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What Can Luke Skywalker Teach You About Content Marketing? Well, Nothing But …

Small Business Trends - Sat, 2016-08-27 13:30

What can galactic hero Luke Skywalker teach you about content marketing? OK, nothing really. Come on. He’s a fictional character.

But actor Mark Hamill, who has played the iconic characters for four of the popular movies in the Star Wars franchise thus far, will be a keynote speaker at Content Marketing World 2016 in Cleveland in September. So if you happen to be passing through the star system and have the time, you may want to hop into your X-Wing, landspeeder or Corellian cruiser and check out the event.

Hamill will be joined by some more terrestrial guests — like Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer for MarketingProfs;  Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, which puts on the event; and Rand Fishkin, SEO wizard at SEO MOZ.

See more details and other 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

Content Marketing World 2016
September 6, 2016, Cleveland, Ohio

Content Marketing World is the one event where you can learn and network with the best and the brightest in the content marketing industry. You will leave with all the materials you need to take a content marketing strategy back to your team – and – to implement a content marketing plan that will grow your business and inspire your audience.

TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2016
September 12, 2016, San Francisco, Calif.

TechCrunch Disrupt is the world’s leading authority in debuting revolutionary startups, introducing game-changing technologies and discussing what’s top of mind for the tech industry’s key innovators. Disrupt gathers the best and brightest entrepreneurs, investors, hackers, and tech fans for on-stage interviews, the Startup Battlefield competition, a 24-hour Hackathon, Startup Alley, Hardware Alley, and After Parties.

MozCon
September 12, 2016, Seattle, Wash.

Three days of forward-thinking, actionable sessions in SEO, social media, community building, content marketing, brand development, CRO, the mobile landscape, analytics, and more. MozCon speakers share next-level advice on everything from building a loyal community to making data-driven decisions in your marketing.

Leadpages’ Converted 2016
October 18, 2016, Minneapolis, Minn.

Converted 2016 will be an immersive experience taking place over two action-packed days in Minneapolis. We’ll share data-driven, practical tactics that will make a difference in the way you grow your business.

Discount Code
biztrends ($100)

Lean Startup Conference
October 31, 2016, San Francisco, Calif.

A gathering of thousands of thought leaders at Pier 27 for a week of keynote talks, interactive workshops, speed mentoring, industry dinners, bootcamps, and startup tours at the scenic edge of San Francisco. The conference unites intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs from government agencies, international conglomerates, boot-strapped startups, and civic organizations in their mission to create radical change in their industries.

Influencer Marketing Days
November 14, 2016, New York, N.Y.

Influencer Marketing Days is a unique conference dedicated to all things influencer marketing. The event is for marketing professionals responsible for their company’s influencer marketing strategy, campaign development, and relationship management. Whether you already run influencer marketing campaigns or you’re investigating ways to leverage this powerful type of marketing, Influencer Marketing Days will equip, educate, and inspire you to make the most of your efforts.

NextCon16
November 14, 2016, Scottsdale, Ariz.

No matter your industry, company size or role, you can take advantage of the fresh perspectives, creative strategies and expert advice shared at NextCon. You will walk away with actionable insight to take your business to the next level and gain the insight and inspiration to make an impact.

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.

Skywalker Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "What Can Luke Skywalker Teach You About Content Marketing? Well, Nothing But …" was first published on Small Business Trends

10 Tips to Build an Effective Online Marketing Strategy

Small Business Trends - Sat, 2016-08-27 12:00

There are so many different ways to market a business online these days. But luckily, you don’t need to try all of them in order to find out what works. Members of our small business community have already done some of the legwork for you. Here are some of their top tips for developing an effective online marketing strategy.

Increase Website Traffic and Get Better Leads

Getting traffic to your website only really helps your business if you’re able to convert some leads. But there are some simple methods you can use to increase your web traffic while also converting leads, as Christopher Uschan outlines in this Acumium blog post.

Create an Insta Worthy Account

Instagram is becoming an increasingly popular marketing tool for businesses. But you need to really focus on creating an account that’s worthy of the platform if you want to get good results. Here, Kayla Wilkinson shares some tips for using Instagram on the Inkhouse Inklings Blog.

Follow These Social Media Rules of Thumb

Social media marketing isn’t an exact science. But there are some general rules that you can follow to make your business accounts more effective. Here, Rachel Strella of Strella Social Media shares some social media rules of thumb. And the BizSugar community chimes in with some thoughts here.

Adopt These Digital Marketing Strategies From Pokemon Go

Chances are, you’ve played or are at least aware of the augmented reality game that’s taking the mobile world by storm — Pokemon Go. But aside from being a fun and successful app, Pokemon Go can actually provide some useful digital marketing lessons to other businesses, as Jilesh Varma shares in this Blurbpoint post.

Don’t Build Your Whole Content Strategy on Rental Property

Social media and blogging platforms can be great for sharing content. But if you only rely on those platforms without having an actual site that you own and control completely, you could find your business in trouble if those platforms decide to make changes. Frank Strong of Sword and the Script explains more here.

Amplify Your Marketing Productivity With These Tools

When managing your marketing efforts, you can use a number of different tools to improve your results and efficiency. In this Duct Tape Marketing post, Joanne Torres shares some top marketing productivity tools. And BizSugar members also comment on the post here.

Use These Quick SEO Hacks for Newbies

SEO can be a complicated concept if you’re just getting started. But there are some simple things you can do to make the whole process of optimizing for search engines a bit easier. Here are some SEO hacks from Stephan Spencer on the Search Engine Land blog.

Use Small Data to Help Increase Sales

You hear a lot about big data these days. But small data can actually be quite helpful for businesses too. In this post, Neil Patel explains how you can use small data in your business to increase sales.

Launch Your Startup With an Infographic

Infographics can help you get messages across to online consumers in an interesting visual format. Here, Nick Bowersox shares some tips for using infographics in marketing efforts on the crowdSPRING blog. You can also see input from members of the BizSugar community here.

Create a SaaS Knowledge Base Your Customers Will Love

Technology has created plenty of opportunities for businesses to really personalize experiences for their customers. SaaS knowledge bases provide some of those opportunities when used effectively. In this Process Street post, Robin Singh shares how you can create a knowledge base your customers will love.

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

Online Marketing Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "10 Tips to Build an Effective Online Marketing Strategy" was first published on Small Business Trends

This Device Claims to Turn Your iPhone into a 360 Degree VR Camera

Small Business Trends - Sat, 2016-08-27 09:30

Expectations for virtual reality are obviously quite high. And those expectations among content creators have led companies to introduce products aimed at helping to create content in the new format. Creators of the Insta360 ha done this in a unique way.

While Arashi Vision, the company that makes the camera, has three different Insta360 versions, the one that’s been getting the most attention is the Insta360 Nano. The tiny 360 degree camera attached to your iPhone 6/6S and iPhone 6 Plus/6S Plus taking VR photos and videos through the phone.

A 360-degree camera is key to capturing and rendering realistic VR scenes, so manufacturers are introducing novel ways to record the video with many different types of cameras.

Insta360 Nano Details

Advertised as the first 360-degree spherical iPhone video camera, and the smallest spherical camera in the world, the Nano is pretty small at only 0.8 inches x 1.2 inches x 4.3 inches. This makes it very portable, which can be an important feature when you are already carrying your smartphone. However, it also works as a standalone camera too, so if you don’t have an iPhone you can still use it to take pictures or record videos.

The image quality is good according to the specs and some of the content the company has provided on YouTube. The camera has a 3040 x 1520 resolution for still pictures and 3040 x 1520 at 30 fps for moving images through its 210-degree dual fisheye lenses. All of these images are captured in a TF card that holds up to 64 GB. If you run out of space, you can download or live-stream the video and pictures on Facebook and YouTube.

The Insta360 Nano comes with a micro USB cable that lets you connect it to other devices in addition to iPhones, and the box doubles as cardboard virtual reality glasses.

In a hands-on review for Mashable, Jason Cipriani said, “The Insta360 Nano’s photo and video quality is one of the best I’ve personally used on a 360-degree camera.” But he did have some complaints when it came to some software glitches that resulted in random prompts in Chinese, and he added it was not always user friendly.

At $219 on Amazon, the Insta360 Nano is competing with the likes of the Ricoh Theta S ($360), LG 360 Cam ($179) and Samsung Gear 360 ($373), so it is somewhere in the middle.

As VR adoption continues to grow, small businesses are finding innovative ways to use the technology and grow their business. Any company that uses regular videos to promote their business can use a 360-degree camera to let their customers experience that video from a new perspective.

Real estate companies, outdoor adventure guides, resorts and designers are just some of the industries that can use VR to increase their customer base.

Image: Insta360.com

This article, "This Device Claims to Turn Your iPhone into a 360 Degree VR Camera" was first published on Small Business Trends

“Engage with Honor” Takes Leadership Lessons from Unlikely Experience

Small Business Trends - Sat, 2016-08-27 07:00

Could your leadership survive a crisis? If your company depended on one critical decision and only you could make it, would that decision be based on the bottom line or principle? These are questions that Lee Ellis, former Vietnam war fighter pilot and a five-year survivor of a prison war camp, struggled with on a daily basis. In his position, he grappled with and saw leadership at its best and its worst. That experience gave him a perspective that few people have survived to pass on.

What is Engage With Honor About?

Like Extreme Ownership, another book reviewed on Small Business Trends, Engage With Honor is about applying leadership lessons learned from the war, although from a slightly different perspective. Instead of focusing on what a leader does, this book focuses on who a leader is.

Ellis focuses on the need for a leader to consistently maintain his or her values as a daily practice to avoid going into a downward spiral of dishonor. Consistent practice of values by leaders is critical, because, as Ellis points out, anyone is capable of dishonorable behavior under the right conditions. Engage With Honor highlights several cases where this happens: Enron, government agencies like the EPA and IRS, the military, education and healthcare. The book sites cases of dishonor which were more than just sensational headlines on the late night news. They had real serious implications, costing taxpayers billions of dollars.

As a POW in Vietnam, Ellis came to the conclusion that good leadership is a consistent re-dedication to values no matter the circumstances. Some of his fellow co-prisoners abandoned the Military Code of Conduct under the crisis of being captured. Others like Vice Admiral Stockdale clung to the Military Code of Conduct even under the reality of torture and solitary confinement. Ellis argues that Vice Admiral Stockdale was able to maintain his beliefs because he was clear on his values and communicated those values in his own actions and words whether he was alone or with a group of prisoners. That tenacity to the “right thing to do no matter what” as a leader is what leaders need to say, do, and re-dedicate themselves to every day if they are leaders who make a difference.

Author Ellis is not only a former Air Force fighter pilot, flight commander and POW, but a recipient of numerous military awards including the Purple Heart and Legion of Meritand and is now a leadership consultant.

What Was Best About Engage With Honor?

Engage With Honor is a great leadership book because it strips leadership down to its barest essentials while also telling the haunting (and very real) tale of the author’s life in a Vietnam POW camp. The book doesn’t go into extreme detail, but Ellis provides enough substance to show readers that this was a truly hostile environment that could not break the spirit of someone dedicated to their values. Using the simple metaphor of this harrowing tale, Ellis demonstrates his model of leadership with clarity and simplicity.

What Could Have Been Done Differently

The focus of Engage With Honor is on fostering what Ellis calls “courageous accountability.” It points out the problems when people don’t engage in this kind of behavior (lying, cheating, stealing, etc.), but it doesn’t get bogged down into ethical dilemmas like whistleblowing. The book’s focus is on the principles that leaders (or really anyone) can follow, not the particular steps they should take

Why Read Engage With Honor?

If you are a business leader who was inspired by a book like “Extreme Ownership,” you will probably enjoy the insight and perspective of  Engage With Honor. It provides a different perspective, however. “Extreme Ownership” focuses on what leaders should do. “Engage with Honor” focuses on who they are.

In addition, if you are looking to develop or refresh your company’s leadership and ethics development, this book provides excellent and straightforward advice on what you might want to include in the program.

This article, "“Engage with Honor” Takes Leadership Lessons from Unlikely Experience" was first published on Small Business Trends

Keep an Eye Out for This New Edible Food Packaging (Watch)

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2016-08-26 15:30

Food packaging is traditionally expensive, wasteful and bad for the environment. But what if there was a way to produce that packaging so that it’s actually cheaper, more sustainable and won’t lead to overflowing landfills?

The answer might be simpler than you’d think. Researchers are currently working to create packaging that consumers can just eat along with their food. The new edible packaging is made from milk proteins that have no taste. And if you don’t want to eat the packaging, it’s also biodegradable.

In addition, the U.S. already produces more milk than the population can consume. So this solution could actually solve multiple problems at once. And if those factors weren’t enough, it turns out that milk proteins actually keep out oxygen better than plastic packaging. So using it could mean that food would spoil slower than it does in the packaging we currently use.

Product Innovation Must Benefit Consumers to Be Successful

That last point is important, because if the only benefits were to the environment but not to consumers, the idea might not take off. However, this solution seems to be one that benefits all sides. So it shows just what type of innovation can be possible with some creative thinking and a willingness to try something completely different.

The new packaging isn’t likely to actually hit shelves for at least another three years. But the possibility could lead to some big things for food producers in the future.

Image: Newsy via American Chemical Society

This article, "Keep an Eye Out for This New Edible Food Packaging (Watch)" was first published on Small Business Trends

Top Stories: Pinterest, Kickstarter Reveal New Features

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2016-08-26 13:30

Pinterest has been adding new features to help businesses reach their target audiences in the platform. One of the most recent updates is a promoted video feature. And Pinterest isn’t the only online platform making changes. Crowdfunding site Kickstarter also added a follow feature, making it more social.

These updates and more are included below in this week’s Small Business Trends news and information roundup.

Social Media Pinterest Introduces Promoted Video, Three Other Platform Improvements

After testing with 12 early partners, including Lionsgate, bareMinerals and General Mills’ Old El Paso, Pinterest recently announced it is rolling out Promoted Videos (that is, video ads) in the U.S. and U.K., with featured Pins beneath.

Kickstarter Adds a Follow Feature, Makes the Funding Platform More Social

In news of interest to crowdfunding entrepreneurs, Kickstarter recently rolled out a new ‘Follow’ feature that allows users to follow creators directly and be first to find out when their next projects launch. Once you follow a Kickstarter creator, you’ll also be notified when they’ve backed a project that’s just getting off the ground, the crowdfunding company said.

How Snapchat’s New Acquisition Vurb Transforms Business Search

Snapchat is paying $110 million, with 75 percent in stock and 25 percent cash to acquire mobile contextual search engine Vurb. The deal also includes a $75 million retention bonus to keep Vurb founder and CEO Bobby Lo. Vurb touts itself as tool for helping consumers decide what to do and who they want to do it with.

Need to Share Some Content? Dlvr.it Provides Syndication Service

Dlvr.it provides brands, publishers and marketers with a way to syndicate content using their social media channels. Essentially, dlvr.it provides you with a simple way to curate content and automatically distribute it to preferred channels. The platform enables you to share content from RSS-enabled sites to social networks.

Management Your Business Can Overcome Huge Obstacles – Just Like the Rio Olympics (Watch)

A few weeks ago, many experts expected the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio to be a disaster. Now that the games are over, it seems that those experts were mistaken. That’s not to say that there weren’t any issues. Aside from the green pool water and the now infamous Ryan Lochte incident, there were several smaller incidents that went mostly unnoticed.

Marketing Tips Can  Your Business Benefit from Influencer Marketing? Intellifluence Says Yes

Joe Sinkwitz left a comfortable, high-paying career as a marketing executive to found a startup, Intellifluence, a platform that helps brands partner with influencers. The reason: To give small businesses access to the same type of influencer marketing opportunities that were only available to large corporations.

What Sasquatch Can Teach You About Brand Excellence

ESPN The Magazine is essentially the print equivalent of a prime-time advertising slot for big brands. But in a publication driven predominantly by striking imagery and cool aesthetics, standing out from the crowd can be nigh unto impossible. That’s where it comes in handy to have constant access to an eight-foot, 374-pound model covered in hair.

Retail Trends Shopkeep Boasts Simple, Inexpensive POS for Small Businesses

The Shopkeep app is an iPad point-of-sale (POS) system that claims to add simplicity and speed to sales functions SMBs need to effectively run and manage their operations. The company boasts a comprehensive iPad POS system for small business owners that seems to come fully loaded with all the big business features at a small business price.

Small Biz Spotlight Spotlight:  iMOBDEV Claims More Than 500 Customized Apps and Websites Worldwide

Mobile apps are becoming more and more popular for businesses in a variety of different industries. For those who want to look into getting their own mobile apps or even just building a more professional website, there’s iMOBDEV Technologies. The company prides itself on providing technologically advanced options for business websites and mobile apps.

Small Business Operations Time Running Out to Take Advantage of Error in USPS Shipping Rates

The U.S. Postal Service is announcing yet another change in its shipping rates. This change affects companies that ship First-Class Mail Parcel Retail lightweight packages. These packages weigh between 1 and 3 ounces. The cost of shipping these packages beginning August 28 will be $2.62. That’s a 17-cent increase over the current rate of $2.45.

New Research Says Houseplants Can Make Businesses Safer (Watch)

Your business might soon be adding indoor plants to the list of necessary safety equipment needed around the office.

Mobile Technology App or Credit? Why Cash May be Replaced by Mobile Payments

It is Monday morning in San Francisco, and you have just woken up late. To help in your rush to get to work on time, you use your favorite ride service app to pay for a driver to bring you to work. On the way to work, that pre-coffee, drowsy feeling starts to kick in, so you use your Starbucks app to order a coffee and a breakfast snack to get you through the morning.

Is Your Business App On Android? Here’s Why It Had Better Be

Planning a new app for your small business? Make sure you build it on Google’s (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Android, since that’s where you’re most likely to find your customers. According to a new Gartner report, Android is dominating the smartphone marketplace with a whopping 86.2 percent share in the second quarter of 2016.

Technology Trends Has Fitbit Been Stealing Trade Secrets? Judge Says No (Watch)

The competition between wearable device companies Fitbit and Jawbone is heating up. Jawbone recently accused Fitbit of violating patents and poaching its employees in an effort to steal trade secrets. But the U.S. International Trade Commission just ruled that Fitbit didn’t misappropriate anything. The ruling is obviously good news for Fitbit, although Jawbone wants to review the ruling.

Kobo Provides eBook Alternative to Amazon

When considering the platform on which to publish your next ebook or from which to purchase your next business ebook or online magazine, it may be helpful to consider that Amazon is not your only option. Kobo is a Toronto-based company that has been providing an open platform as well as it’s own eReader platform, since 2009.

The Robocall Strike Force Teaches How to Go the Extra Mile for Customers (Watch)

Chances are, you’ve received one of those unsolicited robocalls or automated text messages at some point. And you probably haven’t been too happy about it either. But a new task force made up of some of the biggest names in tech is trying to put a stop to those unwanted calls and texts. Google, Apple, Verizon, Microsoft and more are all part of the Robocall Strike Force.

Want to be Productive? New ZEEQ “Smart Pillow” Analyzes Sleep Patterns

Artificial light, and now information and communications technologies are some of the factors responsible for people sleeping less, so it is fitting ZEEQ is using the same technology claiming to offer better quality sleep.

What Uber’s Self-Driving Car Tests Can Teach You About Offering New Services (Watch)

Uber is starting to test out its self-driving car service in Pittsburgh. And it’s doing it with real passengers in the vehicles. There will still be a driver in the front seat of each self-driving car with hands on the wheel in case they need to take over at any point. And an engineer will also be in the passenger seat to take notes.

Kickstarter Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "Top Stories: Pinterest, Kickstarter Reveal New Features" was first published on Small Business Trends

Esteban Kolsky of ThinkJar: Customer Service Will Not Exist in 10 Years

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2016-08-26 12:00

At this year’s ExCom 2016 event, one of the most intriguing and thought-provoking sessions came from Esteban Kolsky, former Gartner analyst and one of the most respected thought leaders focusing on customer service. Kolsky, who also is the founder of ThinkJar Research, presented on why he feels the customer service function, as we know it today, will be gone in 10 years.  

Below is an edited transcript taken from his presentation. To see the entire presentation, click on the YouTube video below.  

* * * * *

Esteban Kolsky: Customer service in 2025 is not going to exist. We’re not going to have customer service anymore in 10 years at the pace we’re going in. Customer service is going to be so bad that nobody’s going to want to do it. And the question that I have for you is are you ready for this. Is your company ready?

Small Business Trends: Why won’t customer service exist in 10 years?

Esteban Kolsky: We’re doing everything so wrong that we cannot continue because it’s not sustainable; and I’m very serious about that. First of all you can never make customers happy no matter what you try. It may make it happen one time or not the next time and the time after that. So aiming to make customers happy is the absolute worst thing that a business can do. It’s going to cost you money, time and resources that you don’t have to do something that you’re not going to achieve.

Small Business Trends: Why can’t we make customers happy?

Esteban Kolsky: The bottom line is most people cannot make customers happy because they’re not really trying to make them happy. You have to get to the point where you have balance. It’s got to be a win-win situation. Customer’s need to get what they want. But you also need to keep your business sustainable. And at some point that breaks down very quickly. It becomes too expensive to continue what we’re doing today for customer service. Customer service was never meant to exist. The only reason we have customer service today is because we moved from a production economy to a service economy. And when you do a service that is nothing tangible in it to offer something more we offer an exchange for money for service, is customer service. Ever since we started 40 years ago we’ve been doing a really bad and worse job every single time and have the numbers to prove this.

Small Business Trends: How is social impacting customer service?

Esteban Kolsky: Fifty-five percent of requests in social and social channels get ignored. Ignored! Imagine if you don’t pick up more than half the phone calls that you get are you doing more than half of the emails. What about half the people that come to your store. You ignore them. You don’t talk to them. You don’t ask them what they need.

Of those that do get addressed, eighty four percent get escalated to another channel. So why would you go on to Twitter, Facebook or Communities or anywhere if you end up on the phone? What’s the point of that? You as a company are spending money, time and resources on something that won’t give you any results. There’s a handful of people that have done great things and social service. For the most part every single company that started that is actually getting away from it. I do a survey every single year in year one for about five years ago.

Year one, 83 percent of people would try customer service through social; Facebook and Twitter. Year 2, 90 percent tried. Year three, 70 percent. Last year 60 percent. I do it again this year and I expect to get 40 percent based on conversations because it really doesn’t work; it doesn’t offer the benefits. So you can actually grease the squeaky wheel and go and talk to the person that is actually complaining on Twitter but there’s no value to that. You much rather generate a good customer service solution through the phone, email, chat, community, online through self-service and then direct people to get the answer.

Customers don’t want to complain, they want answers. That’s the bottom line of customer service, they want an answer. If you create a good system that gives the answer than people will not come to you.

Thirteen percent of companies say that 25 percent of interactions that they have for customer service is started on a social channel. 72 percent of customer service interactions via Facebook are never completed anywhere period. You go to Facebook and you talk to a brand and say I am having a problem. three out of four won’t get an answer. And remember customers are looking for answers. And finally you know 67 percent of social interactions that start customer service go back to the channel of origin, which is usually the phone, self-service, e-mail or something else. There’s no value to doing customer service the way we’re doing it. There’s value to do it right but we’re not doing it right. And that’s the big difference. Every single channel has a specific purpose, every single channel that you use has as a way of working. And if you don’t use it for that then you’re wasting time and money. And that’s what we’re doing today with Twitter and Facebook.

Small Business Trends: Where do communities fit in?

Esteban Kolsky: Everybody is talking about communities. That’s the way of the future; it is to some extent. Let me ask a question. When you have a customer service question today where do you go first? First place that you go is Google.

You get an answer and usually get directed to a community. That’s the way the customer service is done for the most part today. But 36 percent of companies have deployed communities in the last 12 months. Again this is coming from the research that I do. 84 percent report a savings in cost of transactions when completing communities. Of course there is a savings because you as a company have very little to do in communities. You have to make sure that the communities have the right information but the community takes care of everything. The whole idea of customer service via communities is that there’s a place people can go, get an answer, talk with smart people and then go from there. And that’s what a community is the people that have the answers. We start in one place you can find them there you get everybody who knows anything about it what do you need. And they give you an answer. There’s a lot of value in community. Community is the ultimate version of customer service. You probably heard this before. The best customer service is no service at all right. Nobody needs customer service. The only way that you do “no service” is through community because your customers will serve your other customers.

Small Business Trends: How about omnichannel support?

Esteban Kolsky: Less than 1 percent of people are actually doing omnichannel, although 97 percent are invested in omnichannel service because it’s hard. It doesn’t work because we don’t have the technology to make it work. The key to making omnichannel work is to be able to actually keep track of cross-channel interactions. If I start talking to Brent here in person and then I go on line and I look at his blog and then I go and buy something from an e-commerce site or has his name that should be all the same interaction. Keeping track of those three pieces of data in one central location today cannot be done. We don’t have the technology to do that. So what people invest in, less than 1 percent of companies are actually doing something with omnichannel. And from those 1 percent, only 23 percent are doing it well.

But the second one is the one that is really killing me. Cross-channel tracking of data; only 2 percent of companies are doing that today. Without tracking data across all the different channels, You cannot do omnichannel. So we don’t have the culture or we don’t have the understanding, and don’t have the technology to do this. So it really is not going to work.

Small Business Trends: Where does customer journey mapping fit in?

Esteban Kolsky: 34 percent of companies have undertaken some form of customer journey mapping less than 2 percent actually reported success. Everybody knows what more journey mapping is. It’s basically when I tell you what you are supposed to do if you want to talk to me. I try that with my kids. It doesn’t work. I promise you won’t work with your customers either. You can’t tell your customers how they need to interact with you. You need to build that infrastructure that ask your customers to do whatever they want to do. That’s the difference. I mean you can say yeah but 90 percent of my clients you know like to come to me with the fonts are going to be a great phone system. Fantastic. What about the other 10 percent? Well you know it can’t be that hard.

Guess what? Your best customer is in that 10 percent. So what are you going to do now. You build that journey that your best customers cannot utilize or you build only for your best customer. You know that 90 percent you cannot assume that the customers will always do the same thing.

Small Business Trends: What’s the value of customer engagement and how does that impact support?

Esteban Kolsky: Basically the bottom line is if you have good interactions with customers over time you form a relationship. If you have a relationship with customers over time and it generates trust, then that turns into engagement. Engagement is an outcome it’s not a metric. There’s no way you can measure it. So don’t try. If I know you well enough and I generate enough trust, and you know me well enough and generate enough trust, over time that turns into engagement. That’s what I can do about engagement.

Fifty-eight percent are doing customer engagement. You’ve seen all sorts of definitions for engagement but only less than 1 percent of companies say that they can measure customer engagement. And what they actually measure is how the outcome of engagement affects the rest of the interactions. 91 percent of non-engaged customers will leave when dissatisfied. So you have to engage your customers somehow.

If you know who your customers are and what they want, 65 percent of the time you can up-sell or cross-sell something. If you don’t know, only 12 percent of the time you will do that. So there’s money in actually getting engaged with your customers.

This article, "Esteban Kolsky of ThinkJar: Customer Service Will Not Exist in 10 Years" was first published on Small Business Trends

58 Percent of Small Businesses Already Have International Customers, Survey Finds

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2016-08-26 10:30

Small businesses are breaking barriers and going international, a new study by foreign exchange company USForex has found.

The survey shows 58 percent of small businesses already have international customers, while 72 percent plan to grow their international customer base by 2017. About 96 percent of these small businesses, in fact, are confident about conducting business abroad.

Going global is no longer an option for successful small- and medium-sized businesses — it’s a strategic imperative,” said Karin Visnick, head of North America, USForex.

Why are Small Businesses Going Global?

According to the survey, factors such as access to higher quality suppliers or vendors (43 percent) and higher quality talent (42 percent) are encouraging businesses to expand across borders. Cheaper access to suppliers or vendors (41 percent) and cheaper talent (28 percent) are other prominent factors driving this trend.

Karin Visnick explained, “Facing domestic uncertainty — political and economic — SMBs are feeling the pinch here at home. New technology and tools are putting global talent, suppliers and markets within reach of businesses that just a few years ago would have never thought to look beyond U.S. borders.”

Challenges Facing Businesses

Although businesses are tempted to expand their global presence, there are challenges that dissuade some companies from going global.

According to the survey, small businesses feel the U.S. presidential election and global terrorism are the biggest factors that may impact their international business. Respondents also feel international market conditions, lack of understanding of local best practices and fees charged to sell overseas are key concerns.

“It’s clear that SMBs are optimistic and eager to expand their business across U.S. borders, though slightly cautious about local business conditions and the impact of major global events,” noted David Nicholls, head of payment solutions, USForex.

“Among our own customers we’re experiencing an increasing number of businesses that are seeking out the proper tools and guidance they need to navigate the changing global business landscape, and ultimately make their international expansion a successful one.”

About the USForex Survey

For the study, USForex partnered with Researchscape and surveyed more than 300 U.S. small-to-medium sized businesses over the course of two weeks.

USForex is a provider of online alternatives to existing currency exchange services.

Flags Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "58 Percent of Small Businesses Already Have International Customers, Survey Finds" was first published on Small Business Trends

This Suitcase Will Follow You Around on Your Next Business Trip – Literally

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2016-08-26 09:30

When you’re trying to navigate a twisting airport terminal at breakneck speed, suitcases tend to be a bit of a liability. The handles are never quite long enough, the wheels are always getting caught on something and they take away a free hand that could be better served holding a grande skinny latte.

Well, now you can have your cake and eat it, too.

Introducing The Cowarobot Suitcase

Earlier this summer, news of the Modobag arrived — the world’s first motorized suitcase that weary travelers could ride around from terminal to terminal like a go-kart. But now, Shanghai-based robotics company Cowarobot has taken luggage innovation to a whole new level by creating a bag that actually follows you around like a faithful puppy.

At first glance, the Cowarobot R1 looks like a pretty standard suitcase. It’s 20 inches tall, has a capacity of 33 liters and comes in a decent range of colors. It’s got a handsome aluminum frame and boasts a 100 percent polycarbonate exterior. Yet unlike your standard travel case, the R1 is also fitted with some pretty advanced computer technology.

The suitcase boasts a range of hi-tech sensors, including sonar, depth-sensing cameras, light sensors and a GPS chip in order to autonomously navigate various terrains. And with the help of an accompanying wristband, the R1 utilizes those sensors to keep pace with its owners while simultaneously working to avoid potential road blocks and collisions.

The R1’s wristband is fitted with a wide band radio module that enables the suitcase to track its owner and roll along at speeds of up to 4.5 miles per hour relative to that person’s movements. The wristband also acts as a key to the suitcase’s smart lock, and will vibrate if you accidentally leave it behind.

But even if you do leave your R1 behind, it can easily find its way home again.

Cowarobot is already set to roll out a companion app for Android and iOS devices that will allow users to track and summon their suitcases with the mere swipe of a finger. With the power of GPS, the R1 can then roll along on its own accord in order to link back up with its owner. It’s also worth mentioning the suitcase can travel up to 12.5 miles on its own on a single charge, and so it can quite literally travel across town to find you.

Being fitted with all of that fancy-sounding technology, you’d think the R1 would end up more robot than suitcase — but all of the electronics only account for around four percent of its overall volume. Cowarobot’s designers have also given a bit of thought to security checkpoints by ensuring the case’s USB battery is easily removable.

Just like its pseudo-competitor Modobag, the Cowarobot R1 is currently available for purchase on Indiegogo. But at an introductory offer of just $499, the R1 is currently only about half the price of Modobag. Cowarobot is offering a one-year product warranty for the suitcase, and plans to start shipping by November 2016.

Image: Cowa Robot

This article, "This Suitcase Will Follow You Around on Your Next Business Trip – Literally" was first published on Small Business Trends

Real Life Social Marketing Examples

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2016-08-26 08:30

One of the most important attributes of successful small business owners is the ability to learn, and learn often.

That’s right, every day brings new advances in business technology, approaches for running your business, and new ways to market your products and services.

Sometimes it seems like that last one hits business owners the hardest. After all, no one wants his or her business to be left behind, right? To prevent that you need to at least learn about, and evaluate, each new marketing channel.

And that brings up the subject of social media. Talk about an ever-changing playing field — it seems like new sites are launched every day while others disappear. Sure, there are the big players, but even they seem to change on a regular basis.

Blab anyone? How about MySpace and Friendster?

While the social media landscape is changeable, small business owners still need to, on top of everything else, stay up on the latest changes. Wouldn’t it be great if there were a shortcut, some way to figure out how to best use a social media site for your business?

Well there is and whether you call them case studies or success stories, these real life social marketing examples are your fast track ticket to learning how to get the most out of a social media network.

Small Business Trends, has been telling these stories for a long time so here from the archives are some of the best social media examples all in one place.

Put on your learning caps and prepare yourself for insights galore!

General Social Marketing Examples

These first two links lead to lessons on general social media marketing. They don’t pertain to any particular site and in fact, can be used for all.

Learning from the Best: Social Marketing Habits of 6 Power Users

Reading this post is like getting a lecture on how to do social media from the folks who do it best, the power users who’ve been super successful at social marketing.

4 Social Media Lessons SMBs Can Learn From IBM

While you may not connect IBM with social media success right away, these social marketing lessons show that the giant gets social media in all the ways it counts.

Cross Platform Social Marketing Examples

The next set of social media marketing examples consists of articles that focus on multiple networks, not one specific one. These stories cross platforms like the chicken on that road, but the lessons are pure gold.

30 Businesses that Are Rocking Social Media

This is probably one of the most inspirational social media marketing posts on Small Business Trends. These 30 businesses have learned how to get the most out of social marketing and it’s all waiting for you to discover.

7 Awesome Social Media Content Greats To Emulate

This post takes a look at both individuals who, and brands that, have learned to use social media to engage their audience.

GoPro’s Andrew Shipp: Create Amazing Social Media Content — Now

This interview with Andrew Shipp covers a lot of ground including many examples of brands that are crushing it on social media.

This Guy Promotes an Entire Town Online

If you’re looking for inspiration, then this is the post to read. It’s the story of how one man’s efforts to promote his town on social media started to yield amazing results.

Lesson from Reddit Fiasco: Keep Community Under Control

The final post in this section highlights what can happen when social media goes bad. Even if you’re not in charge of the social media network as Reddit was, the lessons on managing your online community are super-relevant.

Facebook Social Marketing Examples

There’s no doubt that Facebook is the 800 lb. gorilla of social media. Despite its popularity however, many small business folks find it intimidating. Here are some social marketing lessons to help you get up and running.

How 5 Small Businesses Are Using Facebook to Reach Customers

These five small businesses have learned how to use Facebook successfully to grow. Now you can learn from them.

46 Small Business Facebook Pages to Follow

This post is pure inspiration. If you want examples of how other small businesses are using Facebook, then start here.

This Entrepreneur Built a Business on Facebook Exclusively

Here’s a close look at one specific example of Facebook social marketing success.

The 5 Biggest Brands on Facebook And How They Do It

There’s a lot that small businesses can learn from bigger ones and this post passes on those lessons.

Travel Club Startup Began with a Facebook Invite

One of the best aspects of social media is the good results that crop up unexpectedly. This is a story of one of those times.

Hillary Clinton’s Social Media Lesson for all Entrepreneurs

What can Hillary Clinton teach you about social marketing? Find out by reading this post.

Staples Introduces Facebook Messenger Chat Feature

The office giant has teamed up with Facebook to integrate Messenger with its website. Discover the underlying marketing drivers for that decision.

Adrian  McDermott of Zendesk: Using Facebook Messenger as a Customer Support Channel

Finally, learn why Zendesk began using Facebook Messenger to support customers.

YouTube Social Marketing Examples

YouTube has the potential to be incredibly engaging and a powerful social marketing tool. Here’s some inspiration, as well as real life examples, of how folks are using this channel.

Twitter, Pinterest, Vine and Instagram Social Marketing Examples Tweeter in Chief: Obama Twitter Account Gets Heavy Engagement

What lessons can small businesses draw from Barrack Obama’s success on Twitter? Click here to find out!

20 Killer Brand Strategies On Pinterest

You’ll find a great overview of how 20 brands are using Pinterest effectively in this post.

20 Brands Killing It With Vine Marketing

Vine’s short videos can attract and engage a broad range of audiences. Here are some examples of how Vine is being used for social marketing.

Top 25 Brands You Should Follow on Instagram

These brands are doing Instagram right so head on over and see what you can learn.

Kiel James Patrick Instagram Campaign

This previous nominee in the Small Business Influencer Awards demonstrates a social marketing approach that is unique and takes advantage of what the Instagram network offers perfectly.

Livestreaming and Periscope Social Marketing Examples

Streaming video live via social media channels such as Periscope is still fairly new, but a quickly growing, trend. Here are some real life examples of how folks have used this medium to market their business.

Viral Marketing Examples

Going viral is the dream of all social marketers. In this final section, you’ll find some real life examples of campaigns that did just that.

Smartphone Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "Real Life Social Marketing Examples" was first published on Small Business Trends

How to Stay One Step Ahead With Your Marketing Campaigns

Small Business Trends - Thu, 2016-08-25 17:30

In the last few years, small businesses have invested larger and larger portions of their revenue into marketing, a crucial, yet notoriously delicate part of any business’ growth and longevity. A successful marketing campaign can increase sales, raise your prestige, and allow you to compete with larger companies, but for small businesses there’s not much room for error. It’s too easy to pour valuable resources into undercooked marketing campaigns with limited ROI.

But how can one know what campaigns are designed to triumph? Marketing is all about maximizing conversions. Maximizing conversions is all about A/B testing. A/B testing, or split testing, is a simple experimental design that, when applied to marketing campaigns, helps you understand what’s converting best. For a small business, this might mean creating two versions of a piece of your marketing content, like a Facebook post, and testing Post A and Post B on your audience. Then, whichever post leads to the most measurable positive results, such as shares or likes, wins.

A/B testing is an easy, fast, and relatively cheap way to incrementally improve your marketing campaigns. And incremental change for the better will result in substantial growth in the long-term. In the end, A/B testing will bring you closer, step-by-step, to creating artful marketing campaigns that hook and delight consumers.

To illustrate how A/B testing might work for a small business, let’s look at how a go-to marketing email campaign can be optimized for conversions …

Split Testing Your Email Campaigns

A cheap and incredibly effective way to help the consumer along every part of the conversion funnel, email marketing’s ROI is 3800 percent, with businesses making $38 on every $1 spent. For small businesses with big needs and an average digital marketing budget of $400 per month, that makes email marketing a no-brainer.

Even though email seems like a straightforward way to retain customers and inspire them to return — after all, these people signed up! — there are a considerable number of ways to optimize email campaigns. First off, as with any marketing campaign, there are a lot of variables that are important to your subscribers: the subject line, send time, content, design, message preview, from name, frequency, and list segmentation, just to name a few. All together they can be confounding but these can all be optimized cheaply, and easily via A/B testing.

Email Campaign Split Testing Case Studies

Subject Line – One larger retailer optimized the subject line of their Holiday email encouraging subscribers to browse their offerings just days before Christmas. They A/B tested “Merry Christmas” vs “Happy Holidays,” sending each to 33,500 subscribers. The more specific “Merry Christmas” won by a wide margin with an open rate almost 5 percent greater and a Click-Through Rate 2.57 percent higher.

Content – Mammal Marine Center, a hospital for injured seals, uses email to get funding by asking for donations and offering items from their gift shop. For Valentine’s Day, they A/B tested two approaches to email content: one that focused on storytelling about the cause, the other that focused on gift store products. The results? The product-oriented email content earned almost doubled the amount of purchases.  

Design – Microsoft wanted to increase click-through rates on their email marketing so they looked into using a different color scheme and layout. Email A featured a large, full image of the product and a purple CTA button over a white background. Email B had an orange background, a cropped close-up shot of the product, and a pink CTA button, which matches Microsoft’s overall online marketing design scheme. Still, the simpler Email, A, increased click-through rates by 325 percent.

Frequency – In 2012, as Obama was running for reelection, he tested his email campaign relentlessly, focusing especially on frequency in an effort to understand how much is too much. The campaign ran many A/B tests, sending different amounts of emails to segmented parts of their subscriber list, and found there were no negative consequences to sending more emails. In the end, Obama’s marketing efforts were some of the most successful political fundraising efforts ever, having raised $500 million with the help of A/B test optimization.

There it is. A/B testing is a cost-effective and essential means by which businesses can maximize the ROI of their marketing campaigns. This does not only apply to email campaigns either, but any aspect of marketing from social media and newsletters, to planned events and beyond.

Have other ideas on how to stay ahead of marketing campaigns? Share your thoughts below!

Step Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "How to Stay One Step Ahead With Your Marketing Campaigns" was first published on Small Business Trends

Has Fitbit Been Stealing Trade Secrets? Judge Says No (Watch)

Small Business Trends - Thu, 2016-08-25 15:30

The competition between wearable device companies Fitbit and Jawbone is heating up. Jawbone recently accused Fitbit of violating patents and poaching its employees in an effort to steal trade secrets. But the U.S. International Trade Commission just ruled that Fitbit didn’t misappropriate anything.

The ruling is obviously good news for Fitbit, although Jawbone wants to review the ruling. If the commission had decided against Fitbit, it could have banned the company from importing any of its products into the U.S., severely disrupting momentum in the fast-growing market.

The heavy competition between these two companies is likely far from over, especially with the amount of growth the wearables industry is experiencing. But both companies need to use caution.

Every business wants to gain advantages over the competition wherever possible. But breaking laws or regulations in the process can lead to unnecessary issues for the offending company. Fitbit may not have been found in violation of any official rules. But if it had, it would have basically handed a huge advantage to its biggest competitor.

Even Under Pressure, Avoid Unethical Business Practices

While most small businesses certainly aren’t competing for a market anywhere near the size of the one being fought over by Fitbit and Jawbone, it’s still essential to stay out of trouble and protect yourself from any unsavory practices that could jeopardize your company’s future.

Smartphone Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "Has Fitbit Been Stealing Trade Secrets? Judge Says No (Watch)" was first published on Small Business Trends

Time Running Out to Take Advantage of Error in USPS Shipping Rates

Small Business Trends - Thu, 2016-08-25 13:30

The U.S. Postal Service is announcing yet another change in its shipping rates.

This change affects companies that ship First-Class Mail Parcel Retail lightweight packages. These packages weigh between 1 and 3 ounces.

The cost of shipping these packages beginning August 28 will be $2.62. That’s a 17-cent increase over the current rate of $2.45. Any package that size containing keys or some other ID device, the rate will jump from $3.27 to $3.44.

The current rate went into effect on January 17, when the Postal Service announced wholesale changes to a number of package rates.

In that rate change at the beginning of 2016, rates on Priority Mail packages, numerous international packages and other shipments increased. At that time, the Postal Service announced a few name changes to some of its services.

And that announcement was followed by another rate change that, most notably, saw the price of a stamp drop to 46.5 cents.

USPS says it is making the adjustment in First-Class Mail Parcel Retail rates because of an “anomaly” created by the January rate change.

That change caused the rate for First-Class Mail Parcel Retail packages between 1 and 3 ounces to be priced lower at the retail level than is available USPS customers eligible for Commercial Base Prices.

USPS Rate Change Error

So, for those 224 days, the USPS was under-charging for First-Class Mail Parcel Retail packages.

But if you’re a small business that sends a considerable amount of First-Class Mail Parcel Retail packages, it may be time to complete all orders and pay for shipping before the rate change takes effect.

Though these rate changes may appear to be insignificant, any business that utilizes a shipping service like USPS on a consistent — sometimes daily — basis knows that the 17 cents in this rate change and the double-digit percentage increases on rates in previous announcements do have an impact.

Post Office Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "Time Running Out to Take Advantage of Error in USPS Shipping Rates" was first published on Small Business Trends

9 Tips to Ship Anything Fragile for Your Business

Small Business Trends - Thu, 2016-08-25 12:00

Shipping isn’t normally considered to be one of the most exciting parts of running an eCommerce business. So preparing fragile items for shipping can be especially burdensome. But there are some things you can do to ensure the safe delivery of your fragile products. Here are some tips for shipping fragile items for your business.

Tips for Shipping Fragile Items Order Packaging in the Right Size

The box or vessel that you use to house your fragile items is one of the most important means you have to protect it during shipping. In most cases, actual boxes instead of envelopes or mailers will be preferable when it comes to shipping products that could be potentially breakable. But you’ll also need to make sure that you purchase boxes that are the right size for your products. Ideally, you’ll want to choose boxes that are large enough to fit some protective wrapping around your product, but not so large that the wrapped product will bounce around the inside of the box as it’s being handled.

Get Enough Wrapping Materials

That’s where the wrapping materials come in. In many cases, you’ll want to have some bubble wrap or a similar protective material to wrap around your products, making sure that you cover each surface and section. If you have uniquely shaped items, large boxes or more than one product that you need to fit into a box, you might also need some packing peanuts to fill the rest of the box, in addition to the protective wrapping around the product itself.

Protect Items from the Elements

When you think about threats to your fragile products, you probably picture your boxes being thrown around, dropped or mishandled in some way. But rough handling isn’t the only way that your fragile items can get damaged in the shipping process. Rain, puddles of standing water and other elements can also threaten their safe delivery. Plastic bags or shrink-wrap can be great in those circumstances to prevent any moisture or other potentially harmful elements from getting to your products and ruining them.

Attach the Wrapping Securely

The protective packing materials you choose to wrap around your products to keep them safe can vary based on the types of items. But the one thing that doesn’t change is the fact that you need those protective materials to actually stay put throughout the entire shipping process if you want your product to arrive in one piece. For that reason, you’ll probably want to use packing tape, bags that zip closed or other secure packing materials to really keep your wrappings in place until your package reaches its destination.

Don’t Wrap Items Too Tightly

While it’s important to wrap materials securely, it’s also critical to avoid wrapping your items too tightly. Doing so can potentially put a lot of pressure on fragile items like glassware or antiques. And that pressure can actually make it more likely for those items to break during the shipping process. Instead, try to wrap your items in a secure but loose fashion. The specifics can change based on the size and style of the product, but just try to avoid putting too much tension on items when you wrap them.

Seal the Box Closed

Once you’re happy with how you’ve wrapped the item inside your box or package, you’ll need to seal the actual box itself. Don’t skimp on tape. Otherwise, if your package comes open during the shipping process, all that hard work you put into wrapping that fragile item will be for naught. Instead, use high quality packing tape and cover all potential openings on all sides of the box.

Add More Wrapping for Distance

It’s a basic law of shipping — the farther your package has to travel, the more it is going to be handled. That means that if you’re shipping internationally or to a location that’s pretty far away, your package will have plenty of opportunity to be dropped or mishandled. So in those instances, you might want to add an extra layer of wrapping or tape just to make extra sure your items are going to remain secure throughout the whole trip.

Label Your Package

Even if you’ve wrapped your items and secured your box really well, the people handling your packages don’t necessarily know that your items are fragile unless you tell them so. You can make it really easy for them by labeling your package as fragile on every side so that no matter how someone grabs the box, they’ll see your label. If you ship a lot of fragile items for your business, you might even consider investing in a stamp to use on all of your packages.

Consider Insurance

No matter how careful you are in wrapping your items, you can’t control every single aspect of their shipping journey once they’ve  left your care. So issues are bound to arise every now and then. If your fragile items are valuable or irreplaceable, you should strongly consider insuring them so that you won’t be put in a bad situation if something unfortunate does happen during shipping.

* * *Are there any tips you can think of that have been left out. If so, please leave them in the comment section and share the with the community.

Shipping Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "9 Tips to Ship Anything Fragile for Your Business" was first published on Small Business Trends

8 Businesses You Can Run from a Self Storage Facility

Small Business Trends - Thu, 2016-08-25 10:30

Are you running your small business from the kitchen or dining room table? Or are you lucky enough to be able to dedicate an entire room — say a study, spare bedroom or home office — to your business operations?

Perhaps it’s the opposite and running your small business from home has taken over the whole house, with paperwork on the sofa, products strewn on the floor and marketing materials lying on every ope surface.

In any case, it may be time to step things up with a more professional location — like an office or other place of business.

But before making that big investment, taking out lease and adding hundreds or even thousands a month to your overhead, here may be a more logical step to take first. A 200 to 300 square foot storage unit can be much less costly and still give you all the space you need.

Here are eight businesses that could be run entirely from a self-storage unit with the right consideration.

Run a Business Out of a Storage Unit eBay Business

No matter what you’re selling on eBay, Amazon or Etsy, if you’re doing this from home you’re probably sick of using your living room as a quasi order fulfillment center.

With the right amenities, a self-storage unit could be used as a photo studio, a place to bunker down and rattle off a few dozen product listings and, most importantly, a place to store whatever it is you sell.

Content Provider

What better place to seek solitude and tranquility and boost on those creative juices than in the bowels of a cavernous self-storage unit. If you’re able to set up a laptop, run some electricity and arrange an internet connection, you’ve got all the makings of a makeshift office space.

That’s not to suggest that you work from some windowless, ductless bunker-like headquarters.

Actually, not all storage facilities are like this at all. Some more modern storage facilities are actually equipped with the infrastructure to make this a reality and even feature business centers, where renters have access to extra facilities like a multi-purpose room.

Mr. or Mrs. Fix It

Those with handy skills and the ability to fix just about anything broken need room to operate and even more room to keep all the tiny parts and tools that they need to get the job done.

Storing all these things at home can be awkward or impossible, especially if you don’t live alone and find yourself impinging on everyone else’s  space.

A storage unit gives you a location to store all your  parts and tools and a place to work on your projects too.

Thrift Store or “Dollar Store”

If the facility allows such activity, opening the door to your store regularly could just be a matter of popping the lock and sliding open the doors to your new second hand shop.

Set up some retail shelving inside the storage unit, fill those shelves with your products and set up a register at the entrance.

Vintage Furniture Sales

A wet, leaky basement is no place to store your your mid-century modern living room set especially if you intend on selling it.

Storing furniture — especially in the hopes of someday showcasing it for sale — requires a larger space like a warehouse floor. If you’re growing slowly, keeping a few select pieces in storage and listing them for sale locally could be the most practical path to operating a sustainable vintage furniture business and maybe even growing it into your own furniture warehouse store someday.

Video Producer

A storage unit that’s adequately constructed could be turned into a makeshift video studio. Many units are large enough to allow space for shooting videos and even a desk for a laptop or other computer to do some editing of the final product.

Just be sure to have a good sound engineer on standby. The confines of a storage unit are sure to present some challenges for audio.

Auto Mechanic

Most storage facilities will take a dim view of you bringing in broken down cars at all hours of the day and night as if you’re running a full service body shop — leaking vehicle fluids all over the storage area. 

But if your work is dedicated to one aspect of auto mechanics — say, engine rebuilding — then a storage unit could provide plenty of space for a growing company. These places will allow you to inexpensively store your valuable parts and give you the space to work on projects.

Photo Studio

Just as a storage unit can be the ideal setting — with some adjustments — for a video production and editing area, the space is equally ideal for a photo studio, too … perhaps even more so.

Proper backdrops and lighting are key to good photos and with those in place, it’ll be impossible to tell your shots were taken inside a storage locker.

Of course, before you pull up stakes from your current location and decide to set up shop inside a storage facility, be sure these activities are permitted, especially on a regular basis. Each facility varies on what it does and doesn’t allow to happen in one of their lockers.

Storage Facility Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "8 Businesses You Can Run from a Self Storage Facility" was first published on Small Business Trends

The Essentials of PPC Keyword Research

Small Business Trends - Thu, 2016-08-25 09:30

Identifying keywords for Pay Per Click (PPC) ad campaigns is a dynamic and never-ending process that demands continuous improvement. The key to conversion is within your keywords and how effectively you use them. Data-driven keyword research is a must to remove any guesswork from the process. The idea is that outcomes of a PPC campaign should not be a surprise once you have agreed to invest in it.

But how do you start and from where? Do you have the right approach when searching for the best business keywords to suit your campaign? Here are a few ideas to start with before you jump into your PPC campaign.

The manual exercise of generating keyword ideas can limit your options and opportunities. Keywords, if not evaluated against monthly search volume, location popularity, CPC rate, competitive pricing and ad position, may ruin the entire marketing effort.  It is important that you make informed decisions while choosing and applying keywords for your business campaign.

Know Your Keyword Search Tools and Their Usage First

Using keyword research tools like Google AdWords Keyword Planner, SEMrush Keyword Analytics, WordStream Keyword Tool, Moz, Wordtracker, or SEO Book can be of great help.

Another interesting bit of news for the PPC marketer is that SEMrush has come up with its very own PPC Keyword tool which is in beta stage. With this tool, not only can you create new PPC keywords in various combinations but also collect competitors’ keyword ideas for implementation. SEMrush has developed its own database for searching new keywords. It also allows you to discover intersecting keywords in different groups and add them as negatives in order to avoid ad groups’ competing.

However, which tool to go for and what to try out for occasional use depend on individual choice. There is no guarantee that using these tools will bring you higher conversions, but they can definitely help you in picking the right keywords that influence your PPC campaigns.

Using Keyword research tools can automate data capturing, data storing and sorting processes, and provide important statistics that marketers need for quick decision making. The steps to using keyword tools are simple.

  • Learn the must-have features you should find in a keyword research tool.
  • Evaluate the keyword tool based on its ease of use and level of automation.
  • Establish the targeted campaign settings — location, device, placements, schedule, targeted ad message and landing pages — before running the keywords.
  • Keep on evaluating Clicks, CTR, Conversions, Cost per Conversion for each keyword and improve upon their number and variety for better outcomes.

In this article, we will focus on the key capabilities of a PPC keyword research tool and how you can use one to your advantage. Following the checklist will insure you choose tools that will have a positive impact on your overall campaign objectives.

Tool Should Provide Well-Tried and Tested Keywords

A good tool can help you perform PPC keyword research for both Google AdWords and Bing Ads campaigns. If you have a list of all relevant keywords that your competitors and industry leaders are already competing and ranking for, it becomes easier to set short-term and long-term PPC targets.  The tool must have the historical database to provide you with performing keywords in your targeted domain.

Tool Should Provide All Useful Information About Selected Keywords

Extended information such as average monthly search volume by location, search trend charts, Keyword Difficulty (KD) score, CPC, Competitive Density and number of results in SERPs provide you better insights about a keyword. Evaluating a keyword based on all these essential metrics helps you optimize the list of prospective keywords and build on it.

Tool Should Show Popularity and Usage Details of Each Keyword by Others

Isn’t it a great idea if you discover keywords and the names of the leading advertisers/competitors who use those keywords for their campaigns? Once you learn their popular landing pages and the ad copy messages in them, it becomes easier for you to create AdGroups having a compelling message and high CTA. Make sure your keyword tool has the provision for it.

Tool Must Generate Phrase Matches and Related Keywords

Do broad/phrase match keywords work for your campaign or do you feel using exact match keywords for targeted PPC brings better results? What yields the maximum return at a reasonable cost? Making such decisions often depends on how large a keyword pool you have to draw from. If your PPC keyword tool allows you to create a maximum number of phrase variations to test and choose from, you are in a better position to make meaningful decisions.

Tool Should Generate Keyword Ideas Using Custom Inputs and Variables

Not every tool has this feature built-in. Keyword research tools like SEMrush Keyword Analytics provide an advanced filter option to create a varied set of phrase match keywords. You can add varied input texts and find multiple keywords in different combinations of search metrics.

Tool Must Group Keywords into Niches

Isn’t it a great relief that you could arrange keywords in separate niche groups, analyze them as per requirements and discover new niches to take over without using any excel based repository? A keyword research tool that helps you segregate keywords in batches and provides you with relevant AdGroup ideas can be really useful and time-saving.

Tool Must Show Keyword Difficulty

One of the major mistakes marketers often make is that they select high CPC keywords with high first-page bid estimate. These keywords are the most difficult to rank for and to maintain for the top positions. This results in frustration as you continue to increase bid amount, but with no luck for clicks or even impressions. By using a keyword difficulty tool, you will be able to locate keywords having moderate to less competition and affordable CPC rate that your ad campaign suits. Keyword difficulty data for organic search rankings also gives an idea of the keywords you can target for PPC keyword ranking.

Tool Must Create Longtail Keywords

Longtail keywords are the lifeblood of your PPC keyword generation strategy. The more you rely on branded, highly competitive keywords with high search volume, the more you ignore a large chunk of other keyword opportunities. Thousands of users use small-volume search queries on the web and ranking for them can bring you a higher number of clicks in total.  Your keyword tool should enable you to find as well as create longtail keywords with low competition. Increasing your longtail keyword database helps you armor against sudden inflation of keyword CPC rate.  By using such keywords, you can keep your monthly investment in control yet bang on clicks and conversions.

Tool Must Suggest Regional and Multinational Keywords

Does your tool allow you to develop keyword pool based on local, regional, national as well as multinational business strategies and traffic data? Whether you target regional customers or adopt global marketing strategies, the tool should be able to provide you appropriate keywords for each region.

Tool Must Generate Keywords in Multiple Languages

If you are managing multilingual websites, you have to select language specific keywords for PPC campaigns. Your keyword research tool should support whatever language your customers speak.

Tool Should Allow Export of Research Reports in Various Formats

Whatever research findings you generate using your keyword tool, they should be easily accessible and shareable among peers or clients for further data analysis. Make sure your keyword tool provides you with all basic reporting features and graphical dashboard views for campaign audits. The Keyword tool should bring together the functionalities of multiple tools, such as online key editors and Excel files.

Tool Should Apply Dynamic Searches

A modern keyword research tool helps to locate intersecting keywords in different AdGroups and add them as negatives in order to avoid AdGroups competing with each other. These are some of the day-to-day functions that can be automated and augmented by a keyword tool.

Once you have all the different keyword-driven data put together in a presentable format, you are in a better position to drive a PPC campaign in the right direction. Following this infographic below can help you revitalize your PPC campaign plan and keyword initiatives. Happy researching PPC keywords!

PPC Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "The Essentials of PPC Keyword Research" was first published on Small Business Trends

11 Best Tips for Briefing a Freelancer on Your Project Goals

Small Business Trends - Thu, 2016-08-25 08:30

You hire a freelancer to ultimately make your life easier, but that doesn’t mean they automatically know what you expect from them. That’s why we asked 11 entrepreneurs from Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) the following question:

“What’s the most efficient way to brief a freelancer on your project goals? “

Tips for Onboarding Freelancers

Here’s what YEC community members had to say:

1. Put Together a Work Requirements Document

“You should provide a document that states the entire goal of the project and provides any necessary details on how to complete it successfully. The more specific and detailed you are, the better. Make sure your objective and the expected outcome are clearly defined, so when the contract is over, it is clear whether the service has been completed successfully. ” ~ Andy KaruzaFenSens

2. Schedule a Brief Working Session

“Sometimes the best way to understand a project is to jump right into it. Carve out a brief one- or two-hour working session (ideally in person but video conferences are fine), where you collaboratively discuss and sketch out ideas for a project. Often a sitemap, wireframe or outline can go a long way in defining project goals. When reviewed collectively, you ensure nothing is lost in communication.” ~ Ross BeyelerGrowth Spark

3. Explain the Strategy and Give Clear Feedback

“We have a network of hundreds of freelancers that we work with on projects for our clients. We use our custom software to help manage them, and we share as much information as we can about the strategy and background of the project. We also take the time to give each freelancer constructive feedback once their work is submitted so we can continue to improve their work.” ~ Kelsey MeyerInfluence & Co.

4. Use Video Communications

“Use a tool like Camtasia to record your screen with a camera recording as you explain what’s expected of the freelancer. Don’t just tell them; show them. This will reduce the margin for errors and make sure they understand the process clearly and correctly from the start. Upload your instructions to a project management system with tasks and notifications included to track the progress.” ~Marcela De VivoBrilliance

5. Communicate With Phone Calls or Messaging Services

“Since freelancers are typically remote, I start with phone calls to skip some of the misunderstanding that comes from messaging and to speed the brief up. However, it does help to use a messaging service too as this provides a fast and efficient way to share documents, directions and expectations. ” ~ Murray NewlandsDue.com

6. Use Screen Captured Videos and Vocaroo

“When I took on a new virtual assistant for a small project, I noticed that she was extremely enthusiastic but just really had no idea what she was doing. It took her two days to get over the learning curve of being part of my team. By day three, she was creating value! I think showing her what I wanted using video screen capture and sending her voice notes on Vocaroo was essential.” ~ Cody McLainSupportNinja

7. Add Freelancers to Project Management Systems 

“Invite your freelancer to a project management system such as Asana or Trello. This will help with communication regarding goals, deadlines and milestones of the project so everybody is on the same page. Clear and simple communication through these applications will help achieve project goals in an effective way.” ~ Joey KercherAir Fresh Marketing

8. Set Them Up for Success with Specifics 

“For any freelance project, writing a thorough brief is one of the best things you can do to make sure you get the results you need. You need to provide them a project overview, business objectives, project objectives, examples (very important), deliverables and a solid timeline. The more specific you get, the better the freelancer will be able to execute the project.” ~ Wesley MathewsHigh Level Marketing

9. Put in the Prep Work

“We hire freelancers to save us time, but that doesn’t mean you can get out of doing work. The more effort you put into creating a detailed spec sheet, workflows and even rough mockups, the better your chances of getting the results you want. Your actual documentation can be whatever works best for you, but your goal should be to think through the details of your project.” ~ Mark DaoustQuiet Light Brokerage, Inc.

10. Treat Them Like a New Hire 

“Embrace the freelancer as if they’re a new hire. Bring them into the fold and really allow them to immerse themselves in the project. Give them some ownership over the project’s success by incentivizing them and encouraging them to dig in with you. You’ll not only create a highly effective relationship, but the freelancer will have a strong command over your goals and endgame. ” ~ Blair ThomasFirst American Merchant

11. Delegate

“If you’re in a leadership position, relaying project goals to freelancers is a time suck. Choose someone on your team who has a strong understanding of the project and let them onboard and brief the freelancer. In the end, this creates trust in the team, and ensures that the freelancer is briefed, while allowing you to focus on more important things.” ~ Nick AkeyMakerSquare

Two Talking Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "11 Best Tips for Briefing a Freelancer on Your Project Goals" was first published on Small Business Trends

Need to Share Some Content? Dlvr.it Provides Syndication Service

Small Business Trends - Thu, 2016-08-25 07:30

Dlvr.it provides brands, publishers and marketers with a way to syndicate content using their social media channels.

Essentially, dlvr.it provides you with a simple way to curate content and automatically distribute it to preferred channels.

Dlvr.it Details

The platform enables you to share content from RSS-enabled sites to social networks. It continuously scans the content feeds for updates and when it comes across new entries it automatically shares them to these chosen channels.  You can also have real time distribution if your subscription is “Push” enabled.

Dlvr.it allows for creation of customized short links, sharing of different types of media, adding of hashtags, scheduling of posts, and integration of Google Analytics to all the content that you share.

You can also queue content using the platform’s browser extension. Queuing gives you the opportunity to share the curated content on an optimized schedule.

Apart from optimized schedules and Google Analytics, the platform also offers you engagement statistics. You can use the platform’s social and content sharing analytics to gain insights into those following your content. This also gives you a chance to track and measure audience engagement across social networks so you can identify which channels are delivering the best results and which ones might require more work.

The tool also offers a “smart sharing” feature, which ideally means that you can now share the right content with the right audience. Target the right audience using tags, author, keywords and more. You can also fine tune your posts using the platform’s find or replace/remove text tool.

Are you a small business owner or marketer that’s always on the go? Another feature to note is that dlvr.it allows for quick and easy sharing from anywhere. It’s extensions integrate with some of the major browsers: Safari, Chrome and Firefox, making it easy to find and share links, photos and articles, regardless of when and where you come across them.

The company boasts more than a million customers and adds that it currently delivers over five million items a day for individuals, businesses and global brands such as Reuters, ESPN and CBS.

Dlvr.it offers a demo version that severely limits the number of destinations you can send content to. The paid version, however, starts at $9.99 per month or $109 per year and allows for a greater number of social profiles.

Image: dlvr.it

This article, "Need to Share Some Content? Dlvr.it Provides Syndication Service" was first published on Small Business Trends

The 5 Most Sought-After Types of Content to Curate on Your Social Media Pages

Small Business Trends - Thu, 2016-08-25 06:30

Most businesses underestimate the effectiveness of content curation. There is a lot you can accomplish by being the best content curator in a niche and being considered the best destination for information in that niche.

All advertising and marketing efforts on the internet are made with the ultimate goal of driving traffic to a business’s online presence. What most people overlook is that curated content is one of the best ways to attract the right audience, while also building valuable relationships along the way.

The following is a list of five sought-after content types to curate on your business’s social media pages.

Effective Curated Content Examples 1. The Latest Content

Why do we come across the word ‘latest’ in brand communication so often? The latest designs, the latest technology, the latest trends and the latest news even.

Human psychology dictates that people have a compulsive need to keep up, stay ahead and move faster into the future. Words like ‘latest’ strike a chord with that need.

Further if your social media marketing strategy includes being useful to your social media audience (it should, ideally), sharing with them the latest information in your niche is the way to go.

By updating professionals on the latest happenings or with the latest content created in an industry, you are giving them a special advantage of using that information to raise the bar.

2. Actionable Guides

People seek actionable content because it helps them overcome an obstacle, learn a new skill or discover something previously unknown.

By providing them with that information, you’re enabling them to improve and get ahead. Do this with dedication, and they will thank you for it.

Action oriented content is not very hard to find, but when deciding what to share try to find something your audience doesn’t already know or is probably struggling to do.

You could set a keyword alert for questions using words in tandem with the keyword for your niche to identify what people are asking about in your industry.

3. Expert Opinions

Nothing compares to actual experience when it comes to real learning. Expert opinions are formed by years of work dedicated to an industry where each lesson learned comes at the cost of a failure.

A lot of experts share opinions and the basic tips and understanding that they have got about the industry, but few talk about their failures and how they overcame them openly.

Locate rare and useful interviews, blog posts, podcasts or videos and you will develop a loyal following from your social media audience.

You could source these by setting a key word alert for ‘expert + yourindustryname’ or by following the best blogs in your industry.

4. Content Resources

If you conduct a survey among executives belonging to different businesses on what they want to improve the most, at least half of them will say efficiency.

Being efficient is all about creating resources and knowing where they are when required.

Posts that list resources almost always do very well. With respect to your industry, you should be able to list at least 10 areas that require resources of some kind.

The generic ones are the best blogs to follow, the top sites to find high-quality images for commercial use, or a list of the best videos to watch on some subject.

You could experiment and create unique listicals.

5. Case Studies

When guiding your audience about doing something, it is best to illustrate your point with an example. The difference between a simple example and a case study is simply the numbers.

With an example you can show people what you’re trying to explain, but with case studies you are essentially proving to them that it works.

You could put together a case study, but this takes a lot of digging and effort. Instead, you can locate and share relevant case studies with your audience for their benefit.

But always give credit where it is due because putting case studies together is a lot of work.

That wraps up content types for curation. You could find more on this post, but it’s now your turn to put these ideas into practice. Once you start, stay consistent, and you will see a definite improvement in your social media engagement numbers.

Social Media Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "The 5 Most Sought-After Types of Content to Curate on Your Social Media Pages" was first published on Small Business Trends

Tips for Making Your PPC Healthcare Ads Stand Out on Google

Small Business Trends - Thu, 2016-08-25 05:00

Each year, Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) processes a whopping 28 billion search queries about healthcare topics from across the United States. Nearly a quarter of those consumer needs are resolved by medical ads, resulting in 1 billion clicks on search ads.

Healthcare is such a broad category, though. Advertisers in healthcare are competing against hospitals, pharmacies, labs and other diagnostic services, pharmaceutical companies, weight loss brands and more for their share of online consumer attention.

Healthcare Advertising a Seriously Competitive Field

In fact, a new infographic from Google lists the top 20 U.S. search queries in healthcare, and the list is all over the map. Check out just the top 10:

  1. Walgreens
  2. FitBit
  3. CVS
  4. PubMed
  5. WebMD
  6. Weight Watchers
  7. Quest Diagnostics
  8. Express Scripts
  9. MyFitnessPal
  10. RiteAid

In our recent analysis of average click through rate (CTR), cost per click (CPC), conversion rate (CVR) and cost per action (CPA) on AdWords across all industries, we found that healthcare is one of the toughest verticals for PPC advertisers.

Healthcare ads have a lower than average CTR, at 1.79 percent compared to the average 1.91 percent across industries on the search network.

They pay more for those clicks, too. As shown above, in the black bar, healthcare advertisers pay an average cost per click of $3.17 on the search network. The average across industries is just $2.32.

PPC Tips for Healthcare Consumers Overwhelmingly Look to Google on Healthcare

According to Google’s research, 89 percent of consumers turn to its search engine when they’re looking to solve their healthcare queries. Even though the space is saturated with all manner of health-related businesses, there’s a huge opportunity for those with a smarter healthcare advertising strategy to connect.

So what’s a business to do so their healthcare marketing and advertising cuts through the crazy competition?

For starters, you can capitalize on the local nature of many healthcare queries by using AdWords tools and features to your advantage. Google reports that 63 percent of searchers make their decisions based on the proximity of a proposed service to their home or office.

How easy it is for searchers to find your locations? Use Location Targeting in AdWords to bid more for queries happening closer to your location.

This allows you to increase your bids for some locations or dial them down for others. Depending on your place in the healthcare industry, this can be super important. If you’re a walk-in clinic, for example, you probably don’t want to pay the same for an out-of-state search click as you will for someone who’s only a few blocks away. In this way, geography tells you a lot about intent.

This also increases the likelihood that your ads are going to get the clicks, because you’re appearing in front of a more targeted, motivated audience. And as we know, increasing your CTR is key in boosting your Quality Score, which can drive up your ROI and lower costs per click across your campaign!

The Importance of Mobile Optimization for Healthcare Marketers

Make your website and landing pages mobile-friendly. Google tells us that 60 percent of consumers interested in healthcare ads are going to visit the healthcare website. We also know that 53 percent of searches are coming from a smartphone, and another 7 percent from tablets.

If your web experience isn’t optimized for mobile, you’re going to lose prospects through your lackluster user experience. It’s even worse if you have no website at all, but with that said, quality definitely matters.

Populate your site with rich, top quality, engaging content. A set-it-and-forget-it website won’t cut it. If your website is a 2007 throwback, today’s consumer can tell; 71 percent won’t take action if your website lacks the kinds of information they need to make important healthcare decisions.

Check out the rest of Google’s healthcare marketing findings in the infographic below:

Images: via WordStream

This article, "Tips for Making Your PPC Healthcare Ads Stand Out on Google" was first published on Small Business Trends