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A new tool is available to give users options when it comes to Google Hangout graphics. Hangout Magix was unveiled on May 4 by entrepreneurs Alex Kozak and Bertrand Diouly.
The app is intended to work alongside Hangout Toolbox, a Google+ extension that is available on the left sidebar of Google Hangouts.
“Hangout Toolbox already lets you add some graphic elements to your presentations, but it’s very basic,” said Kozak. “Hangout Magix gives you more options.”
The tool requires minimal design skills or experience, according to Kozak. Anyone can use the tool for free directly on hangoutmagix.com. Users can change around the design elements that appear on the screen during Hangouts, including text, backgrounds, colors, and logos. The design elements can be made to appear on the lower third of the screen, the sidebar, or even toward the top.
By simply clicking on the text part of the demo screen and typing a new title and subtitle, users can change the text to include their name, job title, social media accounts, a call to action, or whatever they choose.
Then they can choose from a predetermined group of background styles and colors to appear behind the text.
They can also add a logo to appear to the right of their text by choosing from a selection of popular logos or uploading a custom company logo. Once all the elements have been customized, users can download the file and then use Hangout Toolbox to add the design to their Hangouts.
Once Hangout Toolbox is open, users need to turn on the custom overlay option on the right side of the screen. Then upload the file created with Hangout Magix. Users can upload graphics to use with both Google Hangouts and Hangouts On Air.
Kozak is a self-proclaimed “Google Hangouts fan.” He said that the idea for Hangout Magix came to him just a few months ago out of a desire to have more options to customize his own Hangouts. Diouly had been involved in creating some similar graphics tools, so the two were able to form a partnership and quickly launch the new tool.
Hangout Magix is still a work in progress, according to Kozak, as the creators are looking to gain feedback from users.
The post Hangout Magix: New Tool Lets You Add Branding to Google Hangouts appeared first on Small Business Trends.
When you are planning to start your new business and become self-employed, you need to know about the things you need to do. But that is not all. You also need to know about the things you need NOT do.Properly Balancing Do and Don’ts Customers – Too Few or Too Many?
It is true that the chances of failure of a new business increase when it cannot generate sales. However, it is also equally true that the chances of failure also increase when you target everyone as a potential customer.
Suppose you work as a self-employed Web designer. If you try to convince everyone you know to create a website, it would take up much more time than the core business task, the creation of website designs. Moreover, it would be a waste of effort when you try to convince someone who has no idea about how a website works. It is not necessary to give an affirmative response to a business proposal if it would only be a headache right from the start.
The right thing to do is do your research about your target customers and build a plan to attract the right ones. If you do not know your customers, you have a slim chance of success with your new venture.Funds – Too Much or Too Little?
Do you need to invest in the latest software? Do you need to buy a high-end desk for your new home office? Do you need to get help from an accounts expert? Your business and your budget determine the right answer to these questions.
If you have a Web-based business, you may need to invest in the latest software. However, if it is too much for your budget and you can do without it for the present, you can get it after your business starts to generate cash flow.
High-end furniture is, in most cases, a splurge for a newly self-employed individual. It may impress the people who come to visit you, but in the long run, it is of no use for your core business. Opt for functional furniture instead.
It is always a good idea to outsource certain tasks to specialized service providers. This would save you time and effort. Do not outsource any tasks related to your core business area, as it may have a negative impression on customers.Belief – Too Optimistic or Too Pessimistic?
It is a bad idea to lie to anyone, a business associate or a customer or anyone else, when you begin your new business. However, this does not mean that no one would lie to you. A common mistake that a new entrepreneur makes is to rely on contracts. They think that just because it is in a written format, it is inviolable. A contract is important; however, it is seldom the last word on how a business relationship will work.
You need to focus on the relationship behind the contract. If the relationship works out, chances are the deal will work out too. If the relationship heads into trouble, no contract may be able to save the deal.
Every self-employed individual needs to understand that lies do not make the task easy. Do not display the show of a big company, with a number of employees, when you are actually on your own because it can backfire.Attitude – Too Formal or Too Casual?
Too formal and you can be dubbed a fake; too casual and no one may ever take you seriously. The right thing to do is have a balanced attitude. Most importantly, do not lose your individuality just because you are now the self-employed owner of a business.
People lose patience with long, monotonous business proposals. Large corporations and their head honchos may take the formal approach because it suits them. A new-age, self-employed entrepreneur needs no such pretensions.
If you think that this means you can have a client meeting in your pajamas, you are obviously a little too casual. It is still a good idea to be a bit formal, at least in your attire, for client meetings, especially if they are with the large corporations.
Do not let the common perceptions dictate your attitude or your attire when you start your new business. You need not behave in a particular manner just because others do. Focus on your instincts. They will guide you in the right direction.Purpose – Too Value-focused or Too Profit-based?
What is the goal of your business? This is the first question you need to answer before you give up your job and become self-employed. It is important to learn how to create the right balance between value creation and profit making.
If your business does not create value, for yourself and for your customers, it has no chance of success in the long run. You need to zero in on how your product or service can add to the value of yourself and your customers.
For example, your Web design business will create value for Web-based businesses to attract more customers and generate more profits for them. However, that is not all. You need to ensure profits for your business too. You may not be able to make profits immediately with a new business. However, you may be able to create value with it. Your next step would be to take apart the business concept and enhance it in ways that may contribute to profits.
It takes time, but with the right balance of key elements – you will succeed.
The post Self-Employment Do and Don’ts: Create the Right Balance appeared first on Small Business Trends.
Is the main street bank becoming a thing of the past? Over the last three years, banks have been steadily closing branches around the country. Many small communities are finding themselves without a bank branch for the first time since the Great Depression. U.S. banks and thrifts shut 2,267 branches in 2012, according to SNL Financial, a Charlottesville, Va., research firm.
According to a recent Celent study, branch closing is long overdue. “Branch growth over the last 40 years has dramatically exceeded US population growth. In 1970, there were approximately 107 branches per million individuals. By 2011, that had grown to 270 branches per million.” Banks cite the immediate reason for closures as a need to cut costs and a general consumer shift towards online and mobile banking.
While bank adoption of online technology is indeed essential, the move seems a bit premature given the fact that the online infrastructure needed to support full service remote banking is not yet in place. For instance, almost every major bank in the country still requires business owners to apply for business loans in person. Online applications are not accepted. Without a community bank branch, small business owners around the country will be forced to seek alternative means of financing.
There is also evidence to suggest that many of the communities that were targeted by predatory mortgage lenders are the same communities losing local branches. Those under-served communities tend to be low-income communities with a high percentage of unbanked (no checking or savings account) and underbanked (has an account but relies on alternative means of financing like check cashing) residents. A recent CFED study cited Miami, Florida as the city with the largest population of unbanked residents. Texas had the most unbanked counties on the list, and Bronx County in New York came in second on the top ten list with 20.8% of its residents unbanked.
Government regulations have also forced many small community banks to close over the last three years. The Dodd-Frank Act was designed to regulate the banking and lending industries and decrease the likelihood of another financial catastrophe. Unfortunately, an unintended consequence is soaring costs for community banks struggling to comply with the new regulations. Many of those banks are located in smaller communities. The FDIC released a report last month that stated that no new community bank charters have been granted since 2011 due, in part, to Dodd-Frank.
While there are online financial resources available to those residents who seek them out, the loss of local bank branches is already impacting the small business community. In order to make banking accessible to all, the industry as a whole must continue to invest time and resources into improving online technology, automation, and community education.
Main Street Photo via Shutterstock
Big data is big news in today’s digitized world. With the explosion of Internet usage and social media networks, there’s a massive cloud of data being generated about people all over the world, and it’s growing at an exponential rate.
Until recently, big data has been a mining center for big business to learn more about customer behaviors, desires, trends and browsing or buying patterns. It takes a sophisticated system and considerable computing power to sort through all that information and pull something useful out of it.
However, technology has advanced in power—and come down in price. Now, even small businesses can tap into the power of big data to improve the customer experience and boost bottom lines.Analytics: The Key to Using Big Data
The term “big data” covers a lot of ground. Data is collected from every action that’s performed on an Internet-connected network—sending an email or tweet, posting to Facebook or a blog, commenting or rating, updating a profile, shopping online, using a cell phone or tablet, even swiping a credit card at a physical store. Every action generates a digital footprint that’s stored somewhere in the ether.
That’s a lot of data. To obtain useful information from this vast ocean, you’ll need some serious analytical power that can find the relevant bits and display them in a format you can understand. Fortunately, that power is both affordable and accessible through various platforms from free programs like Google Analytics to inexpensive business tools like customer relationship management (CRM) software.What Can Your Small Business Do With Big Data?
If you’re looking to tap into the vast, rich landscape of big data, there are a number of avenues to explore.Sort Through Your Social Media
You’re already connected to many of your customers through your business social media networks,aren’t you? Well, the data collection doesn’t have to stop there. Tools like Social Mention, Twilert, and Kurrently let you set up alerts and notifications whenever a subject is mentioned online like your business itself, the products or services you offer or any relevant keyword.
Once you start tracking these mentions, you can tailor your responses and conversations to build buzz, generate more interest and improve customer satisfaction and engagement.Collect Customized Data With CRM
There are many inexpensive (even free) CRM systems that offer fully featured platforms to track interactions with customers and prospects. Programs such as Insightly, Zolo, and Nimble not only provide an inside line to big data, but also help you sort through it and pinpoint the most helpful information.
These platforms also include social media functionality, so you can streamline your big data collection from multiple sources.Monitor and Mine Customer Calls
Whether you’re working with a few office lines, a VoIP system with mobile capabilities, or a third-party call center, customer service calls can be an important source of data. Be sure you’re collecting your call logs and analyzing the information.
Customer call data can help you:
Many web-based VoIP systems include analytics and automated call logs, and they’re also an inexpensive solution for business voice needs.
How can your small business take advantage of big data?
Data Photo via Shutterstock
Getting good content is difficult enough. It often needs to come from a professional SEO writer, not just a professional writer, and that comes at a cost. However, what does a business do once the content’s there? It can’t promote itself, and this will take some Web savvy. Otherwise, it’s a complete waste of money and that’s something no business wants. Below are some tips.5 Ways to Get the Most Out of Good Content 1. Use Analytics
Google Analytics is a free and very user-friendly tool that every business should be using. It can quickly tell site owners how many bouncebacks are happening, which pages are popular, which pages are sinking and in general how much traffic is coming to a site.
By using Google Analytics integration, owners can ensure that quality content is on all pages and take a closer look at the pages that are really excelling or not performing.2. Keep it Updated
Even the best content can have a shelf life depending on the company and the content itself. While it’s crucial to invest in quality content at all times, don’t forget about updates and fresh content. This is especially critical for businesses that provide content on changing industries.
Stale content is useless even if it is good.3. Promote, Promote, Promote
Nobody’s going to read great content if they don’t know about it. Promote new blogs or articles on every social media page, share it with bloggers, post videos on YouTube and generally get it out there.
Follow the rules for helping content go viral and make sure the writers are aware of this goal.4. Use the Right Anchor Text
Anchor text is an important part of SEO. It’s the text that describes what a link is and can make someone click on an article–or not. Anchor text should never be duplicated and should incorporate SEO key phrases as well as marketing tactics.
Consider it the headline for the headline.5. Turn It Into a White Paper or Best Of
Utilize the best content and get the most out of it. Best of lists, white papers or even mini-books that are sold on Amazon can all squeeze a little extra money out of existing high-quality content. For business owners looking to improve the bottom line, this is a must.
Make sure enough good content is available before starting this endeavor.
Great content is great, but it can’t succeed alone. Put in a little elbow grease to make the most of it.
Online Marketer Photo via Shutterstock
A recent study shows how reliant small businesses have become on mobile technology. The 2013 AT&T Small Business Technology Poll says 85 percent of small businesses now use some kind of smartphone. And 80 percent of small firms founded less than two years ago use tablets, the survey also showed.
Customers are becoming more mobile too. The International Data Corporation, a global marketing intelligence firm, says the number of smartphones shipped now outpaces the number of “regular” cell phones worldwide. Tablets are on the increase with customers too.Improve Your Business With Mobile Technology
Uyen Nguyen owner of Lemongrass Truck, a growing food truck business, reckons her budding company would be nowhere at all without mobile technology. Her company uses tablets to take credit card payments at points of sales and uses social media to let mobile customers know where their truck will be located from day to day. Mobile technology makes sense to Nguyen because her whole business is mobile.
Arm Your Sales Team With Mobile Tools ~Tweak Your Biz
Zoe Maldonado, blogger at TechBreach, writes about the tools of the modern sales force. These include smartphones, PDAs, laptops and tablets. Smartphones and tablets provide mobile sales teams with constant communications and productivity tools including email, internet scheduling and calendars. Mobile business applications allow teams to do presentations, engage in social collaboration and even prepare invoices.
Use QR Codes to Engage Customers in the Mobile Space ~ Right Hand Planning
Online marketing and SEO consultant Peter Semple gives two case studies showing how small businesses can do this. In one instance, a savvy auto mechanic sent out a direct mail piece with a QR code allowing customers to download his mobile app. In another, a local promotional clothing company offers customers a protective sleeve for wireless credit cards. On the sleeve is printed a QR code to the company’s mobile store.
Add Cloud-Based Software-as-a-Service for Mobile ~ TechCrunch
Companies like T-Mobile have begun offering cloud-based services for mobile customers, including telephony features like voicemail, CallerID, conference bridges and more. Increasingly, these services will now be available for the small business market, too. This latest package is aimed at companies with 20 or fewer employees.
Increase Agility and Reduce Costs ~ Firmology
Boil it all down and the real benefit of mobile technology is agility and efficiency. Sam Frymer, founder of personal consulting firm the Awesomeness Institute, points to the time you save sharing information instantly via email, social media, or other electronic documents from no matter where you are. Add to this eliminating paper from your world completely and you can begin to see the increased efficiency and decreased costs.
Use Mobile Apps for Management Tasks ~ Digital Journal
A study by email marketing company Constant Contact finds small businesses are using mobile apps for a host of management activities. The study found small businesses most often used apps for activities like scheduling and time management, customer communications, GPS and mapping and accounting and invoicing.
Do Banking in the Mobile World ~ American Banking
There’s at least one other small business task you can complete using mobile apps, though it’s a task that didn’t show up on the list of popular activities in the Constant Contact study. Small businesses can use mobile apps to do their banking too. Check out the latest feature on Jot, a mobile app Chase provides its business customers.
Use Mobile Video Messaging Apps ~ OurHelix Blog
Mobile video apps aren’t limited to Vine, the 6-second looping video app Twitter acquired while still in development and launched a few months ago. There are also apps like Tout and Viddy. Amy Nedoss, strategic direction and business development leader for OurHelix, takes us through some of the basic differences between these apps and then gives us an overview of what businesses can do with each.
Create a Mobile Friendly Website ~ Entrepreneur
Your website should be easy for mobile users to view. One way to accomplish this is to simplify your web design so it is easier to view on a smaller screen like the one on a smartphone. Another is to create a special mobile version of your site designed specifically with mobile visitors in mind.
Look Into Responsive Design ~ Small Business Trends
When looking into creating a mobile friendly website, one term that keeps coming up is “responsive design.” Simply put, this means creating a website that is not designed for a specific format. Instead, this kind of website resizes itself based upon the screen of the device upon which it is being viewed. In practice, this may be the most versatile solution for the issue of making your site friendly to mobile users.
Have we missed something? Tell us how you’re using mobile technology to improve your business today.
The post 10 Ways to Improve Your Business with Mobile Technology appeared first on Small Business Trends.
Pinterest is not just another copycat social networking site. It focuses on the age-old adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Who has time to read a thousand words all the time, anyway? Sometimes a picture is all we have mindshare for. Pinterest allows you to collaborate and to stimulate your audience by sharing images and visually engaging them.
And today with the growth of smartphones and tablets, more of us are networking socially and consuming content via mobile devices. Using some of the following Pinterest apps will only make your experience that much more profitable, and they all work on the go with mobile devices.
If you want to post to Pinterest from your smartphone or tablet, you first need to download an app to your mobile device.
iPhone and iPad - The granddaddy Pinterest mobile app of them all is the Pinterest iPhone app. There used to be a separate iPad app, but now it has been combined into a single iOS app that can also be used on the iPhone, iPad and the iPod Touch.
Android – If you have a device on an Android platform, you will need to download an Android app in order for Pinterest to work. Although you will not have the same functionality with the Pinterest Android app as you do with the iOS app, each allows you to pin your pictures, which is the important part.
Pinterest Pin It Button makes pinning easier and greatly improves the functionality of iPhone and Android apps. Just go to the goodies page and drag it to your toolbar. (There are several apps for Pinterest all with this same or a similar name and different functionality, so follow the link to get this one.)
Just today Pinterest announced that it had made its Pin It button available in a number of website-specific mobile apps. Those apps include: Behance, Brit+Co, Etsy, Fotopedia, Jetsetter, Modcloth, Snapguide, TED, The North Face, and Zulily. You have to have switched to the “new” Pinterest look with it’s larger pins, to be able to see these pins.
Windows phones – There’s no official Pinterest app for Windows phones, but one third-party Pinterest app, Scrapbook for Pinterest, is available. It seems to function well, but has the disadvantage of carrying ads or requiring subscription fees. However, if you have a Windows Phone, this may be the only way to be mobile with your Pinterest page currently. Scrapbook works with Windows Phone 8 and Windows Phone 7.5.
PinHog for Pinterest lets you be mobile, but allows you to minimize extra data charges while you are browsing the Web for pins. Check it out in the Google Play store. This unique Pinterest app allows you not only to browse while offline, but it also lets you schedule when you would like to pin items to your board.
PinReach is designed to let you know how well you are influencing others. It provides you with a “Klout” score to inform you about trends and let you know when your influence is waning, you know, before it is gone.
PinPuff lets you track trends and analyze how your Pinterest account is doing. PinPuff also calculates the monetary value of your Pins and what kind of traffic they are generating for you.
Snapito is for you if you prefer surfing the Web and taking screenshots for your Pinterest page. this app gives you a variety of easy ways to pin screenshots to your page, including a Pinterest Bookmarklet that lets you do this from your iPhone.
Wallo Pinterest allows you to use your mobile wallpaper to discover new images and travel destinations. You can pin things from your Android Live wallpaper, on Android devices.
Reachli (formerly Pinerly) has a user-friendly dashboard interface. It keeps you updated on your pin schedule, helps you locate like-minded users, and unfollow groups.
Wisestamp, while not a Pinterest-specific app, lets you add a follow button for your Pinterest account to the bottom of your emails. It features your latest pins.
Pin4Ever lets you create a backup of your pins on your Android or any storage device by using the Pinterest backup app. They have a simple signup process shown in the screenshot above.
Finally, be sure to check out our Pinterest Start Guide for Small Businesses. And if you already know how to use Pinterest, you might be interested in Pinterest analytics tools to tell how much traffic is going to your site.
The post 12+ Pinterest Apps and Tools for Pinning While Mobile appeared first on Small Business Trends.
Have you ever dreamed of becoming a mega-millionaire with your next business idea? It’s a reality for 26-year-old David Karp. The founder of Tumblr, the popular social blogging platform, has become the latest tech tycoon almost overnight.
Today Yahoo officially announced plans to purchase the site Karp started at age 21 out of his mother’s Manhattan apartment. The Daily Mail has Karp’s story as a high school dropout who taught himself HTML. Karp then started his own computer consulting company before launching his incredibly popular platform.
Yahoo’s board of directors recently approved a $1.1 billion cash purchase price for Tumblr, according to a report from AllThingsD.com. In an official announcement, the companies said Tumblr would continue to operate as a separate business with CEO Karp at the helm.
Tumblr, a blogging platform that has following, sharing and other social features, gives Yahoo a stake in the social networking world, The New York Times observes. The platform also provides a source of user-generated content Yahoo management believes the company needs. How Yahoo would integrate Tumblr content into its current model remains to be seen.
Initially, the two companies will work to create advertising opportunities that are “seamless” and “enhance the user experience.” But a joint announcement was not specific about what kinds of advertising opportunities these might be.
Tumblr boasts 300 million monthly unique visitors and 120,000 signups every day, 900 posts per second and 24 billion minutes spent on site each month. The two companies state in their joint release that this makes Tumblr one of the fastest growing media networks in the world.
Even Small Business Trends has a Tumblr presence.
The announcement said the deal is subject to the customary conditions and will close in the second half of the year.
Photo Source: Davids Log
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Entrepreneurs: here’s something to add to the list of things academics have found will enhance the performance of your business.
In a bit of novel research coming out of the United Kingdom, Professors Sascha Becker of the University of Warwick and Hans Hvide of the University of Aberdeen compared 341 private Norwegian companies where the majority owner passed away within the first ten years of company founding with similar companies started at the same time in which the owner remained alive. They found that the companies where the entrepreneur died performed worse in subsequent years.
The analysis showed that the companies whose founders passed away were 20 percent less likely than the others to be in operation two years later. Moreover, four years after the entrepreneur’s death, those companies whose founders had perished had only 40 percent of the sales of the businesses whose owner-operators were still kickin’.
The authors figured out that poor company performance didn’t kill the founders. (We await some other enterprising academics to explore that question!) The sales and employment of the companies whose founders passed on were just as good as the others before the entrepreneurs died. The death of the founder was the cause of the company’s problems, not the other way around.
The adverse effects of the founder’s demise weren’t the same for all businesses. The performance drops triggered by the founder’s passing were worst for the youngest companies and for the businesses where the deceased entrepreneur had a large ownership stake.
In short, the study shows clear evidence that entrepreneurs matter for the performance of their companies.
Unfortunately, this study doesn’t tell us about the impact of entrepreneur death. However, other studies suggest the myriad of ways that entrepreneurs matter. In some cases, company founders are very good leaders. Their passing is problematic because it puts someone less charismatic in charge of the company.
In other cases, the entrepreneur is a great sales person. Without him or her, the company just isn’t as good at generating revenue.
In still other businesses, the founder has better control over costs or operations and keeps the business humming along more efficiently than those who follow in the CEO slot.
The performance decline documented in this study, however, needn’t have occurred because the founder was more talented than the people who followed him or her. The founder’s death could simply have disrupted the business in ways that made it hard for the companies to recover. Competitors might have swooped in and taken away customers while the firms were transitioning to new CEOs. Or creditors or suppliers might have become jittery and imposed stricter terms on the companies, raising their costs and hurting their performance.
You know, Apple’s stock price has dropped a lot since Steve Jobs passed away. Maybe that’s just the typical performance effect these authors found, just with a lot more zeros tacked on.
BlackBerry officially launched another BlackBerry device last week — the Blackberry Q5. This is the third smartphone device announced by BlackBerry this year. All three use the new BlackBerry 10 operating system.
The Q5 device, aimed at markets like Latin America, the Middle East, parts of Europe and Asia, will be available in July. The company has announced no plans to introduce the device in the U.S. thus far.
Let us sort it out for you:
BlackBerry made no mention of introducing the Q5 model into North America. That has some BlackBerry fans disappointed. One fan said in a comment on BlackBerry’s official blog, “What about the USA or will we have to wait until next year? I think Blackberry is forcing many of us in the USA and myself to go to other manufacturer(s).”
The post New BlackBerry Q5 Device Makes Three So Far This Year By BlackBerry appeared first on Small Business Trends.
Have you updated your company’s Google+ page today? How about in the last week? Or month? … Year?
Maybe your company doesn’t even have a Google+ page yet, and if that’s the case or you’ve been abandoning that page in favor of other social media networks, you’re not alone. According to a Reuters report, Google+ continues to generate less interest from brands than other social networks including rival Facebook.
In an informal survey, Reuters found that of the 100 most valuable global brands in 2012, only 72 have a presence on Google+ compared to 87 on Facebook.
Of the brands that have established a presence on Google+, 40 percent have either never posted content on Google+ or do so infrequently, Reuters found.
For example, Nike and Pepsi hadn’t updated their Google+ pages in more than a week.
Some other companies, like McDonald’s, had never updated their page, even though it was created. Another example provided by Reuters, was a side-by-side comparison of a recent Cinco de Mayo promotion run by pizza company Domino’s. The promotion was loudly touted on Facebook, but the company’s Google+ page hadn’t been updated since 2012.
Reuters’ Alexei Oreskovic writes, “For Google+ to thrive, it is vital to draw in household names, not just to lay the groundwork for potential future business, but also because users of the site have come to expect being able to follow, comment on or even vent about their favorite brands.”
There are many reasons why Google+ has been slow to get more active users since its launch. Remember, there wasn’t an initial crush of users to Facebook, either, and the look and feel of the site certainly has changed dramatically, even in just the last few years.Google+ vs Facebook
Facebook of all other social networks has more active users. More than a billion people worldwide use their Facebook account at least once a month, and the average user spends at least six hours on the site in a month. While there are more than a half-billion people with Google+ profiles, the average per-month user time is less than seven minutes, according to the Reuters research.
As we noted recently, our own research here at Small Business Trends shows small businesses are still flocking to Facebook. There are now 16 million small business Facebook pages. And 3 million of those were added in the just the first quarter of 2013.
Also hindering the use of Google+, especially for business owners, is the discomfort level with learning a new social media environment and how to make what this site offers over rivals Facebook and Twitter work for their companies. For some functions, like video conferencing or streaming live video, Google+ clearly has an advantage.Untapped Potential in Google+
However, the way brands react today may not reflect the future potential of Google+ Reuters notes that some companies are beginning to realize that maintaining at a presence for their business or product on Google+ appears to help them in Google searches. “Many businesses do build outposts on Google+, eager to benefit from its integration with Google’s popular Internet search service,” the Reuters report concludes.
Here’s another reason to get more active on Google+: Google is focusing more resources on Google+. Clearly Google sees Google+ as key to its future. In fact, Google just rolled out some new features and a new look for Google+ this past week.
For small businesses, there are advantages to getting in early on a social network, learning the ropes and building your base, before the competition. In the Google+ vs Facebook stakes, you may not want to wait.
The post Google+ Less Popular With Brands Than Facebook, Report Claims appeared first on Small Business Trends.
Keeping track of activity is a common challenge for small business owners. We wear many hats and are responsible for many things. One of the places where we fall down is with our sales process. I am a huge fan of systems because I believe systems keep us on track and focused.Systems To Build Business
There are three areas where I see these systems having a lot of value. They are:
Who and where?
The question here is, “Who is your target market?” You can have more than one. However, pick one at a time to work on. Ask yourself which industry or demographic makes the best client for you. Now, go find the prospects within that target. Once you have the list, determine how you are going to pursue them.
Having a specific, structured system for how you are going to connect with the prospects within a target market will help you schedule those steps and implement them.
How are you going to monitor your interactions with those prospects? Having a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system makes the most sense to me. There are a number of small business CRM programs out there. Explore a handful of them with an eye toward what information you want to be able to capture.
I consider selling to be what you do when you are in front of a prospect. So, think sales appointment. The key to a successful sales appointment is gaining information – not giving it. This is your chance to learn as much as you can about the prospect. What is their issue, urgency, budget, decision making process, ability to pay, etc.?
Create a list of questions you can ask the prospect. As you listen to their answers and write them down, pay attention to how they are sharing. You want to do business with clients who value you, are forthcoming with information and openly discuss their situation. You have the chance to determine if they are a prospect you really want to do business with.
Having this list of questions, will help you gain all of the information you need to successfully quote. Which brings me to the next step of the selling system. Create a quote that speaks directly to what they’ve told you. You can even repeat what you heard them say. This is confirmation that you heard them and are responding to what they told you. This will diminish objections as well.Follow up System
One of the most critical parts of sales success is the follow up. This is also one of the places that we fall down the most. We get busy and are prone to focus on the task at hand. However, follow up is a key ingredient in the health of a business. Using a CRM program to monitor when and how to contact your connections, prospects and clients can be invaluable.
Determine what information you need to keep track of when it comes to follow up. Then look at the tools you already have in your business; tools like an Outlook calendar. You can set reminders and alarms with Outlook that will remind you of when you need to make a call or send a letter.
Setting agreements with the other person is an interesting part of a follow up plan. This entails suggesting to the contact when you will call them or when you should meet again. When they agree, put it on your calendar. You can email them a confirmation as well.
When you keep these activities on your calendar and treat them as appointments, you are more likely to see them through. This will help you maintain your activity and progress.
You can see how setting up systems can help you maintain your forward progress and business growth. Don’t leave these important areas of your business to chance – the chance of having time and remembering to do them. Rather, create your systems and then implement them.
You’ll find your business growing steadily.
Building Business Photo via Shutterstock
“Gangnam Style” is a song and music video by South Korean musician Psy. The phrase has become a metaphor for having a unique and authentic style.
The video was first released in July 2012 and soon went viral on YouTube. In December 2012, the Gangnam Style video became the first YouTube video to reach one billion views. Today, it is still the most viewed video in YouTube history.What is Gangnam style in a business context?
The video’s success is an example of the power of social media in viral marketing. Psy was a relatively unknown musician (at least to many in the West) before Gangnam Style became a YouTube sensation.
Then, thanks to the powerful reach of YouTube, and the fact that the video was also shared on social channels like Twitter and Facebook, Psy and Gangnam Style became global sensations.
Because of the song’s catchy upbeat tune and massive popularity, some businesses, such as Intel, adopted the Gangnam Style dance or song to use with their own marketing campaigns.
Even now, in 2013, Gangnam style still has legs. Currently Psy is appearing on U.S. television in a Gangnam Style commercial for the pistachio industry. And President Obama referred to Gangnam style in the White House recently.Why has Gangnam Style been so successful?
There are a few different factors that led to the viral success of Gangnam Style.
First, the video was meant to be fun and not take itself too seriously. It was a bit uninhibited and “over the top.”
Second, the video gave viewers the opportunity to participate. Fans could try their hand at the Gangnam Style dance. Many even created their own YouTube parody videos. MIT produced a version that featured professor and activist Noam Chomsky.
Online entrepreneur Adeyemi Adisa said: “Just as Gangnam Style music video is catchy and encourages viewers to participate or even do their own parody, businesses need to make their customers participants rather than just customers.”
Third, Psy’s video was different from other videos at the time. This helped to grab attention. It got people talking about and sharing the video with others.What can my business learn from the success of Gangnam Style?
Gangnam Style demonstrates the power of interjecting personality into marketing. Psy created the video himself without a huge budget. And the video is memorable because it is a bit “over the top.”
Marketer Hamilton Wallace says that small businesses should not let lack of resources hold them back, but use authenticity to their advantage. The fact that Psy created the Gangnam Style video himself, had fun with it and “set it free” is what helped attract so many views.
So in your small business, try employing “Gangnam Style.” Enjoy what you do and let it show. Inject some personality into your marketing and your business. Do it with a style people remember — your own Gangnam style.
Image credit: remix from Psy video
The post What is Gangnam Style? And What Does it Mean for Business? appeared first on Small Business Trends.
It was just a couple of years ago that I lamented about the lack of finance guides aimed at small business owners. Meanwhile, the number of non-traditional finance resources has increased, competing with traditional banking sources. As a result, business owners have clamored for books outlining all finance options available.
Among the most stellar coverage of small business finance resources is Spank the Bank: The Guide to Alternative Business Financing. Karlene Sinclair-Robinson (@KarleneSinRob), founding member of finance consultation firm KsR Solution LLC, wrote the book to deter small business owners from pursuing poor business models that never get proper capital.
Her expertise in handling millions in non-traditional financing and research on the subject has crafted a sensational finance guide. I discovered the author through a Twitter chat and asked for a review copy.
A Signpost on the Many Highways of Finance
Spank The Bank covers the latest finance instruments such as peer-to-peer lending and crowdsourcing, as well as traditional financing services such as business credit lines, asset-backed loans and factoring. What makes the book a unique guide is how it outlines these resources. With each financing option, Sinclair-Robinson explains the pros and cons, along with what to do in your business prior to selecting a choice.
Using asides called Biztips, Sinclair-Robinson highlights the “so-what” of the information provided. For example, the first chapter details the business structures available, with a reminder as to what is at stake when selecting a structure:
“Many funding sources will not work unless you are formally registered your company. They prefer that you do not operate as a sole proprietor.”
One great aspect of the book is that each option is fit against the kind of businesses that would pursue an examined option. Cost is considered, as well as term definitions associated for each subject. In fact, a terrific aspect is that the definitions are lengthy enough to appreciate what to expect with a choice. Take the explanation about Purchase Order Financing (POF); there’s a context about the type of risk being considered with POF:
“When you consider Purchase Order Financing and Factoring, always keep in mind the ‘number line.’ You have a positive and negative side… Purchase Order Financing is on the negative side or high risk, for the main reason that the lender is providing funding for you prior to any work being done or any tangible product delivered.”
Sinclair-Robinson then follows up with key takeaway of what to expect with POF:
“The fee for using this financing service will be much higher than most but the key will be for you to price your product correctly, deliver it in a timely fashion and keep your customers happy. It’s important that we not just look at how much things cost but also at how they can help enhance what we are doing.”
Learn Finance Facts Instead of Myths
Sinclair-Robinson also dispels widely cited myths, such as free business grants or that the SBA issues business loans. You’ll understand what resources matches to your business.
The chapters are brief, so you may weigh the information value against the nature of the topic. The chapter on venture capital is nowhere near as detailed as David Gladstone’s Venture Capital Investing, for example. But the information would give your business the right starting point for appreciating the difference of VC investment against another financing choice. Plus, if you are using an accounting system, the topics in Spank The Bank will help you frame what accounting metrics and concepts need scrutiny and potential improvement. You’ll get an idea of what to work in on. Cases, recommended reading and sample forms round out the guide.
Such comparisons are what Sinclair-Robinson intended. She succeeds at every effort to make information accessible to all small business owners. In reviewing each chapter, I felt that the explanations were as straight-forward for the electrician contractor as it would be for a professional looking for a few pointers. Both business people would make confident decisions after reading this book.
I also liked how Sinclair-Robinson ties other business aspects into the financing decision. My personal favorite is the reference to an online presence – bet you had not considered how much your website is a factor in finance. Read this 9th myth from the Business Financing Myths and Misconceptions chapter:
“The thought that you do not need a website in today’s technologically and internet savvy market must be reconsidered. If you have operated without one, you could lose potential business, credibility, and more….Bankers might not care too much one way or the other, but unfortunately it is a problem for alternative financing sources.”
We’ve seen a few good books on specific details, such as local investment options in Locavesting or wealth creation in Wealth Creation for Small Business Owners. Few books covers finance details with the scope Sinclair-Robinson has provided.
Spank The Bank is a winning addition to the business library. It will help many small business owners craft one of the most important, sought-after resources and deploy it effectively.
The post Read “Spank The Bank” to Choose the Right Financing for Your Business appeared first on Small Business Trends.
Welcome to our latest curated list of events, contests and awards for small businesses, solo entrepreneurs and growing companies. 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
Access to Capital Chicago
May 22, 2013, Chicago, Illinois
Join us at the Navy Pier to learn how you can raise capital for your small business. Meet 1:1 with loan officers. Attend panels on traditional and alternative lending options, start-ups, crowd-funding, and more.
sbtrends (Get 30% off)
Making Money Online: Ecommerce Done Right with John Lawson
June 25, 2013, New York City
Looking to create independence from this shifting job economy?
Want a stream of income that works for you around the clock?
Have a great idea of what to sell online but don’t know how to get started?
Dreaming of growing your online store from a hobby to a full fledged, profitable business?
Join John Lawson, award winning Social Commerce Strategist, American Express featured businessman, author, and founder of 3rd Power Outlet – an online clothing retail outlet that has exceeded $25 million in sales.
John will be sharing his practical, down-to-earth methods for building your own ecommerce business from the ground up in this two part workshop, packed with resources, tips, and how-to instruction.
SBTRENDS ( $25 off)
WBENC National Conference & Business Fair
June 26, 2013, Minneapolis, MN
The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) will convene 3,500 decision makers from the nation’s leading corporations, government entities and women’s business enterprises (WBEs) to generate business together and stimulate economic growth at the 2013 WBENC National Conference & Business Fair in Minneapolis, MN, June 25-27, 2013.
Big Awards for Business
August 14, 2013, Online
The Big Awards started with a mission of recognizing real talent and performance. Real business people, those with experience and knowledge, judge the Big Awards. Request an entry kit today and submit your nomination by August 14, 2013.
SBT50 ($50.00 off)
The post Our Latest Hand-Picked List of Events, Contests and Awards appeared first on Small Business Trends.
Since last week, lots of legitimate business accounts have been suspended and then unsuspended on Twitter. Here’s more on what’s been happening and what to do if you find yourself in the same situation.Legitimate Business Accounts Getting Suspended
It’s been fairly common for pure spam accounts to get suspended. Most Twitter users applaud spam crackdowns.
But what’s less common is when legitimate small business users get their Twitter accounts suspended.
That happened just this week in the business community, with numerous reports of business users getting suspended. It even happened to a small account used by a member of the Small Business Trends team. It also happened to another sizable account of one of our best contributors.
Luckily, all of the accounts we know of were reinstated. No one seems to know why they were suspended in the first place. Here are some of the reactions to this latest round of suspensions:
@twitter has been acting very crazy lately. I was suspended for 48 hours and several other legit people, unsolicited activity. What’s up?
— Deborah Shane (@DeborahShane) May 11, 2013
— Eimear McCormack (@EimearMcCormack) May 10, 2013Anatomy of a Twitter Suspension in Error
Small Business Trends contributor and branding consultant Deborah Shane discovered her Twitter account suspended at about 9 p.m. on May 7.
Shane reviewed the Twitter rules and quickly determined she had not intentionally (or to her knowledge — unintentionally) violated any of the rules. She filled out and submitted the “file a report” form that appeared when she tried to log into her account.
In the online form, she politely asked why her account had been suspended. She stated that she had not violated any Twitter rules. She explained that her Twitter account was vital for operation of her business and asked how to get reinstated.
Though she couldn’t use her Twitter account, of course, Shane immediately started leveraging her other networks, including LinkedIn, to try to communicate with someone at Twitter. ”What I find very troubling is the complete lack of any human communication whatsoever. It’s all automated,” said Shane.
Others she had communicated with had had similar experiences and told her the service would likely be reinstated within about 48 hours.
Sure enough, by the early evening of May 9, about 48 hours after her account had been suspended, Shane found she had been reinstated. She has concluded the suspension was an error based on information provided to her in an automated email from the company.Algo Tripped?
Twitter has a long list of violations in its rules that will get accounts suspended and put you in Twitter jail. Let’s take a look at some of these.
One grounds for suspension is “aggressive following.” A Twitter best practices page defines this behavior as “indiscriminately following hundreds of accounts just to garner attention. However, following a few users if their accounts seem interesting is normal and is not considered aggressive.”
Call us crazy, but we thought the whole point of Twitter was following others! All kidding aside, it appears that following too many other accounts too quickly, is what will get you in trouble.
Another behavior Twitter discourages is “follow churn.” Twitter defines this as “repeatedly following and un-following large numbers of other users.” We’re not sure why people would do this. It may be a misguided attempt to get around Twitter follow limits (Twitter limits how many you can follow in proportion to how many follow you). So you follow people, and as soon as they follow you back, then you unfollow them so you can follow others. Of course, this kind of behavior is risky, not to mention rude. You could get banned.
Having your Twitter account compromised or hacked can also lead to suspension. In this case, suspension is a good thing. It protects everyone from malware and other issues. Suspension in this case is less painful than your reputation getting smeared when all your followers get spammed with offensive stuff from your account.
Political pundits using Twitter sometimes push things to the limit with behavior that can lead to suspension. This post on RedState discusses examples of intentionally trying to get other users kicked off Twitter, in order to silence political foes. However, most business users don’t engage in that kind of deliberate targeting behavior.
Small business users understand the value of Twitter. Many small business owners and entrepreneurs spend considerable time and money building a Twitter following. They don’t want to risk suspensions from deliberate behaviors.
True, there are aggressive online marketers who push the envelope. But most Main Street small businesses don’t want to take such risks.
So back to the question. What caused the recent round of Twitter suspensions of non-spam business accounts?
Over the years it’s been reported that Twitter has automated algorithms to detect violations of its rules. It’s quite possible that an algorithm was somehow tripped in error snagging all these business accounts. Or it could simply have been a systems glitch of some kind. (We contacted Twitter for an explanation but received no response.)More Rules: Why a Twitter Account Can Be Suspended
The Twitter Rules page gives a list of limitations on how to use Twitter. Ignoring these could get you into trouble. They include:
There is also a list of activities Twitter considers spamming. The list is extensive.
You might be surprised by what Twitter says it will take into account as evidence of ”spam.” Most business users are.
Take a few minutes to study this list. Note that the rules do not say that each of the items is by itself spam — just that they are “factors” Twitter will take into account in determining whether the account is spam.
We imagine that Twitter looks at an account in its entirety to determine spamming. Otherwise, a lot of business accounts (even from mega-brands) would be considered spam for such behaviors as primarily tweeting out links rather than personal updates. Yes, that’s on the spam list.
Try to look objectively at your own account. If you or your staff members are intentionally engaging in multiple behaviors on the Twitter spam list — you are living on borrowed time. Make changes before you get suspended.How to Deal with a Twitter Suspension
First, don’t panic! Being suspended from Twitter can be scary, especially if Twitter is part of your marketing and customer service outreach.
But it’s important to keep your cool. Don’t rant and rave at Twitter, or get abusive. Remain polite and businesslike.
We know you feel outraged. You may even feel betrayed if you’ve spent a lot of time touting the benefits of Twitter for business. But letting emotions rule will not help. Follow these steps:
Step 1 — Carefully review all of Twitter’s guidelines again to be sure you have not violated the rules, even accidentally.
Step 2 — Fill out the form provided when you attempt to log in, to appeal the account suspension. Be sure to explain that you have followed all guidelines as far as you know. Ask for a way to resolve the situation as quickly as possible.
Step 3 – Monitor the email inbox associated with your Twitter account, too. You may get one or more automated responses from Twitter that you MUST respond to, or they will consider your appeal closed.
Step 4 — Give it time. Many members have reported reinstatement can take up to 48 hours. But some accounts have been reinstated in just a few hours’ time. If you discover and report the suspension outside of regular business hours, expect it to take longer.
Tip: Don’t freak out if your Twitter account returns with zero followers at first! This appears to be normal in most cases, especially if the suspension was an error. You probably will not have to beg everyone to follow you again. Give it a few hours and your Twitters followers will all likely be back. It happened that way in all the erroneous Twitter suspensions we learned about from business owners.
Remember, you’re not alone. Other business users have been in your shoes and survived.
Have you had your Twitter account suspended? Have any advice to share? Please post it in the comments below.
Have you ever “owned a room?” I don’t mean in terms of actual real estate, but rather in terms of mental real estate?
If you have, you’ll never forget the feeling of having every eye in the room on you, people practically breathing along with you. I think that’s what they mean when they say having them “eating out of your hand.” Now, have you ever completely lost control of the room? As you look around, eyes are glazed over, people sneaking peeks at their smart phones and mobile devices or just typing on their computers (and you know they aren’t taking copious notes). Even worse, executives throwing twenty questions at you and you having that sick, squirmy feeling inside?
If you’ve spent any time at all in the world of business, you’ve probably had both of these experiences and wondered how in the world the same person could create two completely opposite experiences. One answer is to simply say that it’s a function of the audience, and in some ways it is. But like most things in this world, the experience we create for our listeners is really in our own hands.
What I didn’t realize, until I read “Own the Room: Discover your Signature Voice to Master Your Leadership Presence,” is that we can control the outcome of any conversation and any presentation. WE are in control.
What authors Amy Jen Su (@AmyJenSu) and Muriel Maignan Wilkins (@MaignanWilkins) clearly point out in their new book is that you can power up your career and leadership cred by simply mastering your “Signature Voice” that is uniquely your own and can be adapted to any situation. This signature voice comes from aligning your beliefs, your communication skills and your physical energy with the needs of your audience.
For example, there are what I’d call “doing” conversations and “leading” conversations. And you have to be very clear about which conversation you are having. If you are the team or project leader giving an update to the management team – a “Leading” conversation is required because you are speaking up to a leadership audience. Their information needs are different AND they are looking at YOU as the leader in the situation. Hence, they expect you to communicate as a leader would.
The Authors Speak From Personal Experience
I heard about the book from a publicist and requested a review copy based purely on the title. I mean, if there is a process out there where I can get people eating out of my hands, I want to know about it.
The authors, Amy Jen Su and Muriel Maignan Wilkins, are the owners and managing partners of Asis Associates, an executive training and coaching firm. Both are sought after speakers on the topic of leadership presence and communications. Both have had personal experience in this area. Amy was told that she needed to toughen up. She was perceived as being too young and passive to be considered as “leadership material.” On the other hand, Muriel was told that she had to turn her bold personality down a notch.
Amy and Muriel took their personal experiences and work to transform their communication style and turned it into a process and a book that you can use to learn how to leverage your strengths and gain the high-powered presence you need to reach your full potential as a leader.
How to Become an A-C-E in Your Field
The authors have developed a powerful model to help you become a power communicator. It’s called A-C-E:
A – Assumptions you make and the mindset you bring to your interactions with others.
C – Communication Strategies – Techniques and tools you use to engage influence and inspire.
E – Energy and Expression – How you physically show up; how your nonverbal cues impact others.
You will learn from the examples of well-known people like:
But the book also includes those unsung leaders in organizations like yours who are all dealing with the same communication challenges.
You won’t just learn from their stories, you’ll have the opportunity to experience the process for yourself by using their diagnostic tool to assess your current and ongoing presence and how others perceive you.
“Own the Room” is a Much-Needed Book
While there are many books on how to give powerful presentations, “Own the Room” is about how to have appropriate communications while not losing yourself in the process. One observation I had as I read through many of the examples is that the style was a little more “corporate-speak” than I’m used to in the world of small business. But don’t let that stop you from taking the authors’ message to heart.
This is a book that is as applicable to small business owners who sell to more corporate clients as well as to employees who are looking to move into leadership positions.
This week’s top small business news stories looked at the latest mobile technology, 3D printing, the future of the password, the latest in the battle over Obamacare and much more. The Small Business Trends editorial team doesn’t just bring you the headlines. These stories explain how the news of the week affects you.Mobile
Nokia introduces a new Lumia 925 Windows phone. The phone will have a metal case and upgrades to its camera technology. Observers see the Windows 8 operating system as a benefit to business users. Many business users are already using Windows on their other business technology. So the overall look and feel of the the phone’s operating system will be very similar to the Windows 8 running on their computers.
Microsoft is now among the top 5 tablet sellers. The company’s new Surface devices sold 900,000 units making up 1.8 percent of the market for the first quarter of 2013. Most of those sales came from the Surface Pro, which runs Windows 8 and is targeted at business users. Though this puts Microsoft in 5th place, that’s not too shabby for a company that wasn’t even in the tablet business a year ago.Tech
The future may hold a lot fewer passwords. An organization called the FIDO (Fast Identity Online) Alliance, founded in July 2012 by tech firms like PayPal, Lenovo, Agnito, Infineon, Nok Nok Labs and Validity, is trying to bring about that change. The need for fewer passwords is about more than convenience. Too many passwords encourage users to get sloppy, reusing codes on multiple accounts because they are easier to remember.
Google+ introduces an elegant new look. The company announced dozens of new features and upgrades to its social media platform. Changes to the platform announced Thursday include a look more reminiscent of Pinterest, a multi-column layout, related hashtags, improvements to the Hangout feature and improved features for photo uploading and sharing. And there is even more. Read Small Business Trends Founder and CEO Anita Campbell’s quick take of the highlights.
Most of the top blogs are on WordPress. And the number could be increasing. A new study of the top 100 blogs on the Web says 52 percent use the popular platform. Pingdom conducted the study. The company found that another 4 of the top ranking blogs are using WordPress this year as compared to 2012. And WordPress reports that 65 million sites worldwide use the software. WordPress has become much more than blogging software. It’s now a CMS system for small business websites. Do you use WordPress for your business blog or website?
What is 3D Printing? The process uses a computer generated design to create three-dimensional objects out of plastic, ceramic or metal … even out of chocolate or cheese! It’s like having a small-scale manufacturing device right in your office or home. Sound like something out of science fiction? It’s not. Check out our one page explainer where we give you an overview.Trends
61% of U.S. voters think rich entrepreneurs are good for the economy. And 49% think it’s “very fair” for successful businessmen to grow rich from their efforts. If you had any doubts that U.S. voters believe in the concept of entrepreneurship, this survey by Rasmussen Reports should put them to rest. The report sampled 1,000 likely voters nationwide, surveyed by phone between May 1 and 2, 2013.
Small business owners remain pessimistic. That’s not because they’re negative as a group, says Scott Shane, professor of entrepreneurial studies at Case Western Reserve University. That’s because despite some expansion in the economy since 2009, Professor Shane says, conditions still aren’t that positive for small businesses. Read this posts for some of the harsh realities.
Millennials are changing the employment world. Rieva Lesonsky, CEO of GrowBiz Media, leads us through a study of this workforce from oDesk. Among the preferences of this group are desires to work whenever and wherever they like, focus on projects that interest them, and travel while working. If you employ some of this generational group at your company be prepared. Try to satisfy their desire for freedom while tapping into their entrepreneurial spirit.
Small businesses are borrowing less again. The Thomson Reuters/PayNet Small Business Lending Index has fallen three consecutive months, ending in March. The index measures the overall volume of lending to small U.S. companies. The drop is in contrast to a report from the U.S. Small Business Administration that showed small business lending had increased for the first time in 10 quarters in the last part of 2012.Policy
Lawsuit against the IRS centers on Obamacare. It’s nothing new for small businesses to be complaining about the IRS and Obamacare. But recently this complaining took on legal overtones. Six small business owners have banded together to sue the federal agency. They say the agency exceeded its authority when it took it upon itself to make a rule granting subsidies to employees in states that have declined to create state healthcare exchanges. That action in turn will trigger penalties for small businesses under the new Affordable Care Act, they claim.Entrepreneurship
Co-Founder of TranscribeMe, explains where great ideas come from. “Necessity is the mother of invention.” In this interview, Alexei Dunayev describes how his and his co-founder’s efforts to transcribe audio content for their wives, a PhD. researcher and an attorney, made them both realize there must be a better way.
Lady Gaga turns out to be a smart marketer. Book reviewer extraordinaire Pierre Debois reviews Jackie Huba’s new book about Lady Gaga. Huba illustrates that Lady Gaga is a terrific startup marketer in addition to being a terrific music artist.
Image: 3D print from 3D Systems
Still thinking of Groupon as a company that sends out daily deal emails all the while incurring the ire of small businesses that lose money on one-time customers? Well, think again. That’s the old story.
Groupon has a much more compelling small business story to tell in 2013. It’s a very positive story, in fact. One part of that story is how Groupon is repositioning itself as a provider of technology systems to help local businesses become more profitable and increase sales.
Since last year, Groupon has offered a POS system for small businesses. Just this week the company expanded its point of sale (POS) systems to include a new, free POS system called “Breadcrumb POS.”
It’s a downloadable app that you use with an iPad. It functions as a simple POS system that can be used by any small local business that handles sales using a cash register, such as retail stores and coffee shops.
The Breadcrumb POS system can be used seamlessly with Groupon’s electronic credit card payments processing system. The payments system consists of a credit card swipe device to attach to your iPad. You can process credit card payments at rates that Groupon says are very competitive.Groupon’s Strategic Shift: Small Business Systems
Groupon has had some tough times on Wall Street over the past year. The company, just four years old, is already reinventing itself. Part of the reinvention is on the consumer side with how deals are positioned and made available to consumers. For instance, deals are now heavily focused on mobile, which accounts for 45% of North American deal volume.
But there’s also a reinvention on the small business merchant side. And that’s where the Breadcrumb POS system fits in, along with payment processing and associated technologies.
In last week’s earnings call with Wall Street analysts, co-CEO Eric Lefkofsky emphasized the company’s mission when it comes to small businesses:
“One of our proudest achievements [is] the economic boost we’ve provided to local merchants. Not only have we funneled billions of dollars into our local merchant community but based on surveys of nearly 2 million Groupon customers in North America, over 80% of the customers we send to merchants are either new or have not been to that merchant in the prior 3 months. Groupon can be a powerful force of new customer acquisition and financial returns for small businesses.
We began making investments about a year ago into what we call the operating system for local commerce. It’s a bundle of technology around payment systems, point of sale systems, loyalty and reward systems.”
He points out that Groupon has to be valuable to both consumers and small business merchants:
“And because we are for many many merchants – hundreds of thousands of merchants – their largest source of new customers, we also at times can be a pain point, in that we’re sending all these new customers. We want to help merchants manage that process. And we want to help them determine how best to target these customers so that they come back on a repeated basis. So we realized we needed tools inside the merchant’s shop to help them do that, and hence the investments we’ve made.”Groupon Offers 2 Versions of Breadcrumb POS System
The Breadcrumb point of sale system was an acquisition Groupon made in 2012. Seth Harris, the founder of Breadcrumb, is from the hospitality industry. He was frustrated with the POS systems in restaurants and bars he ran in New York, calling them “old, clunky, difficult to use, hard to set up and expensive.”
So he founded Breadcrumb in January of 2011. The following year he was approached by Groupon. ”My initial reaction was why would these guys want to get into the POS business?” he said. But he became impressed with the Groupon vision for local businesses.
The product announced just a few days ago, named Breadcrumb POS, is a “lite” version of the original Breadcrumb PRO system.
The PRO system is designed primarily for restaurants and bars. It has a floor plan layout for your restaurant. It includes hospitality-related reports. It also offers the ability for servers to modify menu items to accommodate special orders, such as ordering a burger well-done or with no fries.
According to Harris, whose title is now VP of Breadcrumb, it’s more than just a POS system. “It’s designed to help you know your customers better. For example, with the PRO product there is an integrated delivery system. If you do deliveries, you can put customer information in the delivery system. When customers come back in, you can find their information again. You can even do telephone integration so that when they call, the customers can be greeted by phone,” he notes.
Breadcrumb PRO integrates with several hospitality industry systems. You can also download reports as CSV files and then upload them to QuickBooks or another program. Breadcrumb PRO does require payment of a monthly fee, with several pricing levels.
This free version of the POS system is simpler because, as Harris says, a small ice cream shop may not need a layout plan for tables nor special menu options. It is “even easier to set up and use” than the PRO version, he notes.
Breadcrumb POS offers simpler reports than the PRO version. There is no ability currently to download CSV files, however.
With either system, you can buy your own iPads. Breadcrumb works with any version of the iPad, including the iPad Mini. According to Harris, it is not meant for an iPhone, as he hasn’t seen demand by small businesses for using it on such a small screen.
Or you can buy iPads through Breadcrumb. They also sell cash drawers, stands and printers.
Breadcrumb Payments Processing for Credit Cards
You are not required to process credit card payments through the Breadcrumb payments system, but the point of sale system is set up to handle them and work together. Currently the processing fees are 1.8 percent plus $0.15 per transaction (MasterCard, Visa and Discover) with no monthly fees. Harris says that Groupon has pledged to meet any better credit card processing rate a business owner gets elsewhere.
The swipe device that you plug into the iPad, costs $15. You get next-day deposits into your bank account.
“Ultimately,” he says, “Breadcrumb’s mission is to bring together merchants and customers by making it better and easier to buy things.”
The post Groupon Expands Breadcrumb POS, Shifts its Small Business Strategy appeared first on Small Business Trends.
It’s likely that some of you have heard the old English proverb, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” It’s a phrase that aptly applies to the early beginnings of one small business, co-founded by Alexei Dunayev. Tune in as Alexei joins Brent Leary to discuss how necessity gave birth to the transcription service now known as TranscribeMe.
* * * * *
Small Business Trends: Can you tell us a little bit about your personal background?
Alexei Dunayev: I’m a technologist at heart. I’m a software engineer by training. I did an MBA at Stanford and I knew a few of the tricks about what does it takes to have a really successful global technology campaign.
I managed to combine those passions, by starting TranscribeMe.
Small Business Trends: Why did you get in to transcription?
Alexei Dunayev: Myself and my co-founder were actually transcribing a whole bunch of audio content for our wives. My wife is a PhD researcher and my co-founder is married to a lawyer. They were both generating an insane amount of audio recordings. Very quickly we realized that doing transcripts manually is something that does achieve high quality, but takes forever.
When we set out to build TranscribeMe, we invented a hybrid model that combines speech recognition technology with real humans – whom we crowdsource. And so, when we get audio, the first thing we do is run it through speech recognition software that gives us a baseline level of accuracy. Then we slice it into very small micro-tasks. These can be audio segments of anywhere from 10 seconds through to a minute or so in length.
Those go to real people that then correct what the computer’s type. We put it all back together and send it to the to the client. That’s really the magic of the service that we’ve created and it makes it both fast and highly accurate.
Small Business Trends: How do you go about getting the transcribers on board?
Alexei Dunayev: There is a lot of distrust in the community of freelancers. When the first few people went on the forum and said, “Hey, we actually just received money from TranscribeMe – what they promised us. They pay on time and the work was really enjoyable.” We then got a torrent of applications for transcribers and we now have over 5,000 people on our platform.
We didn’t spend a dime on recruiting any of them. It just grew through word of mouth.
Small Business Trends: I assume you’re able to rate each transcriber and the ones that do better get the better opportunities?
Alexei Dunayev: We try to tailor the audio to the transcriber. For example, right now a transcriber processes audio in English and in Spanish. So when we know the language of the audio that is being submitted, we look at the qualifications of the transcribers on our system and we route the audio to the best person who is able to process it. If an audio comes in from a technical conference, we make sure that it gets processed by people with the technical background able to deliver the accuracy on it.
Further, if you record audio using our Smartphone app and you mention to that you’re in Atlanta, we will then try to find transcribers that are geographically close to you, so they would have a good understanding of things like local places and names. We really try to tailor the audio to play to the strength of the transcribers so that you get that perfect quality output.
Small Business Trends: By playing to the strengths of the transcribers, you’re really playing customer happiness aren’t you?
Alexei Dunayev: That’s exactly right. We found customers that work with us really choose to because they care about quality. These are people who run conferences and record business meetings. These are people who really care about one hundred percent quality – people like doctors, lawyers and we work a lot of people in the education space. It’s something that our customers aren’t willing to sacrifice.
The biggest issue with speech recognition systems is, say you have an audio recording that has a hundred words in it and you run it through a computer. You are going to get back approximately a hundred words and you are not going to know which ones are correct and which ones aren’t. It is not like you can tailor the system to say, “Well, only give me the correct words and I’ll fill in the gaps.”
You basically get the same length text, but a whole bunch of text in it is misheard or typed incorrectly. That’s really when you need people to get to what we call the last mile. Using computers in the first place also gives us a lower cost. You don’t have to pay for the cost of having a full-time transcriber working in an office doing the job. That lets us compete and provide a really great service to our customers at a fraction of the cost they would have to pay otherwise.
Small Business Trends: You can cut this up into seconds?
Alexei Dunayev: Our proprietary technology actually came out of the PhD research of one of our founders and it really lets us slice audio very finely so that we can carry out accuracy. We try to slice it usually into sentences and those sentences are essentially the smallest atoms of information that are required to do the transcription.
What we found is, by slicing audio into very small chucks of say 10 seconds-30 seconds, we’re able to maintain the confidentiality. No single transcriber actually has access to the entire audio and that’s a big deal.
Small Business Trends: It is really an interesting approach to a business need that’s been around forever, being able to use the latest and greatest technology to create a new business model.
Alexei Dunayev: It really came out of personal pain-points. There was nothing else that’s out there that could do what we wanted – that could really reach that quality, speed, confidentiality and cost.
Small Business Trends: In the end, do costumers get a chance to rate or rank the transcriptions?
Alexei Dunayev: Right now that is done by the costumer service team and we do reach out to our costumers to see how they feel, how they like their transcript. We have a very significant emphasis on quality mechanisms inside the process that make sure the quality level is perfect. But in the next release that is coming out in June, there is going to be a feature for direct feedback from the customers all the way through to every transcriber that has worked.
Small Business Trends: How quickly have your customers and prospects adapted to this approach?
Alexei Dunayev: We’re finding that a whole bunch of folks joining TranscribeMe have not even used transcription services before and it’s because we make it easy. We have a super user- friendly iPhone app. There’s also an Android app and you can use those apps for free to record meetings and record interviews. The recordings are then stored in the cloud so you’re never going to lose them. If you want to then get it transcribed, that’s just a click away.
So, we try to make the user experience fast, straightforward and as simple as can be.
Small Business Trends: Where can people find TranscribeMe?
This interview on transcription is part of the One on One interview series with some of the most thought-provoking entrepreneurs, authors and experts in business today. This interview has been edited for publication. To hear audio of the full interview, click on the player above.
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