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Have You Noticed How Google Beefed Up Its Webmaster Guidelines?

Small Business Trends - Tue, 2016-02-09 18:30

The changes to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines are not an everyday occurrence, so even the smallest tweak makes news.

However, this time around there are several updates businesses, site developers, SEO practitioners and others should take a look at. This latest update comes after Google revamped its Webmaster Home with a new look and three new features for the new portal, which include Webmaster troubleshooter, Popular Resources and Event Calendar.

The changes to the layout of the general Google Webmaster guidelines include the addition of three drop-down menus that explain how Google finds and understands your pages, as well as how visitors use your pages. Before you dismiss these changes, it is important to note the language Google has used to emphasize the need to follow the new guidelines.

While in the past Google has said, “Even if you choose not to implement any of these suggestions,” it has now replaced the wording with just, “We strongly encourage you to pay very close attention to the Google Webmaster Quality Guidelines.” This is a not-so-subtle hint you should be following the Webmaster Guidelines with strict adherence.

Barry Schwartz embedded the complete before and after guidelines on Search Engine Land.

The new guidelines direct website operators to:

Help Google Find Your Pages
  • Ensure that all pages on the site can be reached by a link from another findable page. The referring link should include either text or, for images, an alt attribute, that is relevant to the target page.
  • Provide a sitemap file with links that point to the important pages on your site. Also provide a page with a human-readable list of links to these pages (sometimes called a site index or site map page).
  • Limit the number of links on a page to a reasonable number (a few thousand at most).
Help Google Understand Your Pages
  • Create a useful, information-rich site, and write pages that clearly and accurately describe your content.
  • Design your site to have a clear conceptual page hierarchy.
  • Follow our recommended best practices for images, video, and structured data.
  • Make a reasonable effort to ensure that advertisement links on your pages do not affect search engine rankings.
Help Visitors Use Your Pages 
  • Try to use text instead of images to display important names, content, or links.
  • Ensure that all links go to live web pages. Use valid HTML.
  • Optimize your page loading times.
  • Design your site for all device types and sizes, including desktops, tablets, and smartphones.
  • Ensure that your site appears correctly in different browsers.
  • If possible, secure your site’s connections with HTTPS.

As always, Google ends any amendments to its guidelines with a warning, and this time is no different, “If your site violates one or more of these guidelines, then Google may take manual action against it. Once you have remedied the problem, you can submit your site for reconsideration.”

Following existing and new guidelines ensures your digital presence will be readily available on the largest browser in the world, and violating them can be a costly mistake.

Image: Google

This article, "Have You Noticed How Google Beefed Up Its Webmaster Guidelines?" was first published on Small Business Trends

What the Latest Co-Working Spaces Offer Freelancers

Small Business Trends - Tue, 2016-02-09 16:30

The amount of freelance and independent workers has increased drastically in recent years. And with that growing trend of non-traditional workers, co-working spaces have also experienced drastic growth.

If you haven’t checked out any co-working spaces recently, then you might think they’re just open spaces with desks and WiFi. But today’s co-working spaces offer a number of other features that freelancers could find helpful.

Here are some of the features you might find in today’s co-working spaces.

Freelancer Co-Working Spaces Now Include. . . Connected Workspaces

You can consider a connected office a baseline for any co-working space. Most, if not all, of the spaces you’ll find should offer features like WiFi, printing, outlets and working spaces.

Private Conference Areas

While many co-working spaces offer simple desks or cubicles in a fairly open atmosphere, you may also find some that offer private offices or at least designated spaces that you can use for meetings or calls, such as conference rooms or phone booths. So if you need a space for meetings or more private work, you can look for a space that offers conference rooms or even office space that you can reserve or rent.

Accessible Parking

Parking should also be among the features that you look for in a co-working space. No matter what you need when you’re actually there, you need to have a convenient way to actually get there. Some co-working spaces have dedicated parking lots, or at least lots that you can pay to gain access to. Others might be conveniently located near public transportation.

Proximity to Restaurants and Other Businesses

Another convenience factor to consider is the space’s proximity to restaurants, shops and other business that you may need to visit on a regular basis. If you can run some errands, work related or otherwise, on your way to and from, or even on breaks from your workday, it can free up some precious time for you. Some co-working spaces have even built restaurants or shopping into their locations, such as Bespoke in San Francisco.

Collaboration Opportunities

Co-working isn’t just about having a place to work. One of the biggest benefits of co-working can sometimes be the access to other entrepreneurs who you could potentially bounce ideas off of or collaborate with. So if that’s something that’s important to you, look for a space with an open atmosphere, collaboration spaces and other professionals who you may be interested in working with.

Odeen Domingo, founding member of CO+HOOTS in Phoenix, said in an email to Small Business Trends, “People should find a space that has deliberately designed their location and their culture to create collaboration. People looking for a coworking space should find out what the culture and interaction is like among member companies and see if it’s a good fit for what they’re looking for. Are they looking for a space with companies of the same skill set or a slew of different industries (or both) to collaborate and learn from?”

Industry Focus

Some co-working spaces even focus on specific industries or types of entrepreneurs. For example, Geekdom in Houston is a co-working space that focuses specifically on technologists, developers and creative entrepreneurs. This could be helpful if you’re looking to collaborate with people in a particular industry or type of business.

Noise Policies

You may also want to look into the atmosphere of each co-working space, particularly when it comes to things like noise and distractions. You can ask if they have any quiet hours or noise policies. Or you could see if the space allows visitors so that you can get a feel for the environment.

Maria Alejandra Marquez, co-founder of TamboWorks in Miami, told Small Business Trends in an email, “If you are not experienced with working in a co-working space, you need to evaluate if you can adapt to work in open spaces, with noise and buzz, but also to follow some etiquette regarding how you take your calls or hold meetings. To be part of a community requires some balance between your own behavior and your tolerance.”

Virtual Offices

If you’re not necessarily looking for the entire co-working experience, but still want some of the features, you can look for a space that offers virtual office features. For instance, many of them offer mailboxes or phone lines that you can use to organize or make your business appear more professional, without paying for or committing to a full co-working experience.

Business Incubators

Many co-working spaces like Think Big Coworking in Kansas City, Missouri are connected to business incubators or startup accelerators so that you can get even more growth benefit.

Education Programs

If you don’t want to get into a full accelerator program, but still want some growth or learning opportunities, you might look for a co-working space that offers courses, workshops or other educational opportunities. Geekdom, for example, offers members access to courses and educational resources related to things like coding.

Charitable Programs

Community involvement and philanthropy can also help some co-working spaces stand out. CO+HOOTS, for example, has a foundation that focuses on educational initiatives.

Co-living

If you want an experience that’s truly all-inclusive, you can even look into spaces that include co-living along with co-working. Even WeWork, one of the biggest names in co-working, is working on a co-living space for those who want to live where they work.

Image: Co+Hoots

This article, "What the Latest Co-Working Spaces Offer Freelancers" was first published on Small Business Trends

Marketer’s Guide to Establishing Key Performance Indicators

Small Business Trends - Tue, 2016-02-09 14:30

The modern marketer has access to resources and tools that previous generations never thought possible. However, you can’t confuse access to resources with proper utilization of resources. The only way to maximize the data and technology you have at your fingertips is to identify key performance indicators (KPIs) and analyze them for relevant insight and action.

What are Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)?

“The amount of data today is staggering — the information produced during two days, in 2014, is equivalent to the amount of data that was created between the dawn of civilization and 2003,” explains datapine, a leader in business intelligence solutions. “In such an environment, it is impossible to look at every single data point in your business.

As a marketer, you must be strategic about which metrics you track. KPIs help organizations define and measure progress towards specific goals. These indicators are quantifiable measurements that are defined prior to analysis and vary from organization to organization, and even from department to department. The most important word in this definition is “quantifiable.”

“If a Key Performance Indicator is going to be of any value, there must be a way to accurately define and measure it,” writes F. John Reh, senior business executive. “‘Generate More Repeat Customers’ is useless as a KPI without some way to distinguish between new and repeat customers. ‘Be The Most Popular Company’ won’t work as a KPI because there is no way to measure the company’s popularity or compare it to others.”

So, to summarize, a key performance indicator is a specific measurement that is quantifiable and appropriate for the specific goal the business is attempting to accomplish.

How to Identify and Create Meaningful Key Performance Indicators

The key to identifying and creating meaningful KPIs that push your marketing efforts forward is to establish a plan. The biggest problem businesses have is developing a long list of KPIs without understanding what they’re doing or what these KPIs are actually saying.

While having a long list of KPIs may feel like you’re being proactive, the fact of the matter is that it’s better to have five very accurate and definitive KPIs than it is to have 50 vague and meaningless ones.

There are many different processes for identifying and shaping KPIs — and feel free to create one that’s tailored to your team’s strengths — but most follow a general pattern similar to this:

1. Set Objectives and Goals

Before you can set Key Performance Indicators, you must consider the objectives and goals you’re attempting to accomplish. In other words, think of the things that need to be done in order for your job to be considered successful. As a marketer, this may be something like, “Increase conversion rate on our three lowest-converting product pages from last year.”

The value of having an objective is that it narrows your focus. As opposed to thinking about a combination of things, you can really hone in on a single, quantifiable goal. You either increase sales on these pages, or you don’t. There are no other possibilities.

2. Identify Measures

An objective is pointless unless you have a way of measuring the outcome. This is where the KPIs come into play. Using our example above, the measures would be things like total page visits and total purchases — i.e., conversion rate.

While this is a very simple example, most KPIs are more complex. When attempting to analyze a certain objective, you’ll likely have to establish multiple Key Performance Indicators. Over time, you may discover that certain KPIs are useless, but it’s better to start with multiple measures and whittle them down over time than it is to start with one and find out that it doesn’t work.

3. Define Specific Thresholds

A KPI doesn’t add any value unless it can be compared to something. You must know what’s considered good and what’s considered bad. Using our above example, let’s say the conversion rate for the lowest performing product page was two percent last year. Anything under two percent this year would be considered bad. If the conversion rate stays at two percent, it would be indifferent. If the conversion rate comes in above two percent, the result would be good. Two percent is the threshold.

Every KPI you establish needs a specific and quantifiable threshold. Furthermore, the threshold needs to be achievable. Having an unreasonable threshold doesn’t do anyone any good. For example, it wouldn’t make any sense to set the conversion threshold in the example at 10 percent. If this were the case, the objective should have been “to increase the product page’s conversion rate to 10 percent.”

4. Create a Dashboard

How are you going to record data and track the results? Thankfully, there are a number of tools currently on the market that make it easy to record data once you’ve established Key Performance Indicators. These are generally referred to as “dashboards.”

Most marketers are familiar with dashboards if they’ve spent any time using Google Analytics or similar platforms. Dashboards are meaningful visual displays that track data and turn the results into reports, charts, and graphs that can be interpreted. Creating a dashboard that clearly tracks your Key Performance Indicators takes continual optimization and tweaking. It’s not something you just set and put on cruise control.

5. Interpret Results

The next step requires you to interpret the results. Ideally, this is as easy as looking at your dashboard and cross-referencing your thresholds. However, it may require more hands on activity if your dashboard isn’t as precise as it should be.

6. Take Strategic Action

Finally, Key Performance Indicators don’t serve any purpose unless you take action based on the measurements you’ve gathered. For example, if the data shows that you’re moving in the wrong direction, you obviously need to change something. If the data shows you’re inching closer and closer to your objectives, then you probably want to continue the approach.

5 of the Most Popular Marketing KPIs

While marketers are encouraged to develop their own company and objective-specific KPIs, some of the most useful key performance indicators are the ones that are commonly used by companies across all industries. In order to give you an idea of what KPIs look like in practice, let’s examine a handful of the most popular ones marketers are currently using to accomplish objectives and scale efforts.

1. Cost of Customer Acquisition

Also known as COCA, the cost of customer acquisition is the cost that’s associated with converting a prospect into a paying customer. For example, if you spend $10,000 per month on marketing and advertising and add 10 new customers over that same time period, your COCA is $1,000. Once you figure out your COCA, you can then establish a budget that allows you to reach a certain level of profitability.

2. Customer Lifetime Value

Also known as CLV or LTV, customer lifetime value refers to the monetary value of each customer. Generally this is calculated by taking revenue and multiplying it by gross margin and average number of repeat purchases. As an example, if your revenue on a product is $100 with a gross margin of 50 percent, this means you’re making $50 every time a customer makes a purchase. If the average customer makes five repeat purchases, their lifetime value is $250.

3. Sales Team Response Time

For B2B marketers in particular, your sales team response time is a very critical KPI. In essence, this KPI tells you how quickly your sales team responds to the leads you’ve gathered. If you want to be successful, your sales response time needs to be much lower than the competition. If you’re unsure of how to measure this and why it’s important to your lead close rate, then check out this article by inbound marketer Chris Getman.

4. Email Marketing Performance

Sometimes KPIs aren’t as cut and dry as LTV or COPA. However, this doesn’t mean they’re irrelevant. Take email marketing performance as an example. While there’s no streamlined equation for this indicator, it’s very important

In order to determine the efficacy of your email marketing efforts, you’ll need to use different measures like delivery rate, open rate, unsubscribe rate, click through rate, forwards and shares, and conversion rate — giving each a specific weight. This is one of those KPIs that takes time to tweak and optimize.

5. Paid vs. Organic Conversions

There’s a big difference between paid leads and organic leads. Ideally, you want your organic leads to convert higher than your paid leads. This means you can reduce your paid budget and rely on natural traffic.

In order to study organic search performance, you’ll want to look at things like the percentage of leads that come from organic search, the percentage of leads that come from branded keywords, the percentage of leads that come from other terms, and the number of customers you obtain from organic search.

Establish Your Key Performance Indicators Today

What few people realize is that KPIs take time and effort to develop. These aren’t things you develop overnight and immediately implement in the morning. If you want to establish KPIs that are meaningful and productive, they must be developed through a carefully outlined strategy.

Using this article, you should be able to create your own process and get an idea of what relevant KPIs look like in terms of Internet marketing. Keep these tips in mind and start the process of establishing KPIs as soon as possible. Moving forward, the success of your marketing efforts may very well depend on it.

KPI Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "Marketer’s Guide to Establishing Key Performance Indicators" was first published on Small Business Trends

62 Highly Useful Presentation Tools for Sales and Marketing

Small Business Trends - Tue, 2016-02-09 13:00

Love ’em or hate ’em, the slide-show presentation is one staple of the sales and marketing world that’s not going away anytime soon.

That said, it’s pretty hard to make a dent in the presentation deluge. Just look at the numbers:

  • With over 350 PowerPoint presentations given each second across the globe:
    • The average listener only remembers 50 percent of your presentation a mere 10 minutes after a presentation is given.
    • The following day, recall drops to 25 percent.
    • One week later, it drops even farther to 10 percent.

And that’s if your presentation is good.

While there are a number of tips and tricks you can use to make your message stick, the road to an effective presentation begins with the tools you use to create and then present your presentations.

Long gone are the days when PowerPoint was the only true option for creating presentations. The Web is full of powerful and easy-to-use options that can help your presentation stand out from the others.

To create a truly memorable presentation, start with this list of 62 highly useful presentation tools for sales and marketing below.

62 Presentation Tools for Sales and Marketing

To help you navigate this long list of options, the presentation tools are broken down into five separate categories:

  • Establishment: lest you forget, the tools you’ve used for years are still viable options for creating memorable presentations.
  • Creation: these presentation tools enable you to create recorded presentations as well as presentations you can use when live.
  • Presentation: although some of the creation and editing category enable you to present to the world as well, the solutions in this section focus on presentation delivery and management.
  • Interactive: take your presentation to the next level by adding interactive elements where you can help solve the problems of your potential customers (with your products and services, of course).
  • Resources: no two things increase the effectiveness of a recorded presentation more than great music and voice acting. This section will help you find affordable options for both.
Presentation Tools for Sales and Marketing: Establishment

This section lists the presentation tools that paved the way for the rest of the tools on this list. Powerful and fully featured, many folks still use them successfully today.

PowerPoint

The granddaddy of them all, PowerPoint continues to dominate the presentation creation scene, especially offline. Despite the much maligned “death by PowerPoint” effect, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more robust, feature-rich presentation tool on the market.

Other Establishment Presentation Tools

Presentation Tools for Sales and Marketing: Creation

Creating an engaging and memorable presentation used to be a job for highly creative and specialized professionals.

Thanks to the tools in this section, that’s no longer the case as they enable anyone to create presentations that stand out from the rest.

What’s more, the tools in this section can be used to create many different types of presentations including live, recorded and animated to name a few.

To make this section easier to use, it’s broken down into four different categories.

Tools for Creating Presentations: Traditional Online Solutions

The tools in this category are built along the same line as the “establishment” tools above however, these are all available as online solutions meaning you can create (alone or by collaborating with others), edit and access your presentations anywhere the Internet is accessible.

Google Slides

In Google’s answer to PowerPoint, Google Slides, you’ll find a lot of similar functionality and features except this tool is free.

Other Traditional Online Presentation Tools

  • SlideRocket — One great feature is their “dynamic” functionality that updates your presentation using a variety of external data sources:

Tools for Creating Presentations: Non-Traditional Tools

The hottest trend in creating engaging presentations is to use non-traditional tools to tell your story. The presentation tools in this section tend to use unique approaches to design and often add interactive functionality as well.

Prezi

One of the giants in non-traditional presentation tools, Prezi took the traditional presentation and broke it into pieces, each of which can be zoomed in, zoomed out and rotated any which way. Throw in the ability to embed music, voiceovers, images and links and you’ve got a presentation tool with power. It even works offline.

It’s pretty hard to understand what a Prezi presentation is without seeing one so head on over to their gallery page and take a Prezi test drive or two.

issuu

Why not turn your boring presentation into an interactive magazine that both attracts and engages your prospects? That’s exactly what you can do over at issuu. issue turns your presentation into a beautiful magazine with links and videos that can be read online or on the go.

Glogster

An iOS app, Glogster can be used to create interactive “posters” that users can drill-down into to get more detailed information. The image below shows what happens when you click on the image of a video in a Glogster poster — the video window is expanding and will play when fully open (watch this video to see Glogster in action).

You can use Glogster to create all kinds of creative, engaging and interactive presentations and they’ll all be optimized for mobile devices.

Projeqt

Pushing the envelop on design, interactivity, dynamic data and depth, Projeqt is one presentation tool you should definitely check out.

One of the most interesting features is the ability to “stack” presentations so that a click on one slide leads to another presentation (or a video) and then helps the viewer get back to where they started. This is powerful stuff that can be used to create all manner of self-guided presentations.

It might take a bit more creativity to figure out how to use Projeqt to create business presentations, but the results are sure to stand out.

Tools for Creating Presentations: Drag and Drop Solutions (with templates!)

If you want to quickly and easily create a beautiful presentation, take a look at the tools in this section. Not only does their drag-and-drop functionality make them easy-to-use, they also offer lots of templates to help kick start the creation of your presentations. Here’s a small example of the presentation templates available on Canva, one of the tools in this section:

And here’s the list of the tools:

Tools for Creating Presentations: Videos

One of the best ways to create a video presentation is to use a webinar service that enables you to record and reuse the webinar.

That approach aside, there are a ton of useful presentation tools for creating video presentations. The approach, features, and ease-of-use varies widely so be sure to take a look at a good sampling of tools to assure you find the one that fits your needs.

Video Presentation Creation Tools

Video Presentation Creation Tools: Animation

Video Presentation Creation Tools: Offline Tools

Video Presentation Creation Tools: Slide and Video Synch

These two presentation tools will help you create a video within which your slides are synched to a pre-recorded video of you giving the presentation. Pretty slick stuff here.

62 Highly Useful Presentation Tools for Sales and Marketing: Presentation

Once your presentation is created, what’s the best way to share it with the world? These tools offer some handy options and some even offer powerful presentation management functionality.

62 Highly Useful Presentation Tools for Sales and Marketing: Interaction

Nothing is more engaging than interactivity. Hold your audience’s attention with these interactive presentation tools:

62 Highly Useful Presentation Tools for Sales and Marketing: Resources

Voiceover Resources

Use these sites to find a voiceover actor for your presentation videos:

Music Resources

Use these sites to discover affordable music to use in your presentations:

Conclusion

If you want your presentations to stand out from the rest, start with the presentation tools on the list above.

These 62 highly useful presentation tools for sales and marketing run the gamut from live to recorded, words to images and videos and everything in between.

Take your time with this one — your sales and marketing efforts will benefit from the engaging presentations you can create with one of the tools above.

Projection Screen Illustration via Shutterstock

This article, "62 Highly Useful Presentation Tools for Sales and Marketing" was first published on Small Business Trends

14 Ways to Use Color to Organize Your Office

Small Business Trends - Tue, 2016-02-09 11:30
Sponsored Post

Keeping your small business or home office space organized can either be a task in which you delight – or one that’s an operations “bugaboo.”

Either way, organization is vital. So why not make it so that the end result is something pleasing to see on a daily basis? Color coding your small business is an eye-pleasing and effective means of office organization.

Colors trigger certain responses in the brain when we see them. And if a good color coded system is implemented within your business, it will help keep you organized, especially as your business grows. Below are a variety of ways to color code your office that can help keep you and your small business organized.

How to Color Code Your Office Assign a Meaning to a Color

Your organization project is going to require baby steps. The first and easiest step is to assign a color to the broadest of topics when you color code your office.

First and foremost is probably your small business finances. And naturally, a good color for this is green. Even if it’s marking an envelope with a green dot and keeping all envelopes with green dots in one container, it’s a good start.

Continue this throughout your organization efforts. Mark all medical items blue. Reserve red for emergency items, and so on.

Brighten Up the Filing Cabinet

You can go so far as to order file folders in a rainbow of colors to assign certain clients. But if you’re not ready to delve that deeply into your office organization project, start with the tabs. You can use colored pens like the new 14 pack of Paper Mate InkJoy Gel Pens to differentiate files. (Now available at Staples.com, and sold in stores in April.)

Use Color in Your Day Planner

Some people — believe it or not — are still in the habit of writing down all their appointments, meetings, and reminders. They still print day planners for a reason.

If you’re an increasingly busy small business owner, this day planner is consulted often. Use a few different colored inks to organize appointments and meetings by type as well.

Continue the Theme on Your Desk Calendar

Once you’ve established a system for color coding appointments in your day planner, continue that theme onto a desk or wall calendar as well. The most important part of your office organization efforts will be your consistency in adhering to it.

Use Color in Your Cloud Calendar as Well

Maintain that consistent feel with your virtual calendars, too. Nearly all calendar apps allow you to mark different calendars with different colors. To take this a step further, find a mobile app that carries this labeling in its notifications. Remember, consistency is key to maintaining office organization.

Wrap Colors Around Wiring

Despite our efforts to go wireless in as many facets of running our small businesses as possible, it seems wires will be a necessary inconvenience well into the foreseeable future. And as long as they’re around, they’re bound to get jumbled and tangled. When you color code your office, apply colored tape to cords to keep them tidier or mark non-colored tape with colored ink to differentiate cords from one another.

Assign Department Colors

Small shops with numerous departments can keep better tabs on their products by using a color coded labeling system. Try using colors in any place possible to denote items to a specific department. Boxes of overstock, files, price tags, bills, and anything else … find some ways to apply a department color to it.

Promote Sales with Colorful Price Tags

Promotions and discounts can be much more easily organized if you use a color coded system for it. Stick red tags or yellow dots on merchandise you want to discount or are included as part of a special sale.

This is a great way to alert your customers to specially priced products and also eliminates any confusion your staff has when they ring up sales at the register.

Pick Your Favorite Color and Apply it to All Non-Business Memos

When you’re sending business memos or signing documents, blue or black ink is usually preferred. And it only looks proper on white paper.

But then there are notes and memos that aren’t as serious and really should be distinct. Choose your favorite color and write all light-hearted communications in it. Printing these memos on different colored paper makes them stand out from the rest, too.

Color Code Your Office Workspaces

If your staff is separated within your office space by the tasks they’re assigned to complete, give each work area its own look and feel. This could range from painting the walls to coordinating the office furniture. If you distribute employee ID badges, carry over this color coded scheme over to them as well.

Use Shading and Color Text on Spreadsheets

Endless pages of spreadsheets can be mind-numbing, especially if they’re all monochromatic, save for the occasional boldface numbers or maybe italicized column headers. Jazz up those boring number sheets by adding splashes of color.

You may want to avoid using colors on your numbers — preserving the meaning behind black and red — but consider adding shading to the sheets themselves. Use the colors you established for departments within your business in your spreadsheets to maintain that all-important consistent look.

Separate Staff with Different Color Uniforms

If you’re hosting a special event and want staff to stand out from the crowd, give them similarly colored T-shirts or other uniforms to make them easily identifiable.

When you want a crowd to seek out your staff for help, it’s much easier to announce to look for people wearing red shirts or yellow hats or holding green umbrellas.

Take Notes in Color

Whether you’re in a meeting where you’re taking notes or distributing them, applying a color coded system to these notes makes them more readable and less mundane to digest. Be careful, though. Some colors — especially lighter ones — can be tough to read. Stick to bold and bright colors so you’re not straining your eyes or those of the people reading your notes.

Don’t Forget Storage Bins

Storage bins are often reserved for keeping things you think you’ll never use again. Then, one day, you realize something important is stored away in a bin. Problem is, you’ve got more bins than you can count. When you color code your office, apply color label systems you already have in place to storage, too. It’ll save you a lot of time if you ever have to perform one of these searches in the future.

Now, your color coding effort within your small business or personal office space doesn’t have to be a large, work-intensive project, especially at first. The goal, after all, is to make your work life easier.

A great start to getting a color coded office organization system is a good set of color ink pens. Many of the organization tips offered here can be completed using some simple office supplies such as the new Paper Mate Ink Joy Gel Pens. The pens are now available at Staples.com and will be sold in Staples stores in April.

Colors Image via Shutterstock

This article, "14 Ways to Use Color to Organize Your Office" was first published on Small Business Trends

Starting Your First Social Campaign? Check These Best Practices First

Small Business Trends - Tue, 2016-02-09 09:30

Social campaigns can provide a huge boost to your business in a number of different ways. But the idea can be a bit overwhelming if you’re just getting started. If you’re thinking of running your first social campaign, check out the list of tips below to make your first campaign as successful as possible.

Social Media Campaign Best Practices Set Clear Goals

If you’re going to start a social campaign, you should first have a reason for doing so. You need to not only set a general goal, but also set measurable objectives that you’d like to reach by the end.

Cameron Uganec, director of global brand at Hootsuite said in an email to Small Business Trends, “Successful social campaigns start with a clear goal. Are you trying to build awareness? Generate leads? Grow your community? Choose one or two campaign goals early in the planning cycle and let those be your north star as you map out targets and tactics. This will help you align your campaign with business objectives, communicate clearly with everyone involved, and show clear results at the end.”

Find the Problem(s) Your Customers Face

Clearly, you want your social campaign to help your business in some way. But no customers are going to pay attention or participate if you don’t also help them. For that reason, you need to do some research beforehand, either through surveys or gathering customer feedback on social media. Find out the common problems that your customers have related to your business or niche, and provide something that can help them solve those problems.

Uganec says, “In today’s noisy online world it’s more important than ever that your campaign be grounded in customer insight. Many social media campaigns fall flat because they’re product-centric rather than highlighting the pain you can solve for the customer.”

Provide Value

Aside from making your content itself valueable, you can also benefit from offering some sort of incentive for your followers to participate. For example, contests with relevant and valuable prizes can really draw people in.

Stay Away from Straight Marketing Messages

Today’s customers are very aware of when they’re being marketed to. And while your campaign is ultimately a part of your marketing plan, you shouldn’t treat it as just a platform for you to share whatever marketing messages you want. Instead, make it a two-way street where you genuinely interact with and provide value to customers.

Post Where Your Customers Are

There are several different platform options for your social campaigns. So it’s important that you choose wisely. If the majority of your target customers are on Facebook, that’s probably a good choice. But you could also focus on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, or some combination of those platforms.

Commit to a Posting Schedule

To keep your campaign on track and organized, you need to commit to a regular posting schedule. Maybe you’ll share one new piece of content a day. Or you’ll offer different contests at certain points throughout the week. Just make sure that you’re consistent and that your customers and followers know what to expect.

Include an Engagement Strategy

But your planned posts are just part of your campaign. If you’re not also interacting with people on social media, you’re really missing out. So before your campign, Uganec also suggests coming up with a plan for how you’ll respond to people who interact with your content in some way.

Promote on Different Platforms

Although your campaign is ultimately an avenue for promoting your business, you’ll also need to come up with a promotional strategy for the campaign itself. If you just create posts, then the only people who will see them will be the people who already follow you. One option for promoting your campaign is to share about it on other platforms. So if it’s a Facebook-centric campaign, link to it on your Twitter account or in your email newsletter to gain more visibility. Or you could try out advertising to build your audience.

Allow for Outside Sharing

Another easy method for gaining some visibility for your campaign is to let your customers do the work for you. Build in a sharing aspect by giving customers some kind of incentive to post about the campaign. For example, if you’re hosting a contest, allow for extra entries when customers share with their friends.

Make Participation Easy

Even if you have valuable content and prizes, people aren’t going to participate in your campaign or interact with your brand if you don’t make it easy for them. So you need to limit the amount of steps that it takes to participate and clearly outline those steps where customers can easily find them.

Use the Right Tools

There are plenty of tools you can use to make running your social campaigns easier. For instance, Hootsuite offers a Campaigns product that lets you run your campaigns from one dashboard.

Include Relevant Images

Images can also be helpful in your campaigns as a way of getting people’s attention. Uganec suggests using a platform like Canva for creating engaging graphics to include in your content.

Gather Feedback to Adjust Your Content

Though you should stick to the main goal of your campaign throughout, it may be necessary to adjust your strategy over the course of your campaign. You need to pay attention to the feedback you receive from customers and consider whether that feedback might warrant some changes.

Uganec says, “The immediate feedback you receive from social media allows you to adjust the messaging and direction of your content, often multiple times during the course of a campaign. My team at Hootsuite reviews campaign content daily and often rewrites the next day’s posts and ad copy based on the performance we’re seeing.”

Utilize Analytics

Uganec also suggests using Google Analytics or a similar platform to measure the traffic and activity that your campaign is bringing to your site. This can help you determine the actual impact that the campaign is having on your business.

Learn from Your Experience

Once you’ve completed your campaign, you’ll need to look at the impact that the campaign had and compare it to the goals you set beforehand. Look into what factors you think worked well and which ones were not as effective. Then use what you’ve learned to develop an even better campaign the next time around.

Social Media Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "Starting Your First Social Campaign? Check These Best Practices First" was first published on Small Business Trends

Legal Warnings for Small Businesses Using Periscope

Small Business Trends - Tue, 2016-02-09 07:30

Periscope is the hot topic among businesses and marketers these days and for good reason. Since Twitter acquired Periscope in March of 2015 for $120 million (before it actually launched), it was obvious that live video streaming wasn’t just a fad. It was here to stay.

Fast forward just 10 months and it’s even more obvious that live streaming is a force to be reckoned with. This month, IBM announced that it would acquire Ustream for an estimated $130 million (a bargain compared to Amazon’s acquisition of video game streaming site Twitch in 2014 for $970 million). Today, Periscope makes livestreaming affordable to small businesses. No wonder so many people are jumping on board!

Balancing Periscope Marketing Opportunities with Business Risks

Periscope is a great tool to promote your small business and build your brand. Household brands like Doritos and Red Bull are using Periscope to engage consumers in real time, and so can you. However, as with most things in business, there are some legal considerations that you should think about before you dive into the world of live streaming. Just because everyone is doing it, doesn’t mean you’re not at risk.

You should know what could get you in trouble when you publish live streams for your business using Periscope so you can assess the level of risk you’re willing to take and then live-stream accordingly. Here are three basic Periscope legal warnings you should be aware of before you live stream.

1. Copyright Matters in Live Streaming

Just because you’re live streaming with Periscope doesn’t mean you can ignore copyright laws. Many of the same copyright laws that affect your social media use also apply to your Periscope use.

Familiarize yourself with copyright laws and follow them (or at least understand the risks you’re taking if you don’t follow them).

For example, you should only use images in your live streams that you own or have permission to use. The same goes for music. And never assume anything used in your streams that you don’t own is covered by fair use!

2. Right of Publicity Affects Live Streaming

Even if you’re not featuring a person front and center in your live stream, they might not want to be in your video. You can get into trouble if you don’t get permission from each person whose voice or likeness appears in your published content.

Any image or video that features a person that is used commercially is subject to “right of publicity” which means they have a right to not allow your business to include their voice, face, name, likeness or any other aspect of their identity in your content.

There’s a reason why people’s faces are blurred out in many hidden camera and reality shows on television. The production company couldn’t get the person to sign a release allowing their image to be included in the final video.

3. Trade Secrets and Proprietary Information Should Stay Secret in Live Streaming

A lot of businesses live stream from conferences and other events as well as during visits to other companies. However, the content of those conferences and events might not be free for you to distribute via live streams.

For example, a conference presentation might include content that the presenter doesn’t want the public to know yet. Not only does he or she own the copyright to the speech and slide deck (unless the copyright was signed over to the event organizer or someone else), but it might include proprietary information that the presenter wants to keep private.

The background of your live streams matters, too. If you’re live streaming during a visit to a cool company, make sure there aren’t any trade secrets or proprietary information visible in the background. For example, the content on a computer monitor, in a poster, or on a white board could be proprietary or include trade secrets that should not appear in your live stream.

The Takeaway

Livestreaming is a great marketing opportunity for small businesses and Periscope is a great tool to do it. However, beware of the laws that affect your live streams so you and your business don’t end up in expensive legal trouble by not heeding these Periscope legal warnings.

Periscope Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "Legal Warnings for Small Businesses Using Periscope" was first published on Small Business Trends

Take 5 Steps to Turn Potential Customers into Happy Customers

Small Business Trends - Tue, 2016-02-09 06:00

Sales is a scary thing for many small business owners, but if you can figure out how to turn your sales fear into sales courage, you will change the game in your business. The key lesson I have learned about sales, in my almost 17 years in business, is that the gap between getting a prospect and turning that prospect into a customer can become shorter and shorter with only a few steps. Here are ways you can shorten that gap:

  • Speed up your sales cycle.
  • Weed out unqualified prospects.
  • Convert with confidence.
  • Remove the fear from sales for good.
Step 1: Know Who Your Target Audience is with 100 Percent Certainty

Nothing else in removing the gap between prospecting and completed sales will work without this foundational step. You want to know:

  • Who they listen to,
  • Where they hang out both online and offline,
  • What their sense of humor is (this is very important believe it or not!), and
  • What the one problem or challenge is that keeps them up at night.
Step 2: Tighten Up Your Business Brand

Design your signature content and your business around your ideal customer. Use the lingo of your ideal customer. Mimic the style of the experts they pay attention to. Create Facebook posts based on what they like to see from businesses similar to yours. Create a brand image with attractive logos, tag lines, and clear messaging about who you are as a business, where you are going, and who you’d like to come with you. Note: A blog is a great place to make this step a reality; you can create, nurture, and control well into the future.

Step 3: Review Your Previous Sales Cycle

Ask yourself how long it took to go from prospect to sale with all of your products — even if it was one sale of one product or service. You need this as research for how to cut down on time — and extra steps — in the sales process.

Step 4: Beef Up Your Brand Awareness

Use what you’ve learned about the length of time and the steps necessary to close a sale. Did your ideal customers in those past sales convert faster than customers who were not in your ideal target audience? Most likely the answer is yes. Solution: Beef up your brand awareness. Consider using one social media platform more to draw your target customer to your website.

Step 5: Make Them Testify to Your Greatness

When you have strong brand awareness around your business, sales that normally take one year shrink to six months or less. Sometimes you can close up in 10 minutes with one phone call. The key is to get your ideal clients to say amazing things about you — and record them! Video testimonials are the Holy Grail, and they’re just as tough to get, too. Start out with written testimonials on trusted platforms such as LinkedIn or Yelp. The more of these you have, the shorter the steps in your sales conversion cycle and the more your sales funnel is filled with highly qualified prospects.

Put these steps to work and let me know how you are succeeding with this. I am confident this will shorten the gap between meeting a prospect and closing the sale and ending up with a happy customer.

Happy Customer Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "Take 5 Steps to Turn Potential Customers into Happy Customers" was first published on Small Business Trends

AnswerDash: Provide Predictive Answers Before Your Customers Even Ask Them

Small Business Trends - Mon, 2016-02-08 18:30

Think about the last time you visited the FAQ section on a website.

Why must the map on how to navigate the site be sequestered away from the site itself?

Users are often forced to leave whichever page they are looking at in order to track down information somewhere else on your website. And this puts all the burden on your customers, rather than on your website where it should be. Not only must customers leave the page they are looking at to find the information they want. They are often met with pages of gray print that take time to sift through.

AnswerDash has provided an answer to this predicament. The company has eliminated the use of ‘help islands’; or separate, standalone pages that are often slapped onto sites with little to no integration into the flow of the information . Rather than being redirected to a separate page, users are able to access a tab on the page itself and search from there.

This is the exact opposite of the standard help island formula. As AnswerDash representative Morgan Moretz said in an email interview with Small Business Trends, “AnswerDash is the next generation of website self-service that gives users the right answers, at the right place, at the right time.

“With AnswerDash, digging through knowledge base articles is avoided. Lengthy typing sessions back-and-forth in a live chat window, whether with a bot or a human, are avoided. Phone calls are avoided. Although this type of ‘in-context’ help has been a concept known to computer scientists for decades, AnswerDash is the first company ever to provide it as a SaaS-based answer layer that can grow over time as Web visitors ask new questions.”

AnswerDash also makes use of analytics, providing the site with data about which questions are asked most often. This data, in turn, provides insights into what is causing potential customers to unsubscribe, abandon carts, or just leave, so that the issues can be addressed and fixed. “Our data shows that 5 to 15 percent of customers on a website will use AnswerDash to get answers to their questions,” Moretz mentions, “That’s 50 to 150 times as much usage as most online businesses that rely on help islands to provide answers.”

According to AnswerDash’s own case study (PDF), its tool helps to reduce customer support volumes by up to 50 percent, which means customers are spending more time looking at your product, not an FAQ. Not only do they spend less time searching for answers, but they also spend less time contacting support phone lines, live chat options, or email. (These solutions can be costly or inconvenient for both parties anyway.) By simply accessing a small tab at the top of the page, users are able to access a list of questions and issues giving them information as quickly as possible.

Creating a streamlined system is critical to retaining customers on your site. When users encounter problems, they often become frustrated, and negative experiences do not bring about repeat customers. Instead, AnswerDash tried to design its system to minimize reliance on huge Q&A sections or frustrating  customer support.

Moretz says, “In recognition of most people’s desire to solve their own problems rather than contacting customer support, AnswerDash makes getting self-service answers easy — much easier than FAQs or other help islands. In fact, most customers never need to type a single word when getting answers with AnswerDash since it’s based on the power of point-and-click.

Image: AnswerDash

This article, "AnswerDash: Provide Predictive Answers Before Your Customers Even Ask Them" was first published on Small Business Trends

Content Creators Earn, Learn from Marketing Their Influence

Small Business Trends - Mon, 2016-02-08 16:30

Influencer marketing is becoming an increasingly popular trend in the business world. While it’s unlikely that most small businesses can afford to hire big name social influencers to promote their brands on social media or video platforms, creating a brand as a social influencer has become a business in and of itself.

These social influencers serve as sort of a modern marketing agency and media outlet in one. They create valuable content while also promoting brands within their niche.

In fact, several new businesses have popped up in recent years with the sole purpose of connecting these influencers with the brands in their niche. FameBit is one example. But there’s also Grapevine and Content BLVD for YouTube influencers, Revfluence for social media and more.

Brands can use these platforms to more easily find relevant influencers to work with. And influencers can use them to monetize their content. Some have even made a career out of it.

Agnes Kozera, co-founder and COO of FameBit told Small Business Trends in an email, “Some influencers use FameBit as a ‘side hustle’ to make some extra cash to fund their creations, but some of them are actually able to quit their day jobs and make a living entirely from partnering with brands on social media. It’s all about how active you are in sending proposals to brands.”

But it’s not something that just anyone can use to get rich quick. In order to use FameBit, influencers must have more than 5,000 followers on YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Vine, Facebook or Tumblr. So you have to spend some time building up a following and creating valuable, consistent content before you’re able to make a career as an influencer, at least through FameBit.

Justin Tse, or JTechApple as he’s known to his fans on YouTube and other social platforms, is one of the influencers who uses FameBit to connect with brands. Tse says that he spent a lot of time building up his online following before ever connecting with brands through FameBit, and that posting consistently has been key to his success.

Tse says that he was unsure about sponsored content at first. But now he estimates that he shared about 50 brand collaborations in some form or another in 2015.

He said in an email interview with Small Business Trends, “I really didn’t start participating in formal sponsored brand collaborations until 2015. Before then, I was rather hesitant to reach out to companies directly for promotional purposes because I was unsure if my reputation was relevant enough to garner interest. However, upon my discovery of FameBit, I found it does a great job of bridging relationships with brands that have products relating directly to my channel and are actively looking to work with content creators like myself.”

But of course, posting sponsored or brand related content is not without its drawbacks. Technology vlogger and content creator David Di Franco is another influencer who’s used FameBit to connect with brands.

He told Small Business Trends, “Bringing any kind of sponsorship into the mix always causes a few people to become upset. However, I don’t let that bother me, especially considering the positive outweighs the negative. Also, I think it’s becoming more obvious to viewers that content creators need to make a living, too. With advertising revenue all over the place nowadays, it certainly doesn’t hurt to explore relevant branding opportunities.”

There are some things that influencers can do to make sure that their sponsored content doesn’t alienate too many of their followers. It can actually be a benefit to both the influencer and the brand to make sure that the sponsorship side fits in seamlessly with the influencer’s normal style and topic area.

Since many people are unlikely to continue watching or following an influencer that just puts out straight advertisements for irrelevant brands, it’s up to the influencers to work brands into their content in a way that makes sense. That means both finding brands that are relevant to their existing content, and sharing sponsored content in a way that feels natural.

Beauty, fashion and lifestyle vlogger Shawnda Patterson, also known as BronzeGoddess01, told Small Business Trends, “My audience reacts well to sponsored content because it is organic. For example, I love bath goodies and my subscribers know that. I’ve probably mentioned that a thousand times on my channel. If my viewers see me doing a review for bath bombs, body washes or a bath sponge, they know that I was genuinely interested in the products. As long as the sponsored content is true to what the vlogger is about, it is better received and, in most cases, welcomed.”

However, Patterson also says that it’s important to be transparent about sponsored content. She always states clearly when she’s been given an item to review or compensated for sharing content related to a certain brand.

Of course, the way that influencers share content and connect with brands is an evolving concept. But it certainly seems to be catching on in a big way. Currently, FameBit has about 30,000 creators on its platform with a combined reach of 1.5 billion followers. In addition, branded video content where creators find brand opportunities on FameBit has been viewed 350 million times, with a total of 1 billion minutes viewed, according to Kozera.

And while it may seem like this marketing concept is out of reach for small businesses, Kozera says that there are options out there.

She says, “Influence marketing doesn’t need to be expensive in order to work. In other words, small businesses don’t need to work with the biggest stars to see results. They can see success by enlisting the trust of smaller but equally passionate influencers that fit their brand culture and image and who have loyal tight-knit communities. Ultimately, working with many smaller influencers can have a better and greater impact than working with one big star.”

Image: FameBit

This article, "Content Creators Earn, Learn from Marketing Their Influence" was first published on Small Business Trends

Sales Inspiration from Valentine’s Day

Small Business Trends - Sun, 2016-02-07 14:30

Valentine’s Day is often mocked and criticized for being a “Hallmark holiday” with no real significance, but the truth is, lots of Americans take Valentine’s Day seriously — and they spend big money doing it!

According to U.S. News & World Report, as of 2015, 54.9 percent of Americans over the age of 18 celebrate Valentine’s Day, and in 2015 they spent a total of $18.9 billion on Valentine’s Day retail gifts such as flowers, candy and jewelry.

Valentine’s Day is actually a great holiday for people in the sales profession — because many sales people have a strong romantic streak. Whether you’re married or single or dating someone, many sales people have a strong intuition for relationship-building — they know how to establish trust, command attention, exude charisma and make people feel special and valued. Sales is a business of passion, enthusiasm and the art of understanding other people’s motivations and unstated wishes. It sounds a lot like love!

With that in mind, the same skills that you might use to plan a great Valentine’s Day date or choose the ideal Valentine’s Day gift are also the ideal skills to be a great sales person. Here are a few Valentine’s Day sales tips for business owners and sales people.

Valentine’s Day Sales Tips Know Your Target Audience

Valentine’s Day is all about knowing what your significant other really wants. Do they want a big, splashy night out with a fancy dinner and an elaborate gift? Or do they want a simpler, home-cooked meal and just relaxing and spending quality time together? Does your Valentine want big gestures or humble actions? Knowing the answer will make your Valentine’s Day fun — or forgettable.

In the same way, sales people need to know their customers on a deep level. What is your customers’ key “pain point” that makes them want to buy from you? What are the biggest problems that you’re helping to solve? How do different customers prefer to be contacted or approached? Do you know the subtle rhythms and nuances of each customer relationship? In time, a good sales person becomes attuned to the complexities of each customer relationship — almost like being in a marriage.

Plan Ahead

Valentine’s Day is one of the most in-demand nights of the year for restaurant reservations, live music venues and movie theaters. Are you ready to book your plans for a fun evening out? People who wait too long often miss out on the best opportunities.

Again, it’s the same with sales. No matter how great a sales person might be at talking with customers and building relationships and closing deals, it’s all for naught if they don’t do their homework upfront. Research your customers. Plan a detailed strategy for how to approach each sale. Understand what your customers need and how you can fit into their overall business goals. And do it now — don’t delay!

Enjoy the Journey

Valentine’s Day is an exciting occasion for many people in love, but it can also be disappointing when people have high hopes for the evening, only to find out that the experience was less than they had expected. Whether you and your partner are too busy and distracted by work, or the restaurant was too crowded and the food was lackluster, or you’re too tired from dealing with the kids, or otherwise just not able to totally focus on each other and enjoy the night, disappointing Valentine’s Days are definitely a possibility.

And that’s OK! Not every Valentine’s Day is going to be the best one of your life, and it’s the same with sales. Not every customer wants to buy from you, not every deal will go smoothly — and sometimes you’ll feel like you’re really close to making a sale, only to see the deal fall apart at the last minute for reasons beyond your control. It’s true that sales is a results-oriented business — but the best sales people learn how to enjoy the process of making sales almost as much as they love winning the big deals. Keep your eye on the journey, not just the destination.

Valentine’s Day is likely to be another big event for retailers and for everyone who’s in love. Try to keep these Valentine’s Day sales tips in mind so you can have a more successful month of sales — and be able to afford more expensive Valentine’s gifts!

Valentine’s Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "Sales Inspiration from Valentine’s Day" was first published on Small Business Trends

3 Proven Strategies for Reducing Employee Turnover

Small Business Trends - Sun, 2016-02-07 13:00

Worried about reducing employee turnover? You should be. Consider these facts: the average raise an employee can expect is three percent, which ends up being closer to 1 percent with inflation — hardly a noticeable difference in a bi-weekly paycheck. If that same employee was to land a job at a rival company, however, they could expect a salary bump between 10 and 20 percent.

The average raise an employee can expect over a lifetime is 3 percent
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This adds up over a lifetime of working. Staying employed with the same company for over two years will cut your lifetime earnings by about 50 percent, reports Forbes. Not much incentive for the employee to stick around! It gets worse for the companies. For mid-level employees, it costs upwards of 150 percent of their annual salary to replace them.

In essence, employees who jump ship are rewarded, while loyal employees are essentially punished for their dedication.

But there’s a lot you can do to reduce employee turnover and increase employee satisfaction, even if you truly can’t afford to give out more than a three percent raise.

How to Reduce Employee Turnover Offer Competitive Benefits

Telecommuting and flextime don’t have to cost your company a penny, and these two in-demand benefits can boost employee satisfaction. Employees with flextime tend to be happier at work. They retain a greater sense of autonomy over their schedules. They can get the big report finished and still make their daughter’s soccer game or go for a run before dinner. Four out of five employees of Accenture, a global professional  services company,  say that their ability to manage work and home life affects career choices and desire to stay at a certain company, reports CBS News. Flextime may also cut medical costs by lowering stress and burnout by 30 percent, according to Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Invest in Employees with Career Building

How much do you value your employees? Employees that feel valued and see a clear future trajectory with their current company are less likely to jump ship. This year, consider what conferences or employee training programs your business can offer. For example, Deloitte views talent development as a key element in their value proposition to clients. This value prop is reflected in the company’s commitment to investing in employees through the company’s “Deloitte University” program; in essence, Deloitte wants its employees to be able to solve any business problem a client may face, be it an issue with the tax code or a technical implementation. The result: happier clients, happier employees, and better performance.

Reduce Stress and Anxiety with a Supportive Workplace Culture

Do your employees walk into the office and cringe at the tension in the air, or do they feel relaxed and at ease? Do employees feel encouraged to express their ideas or do they worry about being shot down and turned into the butt of office jokes? A supportive workplace culture can go a long way to improving employee satisfaction and reducing turnover, according to a Gallup survey on reducing employee churn.What does a supportive workplace look like? It may be slightly different for every company.

Younger companies may want to take a page from Silicon Valley and add Millennial-friendly perks like catered lunches and sports facilities or gym access. Allowing employees to bring their dogs to work is a popular benefit. If your work space isn’t a good fit for dogs, consider investing in an office aquarium or personal pet goldfishes for employees. Aquariums are also one of the surprisingly affordable ways to reduce stress and anxiety in the workplace.

Bottom Line

High employee churn can hurt your company’s bottom line — and worse — send a subtle signal to would-be employees that your business is not a desirable place to work. Offer competitive benefits (like flextime), invest in employees with career-building opportunities, and take steps to reduce stress and anxiety in your workplace culture. Finally, don’t discount the importance of smart recruitment strategy when reducing employee turnover. Hire the right people from the start by not only vetting skills but also company culture fit.

Employees Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "3 Proven Strategies for Reducing Employee Turnover" was first published on Small Business Trends

The DIY Guide to Being an SEO Expert

Small Business Trends - Sun, 2016-02-07 10:00

Imagine … generating hundred and thousands of hits to your website a day. Those hits turn into email subscribers, and people buying your products.

This consistent traffic gives you the financial freedom you need to spend time living a life that brings joy and abundance to the world. This is the reality for many business owners and entrepreneurs just like you.

It doesn’t happen over night, and it isn’t easy — but it can be a reality for you.

If you are a “do-it-yourself” kind of person, then this is the definitive guide to being an SEO expert.

Before I show you how to be the master DIY SEO expert, I want to lay some ground rules.

First, understand there are over 200 different “signals” that Google uses to determine ranking in the Google search engine.

It’s not necessary to pay attention keenly to all 200 (unless this is your 24/7 occupation). There are some key signals and criteria to focus on and that we can easily control.

Second, understand that you MUST write and produce content for humans (not the Google bots). If you focus on producing content that humans enjoy you will win in the “eyes” of Google.

Lastly, nothing beats hiring a “real” SEO expert: someone like a WordPress developer who is versed in SEO. He or she can help increase your ranking within your website for optimal results.

Hosting

Before you start your website, the proper hosting service determines your website. Smaller hosting platforms that are niched may be more appropriate for you depending on your goals.

That being said I look at the hosting platform that the major players are using. One of them beats out the rest in the hosting world. Bluehost … It is the same hosting service Patt Flynn uses on most of his sites.

Bluehost has cheap hosting, great service, reliability, and awesome SEO components taken care of.

Obviously there are other hosting platforms to choose from. No matter the platform, you’ll need to secure a rock-solid host.

Website Theme

Finding a website theme for your business that has the design functionality you want (without a bunch of junk code) can be challenging.

There are many places to get themes for your website including Themeforest, MojoThemes, and Genesis.

For SEO purposes — Genesis is the winner. Their code is very clean (not a bunch of sloppy code). It is not image heavy, and it is maintained incredibly well.

The downside to Genesis is that it is a higher price point to customize. Plus you’ll need a coder to customize an themes. However if you can handle the out-of-the-box solution this may be great for you!

Otherwise, feel free to grab a clean looking template from Themeforest, and install the demo content onto your new domain name in WordPress (after installing WordPress.org of course!).

Site Speed

How fast your site loads is one of the key factors in determining your SEO ranking.

Plus for every second your website takes to load, your chance of a user abandoning your website increases.

The bottom line is faster = better.

Google has an amazing tool that is 100 percent free to test your site speed. Just go to Googles Site Speed Insights Page and type in your URL to test. It will let you know how fast it is on a ranking of 0-100 on mobile and desktop.

Plus it will also let you know what you need to fix and update to make the SEO rank higher.

The following plugins are geared to increase site speed as much as possible while minimizing unnecessary code.

Plugins for WordPress (to Increase Site Speed)

WorPress plugins are going to be the bread and butter of your DIY guide to being an SEO expert.

More plugins doesn’t mean better. Your site can slow down with too many plugins (so be selective).

Focus on the most productive plugins for your stellar SEO driven website.

First download the Yoast SEO plugin.

Yoast SEO takes care of most of the SEO things you need done and they have an amazing blog article to walk you step by step through the key components of their tool and SEO in general.

Yoast SEO integrates perfectly with website tools like Google, Bing, and Yahoo. And it has an amazing section for social SEO, where you can turn on “meta tags” for open graph searches and much more.

You’ll be pumped about the Yoast SEO plugin. Time saver, seriously.

W3 Total Cache or WP Super Cache

These plugins are kind of complicated to explain but simply it goes like this … HTML code is less resource intensive than PHP code.

If a website has to repeatedly call PHP code for a user, it slows down the load speed.

Caching plugins like these “generates static html files from your dynamic WordPress blog.

“After an html file is generated, your web server will serve that file instead of processing the comparatively heavier and more expansive WordPress php scripts.” – WP super cache plugin description

If your technically savvy, use W3 Total Cache. It is slightly superior. If your a dumb dumb (or just code challenged) like me, check out WP super Cache. Just set and forget.

Content Delivery Networks

A Content Delivery Network or (CDN) is a tool that saves all your “static” content across multiple servers around the world.

“Static content,” is content that rarely changes like images, videos, and blog articles. A CDN saves the static files on multiple servers all across the globe. This increases load time speed,because the information has to travel less literal distance.

Imagine your website is hosted in Austin Texas, and someone in New York City visits your website.

The information has to go from New York City to Austin, Texas and then back to New York City. This slows down the response time drastically.

Imagine though, if a server was set up with 90 percent of your content saved in Washington D.C. Instead of retrieving all the data from Austin, you can grab 90 percent it from D.C and the remaining 10 percent from Austin. This is what a “caching plugin” does (the plugins I recommended above).

It saves your content all around the world on a plethora of servers.

Bluehost has an automatic CDN built into it, and services like Squarespace do, too. That being said, if you don’t have a CDN check out MAXCDN, this is the recommend CDN used by the Yoast SEO plugin.

Image Optimization

Images are the number one reason sites take so long to load. They are highly resource intensive and very rarely are optimized for web.

Most images can be optimize by 50 to 90 percent and still retain excellent quality. Here is the beautiful thing: there are tons of excellent plugins to use for image optimization.

I like to personally use the tools that have a bulk image optimization tool. That way my 1,000 images throughout my site can all be optimized in a matter of minutes.

This is why I recommend the tool Shortpixel. The user experience is top notch!

There is a free version that gives you 100 images for free (more than enough if you are just starting) or a small fee of $5 a month to process a 5,000 images at once. I have yet to see anyone need more than a few thousand images to optimize.

Image SEO

When creating image, there are 3 more SEO components to keep in mind.

The first thing is the file name. When you hit save does it save as xivasln32x.png? The generic file name gives you no SEO juice.

Instead save the file with the keywords you are looking to achieve. For example: DIY_Guide_SEO.png. That file will be crawled for the keywords DIY, Guide, and SEO by the Google bots.

Alt attributes: When an image can’t render properly or when you hover over an image, what pops up in the dialogue box? xivasln32x.png Again?

Alt attributes add associated keywords with your image. Don’t go spam crazy with a hundred keywords. Two or three will work perfectly.

Make sure your images are crawl-able by Google. Add a Google sitemap (covered later in the guide).

Headlines, Page Titles, and Meta Descriptions

These three component make up what you do every day to increase your SEO. Creating regular content for your readers and Google sends tons of signals to Google that your website is pertinent and important.

I have stated before how writing bad headlines is killing your business. It doesn’t matter if your writing headlines for email, articles, social media posts. On average 5x as many people read headlines as compared to the body.

There is a dilemma though … writing headlines for Google can be boring.

Huffington Post created the headline “What time is the Super Bowl” and rocked a ton of hits but the article was less than 100 words. Did it convey the message and information? Yes.

Yet does it bring personality and style into the article? Nope!

SEO is about being literally conveying the information for Google, while also remembering ground rule 2: “write for humans.”

Here is how you can write for humans and Google bots.

There are three options when it comes to headlines, titles, and meta descriptions

1. Write headlines that pack an SEO punch AND a creative catchy headline. Check out Jon Morrow’s headline hacks to create an effective headline. The DIY guide to SEO is a long tail keyword that will rank well in google, #humblebrag.

2. The next option is a two part process. Write a different article title and a page title. An article title is what you show your reader. A page title is what you show Google bots.

3. Take the two step process and add a meta description for heavily searched terms. Meta descriptions can help visitors determine which site is best to click on. a well written synopsis or description to bait readers can add to more clicks and better overall SEO.

Sitemaps

A sitemap is a file that tells Google and other search engines like Bing where to go on a website. A sitemap is the GPS coordinates of your site.

If you are using the plugin Yoast  SEO, creating and feeding Google is easy!

Click on the section that says XML sitemaps, follow the directions, and viola you are done. Now — Google, Bing, and any other search engines will crawl your site map.

Links

Links are the bread and butter of Google’s algorithms.

Simply put, the more high quality links pointing into your site (from highly reputable sources) the better.

To achieve this, make great content, reach out to people and build the links over time. There is no quick fix to build massive amounts of links.

Outbound links are important too. Remember to link to high quality articles that pertain to your subject. This shows your readers and Google that you know quality content.

Overall SEO doesn’t have to be complicated. The more time you spend learning and optimizing your website, the better your business will do.

Remember the guideline to make content for humans and you should be on your way to massively successful online business!

Make great content, promote it, and SEO juice will be flooding in — on stop.

SEO Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "The DIY Guide to Being an SEO Expert" was first published on Small Business Trends

This Social Media Marketing Guide Promises “No B.S.”

Small Business Trends - Sun, 2016-02-07 08:00

It’s been a while since I picked up a book on social media, but this one caught my eye. While social media is often seen as a must do marketing activity for businesses today, many businesses actually fail dismally to convert the leads that they attain into actual sales.

No B.S. Guide to Direct Response Social Media Marketing ” explores the reasons for this, and provides insight and practical advice on how businesses can best use the leads that they acquire to further their connection with prospective clients, and to gain more sales.

What is “No B.S.” About

In this social media marketing guide, Dan S. Kennedy, one of the leading influencers of entrepreneurs, and Kim Walsh-Phillips, a social media direct-marketing response expert,  focus on how businesses need to do more than just gain a following for their brands. Businesses need to go one step further and actually successfully convert these followers and leads into real sales. As the authors explain, many businesses do manage to gather leads which they could further use to gain sales, but most tend to fail to convert their leads into sales due to the use of ineffective or incorrect practices.

In “No B.S.” you will learn how to create and implement a well planned social media campaign, and how to track and monitor its success. Plenty of techniques are covered, and I particularly enjoyed the guidance given on how to create effective magnet leads, and chapter 14 “Transformation through Optimization” where split testing is discussed in detail and made more interesting through the use of real examples.

Additionally included in “No B.S.” are several note-worthy interviews with a variety of marketing experts including Shaun Buck of The Newsletter Pro and Tim Ash who wrote “Landing Page Optimization” and is the CEO of SiteTurners.

It may surprise you to hear that Kennedy is not a fan of social media, which is probably why I could not find a Twitter account for him. However, he does acknowledge that it does work for those who know how to use it effectively. Apart from being a multi-millionaire serial entrepreneur, he is also a strategic advisor, marketing consultant, and one of the highest paid direct-response copywriters in the world.

Meanwhile, Walsh-Phillips is one of the leading lights when it comes to direct-response marketing and Facebook advertising. Based in New York, she is the CEO of the direct-response digital agency Elite Digital Group.

What Was Best About “No B.S.”

What I like about “No B.S.” is that it does not promote social media as being the only form of effective marketing today. While it does certainly focus heavily on using Facebook and other social media platforms for marketing purposes, it also highlights the value of other marketing methods including the good old fashioned printed newsletter.

“No B.S.” also contains numerous success stories of businesses which have used social media correctly, and includes many useful pictorials of posts that have been used to generate sales from leads.

What Could Have Been Done Differently

At 368 pages in length, “No B.S. Guide to Direct Response Social Media Marketing” is quite a lengthy read. While it undeniably contains a wealth of useful information with regard to converting leads into sales and the best practices to use, some of the points were covered more than once. Whether this was purely to emphasize these key points or for some other reason I am not sure, but perhaps the authors could have condensed the book slightly.

Why Read “No B.S.”

If you are using social media as a means of marketing but feel you are not getting the results you had hoped for, you could do a lot worse than read “No B.S.”. It contains an abundance of useful ideas and guidelines which should help you to convert more leads into sales.

The book is quite detailed, and the methods outlined require a great deal of thought, planning and monitoring to successfully maximize sales from the leads that you have. Therefore, the book may be best suited to those who already have a sound knowledge of social media and direct-response marketing, or who actually work in a business which provides such services to other businesses.

This article, "This Social Media Marketing Guide Promises “No B.S.”" was first published on Small Business Trends

Seattle, New York and California Among Locations for Business Events

Small Business Trends - Sat, 2016-02-06 14:30

Seattle, New York City, and Novato, California, are among the locations for business leaders coming this week. And, of course, there are also some online events.

An event for those involved in user research and content strategy will be held in the Emerald. There will be a small business cyber security event in the Big Apple and an event on financing and acquiring existing businesses in Sunny California.

Plus be sure to check out the full length of featured events below. To see a full list or to submit your own event, contest or award listing, visit the Small Business Events Calendar.

Featured Events, Contests and Awards

HackerX – Chicago 11/19
Feb. 19, 2016, Chicago, Ill.

Hiring developers is hard. HackerX is an invite-only recruiting event for developers in 35+ cities globally and has a community of over 50,000+ members. We’ve hand picked and recruited some of the top developers in your city so you don’t have to. Meet face-to-face with qualified and screened developers and make your next great hire.

ICON16
March 2, 2016, Phoenix, Ariz.

ICON16, held by Infusionsoft, is where the most successful entrepreneurs in the small business community come together to roll up their sleeves and shape the future of their businesses. Work with experts to develop your strategy, set goals, and implement the campaigns that will blow them away. Get into the biggest annual event in small business, and invest in your most transformative year yet.

2016 Affiliate Management Days Conference
April 3, 2016, San Francisco, Calif.

Affiliate Management Days San Francisco 2016 is the “must attend” event for marketing managers and everyone responsible for their company’s affiliate marketing strategy, management and operations. Whether you have an existing affiliate program or you are creating a new initiative, AM Days offers you the most valuable insight into how other online retailers are successfully implementing and managing their affiliate programs. Use this 15% off discount code “SBTAMD15” to receive a discount on your registration!

Small Business Market Expo
May 21, 2016, Atlanta, Ga.

Don’t miss the opportunity to connect with small businesses, market your organization and tap into a network of entrepreneurs, service providers, financial organizations, business coaches, and franchises.
#SBMExpo
Discount Code
VIP (25% off)

DREAM BIG Small Business of the Year Award
June 14, 2016, Washington, D.C.

The DREAM BIG Small Business of the Year Award, sponsored by Sam’s Club®, celebrates the success of small business and honors its contributions to America’s economic growth. The Small Business of the Year, 7 regional finalists, and 100 Blue Ribbon winners will be honored on June 14 during America’s Small Business Summit in Washington, D.C. There are two ways to participate: 1. Nominate a local small business that’s making a big impact in its community. 2. Apply directly if you are a small business that’s committed to your community, employees, and customers.

More Events More Contests

This weekly listing of small business events, contests and awards is provided as a community service by Small Business Trends and SmallBizTechnology.

Seattle Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "Seattle, New York and California Among Locations for Business Events" was first published on Small Business Trends

10 Small Things You Can Do to Make Your Business Stand Out

Small Business Trends - Sat, 2016-02-06 13:00

Giving your business a boost doesn’t always have to mean making huge changes. Sometimes the little things can make a big difference. Here are some tips from small business community members for making small but effective changes to your marketing efforts and your business.

Integrate Your Email Marketing with Your Social Media Efforts

Email and social media are both important parts of many marketing plans. But if you’re having trouble with one or both of those methods, the solution may just be to have them work together. In this post, Neil Patel shares some tips for integrating your email marketing with your social media.

Improve Your Sales Funnel

Your sales funnel is the process that people go through on the way to purchasing from you. If you can put yourself in your customers’ shoes through that process, you may be able to improve your sales funnel, as this post by Brian O’Connell in The Bitter Business points out. BizSugar members also discuss the article here.

Take a Semi-Sabbatical

Every now and then, it can be beneficial, both for you and for your business, if you take a step back from your regular tasks. This can give you a fresh perspective and help energize you for the future. Donna Maria Coles Johnson of Indie Business Network shares some ideas for taking a semi-sabbatical here.

Discover the Features of a Good Website

No two websites should be exactly alike. But there are some features that many great websites tend to have in common. This article by Garrett Bonistalli in One Thing Marketing includes some characteristics and features of a good website.

Overcome These Creativity Barriers

Being creative is an important part of running any business. But creative barriers tend to pop up from time to time, like the ones outlined here by Martin Zwilling of Startup Professionals Musings. Members of the BizSugar community also share their thoughts on the article here.

Save Time and Make Sales at Trade Shows

Trade shows can be great for marketing your business and connecting with others in your industry. You can find some tips for saving time and making sales at trade shows in this article from SMB CEO by Ivan Widjaya.

Rock Your Value Prop for SaaS Customer Success

Creating value for your customers is an integral part of getting them to do business with you. There are several methods you can use to improve your value prop when it comes to SaaS customer success. Nichole Elizabeth DeMere outlines some of them here.

Get Over Your Fear of Writing Your Business Plan

Fear can hold business owners back from doing so many things. But you shouldn’t let it. If you’re thinking of starting a business, you need to get over your fear of writing your business plan, according to this article by Malla Haridat of Kick Start Your Potential. You can also see discussion about it over on BizSugar.

Communicate with Your Printer

Online marketing gets a lot of the attention these days. But good old fashioned printing can still be effective, if you have a good printer that you’re able to communicate with clearly. This article by Anne Brower on Hey Now! Media includes some tips for communicating with your printer.

Write Winning Content on LinkedIn

When it comes to content marketing, sometimes the platform you chose for your articles can make a big difference. If you chose to create content on LinkedIn, take a look at these tips for writing winning articles by Cendrine Marrouat on Social Media Slant. BizSugar members also share input on the post here.

If you’d like to suggest your favorite small business content be considered for an upcoming community roundup, please send your news tips to:  sbtips@gmail.com.

Red Nail Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "10 Small Things You Can Do to Make Your Business Stand Out" was first published on Small Business Trends

Big List of How to Pay it Forward in Business

Small Business Trends - Sat, 2016-02-06 10:00

When you’ve found some amount of success in business, you might feel compelled to pay it forward. There are plenty of different ways you can pay it forward to your employees, clients, partners, colleagues or members of your community. Here’s a big list of ideas for how to pay it forward in business.

How to Pay it Forward in Business Create a Free ebook for Your Clients

One of the best ways you can share your expertise with others is by creating an ebook. And you can give it away for free to your clients or subscribers.

Make a List of Helpful Resources, Email Them to Your List

You can also put together a simple list of resources that you think would be helpful to the people on your email list.

Sponsor a Youth Sports Team

If you want to get involved in your community, consider sponsoring a local youth sports team.

Adopt a Family During the Holidays

During the holiday season, there are lots of local charitable programs that let you support local families in need. Get the people in your office involved by adopting a family as a group.

Donate Your Own Products or Services to a Cause

Or you could share your products or services with local charitable organizations that could use them.

Offer Free Marketing

If you don’t have tangible goods to donate, you can still help charity organizations by offering up advertising space either on your sites or in ad space that you’ve purchased.

Promote Causes on Your Blog

You can also call attention to relevant causes on your business’s blog.

Start a Community Section of Your Website

If you don’t have a blog, or just want to do something extra, add a community or causes section of your website where you list relevant charities or businesses that you support.

Set Up a Community Bulletin Board

If you have a local business, consider setting up a bulletin board where employees and customers can share information about upcoming events, promotions and causes.

Lend Your Expertise to a Non-profit

Support local causes by providing some consulting in your niche to a local non-profit.

Partner with a Charity that Fits with Your Mission

If you want to form a more long-term partnership with a charitable group, find one that fits with your business’s niche or mission.

Teach at a Local University

One of the best ways to share your expertise with the next generation is by teaching. You can serve as an adjunct professor or even guest speaker at a local college.

Let Students Shadow You

Or just invite local students to your workplace for a day or two to shadow you and learn more about your business.

Donate Business Clothing to Relevant Groups

There are plenty of groups that collect business casual type clothing to donate to people for job interviews or new employment. You can share any of your unwanted items with them.

Collect Coats and Scarves

In the winter, set up a collection in your office for coats, hats, scarves and other winter gear to donate to people in need.

Host a Fun Event for Your Best Clients

Do something nice for your clients and best customers by holding a fun, after-hours event at your location or even a local restaurant or bar.

Send an Exclusive Discount to Your Subscribers

Thank your customers and subscribers by sending out an exclusive discount just because.

If You Charge a Monthly Fee, Offer a Free Month

If you have regular customers who pay a monthly fee for your products or services, surprise them with a free month.

Give Out Free Gifts with Purchase

You could also surprise customers by including a free gift with their purchase.

Host a Just-for-fun Contest

Contests can also be a fun way to bring your customers or team members together.

Host a Charitable Contest

You could also add a charitable element to your contest by offering to donate a set amount to the charity of the winner’s choice.

Write a Letter of Recommendation

If you have a colleague or employee who is moving on or looking for new opportunities, write them a glowing letter of recommendation.

Endorse Someone on LinkedIn

LinkedIn also provides an easy way for you to show confidence in the skills and abilities of those you’ve worked with.

Support Crowdfunding Projects

When you see other entrepreneurs who are working on exciting new products or services, support them by contributing to their crowdfunding campaigns.

Introduce Other Entrepreneurs to Investors

You could also introduce your fellow entrepreneurs to investors you know to help them get funding.

Be a Sponsor for a Local Event

Be on the lookout for events in your local community that could use your products, services, or even some extra funds.

Start a Community Garden

If you have some outdoor space near your office, set up a community garden with your team or other community members.

Provide Free Lunch for Your Staff

Doing something nice for your team can be as simple as bringing in a lunch so they don’t have to go out or bring something from home.

Donate Funds to Your Favorite Charity

You can use either your profits or personal account to make a sizable donation to a local group or charity organization.

Donate a Portion of Proceeds

Or you could set a side a certain percentage of your profits to donate to a certain cause or charity.

Let Staff Members Choose a Charity to Support

You can even get your team involved by allowing them to vote on the charity or charities that you support.

Let Customers Choose a Charity

Alternatively, you can have your customers vote on the charity or just ask them about causes that are important to them.

Serve at a Soup Kitchen

Gather your staff and head to a local soup kitchen to serve community members in need and bond as a team.

Set Up a Collection Jar

Place a small jar or container somewhere in your office to collect money from employees for specific causes. You can even change the cause each month or year.

Set Up a Donation Box for Customers

Or if you want to collect varying financial donations from customers, you can set up a donation box near where they complete their purchases.

Have Open Office Hours

Do something nice for your team by simply making yourself available for them to ask questions or share concerns.

Build a House

Try out an unconventional way to help charitable causes by volunteering with your team to build houses with Habitat for Humanity or similar organizations.

Use Recycled Materials

If your business does any manufacturing, you can do some good by trying to use recycled materials whenever possible.

Host a Fun Departmental Challenge

Create a fun competitive environment in your workplace by creating a contest that puts your company’s departments against one another. Let the winning department choose a lunch destination or even a charitable cause to donate to.

Offer a Small Token to Welcome New Team Members

When you hire new team members, make them feel welcome by offering them a small gift.

Create a Local Guide for Those Who Have Relocated

You can also create a small guide of the local area so those who have moved to work for your company can get a feel for their surroundings.

Offer Free Advice

Pay it forward by simply sharing some professional advice with a colleague, employee or even a client.

Host an Open Discussion

Or you could host an event where you invite some of your contacts to an open discussion, where you can answer questions and share input on various issues.

Listen When Employees Speak

On a more everyday basis, you can simply be available for your employees so they can ask questions and get your input on their work.

Offer Regular Encouragement

Another important part of building up the confidence of your team is offering encouragement, either through official evaluations or everyday interaction.

Have a Casual Day Donation Program

If you want to get your employees involved in more charitable efforts, you can set up a casual Friday tradition where they can donate a dollar or so to forego the traditional business casual dress code.

Start a Buy One-Give One Program

Some customers appreciate when their purchase goes toward a good cause. So you can set up a program where you give one of your products to people in need for every purchase made.

Give Your Customers the Opportunity to Donate

Or you could let customers donate money to different causes by partnering with a charitable organization and asking customers to contribute a dollar or more when completing their purchases.

Support a Monthly Cause

You could even choose a different cause each month, or choose causes that correlate with different monthly events (i.e. Breast Cancer Awareness Month).

Offer Your Speaking Services

For a more structured experience, offer your services as a public speaker for events or even classrooms.

Offer Professional Development Opportunities

To keep your employees fulfilled and moving forward in their own careers, offer them free training or professional development opportunities periodically.

Have Regular Team Building Activities

You can also hold some team building exercises like organized outings or competitive activities.

Create an Uplifting Video

To offer some inspiration to either your team, customers or website visitors, create a fun or uplifting video and display it on your website or social channels.

Send a Gift to New Neighboring Businesses

Welcome new businesses to your building or neighborhood by stopping over and dropping off a gift basket or other small token.

Encourage Your Staff to Volunteer

Your charitable work doesn’t always have to revolve around financial donations. Organize volunteer outings for your team or simply encourage them to volunteer on your own time.

Offer Time Off for Charitable Work

You could even go a bit further by offering some time off periodically for employees who choose to spend that time volunteering.

Start an Encouragement Thread

Regular encouragement is important for a functioning office. Start an email thread or even place a board in your space where team members can encourage one another.

Put Together Care Packages

An easy way to do something nice for people is to put together care packages. You can give them out to homeless individuals, other community members, or even send them to soldiers overseas.

Make a Donation in Your Employees’ Names

Instead of offering your employees gifts or parties on their birthdays or other events, consider making a donation in their name to a relevant charitable organization.

Assist Sick Team Members

Set up a committee in your office to provide food or similar care packages to fellow employees when they’re under the weather.

Host a Clothing Drive

Your employees likely have a lot of clothing that they don’t wear anymore. So set up a collection area in your office and then donate the clothing to a local charity.

Offer Your Office Space to Charitable Groups

When you’re not using your office, or if you just have a little extra space to spare, offer it up to a local charity group to use for their meetings or other activities

Clean Up a Nearby Park

Gather your staff and head to a local park or outdoor area to clean up litter, plant trees or otherwise beautify your local community.

Encourage Employees to Invest

There are so many different crowdfunding campaigns and opportunities for individuals to support startups these days. Encourage your employees to get involved. And of course, lead by example.

Start a Weekly or Monthly Outing

Invite your team or maybe even your best clients out to a local happy hour or dinner at a nearby restaurant.

Start a Team for a Charitable Walk or Run

There are plenty of charitable events where you can raise money for causes like cancer research by walking, running or performing similar activities. Organize a team of your employees to participate.

Invite People to Your Charitable Events

Or if you have other charitable events that you attend regularly, extend an invitation to your employees, clients or other business contacts.

Invite a School Group on a Field Trip

If your business has anything to offer local students, invite a school group on a field trip to show them around and teach them about your industry.

Invite the Red Cross for a Blood Drive

The Red Cross and similar organizations set up blood drives to collect donations. So you can invite them to your office and encourage your employees to donate.

Send a Handwritten Card

A handwritten card can go a long way toward showing your clients, employees or other contacts that you care.

Leave Encouraging Notes Around the Office

You can also encourage people by leaving small notes around the office with little encouraging messages.

Send E-cards

E-cards can even serve as an easy way to show appreciation or encouragement.

Recognize Your Clients for Their Accomplishments

When your clients have accomplished something big like closing a big deal or a round of funding, it can be especially meaningful to recognize them with a quick note or card.

Recognize Special Occasions

Or send over a note or make a call to your clients on special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries or major life events.

Share a Favorite Book

If you have a favorite book or one that you think would be helpful or relevant to a client or colleague, it can make for a great gift to recognize an occasion or accomplishment.

Start a Recycling Program

An easy way for you to do some good is by simply setting up some recycling bins around your office and encouraging your team to create less waste.

Donate Unused Supplies

Or if you have any supplies or materials that you’re not using, donate them instead of just throwing them away.

Lower Your Carbon Footprint

There are also other ways to help the environment with your business, by simply using less energy and harmful materials in your everyday processes.

Encourage Your Team Members’ Goals

An important part of supporting your team is learning about their ultimate goals. If you ask them about what they’d like to accomplish, you can encourage them and help them stay on the right track.

Provide Incentives for Good Work

It can also be a good idea, both for productivity and for your employees themselves, to provide extra incentives for great work.

Support Animals in Need

Paying it forward doesn’t always have to be an activity that just benefits people. You can get your team together and also help some animals in need at local shelters.

Include Inspiring Art in Your Office

Even something as small as including some inspiring quotes or artwork around your office can make a big difference for your team.

Nominate Someone for an Award

When someone on your team, or even one of your clients, does an extraordinary job, nominate them for an award in their field.

Provide Referrals to Other Local Businesses

You can also refer potential customers to other relevant small businesses for different products or services when possible.

Use Local Vendors

And when you purchase products or services for your business, support other small businesses rather than buying from large vendors.

Promote Others on Social Media

If you’ve been happy with other small companies you’ve worked with, share your experience on social media to give them some extra exposure.

Compliment a Colleague

See one of your colleagues doing a good job or excelling in a certain area? Be sure to tell them!

Pay for Another Party’s Bill at a Business Lunch

When you’re out at a business lunch, offer to pay for another party at the restaurant as well.

Speak at an Educational Event

You can share your knowledge and expertise by offering to speak at an educational event related to your field.

Speak on Panels

Or you could speak on event panels that are relevant to your industry.

Create a Scholarship Program

If you want to support education in your community, you can create a scholarship program through your business.

Offer Unique Bonuses

Lots of businesses offer year-end bonuses. But you could also offer smaller bonuses during another part of the year to surprise your employees and let them know they’re doing a great job.

Give Your Employees Money to Give Back

You could also reward your employees with a small stipend that they can donate to the causes of their choice.

Do Pro Bono Work

Every so often, take on a client without charging them just to offer your services to a good cause or someone who really needs them.

Open Source Your Code

For tech companies, you can help out others by making your code widely available for others to use or build upon.

Become a Mentor

Share your business expertise with new entrepreneurs through a mentorship program. You can connect online or just help out someone you’ve already met.

Help Out the Younger Generation

Or you could sign up for a group like Big Brothers, Big Sisters to provide guidance and fun for young kids.

Donate Supplies to Local Schools

If you have some unused office supplies or even tech equipment that you don’t use, find a local school that could use them and make a donation.

Advocate Through an Industry Group

Help other businesses, along with your own, by working with advocacy groups to influence policy in a way that’s favorable for entrepreneurs.

Start an Annual Grant Program

And if you want to give some financial assistance to causes in a more official capacity, start a grant program that organizations can apply for each year.

Helping Hands, Youth Soccer Team, Bulletin Board, Clothing Donations, Typing, Planting Garden, Habitat for Humanity Construction Photo via HFHI/Holly Eaton, Speaker, Trash Pick-upRecycling Bins Photos via Shutterstock

This article, "Big List of How to Pay it Forward in Business" was first published on Small Business Trends

Good Customer Experiences are the Focus of “On Purpose”

Small Business Trends - Sat, 2016-02-06 08:00

For businesses, branding is more than a marketing catchphrase. It is survival. Brands that consistently promise and deliver good customer experiences survive in the always-on, super-connected global market of today. Modern consumers want more than a transaction from their favorite brands. They want these good customer experiences.

How can business leaders refine their businesses to create the perfect, multi-channel customer experience while keeping the bottom line intact? “On Purpose: Delivering a Branded Customer Experience People Love” is a book that helps businesses survive the era of dwindling customer trust and shifting loyalties.

What is the Book About

In present-day marketing, brands are expected to do a lot. They have to be engaging, authentic, relevant, and consistent across multiple channels. The problem lies in the advice given to reach those lofty goals. At best, businesses must cope with a dizzying number of ambiguous marketing jargon. At worst, they get bogged down with an arbitrary collection of marketing metrics which, in reality, bring them no closer to creating a great customer experience.

The authors of “On Purpose: Delivering a Branded Customer Experience People Love” believe this confusion stops business brands from reaching their potential. For a brand to live in your customer’s brain, it needs to express its message with crystal clarity. To reach that level of clarity, businesses don’t need more fancy terms. They need to return to the basics.

These basics, the authors argue, are expressed in three basic principles:
1. Stand up: Clarify your business’s values and purpose
2. Stand out: Express your values and purpose in a unique way
3. Stand firm: Develop the environment to nurture your brand

Focusing on these three principles in every single aspect of your business will help you take an integrated approach that serves your customer’s needs in a unique way. It’s a way that you may have been ignoring up until now. But continue to do this at your business’s peril. Customers are increasingly looking for brands that match their social and financial values. Businesses that can provide this unique connection have easy access to a spot in their consumers’ brains — and hearts. Making this connection with existing customers — and being able to make it with future customers — is crucial to maintaining an advantage in a crowded market.

“On Purpose: Delivering a Branded Customer Experience Peoople Love” is the work two veterans of the industry,  Andy Milligan  and Shaun Smith (@shaunsmith_cem).

Milligan is a brand consultant, author, speaker, and founding partner of the Caffeine Partnership, a branding strategy consulting agency.

Smith is a brand consultant, author, and founder of Smith +Co, a customer experience consulting agency.

What Was Best About This Book

The best part of “On Purpose” is its focus on simplicity. The book identifies a key problem in customer acquisition and retention. Many businesses know how to get a customer’s attention, but they don’t have the environment to sustain that attention. “On Purpose” provides a reflective, comprehensive look at this problem that challenges the expensive software and trendy terms thrown around today.

What Could Have Been Done Differently

“On Purpose” provides a simple framework for understanding the complexities of branding in a comprehensive way. (This is most evident in the “Eight Practice” shared in Chapter 10). Unfortunately, it still leaves out a lot of basic information a small business leader would need to put such a framework in place for his or her brand. It provides a lot of food of thought, but not enough strategies to help a business out this powerful branding to work.

Why Read This Book

The goal of “On Purpose” is to inspire managers and entrepreneurs to create and maintain purpose in every part of their businesses. Milligan and Smith have succeeded in creating a book with valuable insight into how a company’s sense of purpose allows it to stand out to customers in a marketplace of almost limitless choices.

This article, "Good Customer Experiences are the Focus of “On Purpose”" was first published on Small Business Trends

71 Percent of Small Businesses Expect Growth, Report Says

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2016-02-05 16:30

Small businesses are hopeful about growth this year according to the new State of Small Business Report by software solutions provider, Wasp Barcode Technologies.

The study says 71 percent of small businesses expect revenue growth, although 50 percent of small business owners said hiring new employees would be the key challenge facing them this year. And 45 percent said that challenge would be increasing profit.

An earlier survey conducted by Yelp had similarly found small business owners optimistic about growth in 2016. According to that survey, the percentage of American small business owners expecting to see revenues grow, however, is higher (85 percent).

Key Findings of the State of Small Business Report

More than 1,100 American small businesses were surveyed for the study, and some of the key findings include the following:

  • Forth-three percent of small business owners say improving existing customer experience and retention (43 percent) is their top strategy for revenue growth.
  • Fifty percent of all small business owners plan to hire employees. This is up 12 percent from 2015.
  • Sixty two percent small businesses invest 4 percent or more of their revenue in marketing, while about one in 10 does not invest.
  • Fifty-six percent of small businesses use a mix of online and traditional marketing tools.
  • Fifty-four percent of small business owners list Email and 51 percent  listwebsites as the top online marketing tools that small businesses are using today.
  • Forty eight percent of small business owners do not track their inventory or use a manual process to track them.
  • Fifty five percent of small businesses do not track assets or use a manual process to track them.

The report also reveals some interesting trends in digital marketing concerning the small business community. Here are some key highlights:

  • Only 80 percent of small businesses use social media and many underutilize search engine optimization (SEO), blogging, and video.
  • Use of Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest and Twitter has increased. (Not much surprise here!)
  • Forty five percent of small businesses use social media to sell to potential customers.
  • Facebook remains the most used social media platform, although its use has decreased since 2015.
  • Fifty four percent of small businesses outsource graphic design and Web design work.
Businesses Need the Right Strategy to Succeed in 2016

To succeed in 2016, small businesses need a clear strategy and roadmap. For example, the study shows the percentage of small businesses leveraging the potential of social media and SEO still leaves a lot to be desired. Small businesses must, therefore, revisit their social media marketing strategy and identify areas where they can improve and channel the potential of this powerful medium to connect with customers.

Hiring strategy is another area that calls for special attention. With 50 percent of small firms planning to hire new employees, it is important to identify skills that companies can benefit the most from. A great hiring strategy can help small companies attract the right talent and achieve the best value out of their investment.

Image: Wasp Barcode Technologies

This article, "71 Percent of Small Businesses Expect Growth, Report Says" was first published on Small Business Trends

Drone Registration Up, New Cloud Accounting Software Announced

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2016-02-05 14:30

Just over a month ago, the FAA announced that all drone owners would be required to register their devices. Now, it has released information about the number of drones registered in the first month. This news and more, including a new cloud software and website building tool, is included below in this week’s Small Business Trends news and information roundup.

Technology Trends Day of the Drones? FAA Says 300,000 Registered in First Month

One month after the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced its new rule requiring drones to be registered, the number of drones registered is nearly 300,000. Owners who registered in the first month received a refund for the $5 application fee. “I am pleased the public responded to our call to register,” said U.S.

Sage 50 Now In a Cloud Version Called Sage 50c

Starting today, Sage Software will be replacing its Sage 50 accounting software (formerly Peachtree) with a new offering, Sage 50c. The “c” in Sage 50c stands for “cloud” and it’s easy to see why: users of the new Sage 50c will be able to store their accounting data in, and share their accounting data via, the cloud.

Adobe Launches New Website Building Tool

Adobe has launched a website building tool to design customized websites right from within the company’s Creative Cloud Suite. Called Portfolio, Adobe’s latest offering makes it possible to build personalized websites in minutes, and competes with website building services such as Wix and Squarespace.

Why Analytics Are the Hot Topic at This Small Business Conference

Are you ready? Infusionsoft is building towards its March 2-4, 2016, ICON conference in Phoenix, Arizona. For ten years, Infusionsoft has been hosting ICON conferences specifically designed to inform and assist small businesses. The aim is to make use of software and technologies which can improve small business results. But this year analytics is a particular focus.

How Safe Are New York Public WiFi Hubs?

When was the last time you used a public phone? That is a question most of us will have to scratch our head to answer, because it has been that long ago. Which is why the move by New York City to replace 7,500 public payphones with WiFi hubs makes a lot of sense.

Mobile Technology Microsoft Doubles Storage on Surface Book, Surface Pro to 1 Terabayte

When Microsoft unveiled the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book in October 2015, the company also announced they would be available in an ultra-high-end configuration. This includes the Skylake CoreI7 processor, 16GB of RAM and enough storage to meet almost any demand, 1TB.

Foursquare Adds Travel Recommendations Feature

Your small business has a new reason to be listed — or a reason for updating your listing — on Foursquare. The social geo-location site has introduced a new feature called Foursquare Trip Tips. It’s a Foursquare and Foursquare user-curated guide for upcoming trips you log into the site.

Cortana Now Prompts You to Remember Email Promises

How many times have you sent an email to a client promising to finish a project only to have three other projects pile up and put it right out of your mind? But now, Microsoft digital assistant Cortana helps you to remember email promises you’ve made by scanning your emails and prompting you to set reminders.

Crowdfunded Jolla Tablet Calls it Quits, Issues Refunds

Jolla Tablet was once a crowdfunded marvel. Now, it’s turned into a nightmare for the Finnish company behind it and a letdown for a lot of its Indiegogo supporters. Jolla Tablet had raised $380,000 in just over two hours. At the end of 2015, the company said that only some of its first-day backers on its Indiegogo campaign would ultimately receive a tablet.

New Universal LG White Card for Credit Card Processing Coming Soon?

LG is reportedly developing a universal credit card to go with LG Pay, its new mobile payment system. A report by ETNews says that the card will be called LG Pay White Card and like the failed Coin or the new Plastc, the White Card will be able to store several debit, credit and rewards cards.

Employment New York Restaurants Eliminate Tips to Offset Wage Hike

Restaurant owners, staff and customers have long questioned the culture of tipping, but like any entrenched cultural practice, it has proven difficult to change. Now, prompted by a slew of new minimum wage legislation in major U.S. cities, an increasing number of restaurateurs are experimenting with a no tipping policy as a way to manage rising labor costs.

Lyft Settles its Employee Misclassification Lawsuit, but Uber’s Still Pending

Lyft, the ride-sharing company, agreed this week to pay $12.25 million to settle the Lyft employee misclassification lawsuit that was filed in 2013. The lawsuit was filed to compel Lyft to reclassify its drivers as employees just like other on-demand companies like Shyp, Instacart and Luxe Valet have.

Green Business Is Sub Metering Your Water a Good Idea for Your Small Business?

Smart electric meters have proven the Internet of Things (IoT) is valid, but now water meters are also getting smarter as submetering systems get installed around the country. Submetering has been around for several decades. The concept is the basis for individual meters for electricity.

Hot Dang! Meatless Grain Burger Invented at Kitchen Table

Some of the best inventions were created by accident. And that was also the case for Martha Pincoffs when she created Hot Dang and its now somewhat famous meatless veggie grain burger. Pincoffs never intended to start a business or to invent a new type of food. She was actually just taking part in an experiment.

Local Marketing 5miles May Challenge Craigslist as the New Online Classified

5miles, the Dallas and Beijing-based challenger to Wallapop and Craiglist has secured $30 million in new investment as it celebrates its first year in business this month.

Marketing Tips Mobile Search Ads Are Outpacing Paid Search, Adobe Report Says

Paid search engine marketing (SEM) is losing its growth momentum to mobile advertising, according to Adobe Digital Index’s new “Q4 2015 Digital Advertising Report.” Among other things, the report notes global growth of paid search is down 75 percent year-over-year, “which can be partially attributed to advertisers’ new willingness to spend on mobile search.

Retail Trends Are Comparison Apps Making Competitive Pricing More Imperative?

Today’s consumers are becoming more and more connected and well-informed. Businesses looking to tap into the buying processes of these connected consumers means being able to provide helpful information just when these consumers are looking for products that they want to purchase.

Small Biz Spotlight Spotlight: Boxy POS Plans to Disrupt the Restaurant Industry

Running a restaurant means needing so many different systems to manage all of the different aspects of your business. But a new solution, Boxy POS, plans to disrupt the industry by offering a point of sale system that’s easy to use and can help bring restaurants into the 21st Century.

Social Media 14 Factors Contribute to Viral Success, Study Finds

Getting your content to go viral can provide a huge boost to your business. Unfortunately, there’s no surefire way for you to ensure viral success. However, recent findings from BuzzSumo suggest that there are several factors that can contribute to whether or not a post has a good chance of reaching that coveted viral status.

Business Users Trial New Facebook Live Streaming Video – We Have Examples

Since Facebook announced its new live streaming feature last year, and then opened it up to all users in December, the feature hasn’t exactly caught fire as some expected it would. But Facebook Live does have some potential benefits for business users. And a few business users have been able to try out the new feature and use it to interact with their networks.

Tag Photos #ThisIsRetail, Get Your Business Featured on Instagram

Trying to promote a retail store on social media? The process can be tricky. But luckily, there are some promotions and contests that can make it a bit easier to get the word out about your retail business. The National Retail Federation hosts one such contest.

Taxes Top 20 Tax Deductions for Small Business

On Wall Street, there’s a saying that past performance is no guarantee of future results. When it comes to taxes, however, past performance is a great indicator of the types of deductions that businesses typically take each year. Last winter the IRS released data on Schedule C filers.

Drone Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "Drone Registration Up, New Cloud Accounting Software Announced" was first published on Small Business Trends