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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.

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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5 Reasons to Connect with Customers in Person

In person meetingFor many small businesses today, digital communications – email, texting, social media, and others – have completely taken over.  In many ways, this is a good thing. It’s super convenient, efficient and keeps you constantly connected.

But some business owners are starting to wonder. Has it gone too far? These days, many people are reluctant to even pick up the phone and make an “old-fashioned” voice call. They’d much rather send an email. Meanwhile, face-to-face meetings are increasingly rare.

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But this “technology takeover” has potentially serious consequences for a business, says Michael Houlihan, co-founder of Barefoot Cellars, a wine-making business focused on being more fun, lighthearted and hip. Business is still built on relationships, and in a purely digital world, relationships can stagnate, or never develop at all.

Trust – another business cornerstone – dips as well, as genuine personal connections are replaced by keystrokes and mouse clicks.

When Houlihan and his partner Bonnie Harvey started Barefoot Cellars, they had no wine business experience. So they paid personal visits to countless suppliers, retailers and potential customers to gain knowledge and build relationships. “The Barefoot brand would never have become successful without meetings, phone calls and recurring personal visits that kept relationships all over the country healthy and up-to-date,” says Houlihan. “People don’t just buy your product or service. They buy you.”

Of course when travel is involved, face-to-face meetings can be expensive. But the digital equivalent – a Skype video call – can fill in nicely. It’s the next best thing to being there. Houlihan now uses Skype frequently in his own business dealings. “Live video streams let you do just about everything except shake hands,” he says.

Here are five reasons to consider more face time in your own business dealings:

1)    Taking the time shows you care. People want to be valued and appreciated. Spending time with them – whether in person, on a computer screen or, if all else fails, a phone call, is one of the best ways to build a relationship.

2)    You can provide more personalized attention. This might be the key selling success. There’s no “multi-tasking” when you’re standing face-to-face with somebody (unless, of course, you don’t mind being terribly rude). You have to focus on the other person and respond not only to what they say, but also to their mood and other non-verbal signals. You read those signs and adjust your own actions accordingly.

3)    You can be more effective in general. When you talk to someone in “real time” you also can make progress in real time and solve problems in real time as well. Sending emails back and forth isn’t always efficient. And thanks to facial expressions, body language and tone of voice, you’ll usually find out more than just the basics when you have verbal conversations. In fact, if you’re really observant, you may notice things about the other company or clients that they aren’t aware of themselves.

4)    Other people are more likely to say yes. “In my experience, when you use someone’s name along with eye contact and an attentive demeanor, they’re more likely to be agreeable and to give you the benefit of any doubt,” says Houlihan, who with Harvey wrote “The Barefoot Spirit” (Evolve Publishing, 2013).  The next time they see you they’ll be more relaxed and familiar with your company. People want to do business with people they know. And you can get to know them much better “off-screen”.

5)    Your vulnerability shows (and that’s a good thing!).  In a virtual world, you can almost totally control the image you show to other people. That’s good to a point. But in a face-to-face relationship, the other person gets more of a 360-degree view of who you are. The imperfections and vulnerability they might see actually makes you appear more believable and sincere

Business relationships can and should start through digital means. The tools are there and you should use them. But in order for your business to be lasting and dependable, relationships should be allowed to grow in person as well. Your business will be better off in the long run.

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

7 Warning Signs Your Business is Aiming Too Low

Aiming lowNot many business owners strive to be second-rate. Most businesses at least pay lip service to a desire for being their customers’ or clients’ first choice. But all too often, their actions say otherwise.

The solution is actually quite simple: If you put your customers first, they are far more likely to put you first, too.  It’s a two-way street; but not an easy street, says Joseph Callaway, who along with his wife JoAnn, wrote a book called “Clients First: The Two Word Miracle” (Wiley, 2012).

You can’t coast into a “first choice” role. The minute you start coasting – aiming lower than you should – you’ll find yourself falling to second, third or worse in the customer choice derby.

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Fortunately, there are plenty of warning signs that are tipoffs your business is “settling” when it should be succeeding. Here’s what low aim looks like – and what to do about it:

1)    Your top goal is to make money.  Sure, it’s a business, so you need to make money. But if that’s all you want, you’ll never run a business that’s number one in the hearts and minds of customers and clients. Customers are smart. They can sense when money is your first motivation, and they come second.

2)    You let the little things slide.  Little stuff counts. Sending emails full of errors; being late to meetings or failing to remember a name might seem like things that don’t matter much in the long run. But in the long run is precisely when they DO matter. Keeping an eye only on the “big” things such as growth or generating leads can blind you to seeing what customers really want and need. “Promises kept, deadlines met, little extra flourishes and small acts of kindness add up to happy clients,” says Callaway.

3)    You tell little lies. Exaggerating, misdirecting or omitting things might make business run smoother…briefly. But there’s always a chance customers will see through it and call you on the carpet. And even if they don’t, a pattern of “stretching the truth” is indicative of a broader attitude that relegates clients to second or third priority.

4)    You badmouth the competition. As in politics, if you sling mud at the opponent, you’re going to get dirty yourself.  Wouldn’t you rather rise in stature on your own merits? Even better, your goal should be to earn the goodwill and admiration of your rivals.

5)    You feel your only obligation to employees is cutting a paycheck.  Do you listen when they talk to you and try to accommodate their needs?  Are you courteous and enthusiastic with them?  Just keep this in mind: The way you treat employees rubs off, and that’s how they will likely treat customers or clients.

6)    You spend more time avoiding customers than listening to what they have to say. Chances are, you roll out the red carpet when you are pitching prospects.  And you’re more than willing to accommodate whims and requests from new customers who aren’t yet cemented in. But what about older, more established clients? Are you spending the same time with them – or are you taking them for granted? As Callaway says, “Businesses that become number one don’t do so because they win customers over once, but because they do it every day. A good experience once won’t keep them coming back forever if they believe your product or service has slipped.”

7)    You don’t know anything about your customers or clients outside of business.  To some business owners, asking about customers’ family and outside interests seems unprofessional. But to the customer or client, it can make you come off as cold and impersonal. Remember, to truly serve people, you have to care. When you keep yourself at arm’s length, you can’t give clients 100 percent, and you give them a reason to take their business elsewhere.

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

8 Keys to Re-energizing Your Business

energize keyIt’s a tough world out there. Customers are demanding more. Competition is keen – sometimes from unexpected places. Your business must work harder and smarter to improve profits. And on top of it all, there always seem to be new taxes and regulations to deal with.

Sometimes however (not that this includes you, of course), business owners don’t make the best planners. “We are action-oriented people,” says Bill McBean, who launched and sold several businesses and is now General Partner in the family-owned firm McBean Partners. “But by taking a hard look at a few key places and putting a plan in place you can bank on a more prosperous future,” he says. McBean, author of The Facts of Business Life (Wiley, 2012) suggests these ways to put your re-energizing plan in place:

1) Improve your own leadership skills

Since success starts at the top, you should evaluate where your own leadership skills need improvement. Start by looking at what’s working for your business and what’s not. Evaluate honestly how things are going. Are you supplying the business with what it needs to succeed – equipment, time, capital and resources? Are you paying employees based on what you want them to accomplish? Have you let any bad habits slide that need addressing? Now you can look ahead and decide what you need to do differently.

2) Do a full review of systems and procedures

In essence, systems and procedures actually operate your business, thought many owners misunderstand this concept, says McBean. Again, evaluate what’s working and what isn’t. Look for outdated processes that continue merely because “it’s the way we’ve always done it.” For example, inventory must change with the market, along with pricing and policies, since what sold well a few years ago might not sell well now.

3) Go on a gross profit-building mission

This step alone is one of the business owner’s most powerful weapons. Look for ways to cut costs and increase gross profit. “Don’t assume you know how much things are costing you,” says McBean, “or that your employees are reacting to new sales opportunities.” Ask yourself: What expense mistakes did we make last year and how can we avoid them now? But don’t cut just for the sake of cutting. Look for smart ways to save money and start building a cash cushion.

4) Re-engage employees

A successful business needs employees who care as much about the company as you do. “Engaged employees are energized,” says McBean. “They handle problems on their own and actively look for ways to improve the business.” Seek out new ways to show employees you care. Even a simple “thank you” can help tremendously. A paid afternoon off, movie passes or other small perks also work wonders. Find out what frustrates employees most in their jobs and – if possible – supply tools or training to improve the situation.

5) Set specific goals and amp up the energy

Your goal with goals is to aim high, but be specific, says McBean. And remember that goals must be measureable. If goals are not measurable you can’t gauge progress and will eventually abandon them. What gets measured gets done.

6) Boost you product or service offerings

Can you squeeze out another product or service from what you already have in place? “For example,” says McBean, “there’s nothing stopping an auto parts store from selling marine industry parts, especially if you’re located near water.” People need what they need, when they need it, so make it easy for customers to get what they want. And don’t ignore the power of impulse purchases or convenience items – even if they aren’t matched up with your core products.

7) Revamp your marketing

Look careful at who your customers are now. Have they changed? Are you trying to reach them in ways that make the most sense? For example, might the money you’re spending on ad placement be better spend on direct mail or online? Does social media marketing make sense?

8) Look for ways to impress loyal customers

Your customer base is critical so it’s essential you find ways to foster loyalty. Beyond offering a great product or service, what will keep customers coming? The prize goes to business owners who are more creative in answering this question, and who offer more than simply what customers “expect.”

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

How to Hire Teens While Staying Sane and Legal

Beautiful Young AdultsSoon, teenagers by the millions will be seeking summer jobs – the vast majority at small businesses coast to coast. An estimated 18 million U.S. teens will work this year, one of the highest totals in the developed world.

Speaking as a parent of teens, this is a good thing.  But in its song Teenagers, the rock group My Chemical Romance seems to capture the U.S. Department of Labor’s take on teens with a refrain that says “Teenagers scare the living @#$% out of me.”  DOL, you see, is rife with rules and regulations on teen labor, and prone to enforcing them with fines and sanctions. As are its state gov counterparts.

For example – and not to pick on Portland – but one recent DOL “enforcement initiative” involving Portland restaurants found violations of minimum wage, overtime and child labor laws at a whopping 79% of the eateries. Even kid-focused Chuck E. Cheese locations in San Francisco were fined $28,000 for violating child labor rules. Whoops!

The point is this: If you plan to hire teens for summer (or other) jobs, be careful.

Most rules are common sense, and deal with safety issues. That’s because young workers suffer a disproportionate share of on-the-job injuries. About 160,000 teens suffer work-related injuries or illnesses yearly…about a third of them requiring emergency room treatment.

And more than 75% of incidents happen in the retail and service industries – not sectors usually considered more injury-prone such as manufacturing and construction.

Teens at Greater Risk

Young workers – especially those in their first summer jobs – are at greater risk of workplace injury because of their inexperience. And also because, well, they are teenagers who may hesitate to ask questions and may fail to recognize workplace dangers. (What did that song say?)

Familiarize yourself with federal and state laws on teen employment – especially the rules on what types of jobs teens are specifically not allowed to perform.

Finding Help for Hiring Teens

Dozens of private suppliers sell OSHA compliance materials, and there are many safety consultants to choose from, available easily online. But your best starting point is OSHA’s small business website at  www.osha.gov/smallbusiness. Look for OSHA Compliance Assistance Quick Start, which helps new small businesses understand the rules and find the right resources. It’s a step-by-step guide to major requirements that may apply.

DOL has a helpful website devoted to the rules of youth employment called “Youth Rules” at www.youthrules.dol.gov. Here you’ll find information and links to almost everything you need to know about federal and state rules, including limits on hours teens are allowed to work, and jobs they can perform. This is where you will also find information on age requirements, work permits and wages.

Another helpful government site called “TeenWorkers” has a wide range of information on summer job safety for specific sectors such as construction, landscaping, parks and recreation, life guards and restaurants. Under landscaping, for example, you’ll find tips on preventing injury from pesticides, electrical hazards, noise and many others. The small business FAQ section includes a long list of the most common questions businesses have about hiring teens, along with links to detailed answers.

OSHA says that restaurants rank especially high among industries at risk for teen worker injuries, and even has a website devoted to restaurant safety for teen workers. To find it, check the A-Z Index at the top of the OSHA homepage under Restaurant Safety.

A Few Teen Hiring Basics

For teens employed in non-agricultural jobs, restrictions on hours and jobs include these:

  • Minimum age is 14.
  • Those 18 or older may perform any job (hazardous or not) for unlimited hours.
  • Youth 16 or 17 may perform any non-hazardous job for unlimited hours.
  • Youth 14 and 15 years old may work outside school hours in non-manufacturing, non-mining, non-hazardous jobs. They cannot work more than three hours a day on school days; or more than 40 hours per week when school is not in session.
  • During the school year, 14- and 15-year-olds may not work before 7:00 a.m. or after 7:00 p.m. However, during the summer that’s extended to 9:00 p.m.

Before you assign a job to a minor, be sure it’s allowed by law. If you have a specific question regarding the job which you are hiring a minor to perform, contact the Department of Labor’s toll-free help line at 866-4US-WAGE (866-487-9243).

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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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Related BizBest Articles of Interest

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