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Which Social Media Work Best for Business

SSocial Media Marketingmall business owners are continuing to try social media as a marketing channel. But with so many options – and limited time and resources to use them – which ones are working best?

As with so many other things in business, the answer is: “It depends.” One thing is clear: Small businesses are moving headlong into online networking via social media, with 90% saying they’ve jumped in, according to a survey by the online small business community Manta. Among small businesses using social media, 78% report that at least 25% of their customers are now finding them via social channels.

And in a recent survey conducted by Vistage International (a peer advisory firm for business executives) and The Wall Street Journal, 60% of the 835 small business owners surveyed said they’ve had success growing their businesses with social media.

But the tools and platforms they use vary greatly, and “success” depends on the type of business they have and how they use the social media tools and platforms.

Biz Owners Find Success with LinkedIn

Surprisingly, 41% of the owners in this particular group named LinkedIn as the most effective for them – more than any other social media platform. I’ve written before about the importance of small businesses having a company page on LinkedIn, but a relatively small portion of businesses have done so, making this survey’s finding a bit of a stunner. The online video service YouTube was named most effective by 16% of the businesses, while Facebook was considered most beneficial by just 14%.

A mish-mash of other social media platforms (including Pinterest and Google+) account for the remainder of the “most effective” votes, with Twitter being named by just 3% of business owners as their top social media outlet for helping them grow. In part that’s because just 14% of business owners report using Twitter at all, and Twitter is just now getting around to promoting its services as a tool for business.

How do small businesses find the time?  Increasingly, some are getting employees involved, with about 40% now saying they have people dedicated to social media campaigns. The rest, presumably, are flying solo. Overall, the businesses involved aren’t spending that much time on it, with about half saying they spend 1-5 hours weekly, and a third spending almost no time at all. A few, however, spend upwards of 10 hours weekly.

Pinterest Works for Visual Businesses

As interest in visually display grows, businesses that have interesting photos of what they sell (such as a kitchen remodeler, wedding photographer or jeweler) are finding success with Pinterest, the online photo sharing site. Some now report 10 times as much website traffic coming from their Pinterest pages, compared to Facebook.

Professionals, such as attorneys, architects and consultants, are finding LinkedIn to be a top performer, while small retailers tend to get more traction with Facebook (see A 10 Step Facebook Cheat Sheet for Biz Owners).

How do business owners measure social media success? Being found by customers is the benefit most often named (35%). Referrals and the ability to find and engage with prospects (lead generation) also rank highly.

Clearly, most small businesses want to link social media activities to sales as directly as possible. Thus, having customers find them and buy something is valued most highly.  But don’t overlook customer retention and loyalty, which also play an important role in calculating the value of social networking.

Go Where Your Customers Are

In many respects, it comes down to this: If your customers and prospects are online and in social media (and they are), you must be too. “As 97% of consumers use the Internet to research products or services in their local area, and those searches regularly include company name, product or service, or business owner, it’s critical small businesses build awareness of themselves and their company online,” says Jed Williams, program director at the leading research and consulting firm BIA/Kelsey.

Take it from Joseph Buczek, president of Lighthouse Construction and Restoration, an Indiana-based remodeling and repair firm. “Over time, I’ve realized that it’s very important for me to maintain a consistent online presence for both my business and myself,” says Buczek. “More and more consumers – my prospective customers – are looking online for information about remodeling companies, so I need to be there when they are.”

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.  Follow @140Main

The 8 Best Online Businesses to Start Now

Shoes.largeLooking to start a business? If you want something with big potential that doesn’t take much startup capital, consider an online service of some type. A major shift toward purchasing both consumer and business-to-business services online has created a slew of opportunities for would-be entrepreneurs.

For one thing, Internet usage continues to soar. Going online is now a reflex action rather than a conscious decision. Some people spend most of their day online, switching between their PC, mobile device, tablet and TV. Connection speeds have increased sharply and businesses as well as consumers are doing more and more things online.

Online Retail & Services Soar

According to a new study by the research firm IBIS World, the biggest money making opportunities are in the retail and service sectors. And here’s more good news: Many of the things once done only by the most tech savvy big businesses are now within range of small operators with little or no tech expertise. Basically, you can tap into whatever tech or expertise you need by using third-party vendors to develop websites, provide e-commerce capabilities and much more.

And the cost of Internet storage has never been cheaper. These factors and others have combined to make starting an online business easier, quicker and less costly than ever.

Here are eight types of high-potential businesses that are easy to get into and are experiencing major changes of the kind that spell big opportunities.

1. TV and Home Theater Installation

Few industries are as fragmented as this, or as easy to enter with little capital. Some 94% of U.S. households have a TV; 84% have a DVD player and about 25% now have a home theater. It’s now a $12 billion industry, although you’ll definitely need to keep up with fast changing technology.

2. Virtual Data Rooms

The VDR industry is growing quickly at about 16% annually since 2008, with revenue expected to reach $728 million in 2013. The proliferation of online document sharing services has helped the industry flourish. With low barriers to entry, IBIS World expects this industry to expand at an annualized rate of 17% over the next five years.

3. IT Security Consulting

This industry has benefited from increasing adoption of e-commerce, growth in mobile Internet access and some high-profile data breaches. Over the last five years, revenue increased at an annual rate of 9.8% to $5.3 billion. As businesses buy more and more computers and software, the need for IT security advice grows.

4. Travel Agencies

Outdated storefront travel agencies are giving way to online services, which offer a relatively high-profit, low-cost way to handle transactions. This segment of the industry has grown significantly and will likely continue to display strong growth during the next five years.

5. Online Shoe Sales

Consumers love buying things online – especially shoes, accessories and the like. Industry revenue has been growing at a robust 16% annual rate. Every year, more than 100 million Americans purchase goods online, one of the fastest-growing industries in the U.S.  Traditional brick-and-mortar retailers have an opportunity to enter the online realm and recapture sales taken by retailers that operate exclusively online.

6. Digital Forensic Services

This industry has also benefited from growth in mobile web connections and a rise in the percentage of households with at least one computer. The amount of information stored electronically is skyrocketing. Digital forensics helps find and analyze digital information for various legal purposes. While there are few prohibitive licensing or regulatory barriers, this business does require more capital than others.

7. Translation Services

Globalization and an increasing number of non-native English speakers in the U.S. have helped fuel growth here. The Internet has also fostered demand for translators because businesses expanding into new countries must adapt websites and marketing materials to the new region. Technology has helped automate some of the process, improving the speed and accuracy of translators.

8. Social Network Game Development

This industry has grown an astounding 184% per year during the past five years, driven by surging Internet and social network use. As smartphones and tablets proliferate, people can now access social networks anywhere, any time. Indeed, according to a report from research firm Nielsen, consumers spend 20% of their total time online using social networks on personal computers and 30% of their time online visiting social networks on mobile devices.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.  Follow @140Main

Obamacare Small Business Quick Start Guide

Obamacare.v2Whether you’re angry, happy or just plain confused about how “Obamacare” (a.k.a. the Affordable Care Act, or ACA) will impact your business, my best advice is this: Get over it!

Official start date is January 1, 2014, but some provisions are already in place (such as healthcare tax credits for small biz) with more coming soon. Time to buck up and figure out what it means for your business, what steps you need to take and how you’re going to deal with the changes.

Many business owners and entrepreneurs are still in “wait and see” mode. That could be a mistake if you end up overpaying for existing coverage, or want to get first time coverage and face health expenses before getting your coverage in place.

Details Unfolding

Details of healthcare reform are starting to unfold. The U.S. Small Business Administration, for example, has launched a new website (SBA.gov/healthcare) and blog (sba.gov/blog) devoted exclusively to explaining it for small business. And while the SBA’s take on ACA is certainly biased to the upside, this new resource does offer a helpful gateway to information about how it will work.

Keep an eye out for something called the Small Business Health Options Program or SHOP. This program, launching in October, is designed as a (relatively) hassle-free way for you to find health insurance. If it works as promised, you’ll be able to choose the coverage level you want, what portion of employee costs you want to pay and tap available tax credits. You can sign up to receive email updates about SHOP at the HealthCare.gov website.

Starting in 2014, you or your small business can also get insurance through a new type of non-profit, consumer-run health insurer called a Consumer Operated and Oriented Plan (CO-OP). As with other co-op setups, these insurers will be run by their small business and self-employed customers themselves. Such CO-OPs are meant to offer consumer-friendly, affordable health insurance options to small businesses and must meet the same state and federal quality and financial standards as other plans. You can find more at the HealthCare.gov website.

Here are some key provisions based on the size business you are, from self-employed to 50+ employees.

Self-Employed

Health insurance coverage for the self-employed will be in place and available through a new competitive health insurance marketplace in each state no later than January 1, 2014, with open enrollment starting October 1, 2013. You’ll be able to choose from four levels of coverage that pay different percentages of your costs.

Under 25 and Under 50 Employees

One provision already in place is a tax credit (way better than a simple deduction) for small businesses with fewer than 25 employees that pay a portion of employee health premiums and meet other criteria. Right now, the credit maximum is 35% of what you pay for coverage and that will go to 50% in 2014.

Small Business Majority, an advocacy group for small business, has a handy Health Care Tax Credit calculator on it’s website. You’ll see it on the right side of the homepage at: SmallBusinessMajority.org.

Also starting in 2014, businesses with fewer than 50 employees can use the SHOP system to secure coverage. The assumption is that competitive pricing and pooled purchasing will lower costs significantly, although that’s yet to be seen.  Right now, small businesses pay about 18% more on average than big companies for equivalent coverage.

50 or More Employees

This is where mandates kick in. Starting in 2014, businesses with more than 50 full-time (defined as working 30 or more hours weekly) employees must offer health insurance or pay an “assessment.” The details of this “Employer Shared Responsibility” and other ACA tax provisions are available on the IRS website at IRS.gov. See Affordable Care Act Tax Provisions under “Hot Topics.”

Starting in 2016, businesses with up to 100 employees will be able to buy health coverage through SHOP.

Here three other helpful features available on the HealthCare.gov website:

  • Timeline for implementation: What you need to do and when.
  • State-by-state breakdown of new healthcare options for small businesses.
  • A glossary of healthcare act terminology.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.  Follow @140Main

5 Low Risk Ways to Fund Future Business Growth

Funding growthHere at BizBest, a common concern I often see from business owners and start-up entrepreneurs is where the money will come from to fund future growth. For some, that might require outside investors, which in turn can mean giving up partial ownership or control.

But most businesses can grow successfully by using one or a combination of other financing approaches that don’t require major commitments or outside investors.

The idea is to prepare and position your business for growth so you don’t miss out on growth opportunities when they arise. A big part of that is not only keeping your current balance sheet in shape, but also lining up potential funding sources.

It starts with understanding the different options, and that alone can be challenging. For example, an American Express survey found that 34% of business owners believe – incorrectly – that a business “term loan” (funded immediately for a set term and amount) and a “line of credit” (which you open and tap as needed) are essentially the same. And nearly 40% believe it’s a good idea to apply to as many lenders as possible when seeking a loan, when the opposite is true. (Multiple applications can harm your credit rating.)

Here are five ways to position your business for all the future funding you’ll need:

1. Reinvest your profits

The best source of “venture capital” for an existing business is money you’re already generating. This is “patient” capital that builds value in your business without debt and without giving up shares to others.

Many entrepreneurs miss growth opportunities by spending profits in unproductive ways. Others take the opposite extreme, pumping every penny into the business while taking nothing for themselves.

Both can backfire. If you do need to seek a loan, lenders will prefer that you pay yourself a reasonable salary. They want to know the business can be profitable even if those running it get paid.

2. Tap into trade credit

“Trade credit” is a way to put off payment for goods and services your business purchases from suppliers and vendors. You may find vendors more than willing to sell on credit to a growing business – and even to a startup – if you can strike a long-term deal to buy from them.

And from your perspective, trade credit is also one of the safest forms of business borrowing. Bank debt is dangerous because payments are still due even if sales drop. But if sales drop so will your orders, so your level of trade credit drops too.

Trade credit may also be more readily available than bank or other types of loans. And it lets you spread payments over months or even years with little or no down payment and generally favorable rates.

3. Line up a credit line

The time to establish a line of credit is when you have the ability to qualify for one and might not really need it.  Having a line of credit can help you grow by providing ready financing when opportunities arise. A line of credit is also vastly preferable to using credit cards that carry much higher interest rates and other onerous terms. But use your credit line cautiously. Lines are meant to be tapped as needed, then paid off so they are available again the next time.

Establishing a credit line is cheap, you only pay interest on what you borrow and you can use the line for almost anything. Start small – basically with whatever size line a lender is willing to provide.  The important thing is to get a foot into the bank financing door. Once you have it, put it to use and pay it off diligently and always on time.

4. Expand your banking relationships

If you have accounts with only one big bank, consider opening additional accounts at a regional or community bank (or vice versa). That will give you more options when it comes time to look for loans, lines or other services to support your growth plan.

5. Consider alternative sources

A few options include credit unions you may be eligible to join, accounts receivable financing (also called “factoring”), and so-called “peer-to-peer” lending. Peer-to-peer (or person-to-person) lending is handled online through a variety of web-based services that function as intermediaries, including Prosper (www.prosper.com) and Lending Club (www.lendingclub.com).

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.  Follow @140Main

6 Lessons on Becoming a High Impact Business

High growth biz Uncle Sam wanted to know:  What kinds of companies are America’s true growth generators? Is it corporate giants like Apple, Amazon or GE? Is it startups? Is it relative newbies such as Facebook.

After some exhaustive research, the answer was clear: “None of the above.

As it turns out, the real economic spark plugs in the U.S. are not big public companies. They are small, privately-held, fast-growing firms that already exist. These “high-impact” businesses are defined as firms whose sales and employee count have at least doubled over a four-year period.

Surprise! High Impact Includes All Industries

That’s about 350,000 businesses and the research shows they tend to be a bit younger (but still average 17 years old) and a whole lot more productive than others.  And they’re not just a bunch of high tech firms, either. They exist in relatively equal shares across all industries – and get this – even declining and stagnant ones! No single industry dominates.

That alone is both positive news and a huge lesson for startup entrepreneurs and other business owners who fear they can’t hit it big in more traditional businesses or industries. In short, you can.

Here’s another stunning finding of the U.S. Small Business Administration study: This relatively small group (less than 10% of all U.S. companies) of privately-held small firms accounts for all (not most, but ALL) net job growth in the U.S. economy. And get this: These high-impact businesses are also largely immune to ups and downs of the business cycle. Sound good?

Small Firms Dominate

But surely these must be the “bigger” small business, right? Wrong again. The vast majority (94%) of high-impact businesses have just one to 19 employees. Another 5.5% come in at between 20 and 499 employees, and a scant 0.5% have more.

In other words, a few hundred thousand businesses with just a handful of employees are having a bigger collective impact on job growth in the U.S. than all the corporate giants combined. Now ain’t that somethin’!

By now, you should be saying to yourself you’re either one of these firms – or you want to be. But how? For answers, let’s check in with Edward Hess, professor and Executive-in-Residence at the University of Virginia’s graduate business school. Hess has studied high-impact businesses for years and has an insightful new book called Grow to Greatness: Smart Growth for Entrepreneurial Businesses (Stanford University Press, 2012). He offers these six lessons on being a high-growth firm:

1)    Don’t grow yourself into trouble

Many small businesses flame out when they try to grow too quickly, as growth outstrips people, processes and controls. Cash flow is critical. Growth requires investment ahead of cash receipts. “Entrepreneurs must understand they might not be able to afford all available growth,” says Darden. Avoid the “grow or die” myth. A better approach is “improve or die.”

2)    Upgrade continuously

Remember this: What got you here, won’t necessarily get you there. In other words, solutions that work at one size business generally won’t work as you get bigger. Growth means continuous change. Hess has found that common tipping points that require adjustments occur at 10, 25, 50 and 100 employees. Top entrepreneurs and their teams know how to experiment, learn and adapt.

3)    Know when to back off

All private businesses face the same growth challenges. The most successful ones know how to pace their growth. Hess calls it the “gas pedal” approach. They know when to let up on the growth gas pedal to give their people, processes and controls time to catch up.

4)    Manage your risks

Growth creates stress on finances, quality controls, people and processes. It can dilute your business’s culture and customer value proposition. And it can even thrust you into a different competitive space. Understanding these risks is crucial to managing your growth pace and preventing your business from being overwhelmed.

5)    Get better at delegating

In order for your business to grow, YOU must grow, too. There’s only so much you can do yourself. That means you have to evolve from being strictly a doer, to also being an effective manager, delegator and leader.  Sometimes that’s hard to do or swallow, but it’s a must.

6)    Keep strategic focus

Having and keeping strategic focus is also critical to growing “safely.” The most successful high-impact firms focus on doing one thing that lots of customers need, and doing it better than the competition.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.  Follow @140Main

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Why Marketing Metrics Matter to Your Business

Metrics.horizWhen it comes to measuring marketing success, many business owners (and professional marketers) prefer to think that results are more magic than math. But that’s just not so. The digital era – with it’s easy (relatively) access to analytics – has introduced a whole new way of thinking.

Using real data, business owners can now take a “show me the money” approach to measuring marketing success. Marketing metrics – as opposed to, say, website metrics – can show what works and what doesn’t with far more clarity than ever before.

If you aren’t using some type of marketing metrics or analytics, your business is flying blind. Your goal is to confidently identify which marketing efforts are delivering the best financial returns. Only then can you make the right strategic moves to improve your results over time.

With marketing dollars scarce, business owners and startup entrepreneurs are moving to methods where they can most easily measure and quantity success – or the lack thereof. Meanwhile, test-and-learn marketing (A/B testing) and other marketing tools are helping even the smallest businesses glean valuable insights into what customers and prospects actually DO rather than simply what they SAY.

Marketing Metrics vs. Website Metrics

Don’t confuse marketing metrics with simple website metrics such as page views per visit, time on site, back-links and others. The marketing data important to you includes such things as total traffic, action rates, leads, conversion rates and – ultimately – sales. Whereas web metrics focus on what’s happening with your website overall, as well as specific pages, marketing metrics are mostly about human actions – your customers and prospects.

Metrics-focused marketing starts with three main activities:

1)    Setting goals and targets up front. These should include such things as how many incremental sales are generated, how much revenue each sale produces and the gross margin. In short, you want to know precisely what impact your marketing efforts are having on revenue.

2)    Designing or selecting your marketing programs to be measurable in the first place. You’ll want to know the incremental contribution of each individual marketing effort you undertake in order to compare results.

3)    Focusing on decisions that will improve your marketing results. The idea is to adapt and make changes along the way.

Here are three key marketing metrics to consider:

  • Lead Conversion Rate: Lassoing lots of leads is great. But converting them to sales is what really counts. Your conversion rate is the percentage of leads that ultimately become sales (10 sales from 100 leads = a 10% conversion rate). This also produces insights into lead quality and how revenue can react dramatically to even small changes in conversion rates.
  • Revenue Per Customer:  Once you know how much the average customer is spending, you can make better decisions on whether to focus on new customers, selling more to existing customers, or both.
  • Customer Acquisition Cost: This boils down to what it costs you to gain a new customer. It’s a critical number to know for deciding what you can spend on your marketing efforts. If your revenue per customer is higher than your acquisition cost, you’re at least on the right track.

Metrics Missteps to Avoid

  • Vanity metrics: Avoid relying on “feel good” measurements that sound good but don’t actually measure business outcomes or improve profitability. Common examples include PR impressions, Facebook “likes” and names gathered at trade shows.
  • Focusing on quantity, not quality: The main metric of lead generation is usually quantity. But focusing on quantity without also measuring quality can lead to marketing programs that look good initially but don’t deliver profits.
  • Activity, not results: Marketing “activity” is easy to see (costs going out the door), but results are harder to measure.
  • Efficiency instead of effectiveness: Know the difference between effectiveness metrics (doing the right things) and efficiency metrics (doing – possibly the wrong – things well).
For example, having a packed event is no good if it’s the wrong people.

Lenskold Group, a marketing analytics firm, has a helpful, and free, online tool for calculating the return on investment (ROI) of your lead generation. Just put in the numbers for nine different variables and check the results. Look on the website under “ROI Resources”.

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5 Free or Frugal Business PR Tools

HARO logoBusiness owners and startup entrepreneurs are always searching for low-cost and no-cost ways to promote their businesses and get their name in front of potential customers. PR is a perfect way for most  businesses to get attention and attract new customers. Nothing brings people to your door (website, Facebook page, etc.) like PR. Most businesses know this, but few have the budget to hire a PR firm. The good news is you don’t have to.

That’s because there are many free or low-cost ways to get PR via the Internet. It’s never been easier to practice your own public relations. But it takes time and effort on your part. Here are five free or frugal PR tools you can use to launch your own internal public relations effort.

1. HARO (Help A Reporter Out) is a free service from Vocus that lets you sign up to become a resource for reporters writing stories on topics in your field of expertise. From The New York Times, to ABC News, to HuffingtonPost.com and everything in between, nearly 30,000 members of the media have quoted HARO sources in their stories. Everyone’s an expert at something. Sharing your expertise may land you that big media opportunity you’ve been looking for. For a monthly fee you get more bells and whistles.

2. PRWeb is a low-cost news release creation, submission and distribution service used by many small firms. News and press releases distributed via PRWeb raise your online visibility where millions of people are searching for information. When you submit your news releases to PRWeb, they will be indexed by search engines such as Google, sent to news sites such as Yahoo! News and placed into RSS feeds with more than 250,000 subscribers that include bloggers, journalists and consumers.

PRWeb also helps you build inbound links from other premium sites, one of the most important assets to build your website’s credibility in search engines. All of this helps drive traffic by helping people find you online and click through to your website. With “advanced features” your news goes to premier news outlets such as The New York Times, USA Today and others via the Associated Press. You can also include video, attachments, images and links to engage your customers and encourage people to share your story.

One of the best parts about PRWire is all of the free help available on the site. Look in the “Tools & Tips” section for advice on how to write a good press release, common press release mistakes, best practices for online news releases, how to format your news release and more.

3. Free Press Release lets you submit releases for nothing. The basic service provides free distribution to Google News and other popular search engines. If you register (still free) you have additional capabilities to log into your account, monitor your release, and delete it. A more expansive paid service is also available.

4. Another free press release distribution service called 1888PressRelease.com sends your releases to search engines, newswires and websites. For a modest fee, you can upgrade to wider distribution. You can also attach files, logos or images to your press release if you want.

5. PitchRate.com is a free service that connects journalists with topic experts – such as small business owners – for free media coverage. Basically, it’s a place where you can get free media leads. PitchRate also offers helpful (free) information on how to get free publicity, PR tips, personal branding ideas and more. It sponsors regular free “PR Happy Hour” conference calls that let you talk live with marketing and PR experts, ask questions and get free advice.

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8 Essentials of Successful Discounting

Discounts.horizThese days, if you aren’t offering a discount of some kind (or at least the appearance of one), you might not be selling much of anything. Pervasive discounting by businesses both big and small has caused buyers to demand deals on anything and everything.

In the midst of all this, how can business owners and entrepreneurs craft a financially sound strategy for offering discounts? The knee-jerk reaction is sometimes to cut prices willy-nilly. But don’t rush into a discount strategy. It pays to start with a plan, making certain the discounts you offer will actually help grow your business long-term, rather than shooting yourself in the foot.

No matter what, be sure to monitor and measure the results of a discount strategy. If you sell more but still lose money, it’s not helping your business.

Here are eight keys to successful discounting:

1. Make the discount relevant

Devise an offer that not only will appeal to your clientele, but also one that jibes with how those customers buy from your biz. For example, a “buy one get one free” offer might appear strong on the surface. But if you sell something that customers wouldn’t typically buy multiples at the same time, it’s not likely to work well.

2. Commit to your campaign

Whether you use social media, search engine marketing, postcards, coupon packs, email or other ads, frequency and consistency count. Prospects may see an offer but not respond right away.  Consumers look for an offer that’s appealing and has value, and may respond immediately. But with big ticket, high-commitment items they are likely to take more time to consider the offer and wait until they need to make the purchase.

3. Balance strong discounts against your bottom line

Structure discounts that get customers in the door, but still make money for your business. “Look at your product mix and look at your margins,” says King. “Because if you don’t, that’s where you’re going to get burned.” Evaluate carefully what you can reasonably offer, and don’t be afraid to exclude specific items that don’t fit the discount model (see tips below on crafting a profitable offer).

4. Set goals and measure your results

Balance results with objectives. Was your goal to generate new customers? Drive more phone calls or website visits? Promote a new product or service? Don’t just file away coupons you use to promote your discount. Take a little time to analyze the transactions. Did customers merely buy the discounted items or did they spend more while they were at your store or website? Well-planned discounting typically (though not always) prompts customers to spend more.

5. Don’t forget to prepare

Some businesses that offer a discount for the first time aren’t properly prepared for the response. If you attract customers to try your product or service, but you’re not able to serve those customers at your best level, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. Be sure to inform your staff about your discount strategy, and provide any information they need about coupons or offers. Customers may have questions, and you’ll need the answers.

6. Don’t treat discount buyers as “second rate” customers

Make every customer feel wanted, welcomed and appreciated. Training your staff to handle promotions is just as important as the offer itself.  The reason is simple: Treating people well is the key to repeat business after the discount deal is gone.

7. Don’t target only new customers

Offer extra discounts for repeat business: One way to turn new customers into repeat customers is to establish loyal customer discounts of some type. Loyalty cards (buy 9 get the 10th one free), birthday discounts and referral rewards are several examples.

8. Avoid hot water

Be careful with the wording of your discount and on-sale offers. Clearly label what’s “on sale” and what isn’t. If you advertise discounts of, say, “Up to 50% off” the Better Business Bureau suggests that at least 10 percent of the items be offered at the maximum amount off.

Profit-boosting tips for crafting a discount coupon offer:

  • Know your marginal cost: Deep discount offers work best for businesses with low marginal costs, where the price of producing an additional “unit” to sell, over and above fixed costs is low.
  • Be patient: Discount offers can hurt short-term profits but pay off later as new customers return and pay full price.
  • Block multiple purchases: Research shows that profitability drops greatly when customers are allowed to purchase multiple coupons.  Disallow multiple purchases if possible (although there’s nothing to stop buyers from setting up multiple accounts to buy your coupons).
  • Gather purchase data: If possible, find out if customers who bought your discount coupons have purchased from you before at full price. You might start by simply asking them.  Remember that coupons can re-active old customers who’ve forgotten about you or moved to a competitor
  • Consider fees: Stiff pay-to-play fees charged by Groupon and others also curb coupon profitability.  Groupon, for example, takes up to half of the coupon price, although the fee drops to 10 percent if your offer only appears following user searches and not in Groupon’s daily email.
  • Query customers: Capture as much information about coupon customers as possible, including names and email addresses, and follow up with further offers.
  • Cross-sell and up-sell: Coupon customers might buy other full-price items as well. To facilitate this, be sure to specifically offer them related items.

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10 Things Wrong With Your Website

In this age of social media and digital everything, you can’t afford to be a website weakling. If your competition has a killer online presence, and you don’t, you lose. Today’s consumers look online more than ever before.  Even business owners who think they don’t really need a “best in class” website are missing more than they think.  Based on visiting thousands of small business websites, BizBest compiled this list of 10 common mistakes that businesses make with their websites, and how to fix them:

1. Crummy Content

Thanks to the rise of social media and changes in how search engines operate, it’s now more important than ever to have high-quality content on your site. Off-topic and poorly written content won’t show up in search and makes your site look second-rate. Don’t load up on sales pitches. Instead, provide helpful tips, case studies and other info that gives customers and prospects valuable information on how to solve a problem or accomplish a task.  Avoid industry jargon and keep it conversational. A service such as HubSpot.com can help.

2. Keyword Clueless

Knowing — and using — the proper keywords for the products and services your business sells is important to online success. Even if you think you know what they are, unless you’ve used a keyword discovery tool to see the precise terms that real people are typing into search engines daily, you haven’t done it right.  KeywordDiscovery.com and the keyword tool in Google AdWords can help.

3. Social Scarcity

No website is complete today without some nod to social media.  At a bare minimum that should be a link to your Facebook page, but could and should also include Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and your own blog.

4. Muddy Metrics

Who’s visiting your website? Where are they coming from? What are they doing once they get there? What are the most and least popular portions of your site? What kinds of visitors are making you the most money? If you lack the answers, you’re flying blind. Sign up for a web metrics service such as Google Analytics to get a grip on what’s happening.

5. Missing Mobile

Mobile web usage is exploding, with huge  implications for small businesses that lack a mobile-friendly site. Mobile sites are designed specifically for the small screen. They are quick, easy to navigate and “thumb friendly,” which means they use large, centered buttons with “breathing room” to prevent accidental clicks. The best mobile-friendly  sites make the mobile experience local. Since customers are constantly seeking local information on their phones, your mobile site should make it quick and easy for people to find you. Google has a terrific program called GoMo (www.HowToGoMo.com) to help business owners and startups learn about mobile websites and find help setting one up. You’ll find tips, a tool to rate the quality of an existing mobile site, samples of good mobile site design, and a helpful list of vendors who can help you create a mobile presence.

6. Obvious Omissions

It’s stunning how many websites lack obvious info such as contact information, hours and location, or seemingly try to hide it. Don’t make people hunt for a “Contact Us” page. Display your preferred means of contact prominently across your site. If you make it easy for people to call or email, they will. Be sure you have a process in place to follow up all inquiries.

7. Offer-less Ordering

If you want people to sign up, order or otherwise engage, you need to encourage it with some type of offer or call to action. You could, for example, offer free trials, discounts or a newsletter. Tell people what you want them to do.

8. Dorky Design

Design counts. But it’s not all about looking pretty. It’s about creating a great user experience and being highly functional and effective at attracting, keeping and converting customers. Obvious cookie-cutter sites and over-the-top images undercut your goals. Customers are there because they want to accomplish something, and your design needs to reflect that. Keep all order and lead-generation forms simple. The more information you require, the fewer people you’ll get filling them out.

9. Laughably Link-less

If people can’t find you online, you’re toast. One thing that makes Google (and other search engines) take notice is how many quality sites link to yours. Other sites are more likely to link to yours if you offer helpful information such as tips, white papers, newsletters, a blog or other items. Sending out regular press releases on your business is one way to build links. You can also seek links from professional associations, clients and vendors.

10. Unborn Updates

Incorrect or outdated info on your website spells certain doom. If your latest press release is three years old or other content is clearly aging, customers will wonder how up-to-date and vibrant your business really is. Review and update all content on your site regularly to keep it fresh and timely.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.  Follow @140Main

13 Business Resolutions for 2013

2013Here they are, along with some of our best tips and strategies to help you pull each one off:

Resolution #1: Fix my website!

Here are 10 things that are probably wrong with your site, and how to fix them: 10 Things Wrong With Your Website

Resolution#2: Improve our customer service!

Here’s how: 8 Ways to Earn True Customer Love

Resolution#3: Be a better tweeter!

Here’s one way to do it: The Right Way to Retweet

Resolution#4: Boost my social influence!

These 16 tools can help: 16 Sweet Social Marketing Tools You Gotta Try

Resolution#5: Nurture our leads!

Become a lead nurturing pro: 9 Steps to Lead Nurturing Success

Resolution#6: Find a business mentor!

Here’s how & where: 8 Places to Find Your own Free Business Mentor

Resolution#7: Launch a new product or service!

And when you do, here’s how to market it! 14 Ways to Market a New Product or Service

Resolution#8: Try A/B testing!

Here’s what you need to know:  The Magic of Test-and-Learn Marketing

Resolution#9: Keep better books!

These basics will get you there: The 10 Bookkeeping Basics You Can’t Ignore

Resolution#10: Get serious with Facebook!

Can’t go wrong with this Facebook cheat sheet: A 10-Step Facebook Cheat Sheet for Biz Owners

Resolution#11: Network more!!

These tips will really help: 9 Ways to Make your Contacts Really Count

Resolution#12: Review our pricing!

There’s more to pricing then you think: What Every Business Should Know About Pricing

Resolution#13: Innovate more!

Here’s how to make it happen: 4 Rules for Fostering Innovation in Your Business

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.  Follow @140Main