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10 Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make With Investors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Right Way to Reject a Job Candidate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Ways Business Owners Scare Their Employees

scareWhether you know it or not, being a business owner also requires being a leader – especially if you have employees. If you don’t display good leadership skills, you won’t get the most from your employees, and your business will suffer.

Despite good intentions, many business owners and managers unknowingly strike fear into employees simply by what they say – or don’t say. And fearful employees are not productive employees. They react to fear with the primitive ‘fight, flight or freeze” instinct and begin to focus only on their own survival, says Christine Comaford, a leadership consultant and author of the new book “How Teams Become Brilliant Together” (Portfolio/Penguin 2013).

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Here are five ways that business owners inadvertently scare employees into a dysfunctional state:

1. You “help them out” by giving them solutions. When you constantly tell people what to do instead of encouraging them to figure things out on their own, you develop a business full or order-takers instead of innovators. By training them to always ask, you end up with a group of workers who are perpetually frozen in survival mode.

On the other hand, when you engage people in problem-solving themselves, you create a sense of safety, belonging and mattering.

2. Your meetings are heavy on sharing and point-proving, and light on promises and requests. Meetings that are rambling and unfocused send people into fear and confusion. But short, high-energy meetings that have a clear agenda keep everyone motivated. Ideally you should focus on only enough information sharing to solicit requests from people who need something, and promises from people who will fill that need.

If you tune up your communication, the result will be meetings that are efficient and effective, and that keep your employees happy as well as productive and accountable.

3. You give feedback to employees without first establishing rapport.  In short, you must be able to influence people, not just boss them around.  Here are three shortcut phrases that can help you do that:

  • “What if…” When you use this preface to an idea/suggestion, you remove ego and reduce emotion. You’re curious — not forcing a position, but kind of scratching your head and pondering.
  • “I need your help.” Specialists call this a “dom-sub swap” because when the dominant person (the boss) uses it, they are asking the subordinate person to rise up and swap roles. This is especially effective when you want a person to change their behavior or take on more responsibility.
  • “Would it be helpful if…” When a fearful employee is unable to move forward, offering some options will help them see a possible course of action or positive outcome.

4. You focus on problems, not outcomes.  Instead of asking ‘What’s wrong?’ and ‘Why is this happening? You should ask ‘What do we want?’ and ‘How will we create it?’”

Being outcome focused is more energizing and fills people with confidence. Avoid saying things like “Let me help you” or  “I’ll make it better for you.”  Instead, say “What outcome would you like?” and “What will having that do for you?”

5. You talk about change in the wrong way. Most business owners and managers want their businesses to change. That’s the only way to grow and get better. But as we know, most employees – and people in general – fear and resist change.

People tolerate change better if it’s framed the right way – more like “sameness with a difference.” Try presenting change as merely an improvement in what is already being done. The bad stuff is being removed, and the good stuff is being added. You might even avoid using the word “change” at all and instead use “growth” which is less daunting to most people.

“All business owners want to outperform, outsell, and out-innovate the competition,” says Comaford. “And most of us have teams that are quite capable of doing so. We just need to stop scaring the competence out of them.”

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

6 Preventive Steps That Could Save Your Business

preventionIn our fast-paced, ever changing business world, the notion of “prevention” – which generally means doing something you don’t absolutely have to do right now – often gets lost or set aside. But with so much riding on how smoothly things run at your business, that ounce of prevention can indeed far outweigh a pound of cure later on.

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Think of some of the threats your business faces: computer viruses and other tech malfunctions, on-the-job accidents, employee theft, shoplifting, lawsuits, machinery downtime and broken equipment. All of these things can slow you down, cost you money and even put you out of business.

Here are six key areas where prevention can really make a difference to your business success, along with some preventive solutions.

1) Theft and Loss Prevention: Whether it’s stealing client lists and confidential data, fudging expense reports or stealing merchandise and materials, employee theft and fraud is a serious threat to small businesses. Shoplifting, employee theft and other types of “inventory shrinkage” can eat away your profits. Installing a loss-prevention program will help minimize losses. Include background checks on employees as part of your system. The National Association of Professional Background Screeners (www.napbs.com) can help.  Conducting regular audits or “checkups” can help you detect fraud or theft and also serve as a deterrent. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) helps companies of all sizes detect and deal with workplace fraud. Visit www.acfe.com.

2) Lawsuit Prevention: A lawsuit is a huge drain on your time, money and energy. The story is all too familiar: A small business owner and a partner (client, customer, investor, etc.) have a business dispute they can’t seem to resolve. No one will budge. Threats of legal action, emails and letters are exchanged. Everybody is upset, and productivity suffers under the stress. If a lawsuit results, things get even worse. Solution? Use arbitration and mediation to avoid a legal morass. It’s user-friendly (usually avoids lawyers), inexpensive and helps resolve thousands of business disputes yearly.

The American Arbitration Association (ADR.org) and the National Arbitration Forum (arb-forum.com) can help. Judicial Arbitration & Mediation Services, or JAMS (jamsadr.com), offers dispute resolution services, and can do it via videoconferencing.  For preventive help keeping your business in legal compliance, visit LegalWorkplace.com.

3) PC Problem Prevention:  Both Microsoft and Apple offer free security updates — but you have to download and install the latest versions and fixes. Get what you need at the Microsoft Download Center (Microsoft.com/downloads). For Mac OSX, go to the Apple menu and select “Software Update” to check for updates. Microsoft has some good preventive maintenance advice on its website at www.microsoft.com/athome.

4) Accident Prevention: Keeping things safe in the workplace is vital to a successful business. It’s not just good business, it’s also the law. For free information, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is actually a good source for business owners. From the OSHA homepage at www.osha.gov, click on the “Small Business” tab on the upper right. There you’ll find quick links to small business safety resources, help with compliance, web tools and FAQ.

Many companies sell safety products and training materials, including the Workplace Safety Store (safety.1800inet.com), Northern Safety (www.northernsafety.com) and All Safety products (www.allsafetyproducts.biz).

5) Preventive Facilities Maintenance: If your facilities and equipment fall into disrepair, your business will suffer. Grainger (www.grainger.com) is the top provider of maintenance, repair and operating supplies to businesses in North America. And since there are a gazillion products and parts you might need (Grainger carries over 800,000), their online product search is super helpful. If your biz is big enough, consider outsourcing maintenance. USI Building Services, for example, (www.usibuildingservices.com) is a single provider for all maintenance needs. They take care of supplies, equipment management, scheduling and reporting.

6) Data Loss Prevention: You’ll find helpful virus protection and data backup solutions at MacAfee.com and Symantec.com. For web-based backup and data protection solutions, consider SystemSafe (www.systemrestore.com), Iron Mountain (www.ironmountain.com), Intronis.com and RestartIT.com. Carbonite.com is a low-cost service that offers non-stop, automatic backup over the internet for as little as $5 monthly. Imation.com devotes considerable attention to small business solutions, with helpful tips, advice and product information to help get you started.  Second Copy (www.secondcopy.com), from Centered Systems, is inexpensive software for Windows that automatically makes a backup of your data files to another directory, disk or computer across the network.

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

 

Top 10 Internet Security Tips for Small Business

Internet securityHigh-speed Internet, interconnected mobile, desktop and laptop devices along with web-based tools and digital applications are making small firms more productive than ever.  But all that online speed and efficiency can come at a stiff price if your website, financial information, social media accounts, business or customer data fall victim to cyber thieves or troublemakers.

According to U.S. government crime data, digital information theft has now surpassed physical property theft as the most commonly reported type of business fraud. That alone is reason for business owners to be concerned. If you aren’t taking up-to-date steps to protect your business, you could be exposing yourself to serious trouble that can threaten your future.

Here are 10 tips from the cyber security experts at the Federal Communications Commission for building a sound strategy to protect your business and your customers from this growing threat:

1. Keep clean machines: Your computers should be equipped with the latest security software, web browsers and operating systems. This simple step is the best defense against viruses, malware and other online threats that are constantly changing. Install key software updates as soon as they are available and set antivirus software to run a scan after each update.

2. Secure your Wi-Fi networks: If you have a Wi-Fi network for your workplace, make sure it is secure, encrypted and hidden. To hide your Wi-Fi network, set up your wireless access point or router so it does not broadcast the network name, known as the Service Set Identifier (SSID). Password protect access to the router.

3. Train everyone in security basics: Establish basic security practices and policies for employees, such as requiring strong passwords, and establish appropriate Internet use guidelines that detail penalties for violating your policies. Establish rules of behavior describing how to handle and protect customer information and other vital data.

4. Provide firewall security for your Internet connection: A firewall is a set of related programs that prevent outsiders from accessing data on a private network. Make sure your operating system’s firewall is enabled or install free firewall software available online. If employees work from home, ensure that their home systems are protected by a firewall as well.

5. Create a mobile device action plan, too: Mobile devices create big security and management challenges, especially if they hold confidential information or can access the business network. Require users to password protect their devices, encrypt their data, and install security apps to prevent criminals from stealing information while the phone is on public networks. Be sure to set reporting procedures for lost or stolen equipment.

6. Backup all key business data and information:  Regularly backup the data on all computers. Critical data includes word processing documents, spreadsheets, databases, financial files, human resources files and accounts receivable/payable files. Backup data automatically if possible, or at least weekly and store the copies either offsite or in the cloud.

7. Control physical access to your computers and create user accounts for each person: Prevent access or use of business computers by unauthorized individuals. Laptops can be particularly easy targets for theft or can be lost, so lock them up when unattended. Make sure a separate user account is created for each employee. Administrative privileges should only be given to trusted IT staff and key personnel.

8. Protect payment card systems and information: Work with banks or card processors to ensure the most trusted and validated tools and anti-fraud services are being used. You may have certain security obligations under agreements with your bank or processor, so make sure you know your liabilities. Isolate payment systems from other, less secure programs and don’t use the same computer to process payments and surf the Internet.

9. Limit authority to install software and access information: Don’t provide any single employee with access to all data systems. Employees should only be given access to the specific data systems that they need for their jobs, and should not be able to install software without permission.

10. Get tough on passwords: Require employees to use strong passwords and change them every three to six months. Consider implementing multi-factor authentication that requires additional information beyond a password to gain entry. Check with your vendors that handle sensitive data, especially financial institutions, to see if they offer multi-factor authentication for your account.

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

5 Ways Mistakes Can Make a Business Better

mistakeWith little cash, and even less wine industry experience, Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey launched Barefoot Wine in – where else – their laundry room. They built the brand and later sold it to wine giant E&J Gallo.

Now the business owner duo share what they learned along the way with other business owners. One of their major lessons: Improving your business by admitting mistakes. Houlihan believes that customers judge you more by how you react to mistakes than how you behave when all is well. “Every business makes mistakes,” he says. “Denying that they’ve happened only makes an already awkward situation worse.”

In short, dodging responsibility hurts your reputation more than if you’d owned up in the first place.  (In this vein, my posts on avoiding the accountability blame game and how to create a winning business culture might also be of interest.)

Since they knew almost nothing about wine making or the wine business at the outset, Bonnie and Michael – who’ve written a book called “The Barefoot Spirit” (Evolve Publishing, 2013) – made their share of doozies. Some even threatened the entire business. So they quickly resolved not to fret errors, but rather make them opportunities to grow.

For example, Barefoot once put the wrong bar code on a store’s shipment of Cabernet, causing it to ring up at a lower price. Barefoot itself caught the mistake and Michael quickly showed up at the store’s corporate office with a check for the store’s loss, plus extra for the expense of dealing with the mistake. He then informed the manager in detail how Barefoot was changing its internal processes to make sure the bar code problem would not happen again.

Here are five things that must happen for mistakes to make your business better:

1)    You own up

This can be tough, and uncomfortable. But you need to utter the mea culpa and acknowledge that you are, in fact, not perfect. The sooner you own up, the easier it is. There’s less drama and you can get on with fixing the situation faster. Besides, says Houlihan, people actually like a little imperfection now and then. It shows a level of authenticity, vulnerability and humanity. And it’s hard to be angry with someone who says, “You’re right – I messed up.”

2)    You figure out how it happened

Admitting fault, however, isn’t enough. If you simply try to put it behind you you’ve just increased the chances it will happen again. Dig into it. Find out why the mistake occurred so you can fix the faulty procedure or process. That’s why Barefoot Wine made sure its employees weren’t afraid to make or report mistakes – those that involve technical errors, that is. Houlihan is adamant that bad behavior or inability to perform should not be overlooked. “Real progress in progressive companies is often built on the backs of mistakes and the improvements they spark,” he says.

3)    You don’t blame, you aim

Sometimes it might be easy, and temporarily satisfying, to point the finger at someone for a mistake. But if it happened on your watch, and you are accountable for the finished product, you ultimately share the blame in the customer’s eyes. So get to the bottom of what happened and aim your focus on what you and your business can do to prevent the mistake from happening again.

4)    You write it down

This is an important but often overlooked step. If you successfully resolve whatever sparked an error, pat yourself on the back and say, “Well, that’s cleaned up!” you’re making another mistake. If you don’t write down or record it in some way, even you (not to mention others) are in danger of repeating the original error. Says Houlihan, “When you’re still smarting from the pain of a mistake it’s easy to think you’ll always remember what went wrong. But over time things get fuzzy and you won’t.”

5)    You resolve it won’t happen again

Along with your apology, assure the injured parties that it – whatever “it” was – won’t happen again. Voluntarily describe how the mistake happened and what changes you are implementing to prevent its recurrence. And most importantly, tell the other party how you and your business are going to make things right. Handling an error this way will reinforce the feeling that you are, ultimately, a trustworthy company.

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

10 Things Wrong With Your Website

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

1. Crummy Content

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

2. Keyword Clueless

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

3. Social Scarcity

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

4. Muddy Metrics

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

5. Missing Mobile

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

6. Obvious Omissions

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

7. Offer-less Ordering

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

8. Dorky Design

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

9. Laughably Link-less

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

10. Unborn Updates

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

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

13 Business Resolutions for 2013

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

Resolution #1: Fix my website!

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

Resolution#2: Improve our customer service!

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

Resolution#3: Be a better tweeter!

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

Resolution#4: Boost my social influence!

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

Resolution#5: Nurture our leads!

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

Resolution#6: Find a business mentor!

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

Resolution#7: Launch a new product or service!

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

Resolution#8: Try A/B testing!

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

Resolution#9: Keep better books!

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

Resolution#10: Get serious with Facebook!

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

Resolution#11: Network more!!

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

Resolution#12: Review our pricing!

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

Resolution#13: Innovate more!

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

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6 Customer Feedback Essentials for Small Business

Small business owners hear it all the time: To find out how your business is doing, including what people like or don’t like and what you need to adjust, ask customers for feedback. But your quest for feedback can either produce a magic elixir or simply be an annoyance to customers and prospects, depending on how you do it.

Here are six essentials for collecting, analyzing and using customer feedback in a way that both engages customers and benefits your business:

1)    Make customers feel important. This is critical for getting people to respond to your feedback requests, and for generating helpful information that you can use to make improvements or launch new products and services. In most cases, it’s not necessary to offer “incentives” (also called bribes) for customers to provide honest feedback. Most are willing to do so if approached properly. The key is to make customers feel that you genuinely want to hear what they have to say, value they opinions and will use the information to make improvements that will benefit them as well as others.

2)    Make providing feedback easy, on the customer’s terms. Provide multiple ways for customers to offer their opinions. Don’t limit your efforts to surveys and emails, or old-fashioned feedback forms at checkout. Include a feedback form on your website, and ask for feedback on Facebook and any other social media sites you use. In all cases, keep it simple. At all costs, you must avoid frustrating customers with lengthy forms or confusing questions. And try not to query customers every time you see or connect with them. This leads to feedback fatigue and can cause customers to tune you out permanently.

3)    Pay attention to timing. What you ask is important, sure. But so is WHEN you ask it. Don’t be in a hurry to solicit feedback if your business isn’t really ready to hear or deal with it. It’s helpful to first examine your motivation. If all you are really seeking is approval or a pat on the back, feedback will never help you improve. At times, for some types of businesses, asking for feedback immediately is ideal. But in other cases, it’s best to step back for a bit and do a little self-examination first. Identify what you want to assess and where you would be willing to make changes. And be prepared for opinions that you might not like.

4)    Be both specific and open-ended. Avoid vague questions such as “What do you think?”  Break it down. Ask specifically about customer service, for example, or certain product features. You don’t have to cover everything at once. If you have forms and surveys, design different ones to cover specific topic areas. The time to be “open-ended” is when you are digging for information about what customers really want. In order to find out what customers really want and how they feel, you have to avoid telling them what you want them to tell you.

5)    Leverage your online options. Today there are many low-cost and even free web-based tools and services designed to help small businesses seek customer feedback. These include online surveys (Survey Monkey is a popular choice), web-based feedback forums such as UserVoice (www.uservoice.com) and social media such as Facebook, Google Plus and others. On Facebook, one approach is to simply post a question about some aspect of your product or service and ask for feedback. It’s quick, easy and cheap.

6)    Analyze, respond and act on your feedback.  Always keep in mind that the ultimate goal of your effort to seek feedback is to improve customer satisfaction and grow your business. Take all feedback seriously. Look for trends and common themes in what you hear. By formalizing the process of analyzing and responding to feedback, you elevate its importance as part of your business DNA of listening to customers. Thank customers for the effort they’ve made to provide you with helpful information, and assure them it is both valued and appreciated. When you make changes based on customer feedback, call attention to that fact. This will make it more likely that others will provide feedback in the future.

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