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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.

4 Tech Trends that are Changing Small Business

tech trendsWhen it comes to using technology, one thing is clear: Small businesses that embrace it are growing faster than those that don’t.  From mobile applications to social media, and cloud computing to data management, “new” ways of doing business centered around technology are taking hold and becoming the norm for millions of small and mid-sized firms nationwide.

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Here are 4 tech trends that are reshaping how the most successful small businesses are facing the future:

1. Mobile Adoption Soars: A new study by the SMB Group, which tracks technology adoption by small and medium businesses, shows that mobile use continues to skyrocket. In the last two years, the number of small businesses using mobile-friendly websites has nearly doubled, from 18% to 35% according to the SMB Group study. Meanwhile, the use of mobile apps for employees continues to increase, as does the number of small businesses using mobile commerce solutions.

Business owners are also spending more money on mobile. On average, a small business spends about 11%-20% of its technology budget on mobile. And two out of three business owners expect to spend more on mobile next year in areas such as devices, applications, security and consulting services.

The big problem, however, is that most small firms still struggle with how to manage the explosion of mobile devices, apps and the so-called “bring your own device” (BYOD) phenomenon, where employees are asked to use their own smartphones or other mobile devices for business purposes.

In the past year alone, use of mobile apps for employees – including email, calendars and customer relationship management (e.g. SalesForce) – has jumped 20% among small businesses. And the number of businesses adopting BYOD policies for employees has more than doubled.

As you embrace mobile, however, be careful to track how it’s actually benefiting your business. It’s not enough to embrace mobile solutions just because everyone else is. Look for areas it can really make a difference for your business, such as inventory tracking where mobile devices offer huge time savings.

2. Social Gets More Serious: The percentage of small businesses using social media continues to rise, up to 58% from closer to 50% just a year ago. Still, only about one in four small firms use social media strategically to pursue specific business goals. Most others take an informal, ad hoc approach, without any specific business goals in mind.

But the social bar is rising. More business owners want to ensure that their increasingly time-sensitive investment in social media pays off and are developing plans to map their social efforts to specific business outcomes, such as increased sales.

To make your efforts in social media pay off, consider using an outside service such as HubSpot (www.hubspot.com) that offers all-in-one web-based software for attracting leads and converting them to customers, through social media and other channels.

3.  Cloud Cover Expands:  Cloud computing – essentially, using web-based instead of PC-based software – has quickly become the “new normal” for millions of small business.  There’s a cloud application for nearly anything your business needs to do, from accounting, expense tracking, data backup and storage, to time tracking, project management, document signing and hundreds more.

Working “in the cloud” simply makes sense for small businesses. It lowers your cost (no software to buy and install, although many cloud services require a fee), is far faster to deploy and gives you access to the kinds of computing power that once belonged exclusively to bigger businesses.

4. Information Overflow Drives New Data Solutions:  The mobile-social-cloud triumvirate that emerges from the first three trends is generating unprecedented amounts information that few small businesses can manage, let alone put to use. This data fire hose is at full blast, and isn’t likely to abate. Businesses that figure out how to harness and turn some of this information (customer wants and needs, for example) into useful insights will gain a big competitive advantage.

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

The 8 Best Online Businesses to Start Now

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

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

Online Retail & Services Soar

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

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

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

1. TV and Home Theater Installation

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

2. Virtual Data Rooms

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

3. IT Security Consulting

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

4. Travel Agencies

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

5. Online Shoe Sales

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

6. Digital Forensic Services

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

7. Translation Services

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

8. Social Network Game Development

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

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

Business Owner Optimism Edging Up

NFIB Index Jan 13The latest Small Business Optimism Index (January 2013), published monthly by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), shows that business owners are getting slightly more optimistic about the year ahead — but just barely. Results are drawn from a sample of about 4,000 small business owners surveyed in December.

Here’s a snapshot of what’s happening with Main Street businesses now:

Sales:

Small-business sales showed some improvement, with the net percent of all owners (seasonally adjusted) reporting higher nominal sales over the past three months improving 5 points, but rising only to a negative 10%.  Seasonally unadjusted, 18% of all owners reported higher sales (last three months compared to prior three months, down 1 point), and 30% reported lower sales (down 1 point).

    • Consumer spending remains weak, especially on services although auto sales have recently shown some strength. The net percent of owners expecting higher real sales volumes rose 3 points to a negative 2% of all owners (seasonally adjusted), 14 points below  the 2012 high of net 12% reached in February.  Not seasonally adjusted, 20% expect improvement over the next 3 months (up 1 point) and 40% expect declines (down 3 points).

Job Creation:

Job creation in December was essentially zero, although it improved slightly from the November report. The average change in employment per firm increased to 0.03, up from -0.04 workers, with 11% of surveyed owners (up 1 point) reporting they added an average of 2.9 workers per firm over the past few months, and 13% reducing employment (up 1 points) an average of 1.9 workers (seasonally adjusted). The remaining 76% of owners made no net change in employment.

    • Forty-one percent of the owners hired or tried to hire in the last three months and 33% (80% of those trying to hire or hiring) reported few or no qualified applicants for open positions. Sixteen (16) percent of all owners reported they had hard-to-fill job openings, a drop of 1 point from the previous month. Job creation plans weakened substantially, falling 4 points and indicating that only (a net) one percent of owners plan to increase employment in the months to come. Not seasonally adjusted, seven percent of owners plan to increase employment at their firm (down 4 points), but 11% plan reductions (down 2 points).

Credit Markets:

Desire for new lines of credit is weak among small-business owners; 52% explicitly said they did not want a loan (65% including those who did not answer the question, who are assumed to be disinterested in borrowing). Six percent of owners surveyed reported that all their credit needs were not met, unchanged from November, and 29% reported all credit needs met. Only one percent of owners reported that financing was their top business problem, tied for the lowest reading in survey history. Twenty-nine (29) percent of all owners reported borrowing on a regular basis, down 1 point from November.

    • A net nine percent of small employers reported that loans are now “harder to get” when compared to their last attempt (asked of regular borrowers only), also unchanged from November. The net percent of owners expecting credit conditions to ease in the coming months was a seasonally adjusted negative 11% (more owners expect that it will be “harder” to arrange financing than easier), 1 point worse than in November.

Capital Expenditures:

Capital spending remained in “maintenance” mode—historically low—and plans to make capital outlays remained at recession levels. The frequency of reported capital outlays over the past six months fell 1 point to 52%. The percent of owners planning capital outlays in the next three to six months rose 1 point to 20%. Eight percent of owners characterized the current period as a good time to expand facilities (up 2 points), but the net percent of owners expecting better business conditions in six months was a net negative 35%, unchanged from November’s sharp decline.

    • Not seasonally adjusted, 11% of owners expect an improvement in business conditions (up 2 points), and 45% expect deterioration (down 4 points). A net negative 2% of all owners expect improved real sales volumes, up 3 points. Overall, there was no sign that capital spending might be returning to levels more consistent with past recovery periods.

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

13 Business Resolutions for 2013

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

Resolution #1: Fix my website!

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

Resolution#2: Improve our customer service!

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

Resolution#3: Be a better tweeter!

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

Resolution#4: Boost my social influence!

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

Resolution#5: Nurture our leads!

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

Resolution#6: Find a business mentor!

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

Resolution#7: Launch a new product or service!

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

Resolution#8: Try A/B testing!

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

Resolution#9: Keep better books!

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

Resolution#10: Get serious with Facebook!

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

Resolution#11: Network more!!

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

Resolution#12: Review our pricing!

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

Resolution#13: Innovate more!

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

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

What You Should Know About Pheed

First off, no whining about yet another social media site – even if it is one that gives you a way to directly make money from it (assuming you have content or clout that people will pay for).

Here are the basics:  Pheed is a new social platform created by a group of tech and entertainment entrepreneurs in Los Angeles that “soft launched” (biz speak for “we’re not sure it’s fully baked and we have no money to promote it anyway) October 12, 2012.  It has many similarities to Twitter and other social sites (they use the same @YourName and channel “hashtag” conventions, along with “timelines”), and the game is to get subscribers, while posting your own Pheeds and subscribing to channels you like.

But there are some important differences as well.

While Pheed lets you post the usual text (albeit longer than Tweets), photos and videos, it spices things up with new stuff like voice notes, audio clips and even live broadcasting.  A few Hollywood celebs were first to jump in, in part because Pheed gives them (and you) the option of charging people a monthly subscription fee to view what you post. If you have the clout to pull that off, great.

You can also do live pay-per-view broadcast events or simply make your channels and Pheeds freely available to anyone.   You set the prices, and earn money directly, although Pheed takes a hefty half of any revenue.

Pheed makes it clean and easy to open a Pheed channel by signing up with an existing Facebook or Twitter account. Mine was up and running in minutes (posting is a cinch), although I have no clue where it could lead.  For now, the flavor of Pheed is decidedly about celebrities of one fashion or another. But that could change.

 

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

12 Digital Trends That Will Rock Small Business

The digital world is changing rapidly with profound implications for how small businesses are found online, in search, on mobile devices and in social media. Here’s my list of today’s 12 key digital trends with the greatest potential impact (for updates, follow us on Twitter @140Main or visit BizBest):

1. Shrinking Space for Search Results

As Google continues to claim more and more space for paid products on every search engine results page, there’s less available for your business to show up in free “organic” results.  Bottom line: Banking on SEO tactics to get found online will keep getter harder.

2. Social Search Soars

Search engines and yellow pages type directories aren’t the only places people look online for businesses. More customers are using social media to search for what they need locally (and elsewhere). If you lack a prominent social media presence, beware.

3. Articles as Ads: High Value Content is The New Ad “Creative”

Content (articles, photos, videos, menus, white papers, newsletters, etc.) is where most small businesses stumble. Having a website, blog and social media pages isn’t enough without good content to go along. The simple act of offering a helpful PDF download can produce big results. Content, in effect, becomes your new ad “creative.”

4. Mobile Devices Own the Day

As the power and sophistication of mobile devices grows, they’ve become the “central processing units” for their lives. People already spend an average of 2-5 hours daily on a mobile device. This raises the ante for making sure your business is visible on mobile. About 55% of the U.S. population owns a smart phone, and 78% of them don’t leave home without it.

5. “Day Parting” and “Conquesting” Become more Prevalent

“Day Parting” is the term for dividing up the day into distinct marketing periods for making specific offers to local customers. For example, a restaurant that makes offers just before lunch. Mobile ad services can help you do this. “Conquesting” is a term for attracting a customer already at one local business, over to another local business offering a synergistic product or service. For example, an ice cream shop suggesting (via mobile) to diners currently eating in nearby restaurants to stop by for dessert.

6. Facebook & Twitter Deliver More

Facebook is finally figuring out small business (and vice versa), offering new ways for you to acquire customers. Twitter, too. A term you’ll see more is “Native Placement,” which includes paid placements on Facebook and Twitter such as Sponsored Stories and Promoted Tweets.

7. Four-Screen World Rules

No single device or “screen” dominates. People move effortlessly between a PC, smart phone, tablet and TV.  According to Google research, 90% of consumers begin a task on one device and complete it on another. Content (such as an ad) viewed on one device can trigger behavior on another device. This means businesses can no longer construct campaigns specific to a single device.

8. Google Product Listing Ads Gain Prominence

Google Product Listings (free) and Product Listing Ads (PLAs) have been around for years but have been given a makeover and will gain momentum as businesses discover that PLAs can be far more effective than simple text ads.

9. Big Move Toward Video

Video will continue to explode. Already, 72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. There are channels for every interest — over a million of them. Seek out channels that interest your customers and try advertising there.

10. Digital Ad Products get Simpler

Solution providers are starting to heed the call of business owners who say digital products are too complex. Google, for example, just introduced AdWords Express, a simplified version of AdWords. Details: google.com/adwords/express

11. NAP Alignment Gets More Critical

NAP — or Name, Address and Phone number — is the vital info that every local business must make available online and on mobile. But if your NAP details aren’t consistent in all places (including dozens of online directories) you risk confusing Google and slipping in search results.

12. Engaging Customers in “Social Storefronts” Gains Importance

Imagine a customer walks into your store and you turn your back. That’s essentially what’s been happening online when a small business has a Facebook business page but doesn’t actively engage with customers. The importance of building online relationships will grow even bigger.

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

20 Digital Trends You Need to Know

I just completed an interactive local media conference where some of today’s smartest minds in digital were gathered, from the likes of Google, Facebook, IdeaLab, CitiGrid, Constant Contact and dozens more. Here’s my list of the Top 20 trends (and some implications) in digital, search, social media and online marketing that emerged from this semi-annual confab by the local media consulting firm BIA/Kelsey:

1. Shrinking Search Real Estate

As Google continues to claim more and more space for paid products on every search engine results page (SERP), there’s less and less available for “organic” results — your results.  Bottom line: Being found in search via “free” SEO tactics will continue to get harder. You can’t rely on SEO alone.

2. Social Search Soars

Search engines and yellow pages type directories aren’t the only place people look online for businesses. More and more customers are using social media to search for what they need. If you aren’t there, you can’t be found.

3. High Value Content Becomes Even More Critical

Content is where most small businesses stumble. Having a website, blog and social media pages isn’t enough without good content to go along. The simple act of offering a helpful PDF download can produce big results. Content becomes your new creative.

4. Mobile Devices Become “Remote Control” for Our Lives

As the power and sophistication of mobile devices (super computers in our pockets) continues to grow, more and more individuals will use them as the central processing unit that controls their lives. People already spend an average of 2-5 hours daily on a mobile device. This raises the ante for making sure your business is visible on mobile. About 55% of the U.S. population owns a smart phone, and 78% never leave home without it.

5. “Day Parting” Becomes more Prevalent

Day Parting is the term for dividing up the day into distinct marketing periods for making specific offers. For example, a restaurant that makes special offers just before lunch — but no other time of the day.

6. Programs for “Conquesting” Customers Grow More Popular

Conquesting is a term for attracting a customer already at one local business, over to another local business offering a synergistic product or service. For example, an ice cream shop suggesting to diners currently eating in nearby restaurants to stop by for dessert.

7. Everything & Everyone Online

As the number of people online daily (worldwide) jumps from 2.5 billion today to 3.5 billion by 2015, the lines between offline and online blur even more.  There’s no longer a conscious decision to “use the web.” It becomes an unconscious, reflex action.

8. Consumers are Hyper-Informed

Nearly 90% of U.S. Internet users go online to search for information about products and services, and about one in three will post a product review or comment online, and social media plays a critical and growing role. After spending time on social media, the 2nd-most popular activity is buying something!

9. Small Businesses Learn to Leverage Facebook to Acquire Customers

Far from fading, Facebook is finally figuring out small business (and vice versa), offering new ways for businesses to acquire customers. Twitter does the same. A term you’ll see more is “Native Placement,” which includes paid placements on Facebook and Twitter such as Facebook Sponsored Stories and Twitter Promoted Tweets.  These are considered “native” advertising. Businesses are also seeing that placing content on Facebook produces far greater results than putting on a website.

10. A Four-Screen World Rules

No single device or “screen” dominates. People move effortlessly between a PC, smart phone, tablet and TV.  According to Google research, 90% of consumers begin a task on one device and complete it on another device. Already, 77% of TV viewers watch on a non-TV device (49% smart phone; 34% PC or laptop).  Content (such as an ad) viewed on one device can trigger behavior on another device. This means business can no longer construct campaigns specific to a single device. Four years ago, small businesses bought ads in an average of 2.8 different channels. Now it’s six.

11. Expansion of Choice and Sharing Accelerates

Consumers will have more content, more choices and more places to share and consume information.  Even ads become opt-in (on video, for example), but consumers choose to watch at a high rate (currently 15-45%). This acceleration of choice provides businesses an opportunity to provide more content through which customers will “self select” based on their interests.

12. Google Product Listing Ads Gain Importance

Google Product Listings (free) and Product Listing Ads (PLAs; paid) have been around for years, but have been given a makeover and will gain momentum as more businesses find that PLAs can be vastly more effective than simple text ads.

13. Big Move Toward Video

Video will continue to explode. Already, 72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute of the day. There are channels for every interest — over a million of them. Businesses of all sizes should be seeking out channels that interest their customers and advertise there.

14. Digital Ad Products Become Simpler

Solution providers heed the call of business owners who say digital products are too complex. Google, for example, just introduced AdWords Express, a simplified version of its flagship AdWords search engine marketing product — the first time Google has specifically made something for small business.

15. Online Avenues Get More Vertical

Major players in local search such as CitiGrid finally recognize that the needs of local businesses differ greatly by type (or vertical), and begin to offer more customized digital products geared to specific business types or verticals.

16. NAP Alignment Critical for Local Businesses

NAP — or name, address and phone number — is the vital info that every local business must make available online and on mobile. But it’s vital the info is perfectly aligned (consistent in all places), or you risk confusing Google and slipping in search results.

17. Importance of Interacting with Customers in “Social Storefronts” Grows

Imagine a customer walks into your store and you turn your back. That’s essentially what’s been happening online when a small business has a website or Facebook business page but doesn’t actively engage with customers in those settings. Importance of building online relationships grows even bigger.

18. DIWM Joins DIY and DIFM

Small businesses can expect to see more digital and social media marketing products and providers offering “Do It With Me” services (DIWM) along with Do It Yourself (DIY) and Do It For Me (DIFM).  These will come with price tags between the other two.

19. Extraordinary Becomes the New Ordinary

Consumer expectations continue to climb. Digital marvels that once seemed extraordinary (like finding things almost instantly on a smart phone) are taken for granted. Not long ago, WiFi on airplanes was unusual. Now it’s expected. The bar is high for businesses big and small to “wow” customers.

20. Newspaper Inserts or “Circulars” Go Digital

A consortium of 12 major newspaper companies is putting millions behind a new venture called Wanderful that aims to reinvent ad circulars for tablet computers and make shopping more entertaining, fun, social and discovery-based.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

How Small Businesses Use a Facebook Page

 For the first time, most small businesses are now using their Facebook page for customer acquisition!

 

 

4 Reasons to Ban the Yearend Bonus

Sure, nobody wants to be labeled a Scrooge. But if you’re among the roughly 50% of U.S. businesses (and shrinking) that still offer traditional yearend bonuses, it might be time to join the 21st century – and plan for something different in 2013.

Too many small business bonus plans operate on autopilot, under “conventional wisdom” that offering yearend bonuses works. But these ritualized holiday handouts can actually undermine your mission, strategy and goals.

“As an employee incentive strategy, the traditional yearend bonus is better suited to the 19th century world of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol than today’s workplace,” says employee recognition expert Michael Levy, CEO of Online Rewards, who’s created incentive programs for a wide range of large and small companies.

In fact, the yearend bonus or gift has already been fading for some time, according to surveys conducted by the human resources firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Five years ago, nearly three-fourths of companies surveyed said they offered yearend awards – a figure that’s plunged to just half, and appears headed lower.

More and more businesses are discovering that “automatic” bonuses do little to reward and retain high performers, nor do they help much with morale or loyalty. Yearend rewards are often too far removed from actual positive actions that occur throughout the year to be meaningful. Business owners who drop yearend bonuses are shifting instead to year-round efforts that have proven more effective.

Unless you’re a Wall Street firm (where plump yearend payouts remain a staple of the trade), reviewing your strategy could be a good idea.

Here, BizBest offers four reasons to ban the yearend bounty and look for new ways of getting more bang for your bonus buck:

1. Yearend bonuses have little impact on performance.

Traditional yearend bonuses as applied at most small businesses simply don’t have a significant impact on employee behavior. For the most part, they are symbolic rather than strategic. Even if you’ve “always done it,” bite the bullet and ban the bonus. Today’s employees react more positively to the instant gratification of receiving real-time rewards throughout the year, rather than waiting 12 months for a bonus envelope.

2. Payouts or gifts should be based on performance, not entitlement or tradition.

Some of America’s most innovative small companies are realigning holiday bonus budgets to put them more in step with individual performance, as well as overall business goals and results. Instead of offering yearly lump sum payouts, these businesses are creating continuous reward and recognition strategies that recognize outstanding performance when it happens. These timely rewards are better able to target employees based on individual performance.

3. Year round programs are better at strengthening relationships between employees and business owners or managers.

By offering smaller but more frequent rewards throughout the year, you’ll regularly promote behavior that advances your overall business goals and creates a more lasting positive perception among employees – and customers, too.

4. A “meaningful” bonus might be much less than you think.

Numerous studies show that most employees merely want to be recognized for their ongoing contribution to the business. This doesn’t require a Wall Street-sized check. “Many workers are happy with a $25 gift certificate to a local store or restaurant,” says John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray. “Others would be happy with an extra day or two of paid vacation at the end of the year.” Electronic devices, gift cards, travel vouchers and movie passes often serve as better rewards than cash because they are indulgences the employee might not otherwise experience. Cash often goes toward basic expenses (credit card debt, for example), and is less memorable.

Not about being cheap

This isn’t about cutting costs or being cheap. But done right, your investment in bonuses and rewards throughout the year will improve results and help achieve your business goals.

Instead of the stale yearend approach, consider a variety of employee reward and recognition programs, sales incentive solutions and even customer loyalty programs tied to employee performance. Your goal should be to create engaging and purposeful incentive solutions, not simply a bonus plan that people starting thinking about when the weather turns colder.

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