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10 Small Business Predictions for 2012

Technology shapes how small businesses survive and thrive, and 2012 will see record numbers of small businesses harness the power of technology and especially new online productivity tools to grow their businesses. Jerry Nettuno, founder and CEO of Schedulicity, which is one of those online tools, shares his small business predictions for 2012: 

1.      Daily deals dive: The daily deal space exploded last year, but 2012 will see deal shrinkage of 30% or more. Rapid contraction will leave just a couple of “big guys,” some vertically positioned players and a long tail of locals finding ways to thrive by serving a few small regions or cities.

2.  Surviving deals get a makeover:  Burned by go-for-broke deals, many local businesses will fine tune and target their offers to strengthen loyalty. The more geographically concentrated your customer-base is, the better your chances of turning deal-seekers into repeat buyers. Look for an increase in frequent buyer and perk programs to support this movement in 2012.

3.   Small businesses move to the cloud. The ability to self-publish quickly via the cloud is moving businesses out of traditional media.  Productivity services such as Google Docs, Zoho Creator, Office 365 (from Microsoft) and many others are making it easier than ever to operate entirely online.  Low cost tablet computers will let more service professionals and small business owners run their businesses from a mobile device. 

4.      Breakthrough tools arrive. Emerging technology will spawn more break-through productivity tools.  Business owners will see new, off-the-shelf ways to connect with consumers.  With the launch of Siri, Apple’s new voice-activated personal assistant application, developers will be hard at work on amazing voice-activated apps that will offer a unique way for local businesses to stand out.

5.      The “Digital Coupon Book” takes off:  The move to more online shopping turns passive discount recipients into active coupon seekers.  Digital “coupon books” will dominate within the next two years, offering small businesses another way to leverage existing customer relationships with hyper-local offers.  We’ll see a growth in local offer networks, personalized consumer dashboards and highly targeted deals.

6.      The appointment book disappears.  The success of sites such as Schedulicity, OpenTable and ZocDoc reinforce the idea that the traditional pen and paper appointment book may soon disappear.  The number of appointments booked online is soaring.  Schedulicity alone has seen nearly 7 million appointments booked online since mid-2009. 

7.      Mobile commerce soars.  Mobile payment, location-based promotions, and mobile scheduling will all change the way small business owners conduct business in 2012.  Whether iPad or iPhone, Kindle Fire or Droid, the move to mobile will continue apace.  Making your business website mobile-friendly is only a start.  As more and more consumers are making mobile a mainstay, it will be essential for small businesses to have a mobile commerce strategy to tap into this opportunity.

8.      Thinking “local” gains steam.  With a still-shaky economy and unbending unemployment rates, 2012 is poised to be trying for small business.  Small business owners need to think local – the headlines in the local newspaper and the vibe on Main Street are more important than what’s being talked about on CNBC.

9.      Social media gets marketing money.  Social media marketing isn’t just for early adopters anymore.  Big brands and Fortune 500 companies have spent the past three years discovering (and utilizing) the marketing capabilities of Facebook, Twitter, and other online tools.  In 2012, more small businesses will expand online and embrace Facebook as the dominant social media marketing tool for local business.

10.  The client continues to be king.  Small business and independent service professionals are no longer “too busy for new clients.”  Taking advantage of networking opportunities and exploring new online listing options will help small businesses make themselves known and available to new clients. 

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

Inside Tips on Using Google +1 for Business

Right now, Google officials are quietly meeting with corporate partners to enlist support for the much-anticipated business version of Google+, their new social media platform. Soon (they hope), local businesses will be competing to be “+1s” from customers (similar to a “Like” on Facebook).  Here’s a sneak peak at what Google execs are saying:

  • Circles:  Big G says today’s social media experience is “sloppy” (we only connect with certain people at certain times); “scary” (all online conversations are public); and “insensitive” (we all define friend and family differently).  With G+ Circles, you can separate groups of coworkers and customers, which lets you share certain information only with the people it’s meant for.
  • Sparks:  Sparks is meant to be an online sharing tool that feeds you relevant content from the web.  Businesses can use it to stay up to date on important news about an industry, profession or competitor.  
  • Hangouts:  Connecting with others online can be awkward.  When someone doesn’t respond to a request, you aren’t sure if they’re not there, or just not interested. Through multi-person video chat, Google+ Hangouts changes the game.  For example, businesses can arrange video conferences with up to 10 employees or co-workers; or use Hangouts as your own live customer support line.
  • +1:  Putting +1 buttons on your website will let customer recommend your business, site, page or content to friends and contacts.  Consider it free word of mouth marketing.
  • Photo sharing for business: A phone is a perfect collaboration tool for business owners since it’s always with you and always online. But getting photos off your phone is a pain. Google+ instant upload lets users add photos to a private site in the cloud, and even add locations.
  • (Also see ShopTalk: Social Media’s “What Local Business Should Know now about Google Plus.”)

The +1 Button is the Key

The +1 button lets users recommend you right on Google search – or from your own site, if you have the button installed.  Adding the +1 button to your business website gives customers and other visitors another way to endorse your business or brand.  The more +1’s your business collects, the better. Having +1’s will improve search results for your business, product or service, and also give your ads more oomph.   It works like this:

1)      Julie clicks the +1 button next to your online ad or organic search result about your business. This now becomes a public recommendation, linked to her profile.

2)      Her contacts will see a personalized “annotation” (more on this below) on her own search results and ads showing that Julie “+1’d” (pronounced PLUS-ONE’D) it.

Where to Get the Button

Google has created a special page for businesses and webmasters to learn more about the +1 button, download the code and even create customized versions of the button for specific uses.  That’s where you’ll find everything you need.  Put the button wherever you think it will be most effective. On the top half of the page, near the title of the page, and close to sharing links are good locations. Placing the +1 button at both the end and the beginning of an article or story can also be effective.

How +1 Affects Search Results and Traffic

Basically, +1 helps people find relevant content—a website, a search result, or an ad—from people they know. As G+ expands, the +1 button will appear on more and more websites and ads.  You’ll see a +1 button on a Google search result or next to an article you’re reading on a news or industry site.

Adding the +1 button to pages on your own site lets users recommend your content, knowing that their friends and contacts will see their recommendation when it’s most relevant—in the context of their future Google searches (yes, a little scary, but true).  Personalized annotations next to your page in search results may increase your site’s visibility and click-through rate. To see how +1 affects your search traffic, try the +1 Metrics tool available in Google Webmaster Tools.  Available metrics include:

  • Search impact: See the pages on your site that received the most impressions with a +1 annotation, and see how +1 annotations impact click-through rate.
  • Activity: See the total number of +1’s received by pages on your site.
  • Audience: See aggregated information about people who have +1’d your pages, including the total number of unique users, their location, and their age and gender.

Google+ Annotations

Personalized annotations display the faces of friends and social connections who’ve already +1’d a piece of content. Google tries to display +1’s to people (specifically those in the user’s social connections) who would find them most useful. By making the recommendations more discoverable, users will be more engaged with your site. 

How to Stay in the Loop

To preview the latest updates to the Google+ platform, subscribe to the Google+ Platform Preview group.  For updates specifically about the +1 button, subscribe to the Google Publisher Buttons Announce Group.

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

A Secret Google Tool for Local Search Success

It’s been almost three years since Google launched one of the most useful tools ever devised to help small business owners plan more effective advertising campaigns for local online search. Yet this free and insanely useful tool called Google Insights for Search (GIS) remains a well-kept secret among a handful of search geeks, corporate quants and marketing academics.

Too bad. GIS (still listed by Google as “beta”) has the potential to be a local business owner’s dream tool for analyzing search volume patterns across specific regions, product and service categories and time frames. For example, it lets you see how search volume by specific keywords and phrases is distributed across cities and regions and compare what’s happening now for any time periods you select going back to 2004.

With search engine marketing becoming more competitive and expensive for small business, being smarter about it and spending online marketing money effectively is more important than ever.

This kind of self-serve market research does require some work.  But the GIS tool makes it easy for even the most data-phobic among us to interpret the numbers. Rather than showing absolute numbers, which can be misleading, it “normalizes” the results and graphs them on a simple to read scale of 0-100.  That makes it easy to see the relative gain or loss in popularity of any particular search term over time, and in any area down to individual cities.

What’s more, the system offers projects of where the graph will go over the next 12 months, making it a handy forecasting tool as well.

For example, is you chart searches for “orthodontist,” “pediatric dentist” and “teeth whitening” in Chicago over the last five years, you’d discover the following (among many other things):

  • Online searches for pediatric dentists in Chicago have increased from 24 to about 31 on the index scale, or about 29%.
  • But teeth whitening jumped from 46 to 75 (63%) and searches for orthodontists went from 66 to 99, a 50% leap. 

Different starting points for any given search reflect its relative importance (more people search for orthodontists than pediatric dentists, for example), so the most important thing is the percentage change over time. In other words, among these three searches in Chicago, teeth whitening has experienced the most relative growth over the last 5 years.

By applying the “Category” filer in the Google tool you can convert the index numbers into a graph showing change over time as a percentage of growth.

Our dental graph reveals other helpful information as well.  For example, searches for both orthodontists and teeth whitening have tended to move together in the first half of each calendar year.  In the second half of the year, however, searches for orthodontists tend to rise while people seeking whiter teeth go away. And indeed, for the second half of 2011, the GIS tool projects a big increase in searches for orthodontists, while teeth whitening searches tumble.

This kind of knowledge clearly has marketing implications for orthodontists or teeth whitening services trolling for new customers online.  And that’s just three search terms involving one type of business.  The possibilities are endless for hundreds of local businesses and professions, and tens of thousands (or more) of search terms. Google also provides some helpful examples of how a business can use Insights for Search.

Here are three general areas to explore on the GIS tool:

  1. Categories:  Here you can focus and compare the search information you retrieve to specific categories such as automotive, food and drink, beauty and personal care, health, home and garden, real estate, travel and many others.
  2. Seasonality: By looking at search trends during specific seasons (summer; back-to-school, Thanksgiving, etc.), you can better anticipate demand for whatever your business sells and plan or budget accordingly.
  3. Geographic targeting: This GIS component offers great potential to help you know where to find customers by looking at how search volume is distributed across cities and areas. This would be of particular help in targeting new locations.

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

Why Immigrant Entrepreneurs are Abandoning America

In years past, millions of smart, skilled immigrant entrepreneurs – including many from the world’s two most populous countries, China and India – came to the U.S. to get educated and start their own businesses.  Now the turnstiles are rotating the other way.  New research just revealed by the entrepreneurship experts at the highly regarded Kauffman Foundation shows that high-skill entrepreneurs from China and India are exiting the U.S. by the tens of thousands every year.

Why? According to the aptly-named “The Grass is Indeed Greener…” study, it’s because of better professional and economic opportunities in their home countries.  “At the same time the US economic downturn has diminished opportunities for these high-skilled professionals, recent economic and political reforms in their home countries have expanded the appeal of entrepreneurship there,” says Robert Litan, VP of research at Kauffman. “Individual entrepreneurs aren’t driven to maintain the broader economic environment. Instead, they pursue opportunities where the ‘grass is greener.’  The lesson for the United States is that regions that support entrepreneurship will remain important hubs in today’s global economy.”

Wakeup call anyone?  Factors that once drove the vast majority of US-educated immigrants to stay in America rather than return home have given way to startup-friendly business environments in India, China and a variety of other countries. Most returnees say the entrepreneurial advantages have reversed and are now better in their home countries, where their businesses can benefit from lower operating costs, better professional recognition, greater access to local markets and a higher quality of life than they could attain in the US. 

Here are some key findings of the Kauffman “Grass is Greener” study:

  • More than 60% of Indian and 90% of Chinese respondents cited economic opportunities in their home countries as a key factor in motivating the return home.
  • Returnees take pride in contributing to economic development in their home countries. More than 60% of Indians and 51% of Chinese rated this as very important.
  • 56% of Indians and 59% of Chinese said their quality of life back home was better or equal to what they experienced in America.
  • In China, 76% ranked access to local markets as very important. In India, 64% did.
  • Higher salaries were the only advantage the respondents attributed to the US. Sixty-four percent of Indian respondents said their salaries were better in the United States than at home. Forty-three percent of Chinese respondents said that salaries were higher in the United States, while 20 percent said they were about the same.

Click this link for access to the full report in PDF.

6 Ways to Improve your Sales IQ

In today’s small business world, the art of selling is changing rapidly.  In order to adapt and succeed, your business may need to overhaul its sales skills and adapt new methods to meet the changing trends. Here’s how you can respond to trends that are transforming the sales landscape, and improve your own sales IQ:

  1. Know what Customers (Really) Care About: First, know what they don’t care about, like how “great” your service is; how “low” your prices are, and whether they might have been your customer in the past. Loyalty runs thin these days, and old sales platitudes fall flat. What customers do care about is how smart you are about their business; how you can lower their risk; and how strong of a reputation you’ve built with people they might know.
  2. Become a Research Racehorse: Given the multitude of information available online, you must come to the table equipped with a depth of information and knowledge about you target customers that proves your interest and attracts the prospect’s attention.
  3. Create Contagious Content: Increase your credibility and build awareness of your products or services by publishing content relevant to your customers. This is easier than ever to do online.  Start a blog, or contribute to community sites in your industry or profession. Regularly post comments and participate in web communities and forums where your customers also participate.
  4. Sync up your Messages: Email, voicemail, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other messaging methods must work in tandem. In fact, prospects expect it.
  5. Find the Real Buyers: Especially in the business-to-business world, more people today are involved in the decision-making process — but fewer of those individuals actually have the power to make a purchase decision. Learn to recognize the decision makers and bypass others without making them mad. One trick is to avoid leaving “tracks” such as emails and voice messages that can be forwarded back to the non-decision makers. Once you contact a decision maker, always mention the name of the non-decision maker and compliment their efforts, but say why you are working around them.
  6. Become an Expert at Online Presentations: Web conferencing tools have replaced in-person meetings, but holding audiences captive through a Death-by-PowerPoint presentation almost guarantees a lost sale. Taking the time to organize, design and build strong online presentations will quickly convert prospects into buyers.

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

Local Business Owners Plan Big Boost in Online Ads

The great local business digital migration continues.  Following up a year when small business pulled big bucks from print in favor of digital, biz owners are holding yet another digital bash in 2011 by increasing their online spending to market themselves by a stunning 29%, compared to a 4.5% increase for offline spending. So says a new report from the future-probing firm Borrell Associates, which feeds media titans with high-powered market research.

And you know all those sales calls you’ve been getting? Guess what.  Other small business get ‘em too – an average of 22 calls per month.  According to Cassino, small business owners answer or return less than 5 of those calls.

 “The pitches from online ad sales reps have built to a cacophony,” says Kip Cassino, principal author of the Borrell report.  “Business owners are being offered deals programs, online coupons, website banner ads, search engine optimization, splash pages, targeted Facebook ads, email ads, reputation management, online directory ads – all amounting to a totally new language bound to make their heads spin.”  About 84% of small businesses plan some kind of spending this year to market themselves online.

And for more than half of them, the amount spent will represent an increase over last year.  By comparison, while 88% still plan to advertise in local newspapers, the amount they’ll be spending is expected to drop.  Last year the average local business spent about $12,000 on advertising; about 20% online.

The Borrell study also confirms a major small business move toward social media, even among businesses that do not have their own website. Apparently many business owners see social media participation as more important than having a storefront on the web.  

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

Best and Worst Areas for Small Business Bankruptcies

Bankruptcy filings by small businesses in the U.S. have dropped sharply in some areas, but have actually risen in others according to a new study of bankruptcy trends among the nation’s 24 million small businesses conducted by Equifax, one of the major credit reporting agencies. While bankruptcy rates have slowed in many regions, California remains troubled, accounting for nearly 20% of the country’s business failures. 

The Equifax study traced small biz bankruptcy trends by metropolitan statistical area (MSA). While bankruptcies accelerated in some areas, 10 of the top 15 MSAs with the greatest number of small business bankruptcies in 2010’s 4th quarter saw a year-over-year drop from a year earlier. The Chicago-Naperville area scored the best improvement — a 30% drop in bankruptcies. Following behind were a number of California MSAs, many of which reported double-digit decreases. 

But five top MSAs saw bankruptcies rise. One surprising result involved Wisconsin, which saw a 16.5% jump in small business bankruptcies – more than any other MSA on the top 15 list below. 

Despite improvements in some areas, California ranks as America’s bankruptcy capital. Six California metro areas made the list of top 15 MSAs with the highest number of small business bankruptcies. And all California MSAs combined (22 total) accounted for nearly a quarter of U.S. small business bankruptcy filings over the past year. 

MSA Q4 ‘09 Q4 ‘10 % Change 
Los Angeles-Long Beach -Glendale, CA 1082123013.68%
Riverside-San Bernardino -Ontario, CA 705642-8.94%
Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX 4114458.27%
Sacramento-Arden-Arcade –Roseville, CA 533424-20.45%
San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos CA 438389-11.19%
Denver-Aurora, CO   463368-20.52%
Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine, CA   410365-10.98%
Portland-Vancouver-Beaverton, OR-WA 407333-18.18%
Dallas-Plano-Irving, TX 367327-10.90%
California – Rest of State 352300-14.77%
Oakland-Fremont-Hayward, CA 293286   -2.39%
Wisconsin-Rest of State 23627516.52%
New York-White Plains-Wayne, NY-NJ 2702720.74%
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara CA 2482667.26%
Chicago-Naperville-Joliet, IL 375262-30.13%
Total 65906184-6.16%

Despite improvements in some areas, California ranks as America’s bankruptcy capital. Six California metro areas made the list of top 15 MSAs with the highest number of small business bankruptcies. And all California MSAs combined (22 total) accounted for nearly a quarter of U.S. small business bankruptcy filings over the past year. 

 

 

 
 
 

 

 

MSA Group Q4 ‘09 Q4 ‘10 
Total Bankruptcies – CA MSAs in Top 15 4,0163,902
Total U.S. Bankruptcies – All MSAs 23,31919,616
CA MSAs in Top 15 as % of All US Bankruptcies 17.41%19.89%

The study also named 15 metro areas with the fewest small business bankruptcy filings in the fourth quarter of 2010 — all reporting 9 bankruptcies or less.    

MSA Total Q4 ‘09 Total Q3 ‘10 Total Q4 ‘10 
Kingsport-Bristol, TN-VA 1869
Baton Rouge, LA 18179
Erie, PA 16249
Gulfport-Biloxi MS 10139
Amarillo, TX 1758
Charleston, WV 968
Killeen-Temple-Fort Hood TX 20237
Binghamton, NY 16137
South Bend-Mishawaka, IN-MI 1876
Trenton-Ewing, NJ 1276
Shreveport-Bossier City, LA 976
Lafeyette, LA 7115
Gainesville, Fl. 685