks punch. This misses a major opportunity to engage with customers and prospects and manage the business’s online reputation.

“Without a social media strategy, how do you know what you’re trying to achieve, what you should be doing, what you should be measuring and what’s the ROI of your social media program,” says Neal Schaffer, a social media strategist and author of a new book called “Maximize Your Social.”

If your business intends to enter the social media world, it needs to have a consistent message. You’ll want to know what resources you’ll need and how they will be used. And you’ll also need to define tactics you will and won’t pursue. All of this should be written down so that it can be passed to others when employees leave.

Here are eight essentials that should be in your social media plan:

1)    A consistent brand message: It’s okay to be a little less formal in social media channels. But make sure that what you post in different places all speaks with a unified voice and message. In the planning process, be sure to designate who represents the voice of your company in social media.

2)    Meaningful content: What you share and talk about in social media is important. Creating content that is useful, informative and engaging will benefit your business over the long term.

3)    The right channel selections: Don’t try to be everywhere. That’s just not realistic and you don’t have the resources to be active in all channels. Pick a few that are most appropriate for your business. For example, most B2B businesses find LinkedIn to be a fruitful place. Businesses with highly visual products or services can do well on Pinterest. And if you’re adept at creating videos, YouTube should be on your list. And Facebook should probably be in everyone’s plan. Consider Twitter as well.

4)    Post strategically, not constantly: You don’t have to be constantly tweeting and posting to have impact. Well-timed and thoughtful content is what’s important. Research shows that a single daily post on Facebook can be more effective that multiple posts that split the response.

5)    Meaningful customer interaction: Customers increasingly use social media to convey their complaints, praise and questions about your business. This creates a golden communications opportunity that many businesses are blowing. “You need to have a listening and responding strategy in place,” says Schaffer. Listening means more than just keeping an eye out for complaints. Every engagement with a social media user is a great chance for real-time feedback on what your customers are thinking, liking, needing and buying.

6)    A way to be “follow-worthy”: As part of your plan, think about why customers would want to like or follow you. Look at your business from the perspective of an outside observer and ask yourself, “Is what we say and produce worthy of being followed? Is it something that will draw people back again? Would I follow us?”

7)    A way to shake things up:  It’s easy to fall into a same-old/same-old routine with social media. To shake things up, plan to introduce some new way of engaging customers on a regular basis. Try to leverage the “social” aspect of social media to create online events that get followers excited. Don’t think of it as a marketing “campaign” but rather as a series of experiments with your followers. Surveys, polls, quizzes, product giveaways and crowdsourcing (of photos, videos, etc.) are examples.

8)    Fan recruitment: Your plan should also include a strategy to enlist your most loyal fans and customers to help spread the word about your business. They can even act as a kind of “advisory board” for your business. Harnessing and rewarding these business “ambassadors” is a highly effective form of digital word of mouth.

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How to Avoid Lead Leakage

LeaksAt ReachLocal – an online marketing services company catering to small business – the mantra is “Don’t leak leads.” And that’s good advice for business owners investing more and more money in online marketing only to have large chunks of leads slip away.

If you don’t have an engaging website that turns visits into leads, haven’t created a mobile site, aren’t responding quickly when leads do appear or simply don’t know which marketing efforts are working, you may be wasting your money marketing online. According to Kris Barton, Chief Product Officer at ReachLocal, small businesses never capture some 75% of potential Internet leads simply because they lack the basic tools and capabilities to convert them.

And the worst part is that most business owners never even know about the plumbing leaks that are costing them new customers. To fix the problem, start by identifying where leaks may be occurring in your sales funnel. It can happen at any of the three main stages in the so-called “customer purchase journey”:

1)    The top of the funnel where customers first discover you by looking online for the type of products or services you offer.

2)    Mid-funnel, which is the stage where they visit your website, contact you and become leads.

3)    And finally at the bottom of the funnel where they actually make up their minds on whether to become a customer or not.

Here are some ways to avoid leaking leads, according to online marketing specialists at ReachLocal:

Go beyond Google. Sure, Google is the 900 pound gorilla. But some 25-35% of online searches come from Bing and Yahoo! So if you aren’t advertising there as well, you could be losing customers to competitors who are.

Bid on your own business name. Many small businesses that buy keyword ads don’t include their own business name. But like it or not, your competitors might be doing just that – running search ads to capture customers searching for your business.

Claim your business listing on Google+ Local. If you haven’t done this you’re missing a great opportunity to appear on page one of local search results. Not only does claiming your Google+ Local listing help you rank higher in search, it also helps you show up better in Google Maps. So claim your page and optimize it with your contact info, URL and other content.

Use “site retargeting” to recapture prospects. Only some 2% of customers convert on their first visit to a business website. “Retargeting” is a way to try and bring back the other 98% by using an online ad service that tracks who visits your site, and then will display your “retargeted” ads to those people when they visit other websites.

Actively manage your social media pages. More consumers are now connecting with local businesses on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+ and YouTube.  If you aren’t actively monitoring your pages and posting new content, you may be losing out on leads.

Beautify your website to keep visitors from bouncing: These days, customers expect a great online experience even from the smallest businesses. If your site is outdated and unprofessional, visitors won’t give you a second thought.

Use landing pages to boost lead conversions from your online ads: If your online ads send visitors to a page not directly related to the ad (your home page for example), forcing them to search for what they want, you will lose them quickly. Create specific “landing pages” for a product or special offer related to your ad, with a clear call to action.

Make sure your website is mobile friendly. If it isn’t, visitors viewing it from a mobile device will have trouble finding what they’re looking for. For example, sites with lots of dropdown menus are hard to navigate on mobile, and flash animation might not show up.

If trying to control lead leakage on your own is too daunting, consider using an outside service such as ReachLocal’s new ReachEdge suite of products that help local businesses go digital and market more efficiently and effectively. Visit www.ReachLocal.com for details.

Copyright © 2000-2013 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

10 Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make With Investors

mistakes_unpreparedSeeking money for a start-up from friends, family, angel investors, venture capitalists or lenders is an exercise fraught with pitfalls. Many first-time entrepreneurs approach it with great optimism and belief in their business idea, only to fall flat on their face.

Reasons vary, but often it’s just that the entrepreneur hasn’t taken the time to study up on how to approach investors, including what to do and what not to do. The Young Entrepreneurs Council (YEC) – an invitation-only group of top young entrepreneurs – recently asked some of its most successful members to name the dumbest mistake they could think of that entrepreneurs should avoid when pitching investors.

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Here’s our take on the top 10 mistakes they came up with (in no particular order):

1)    Making it all about the money: “When pitching an investor, you’re not just pitching your great idea. A relationship with an investor goes beyond the ROI and it’s important to focus on selling yourself as well as your business plan,” says Raul Pla, Founder & CEO of SimpleWifi.

2)    Being unprepared: This is an unforgivable sin. The entrepreneur, of all people, must have the details completely buttoned down. “Even if you get an investor interested, nothing will bring the conversation to a screeching halt quite like not knowing how much you want to raise and what you’ll do with it,” says Jason Evanish, co-Founder of Greenhorn Connect. You must show you can lead a business.

3)    Asking for an NDA (non-disclosure agreement): Only a rank amateur would do this. “Chances are, you’ll be laughed out of the meeting room if you ask investors to sign an NDA,” says Michael Tolkin, CEO of Merchant Exchange. “Ideas are cheap.”

4)    Being overly pushy: Investors accepted the meeting because they saw something in you or your business. But if you push too hard, most investors will shut down. “Be cool and confident, but not like a used car salesman,” says Ashley Bodi, co-Founder of Business Beware.

5)    Meeting your best prospects first: Keep this in mind, says Christopher Kelly, co-Founder of Convene: “Your pitch only gets better with time. You will achieve the best odds by saving the best for last.” Make a note of recurring questions and concerns after each pitch and revise your materials accordingly.

6)    Promising too much: “Go in with what you know, not what you think you can do. Investors will lose faith in you – that is, if they don’t see through you immediately,” says Jordan Guernsey, CEO of Molding Box.

7)    Rushing the pitch: “As nervous as you might be, try to calm down and speak from the heart,” says Logan Lenz, Founder of Endagon. “Speaking more slowly not only allows listeners to register what you’re saying, it also makes you sound more confident and knowledgeable.”

8)    Failing to leave time for Q&A: This is the flip side to #7 above.  You can’t take too much time and not allow questions at the end. “No matter how organized a pitch is, it will fail to answer questions your audience has,” says John Harthorne, Founder & CEO of MassChallenge.

9)    Making all projections and no plans: “Don’t put a hockey-stick graph in the middle of the presentation and expect everyone in the room to swoon,” warns Brent Beshore, CEO of Adventur.es. “Projections are guesses that rarely come true. What’s more impressive is your plan to get there. Investors know a strategy means a lot more than pretty pictures.”

10) Coming off as desperate: “People like to invest in and be connected to winning projects,” says Raoul David, CEO of Ascendant Group. If you come across as if this investment is the only way your business can move forward, it seems too needy and will turn off many investors. This also sets you up to be taken advantage of. “You’ll end up giving away more equity than you should.”

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4 Steps for Getting More Leads from Facebook

Fsales funnelacebook has proven to be a great source of new customers for millions small businesses. But many business owners are not using Facebook to its fullest lead generation potential. For one thing, Facebook has added new features that make it more useful for small firms.

First understand there are two basic ways to have a business presence on Facebook. There’s an “organic” presence. That’s your free Facebook page where you build your base of fans, post pictures, offers, articles, and more.

But there’s also paid advertising and having a paid presence can be a great supplement to. Facebook’s rich advertising platform lets you target specific audiences and take some of the guesswork out of social media marketing. Local businesses can benefit greatly from the ability to target messages only to potential customers in their own area. You can also target by age, gender, education level and occupation. Or reach people who have a specific interest in what you do.

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You can use traditional ads, or what Facebook calls “sponsored stories.” Sponsored stories let you extend your reach beyond the people who interact with your page. Your sponsored stories will show up more frequently in news feeds as well as advertisements on the side of the page. Using a combination of both ads and sponsored stories can help you get the most out of your Facebook effort.

Here are four steps to generating more leads from Facebook, suggested by the firm Optify which provides digital marketing software:

1. Improve your page: It’s not enough to just have a Facebook page. You need to make it informative, attractive and engaging. Pay special attention to your cover photo and profile picture – the two primary visual items on your page. Your profile picture might appear in many places, including search results, ads and sponsored stories. And because it’s small, it must be simple. If you use a business logo that’s complex, you might want to create a simplified Facebook version.

Your company description is critical. Only the first 125 characters will appear on the main page, so make them count. Optify recommends including your main web address and a short sentence describing your business.

Take advantage of the “Invite Email Contacts” feature that lets you send a note to any email list inviting them to “Like” your Facebook page.  Just make sure you’ve created a page that’s worth visiting.

2. Create Captivating Content: In order to generate leads, your Facebook page must be a steady source of helpful, shareable information. Try addressing customer “pain points.” What solutions can you offer that help people? The more you can do that, the more they are likely to share and like your content.

Keep posts short. Those in the 100-150 word range get about 60% more “likes” than longer ones. If you can convert your message into a photo or other image of some kind, so much the better. Facebook reports that photo albums and pictures generate 120%-180% more engagement.  And add new items to your page regularly. Daily is good; but at least weekly. This will ensure that your content – and your business name – consistently appears in news feeds.

3. Try Facebook Quizzes:  These are a quick and fun way to engage customers and learn something about them at the same time. Just keep these things in mind: It’s not a test, so don’t make it one. This will turn off customers. No more than 10 questions.  Tell people up front how this will benefit them, and how many questions there are. And offer an incentive. If your goal is market research, for example, offering a prize (i.e. a discount) for completing a quiz will boost participation.

4. Use Facebook Ad-Ons:  If your website and blog already have significant traffic you can increase your visibility to a larger audience by using one of the social plugin applications Facebook offers. These allow users to perform multiple actions with a single click. There’s also a registration form that lets users sign up for your website directly from Facebook, and something called “Facepile” that shows Facebook users who likes your business and puts mutual friends at the top of the list.

Copyright © 2000-2013 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

The Right Way to Reject a Job Candidate

rejectedMost small businesses today know about the importance of online reputation and the power of social media to help or hurt that reputation. Dozens of websites and rating services, from the majors such as Yelp, Twitter and Facebook to those serving specific business sectors such as travel, are open for anyone to express an opinion.

What many business owners haven’t yet realized, however, is that the so-called “Yelp factor” reaches into the job interview process as well. With social networks allowing everyone to share their experiences, good and bad, through a wide range of social media platforms, business need to be aware of how they deal with job applicants as well as customers.

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Rejecting a job candidate the right way can avoid negative comments and finger-pointing, notes Barry Sloane, CEO of Newtek, a firm that offers a variety of small business services.

When a business decides not to hire someone, it is free to let the person know or not know he or she didn’t get the job. In the past, most businesses chose the latter approach since there were no consequences one way or the other. If these companies were aware of any ill will these actions generated, it wasn’t something that kept them up at night.

Things are different today. Job applicants freely share their experiences, good and bad, through a wide range of social platforms. Being treated poorly after applying for a job always makes for a good story and word travels fast if it’s a particularly bad experience.

It simply makes good business sense to treat job applicants in a dignified and professional fashion. Not only does it go a long way toward soothing wounded feelings, it elevates the perception of the business and creates goodwill.

Here are some tips on rejecting a job candidate the right way:

1. Don’t wait. Prompt notification of a job-seeker’s status significantly reduces the individual’s anxiety and stress. After a decision has been made, let finalists know the outcome.

2. Reach out in one of three ways. Ideally, a brief telephone call is preferable. It’s sometimes difficult and uncomfortable, but it’s also the quickest, most direct way to make contact. An email is the next choice and takes little time to compose and send off. Finally, a rejection letter can be sent as long as the tone is right. In any written communication, be sure to:

  • Address the applicant by name.
  • Thank him or her for taking time to apply and interview for the open position.
  • Get to the point clearly and politely.
  • Add a brief, positive comment about interview.
  • Encourage future contact, where appropriate.
  • Offer feedback, where appropriate.

3. If the job applicant barely missed the mark, or demonstrated talents and abilities that might later be of interest, encourage him or her to “please keep us in mind.” If it’s possible to provide a little feedback on where the applicant fell short (delivered in an upbeat tone), it might offer some insight into areas where he or she can seek improvement for the next job interview. This honest approach is often greatly appreciated by the recipient.

4. End on a positive note. Thank the candidate once again for his or her interest in the open position and wish them luck in their search for the right job.

5. In most cases, it’s best not to include any details regarding other candidates (including anything about the person actually chosen). This information is open to misinterpretation and may only aggravate the situation. And if there’s no plan to consider this applicant again, don’t tell them “We will keep your resume on file.”

Just as applicants can go to Facebook, Twitter and other social media channels to complain about a bad job-hunting experience, when they are treated well they will likely share this news as well. This can be great publicity for your business and assist in the future hunt for qualified job candidates.

Copyright © 2000-2013 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

7 Awesome Accounting Apps for Small Business

AppsEvery year, The Sleeter Group – a firm that helps business owners and accountants work together – conducts a competition to identify the best tech and software solutions for small business accounting and finance. Some are add-ons to QuickBooks, while others are stand-alone products that can make your life easier, and help improve profits.

In order to qualify for what Sleeter calls its “Awesome Add-On” awards, the product or service must come from a solid company with a reputation for outstanding customer support. The product must also show superior design, implementation and features, integrate effectively with QuickBooks and other software solutions, and conform to good accounting principles.

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These six recent winners are worth considering for a small business:

1. Bill.com Receivables:  This service, which is an upgrade ($5/month) to a Bill.com Payable account, is great for any business that sends invoices to customers and wants to offer the option to pay electronically, online. According to Sleeter, it’s “a perfect example of how the web is revolutionizing small business.”

By allowing businesses to manage the entire accounts receivable process in the cloud, Bill.com has taken a big leap forward. In addition to sending electronic invoices and reminders, you can receive payments online and by credit card, and customers can access their own portal (for free) to see their invoicing and payment history.

2. Bill & Pay, from Skyhill Software, is great for small businesses that want to streamline their receivables process online. Bill & Pay automatically uploads invoices from QuickBooks, Peachtree, Great Plains and other accounting software into a web portal where they can be tracked and managed. There’s also an “Easy Invoice” feature that lets you create your own invoices without using any accounting software.

Bill & Pay integrates with several merchant accounts (including Intuit Merchant Solutions) so it doesn’t require extra steps for batching deposits into your bank account. Cost is $16.95 per month, plus 55 cents per payment transaction.

3. QQube, from Clearify, is for business owners who want more powerful or complex reports and dashboards than QuickBooks can create by itself. This can be especially helpful in developing data analytics. Says Sleeter, “Although there’s a learning curve, once you get the hang of it you’ll be amazed at how much you can do with this tool. This is a game changer.” Cost is $425 for the single user version.

4. If your business ships 20 or more packages daily via UPS or FedEx, ShipGear provides a simple way to manage those packages, update QuickBooks invoices to include freight charges and eliminate double data entry in the two systems. As each package ships, ShipGear generates a personalized email notification to the customer. Cost is $225 for QuickBooks Pro version, from V-Technologies. Also integrates with Peachtree and others.

5.  ViewMyPaycheck, from Intuit, lets QuickBooks payroll users upload paycheck information to the cloud where employees can securely access pay stubs, vacation/sick time balances and W-2 forms. Employees can view, print or download copies of their payroll information anytime, from anywhere. This is free for QuickBooks Payroll subscribers at all levels, including Basic.

6.  ExpenseWatch.com is a web-based time and expense reporting tool that helps you streamline the process of time tracking, expense reporting, as well as purchasing and invoicing.  ExpenseWatch includes modules for expense reports, purchasing and AP invoice management that you can subscribe to individually, or as a fully integrated expense control suite. Costs ranged between $16 and $35 per month, per user.

7.  AvaTax Certs, from Avalara, is a life-saver for businesses with customers who are sales tax exempt. This typically includes industries such as manufacturing, tech, education, wholesalers and some types of retail. AvaTax Certs limits your audit exposure on non-taxed transactions by helping you manage customer exemption certificates end-to-end. The online wizard automates paperless certificate collection and ensures you only collect valid certificates. Starts at $375, plus $249/year.

Copyright © 2000-2013 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

7 Cornerstones of Small Business Success

cornerstonesOnly about one of every 10 businesses started will reach a 10th anniversary and most failures happen within the first few years. Lots can go wrong: an ill-conceived business idea, poor planning or execution, bad business model, lack of capital, ineffective leadership, and poor location, among others.

But business owners who succeed know how to avoid the mistakes and pitfalls that trip up other entrepreneurs. They get the foundations right. Bill McBean is one such business owner. He grew a highly successful series of car dealerships in Texas and went on to write about his success in “The Facts of Business Life: What Every Successful Business Owners Knows that You Don’t” (Wiley 2012).

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Here are McBean’s seven “tried and true” foundations for building business success:

1)    If you don’t lead, no one will follow. Good business leadership begins with defining the goals and direction of your company, and deciding how the business should look and operate. It also requires that you develop and constantly improve the skill sets you need to move your business forward. You must develop a company culture based on expectations and that rewards those who meet and exceed those expectations.

2)    If you don’t control it, you don’t own it. If you don’t control your business by defining key tasks and dictating how they must be handled, you don’t truly “own” the business. You’re more like a spectator watching others play with your money. “Great procedures and processes need controls, and these in turn create great employees,” says McBean. This happens because procedures and processes operate the business, and employees operate the processes.

3)    Protecting your business assets should be your first priority. Surprisingly to some, sales, profits and growth don’t come first. Assets – which include tangible and intangible assets – are what power sales, profits and growth, so they come first. And successful owners don’t stop at protecting obvious assets (with insurance, for example). They understand the importance of every asset, because those assets represent invested cash which should be managed to produce maximum profits.

4)    Planning is about preparing for the future, not predicting it. Effective planning is a mix of science (gather key information, for example) and art – taking that information and turning it into a plan that will move your business forward over a specified period of time. Nobody knows what tomorrow will bring. But you can make educated guesses with the right tools and effort.

5)    If you don’t market your business, you won’t have one. Some business owners believe their product or service will speak for itself. Others just aren’t savvy about advertising and marketing. But if people don’t know what you deliver, you can’t succeed.  New business owners tend to be especially nervous about spending scarce dollars on advertising. But without marketing, little good can happen. Look at it as an investment, rather than an expense that less successful competitors think it is.

6)    The marketplace is a minefield. Every company has competitors, and if you don’t now – and you are successful – you soon will. “To grow and succeed, you have to continually focus on the market, react to it and fight for what you believe should be yours,” says McBean. “If you don’t, your competitor will win the war.” You need to be cionstantly on your game and follow up your marketing efforts by capturing and retaining each customer your efforts attract.

7)    You don’t have to know the business you are in – but you have to know business.  Sure, you need to know the inner workings of your particular industry. But even more importantly, you need to understand at least something about general business fundamentals such as accounting, finance, business law and personnel, and how these impact each other and the decisions you make. You have to know what’s going on in your market, but it’s just as important to know how to translate that information into more sales and net profits. 

Copyright © 2000-2013 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

6 Top Email Marketing Services for Small Business

email marketingDespite all of the attention on social media these days, email remains one of the most preferred and effective marketing methods for many small businesses. It’s a fast, efficient and inexpensive way to communicate with clients and prospects, or to generate traffic for your website.

If you send just a few emails, you can probably make do with whatever regular email service you use. But if your list is growing, you want your emails to look great, and you also want to track the effectiveness of your efforts, using an outside provider offers many advantages.

Email marketing services offer customized designs and newsletter signup forms, list management tools and the ability to see who’s opening your emails and what they are clicking on. You can also split your lists into different groups and test various messages to see what works best. Email is also a great way to nurture leads through various stages and keep them engaged.

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But with numerous email providers catering to small business, it’s hard to know which one is right for your particular business.  NextAdvisor (www.nextadvisor.com), an independent research firm that reviews and compares small business products and services across multiple categories, recently tested eight of the top services to determine the best value and what users can expect from each one.

To review the different services, NextAdvisor editors signed up for each one and used it as a small business would. They compared several factors to come up with an overall ranking, including the quality of the email creation tools, how each service handles email analytics and tracking, the site layout, customer support and overall usability. They also considered the number of emails and contacts allowed, and whether the plan provides good value.

Here’s what NextAdvisor had to say about the email services it ranked as the top six:

  1. GetResponse is a well laid-out and easy-to-use email marketing solution that won us over with their new email creator. This service allows you to easily create and send attractive emails, with a lot of customization. They aren’t the cheapest service, starting at $12.30/month (with annual plan) for a 1,000 contact allowance, but if you’re big on quality this is a service to consider. Visit GetResponse.com
  2. Benchmark Email may seem a bit pricey but it is actually a good value thanks to its comprehensive email creation tools and extensive template options. Their contact plans start with an allowance of 600 subscribers for $11.95 per month, and all of their contact plans let you send an unlimited number of emails. Not only is the service intuitive, they also provide 24/7 live assistance. Visit BenchmarkEmail.com
  3. SimplyCast stands out for its email creation options, A/B testing feature and super cheap price. Not only is the paid plan affordable, you can actually send 30,000 emails to 2,000 contacts per month, for free. Though all of the features may seem overwhelming at first, this service is easy to use once you get the hang of it. Visit Simplycast.com
  4. Intuitive and sleek, Mad Mimi is free for anyone who wants to send emails to less than 2,500 contacts, and includes 12,500 emails per month. Though their HTML editor falls short, we enjoyed using the email composer, which uses text modules as well as drag and drop capabilities. With a user-friendly site and friendly customer service, Mad Mimi is worth a try. Visit Madmimi.com
  5. Campaigner is simple and cheap. For $10 a month, users can send an unlimited number of emails to up to 1,000 contacts, the highest allowance for this price range. Though they don’t have the widest selection of templates, those with HTML knowledge should definitely take advantage of the 30-day free trial to test out this basic, reliable and affordable service. Visit Campaigner.com
  6. Though Constant Contact is one of the most popular names in email marketing, they fall in the middle of our rankings due to the higher price. Still, it is a solid service with some nice extra features. Though the service is not fully compatible with Macs, PC users will enjoy their extensive set of customization tools. Their nicely laid out template editor is definitely worth checking out on the 60-day free trial. Visit ConstantContact.com

For the full reviews and rankings, visit NextAdvisor.com.

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Why Business Owners are Adopting Digital Marketing

Internet marketingSmall business owners are a practical bunch. So when it comes to digital marketing – websites, search ads, digital banners, email, mobile ads, and others – they approach it with a decidedly practical bent. “Generating leads and sales is very important to us,” says Jack Groot, owner of JP’s Coffee & Espresso Bar in Holland, MI. “Without real traffic and ultimately profit, there is little or no value for us in digital marketing.”

Groot speaks for millions of small business owners who are leaning more and more into digital marketing, but only if they see real value in it. Larger organizations are accustomed to marketing digitally – they’ve been doing it for years. Many smaller firms, however, have stuck with traditional ways. But that’s changing, and picking up steam.

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Digital marketing has blossomed as digital marketing tools for small business have become more accessible and affordable. A major trend driving increased use of digital marketing by smaller businesses is the increased availability of customer data – from website visits, social media, electronic purchases, and many other sources. This information helps even the smallest businesses understand customers better, identify leads earlier and respond to customer needs by knowing what they’re looking for.

According to a new study conducted by Inc. Magazine and Vocus, a cloud software provider, the top six reasons small biz owners use digital marketing are to:

1)    Drive sales

2)    Increase brand awareness

3)    Reach new customer segments

4)    Drive customer engagement

5)    Identify usable customer insights

6)    Save money/improve productivity

Another attraction of digital marketing for small business is that you can move the needle without having to allocate lots of resources – especially personnel.  Meanwhile, more than half of the small and mid-sized businesses surveyed by Inc. say they now have at least one full-time employee working on their digital marketing efforts. Others use part-timers, outsourcing, or the business owners do it themselves.

Not surprisingly, the Inc. survey found that websites are the most commonly-used digital marketing tool among smaller businesses, with about 87 percent now using them. And while some still use “old” non-interactive websites, many others are incorporating digital marketing tools that incorporate social interaction to gain much greater traction.

Here’s a rundown of how many small businesses are using some of the different digital marketing tools:

  • Email marketing (66%)
  • Videos/photos (55%)
  • Blogs/white papers (53%)
  • Webinars (26%)
  • Paid search (23%)
  • Online store (23%)
  • Mobile apps (18%)
  • Mobile/SMS messages (4%)

Spending Levels on the Rise

Small business spending on digital marketing is also on the rise. According to the Inc. survey, some 23 percent of all small businesses now spend more than 75 percent of their marketing budgets on digital.

Among “larger” small businesses (those with $1 million or more in revenue), about 22 percent allocate less than 10 percent of their budget to digital. About 1-in-5 of these firms spends between 10 and 24 percent of their budget on digital. Another 13.5 percent of firms allocate 25-50 percent to digital, while about 14.5 percent devote 50-75 percent of their marketing spend to digital.

Groot’s businesses – including the Midwest Barista School in addition to the coffee and espresso bar – are now focused almost entirely on digital. And the reason is simple. According to Groot, digital methods – including his website, social media and blog – give him more bang for his buck for generating sales and leads, building awareness, keeping a high profile and driving profitability.

Defining Digital Success

Business owners are clear about what constitutes successful digital marketing in their eyes. Increased sales tops the list (named by 71%), with generating leads second (59%). Other success criteria include the following:

  • Higher search ranking (33%)
  • Publicity/social following (32%)
  • Employee recruitment (9%)
  • Event attendance (5%)
  • Retention rates (4%)

Business owners seem largely satisfied with the progress they’re making on the digital front. About 71 percent rate their current digital marketing efforts as successful at achieving their goals. For those with revenues over $1 million, the success rates are even higher, with about 80 percent rating their efforts a success.

What’s Ahead

Overall, small business owners overwhelmingly expect to increase their spending on digital marketing, with about 90 percent saying they are likely to do so in the next three years.

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9 Time Saving Tips for Your Small Business

Piggy Bank and clockMost small business owners and start-up entrepreneurs hate wasting time. They know from experience that starting and growing an enterprise takes head-down, get-it-done dedication and efficiency.  There just aren’t enough hours in the day to waste them.

But even the most focused business owners can struggle in the day-to-day world with all of the little things that can sabotage efforts to spend time effectively. Whether your business is facing a challenge, or growing like gangbusters, it’s important to get the time management thing right.  Your good organization and time management skills are essential to the success of your business.

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Here are nine time-saving tips that you can put to work in your business right away:

  1. Discover the power of priority. Every business owner makes dozens or more choices daily about what to focus on first. This is setting priorities. But most of us tend to put out the fires first, and then move to more productive endeavors. If you want to tap into your productivity’s full capacity, however, you need to balance being a firefighter and being a builder.  Try this: List all tasks you face, from big to mundane.  Determine which are “A-list” tasks that must definitely be done today. Divide others into B, C and D-level tasks.  Now you can progressively work through all the minor tasks that lead to the greater steps that, in time, lead you to achieving your goals.
  2. Divide and conquer documents. To make sure you don’t drown in a sea of emails, spec sheets, spreadsheets, and more – either hard copies or electronic — you must decide quickly what to do with each one. You have four basic options: Act on it, file it for later, delegate it or toss it. Make it your goal to touch (or click on) each document only once before putting it into one of these categories. The boldest move you can make is to be honest with yourself about what you can and will make time for—and then having the courage to pitch everything else.
  3. Try the 80/20 rule. About 20 percent of the things you spend time on produce 80 percent of your results. To maximize your productivity, identify the 20 percent activities and prioritize them. Look at how you currently spend time. How many things on your to-do list get checked off? Identify what you’d like your 80 percent—your results—to look like. Now you can reorder your priorities for best results.
  4. Make your desk a no parking zone. A desk isn’t storage space, it’s work space, so treat it that way. The more pictures, notes, boxes and tools you have on your desk, the greater your odds of being distracted. Be brutal. Remove everything that isn’t necessary. If you haven’t touched something in a while and it doesn’t have sentimental value, get rid of it. A clear workspace promotes a clear mind.
  5. Ask specific questions. When you ask a vague question the answer is likely to come back just as vague. Being specific and clear cuts confusion and extraneous detail. Communicate precisely why you need to know the answer, and what its purpose is.
  6. Beware of time invaders. Interruptions are inevitable, so you need to control them. Be on guard against people and situations that pull you away from your objectives and schedule. Be proactive in choosing the ground on which you engage others. Reach out to others so they don’t drop in on you. Schedule meetings ahead of time. Discipline yourself to check email once every hour (if realistic) instead of every five minutes.
  7. Make preemptive “appreciation strikes.” You may have clients or contacts who take excessive time and energy because they want to be involved in every step or they’re just friendly by nature. Making brief but regular calls to them can save time overall and keep you in control.
  8. Plan your procrastination. Let’s just assume we all procrastinate at one time or another. It’s human nature. The secret to successful procrastination is to do it deliberately, based on available time and status of high priority tasks. Choose tasks that are least time-sensitive and least at-risk and postpone them, but still give yourself a deadline.
  9. Check in with yourself each Friday. One way to determine how effectively you’re managing your time is to check your results regularly. Do a weekly review of where you stand in relation to your overall goals. Look at the highs and lows, and make adjustments as needed.

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