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How to Avoid Lead Leakage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Steps for Getting More Leads from Facebook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 Top Email Marketing Services for Small Business

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Business Owners are Adopting Digital Marketing

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

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

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

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

1)    Drive sales

2)    Increase brand awareness

3)    Reach new customer segments

4)    Drive customer engagement

5)    Identify usable customer insights

6)    Save money/improve productivity

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

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

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

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

Spending Levels on the Rise

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

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

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

Defining Digital Success

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

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

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

What’s Ahead

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

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

12 Tips for Naming a Business, Brand or Product

brand croppedWhen it comes to finding a great name for a business, brand, product or service, it really comes down to this:  A good name should make someone smile or nod, not scratch their head in confusion.

But this notion, mind you, is not universally held. Many businesses – and the branding agencies they hire to help them – have lately leaned toward combining letters and sounds into invented names that are hard to pronounce or understand.

Others prefer to aim for fresh, unexpected names that you don’t need a computer to decipher. One such advocate for fun and likable names and taglines is a San Francisco-based naming firm called Eat My Words (www.EatMyWords.com) that specializes in helping people who find themselves in a business or product-naming pickle.

Here are some naming tips from the pros at Eat My Words who come up with creative brand name suggestions and emotionally-driven company tag lines daily:

Naming a Business

1)    Don’t name your business after yourself. As tempting as that might be, the name is essentially meaningless to your future customers and evokes nothing about your business. What’s more, many names are hard to pronounce, spell or remember. One exception: If your name lends itself to clever word play such as a consultant named Steven Lord who call’s his business “Lord Knows.”

2)    Don’t date your business name. If you select something trendy or numerical (i.e. Women 2.0) the name might appear dated in a few years. Stick to names that can withstand the test of time.

3)    Use a name that will scale to fit future products. As Eat My Words notes, you don’t want to outgrow your business name. For example, if Amazon.com – which originally sold only books — had named itself Bookstore.com, they’d have painted themselves into a corner that would have made it difficult once they started selling anything and everything.

4)    Your name doesn’t have to convey trust and credibility.  That’s something you build through your logo design and marketing materials. If you try to build that into your name, you’ll likely end up with some hopelessly boring options.

Naming a Product

1)    Keep it simple and conceptual.  According to Eat My Words, basic yet powerful words make for the best product names. A few they’ve created include a travel make-up kit named Dash; an all-natural energy drink called Bloom; and a line of gourmet dips for kids called Monkey Dunks.

2)    Avoid acronyms. You should only expect people to remember one name, not two. Brand your product with a full name and let the acronym be something you only use internally.

3)    Name you product before your company. That’s not always possible, of course, but if people only remember one thing, it’s better they remember the name of the thing they will actually be buying (and searching for online).

4)    Select names that work as a family. Apple, for example, created a family of products that all fit together by using the same naming convention around “i” including iMac, iPod, iPhone, iTunes and iPad, among others.

Naming a Brand

1)    Define the personality of your brand in three words that will be your acid test. When Alexandra Watkins was naming her naming agency, she wanted to convey that the brand was “playful,” “creative” and “unexpected,” which lead her to Eat My Words. Something like ABC Name Bank simply wouldn’t have cut it.

2)    Your brand name should be spelled exactly how it sounds and be easy to pronounce. This certainly bucks a popular trend these days, but if you don’t follow this rule you’ll be constantly telling people how to spell or pronounce it. Your brand should be approachable – not something people struggle with and are embarrassed to try and pronounce.

3)    Choose a brand name that’s meaningful to your customers. Names with hidden meanings or foreign phrases can’t stand on their own, and you won’t always be there to explain. Each time you have to explain what your name means you are apologizing for it.

4)    The name should create a picture in the customer’s mind.  That’s because people remember pictures more easily than they remember words or letters.

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How to Ring Up More Referrals

referralsCustomer referrals are one of the most powerful and lucrative ways of building business. While word-of-mouth gets you noticed, referrals are even better because the best ones bring purchase-ready customers or clients right to your doorstep (or website) complete with an existing customer’s endorsement.

So it simply makes sense to not only foster more referrals, but also be smarter about the ones you get.

Membership type businesses, such as health clubs, constantly run referral programs by offering existing members discounts or freebies for bringing in others. But small business owners of all types know the magic of referrals, which offer instant credibility for what you sell.

Finding and using referrals effectively, however, can be harder than it looks. Referrals come in several different flavors. If someone merely provides you a name or email address, that’s a low-grade referral. But if an existing client actively talks up your product or service, sets up a meeting or brings the prospect in, that’s a superstar referral.

Here are eight ways to get more and better referrals:

1. Create a referral-generation plan and put it to work

Referrals aren’t automatic. Some business owners assume that a great product or terrific customer service will automatically generate referrals. Not so. You have to ask. Don’t be shy. Most loyal customers are open to providing referrals. Some even appreciate the opportunity to tell friends, family and associates about something good they’ve discovered.

2. Ask at the right time

Timing is important, but many businesses ask for referrals at the wrong time. The worst time to ask is at the cash register or when you present a bill. Instead, look for opportunities earlier or later in the process when customers are more receptive.  There’s really no predetermined time to ask. Do it whenever opportunities arise.

3. Provide some support

Don’t ask customers to recommend you to others without providing them some kind of backup or support. It can be as simple as a supply of business cards, a link to a special page on your website. It could also be a brochure or some other type of printed material that reinforces the referral and describes what you do.

4. Offer appropriate incentives

The incentive you offer must fit with the kind of business you run. It could be a discount, service credits, an upgrade, a free item or some other trigger that will entice clients to provide referrals. Test different offers to find out what works best.

Communicate details of your referral program to your best customers through whatever means you have available, including a blog, newsletter, email or customer mailings. And be sure to thank customers when they make referrals.

5. Get the right information

When asking for referrals, consider using a form, checklist or web-based system that requests details that will make the referral more valuable. A simple name and number isn’t really a referral at all. It’s just a lead.

At the other end of the spectrum are referrals where the customer actually facilitates a meeting, visit or purchase by the referred person. This makes the customer an active agent on your behalf. Between these two extremes are referrals where the customer authorizes you to use their name when contacting somebody.

6. Target your most influential customers

If resources are limited, consider seeking referrals only from your most influential customers.  These might not actually be your best customers, but they are the people whose opinions would carry the most weight with other people in your industry, community or customer base. By targeting these influencers, you avoid spreading yourself too thin or generating weak referrals.

7. Target related businesses

The health care profession is one of the most adept at fostering referrals between complementary disciplines – specialists, imaging services, physical therapists, medical equipment suppliers and others. Consider the same strategy yourself. Contact businesses that provide complementary services to your own and ask for referrals.

8. Build your relationships

This takes time, but it’s critical because many of your most influential customers won’t provide referrals until you gain their complete trust.  You’ll want to treat each customer contact as if it’s critical to your next referral. Through each sales, marketing or customer service “touch” you are building a foundation of trust that that will one day lead to a valuable referral.

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Why Even Great Marketing Ideas Fail

failure.horizSmall business owners are always devising “killer” marketing or ad campaigns that – in theory at least – will send business soaring. Whether created in-house or with outside help, it can be a great concept, with sparkling design and a compelling message and yet still bomb big time.

What’s up with that? In most cases it’s simply because you didn’t think beyond a great-looking ad, perfectly crafted email, irresistible offer, rousing radio spot or breakthrough banner. Those items – the so-called “creative” – are but one piece of the marketing effectiveness puzzle.

The missing piece is often a data-driven strategy for getting the message into the right places at the right time with the right frequency to make the effort truly pay off.

Art or Analytics? (Hint: Both!)

Another way of framing this issue is to ask a relevant question: Does marketing success come more from art? Or analytics? Some also cast this as a difference between “soft” marketing (art) and “hard” marketing (data-based).

Until recently, most marketers would have fallen back on the old 80/20 rule, explaining marketing as mostly about art, and much less about data or analytics. Lately some folks have made it out to be all about data and analytics – a reversal of 80/20 in the other direction.

In reality, it’s probably in between. Content (another word for creative) is, in fact, more important than ever in a world hungry for good ideas, nicely packaged and digitally delivered, but drowning in a sea of digital mediocrity. Wearing your business owner’s marketing hat, your job is to build trust with customers and prospects by educating them about how your product or service can benefit their lives or businesses so they will think of you when they need what you offer.

In short, you have to break through the cacophony of constant “noise” in today’s digital, Internet- and social media-based world to make sure customers are hearing you.

Strategy and Analytics

Even the best marketing ideas will fail without proper planning, preparation and implementation. This is the strategy part. For example, what’s the main audience for your killer creative?  If you’re fuzzy on that, you’re in trouble to start. Or even if you do know exactly who you want to reach, if you don’t know how or where to reach them, that’s another dark cloud ready to rain on your marketing parade. And if your offer or call to action haven’t been thought through, honed and tested, you’re similarly doomed.

Think of it this way.  Even a mundane ad, direct mail piece, radio spot or email will generate some results if properly targeted. What you need is the best of both worlds to make it really sing.

And you absolutely need to learn exactly how and why your hard-earned marketing dollars are netting you a return or not, and what you can and should do in the future to squeeze every ounce of improved profit from your effort. This kind of 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 so you can make changes as needed.
  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 most small business should consider:

  • Lead Conversion Rate: Converting leads into 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).
  • 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.

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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.”

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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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