Thursday, February 21, 2019

small business

small business


Small Business Owners: Save Time And Do More By Leveraging Marketing Automation - Forbes

Posted: 21 Feb 2019 05:30 AM PST

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Owning a small business can be a real drag. Sure, you get to be your own boss and realize a dream, but you're probably working 'round the clock and crying yourself to sleep each night.

OK, maybe not that last part. But, you are bone-tired, with no break in sight. That's the reality many professionals commit to when launching a business.

Luckily, there is a boring but totally useful tool that can help you boost sales, save time and garner brand awareness: marketing automation. Unfortunately, a lot of small business owners don't get it.

The "2019 Small Business Marketing Trends Reportfound that "48% of small businesses plan to use social media as one or more of their marketing tactics in 2019." Not that there's anything wrong with this, but there is an underlying problem: Only 7% said they plan to budget more on marketing automation this year.

In my opinion, businesses that choose to ignore the benefits of marketing automation do themselves a great disservice in the long run. They limit themselves to one-dimensional marketing strategies because they just don't have the time to do more.

Understanding The Marketing Movement

Back in 2011, Google published a study called "Winning the Zero Moment of Truth" (download required). It stipulated that back in the Mad Men era, advertisers could better control consumer's impulses to buy a product through advertising. It was a one-touch conversion from viewing the ad to purchasing at the cash register.

But with the onset of digital media and smartphones, behavior has changed. Today, the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT) suggests that when buyers hear about a brand, they carry out a series of actions before deciding to purchase. These actions may include reading reviews, exploring websites, validating if the brand is highly rated, comparison shopping and more.

That means a few things:

1. Consumers are empowered more than ever before.

2. It takes a longer time to build brand awareness.

3. Purchases are often delayed (if completed at all).

But, this can be used to your business's advantage.

Customers Crave An Experience

Because the approach to purchasing has changed so much in the last decade, there is inherent value in a company's ability to tell stories and to be authentic. Companies are going bolder to create an emotion-centric experience.

Consider Patagonia's (first ever) television spot in 2017 that defended public lands. Or, Nike's "Believe in Something" ad featuring Colin Kaepernick, which appeared in 2018. We're already off to the races in 2019 with Gillette's "We Believe" commercial, which is stirring up major emotions and conversations over the #MeToo movement.

Now, outdoor enthusiasts and athletes are not just wearing their favorite labels, they are placing money in the hands of companies that care about protecting nature and fighting systemic racism. A historically male razor company is challenging the "boys will be boys" debate that rages between the sexes. Whether celebrated or scorned, these companies are trying their product and purpose together, and it's having a larger impact.

While small business owners surely do not have the marketing budget of Patagonia, Nike or Gillette, they can borrow some of their tricks.

What's Your Why?

Successful brands continue to thrive often because they understand who they are. Do you know who you are? Does anyone care?

While you ponder this, think about your why. Why did you get into the business? Why do you pour your heart and soul (and free time and cash) into this work?

As Simon Sinek would say, "People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it."

Help your customers find a solution through your product. Simple touches can go a long way here: Send emails from a person (like the owner) rather than the company name, and make sure your messages pass the "so what" test. Place the customer's needs over the company's wants -- always.

Here's how:

1. Focus On Owned Channels

Although it seems more exciting to jump in and start tweeting, there is more value in setting up a website and establishing an email marketing system.

Today, companies like Squarespace and WIX offer great website templates for beginners, for those unable to outsource this work to a consultant or professional group. Having a standalone website ensures an owned space where people can find critical information about your company, products and talent.

Moreover, websites are a great place to collect information about your customers. By inserting various conversion points (like an email sign-up prompt), it is easy to build out lists, and thus, relationships with people who care about your brand.

2. Establish Connections

Based on my perspective, the most consistent and effective way to automate leads and increase return on investment is with email marketing -- a direct-to-inbox experience for people who have opted in to receive information from your company.

MailChimp and Constant Contact have easy-to-use platforms, with affordable monthly pricing options. With email, contacts are owned and reachable anytime, unless they unsubscribe.

Ultimately, investing in anything else before creating a website or email functionality will risk brand engagement.

Find The Path Forward

After establishing a web presence and email marketing, brands can explore broader marketing goals like advertising and creating social media profiles. Today, simple ad buys are a relatively easy procedure, made even stronger with knowledge of one's customer base -- information already gleaned from email marketing. In fact, there are so many marketing and technology tools out there for marketers, it's a bit mind-blowing.

Be sure to establish your message, remember your why and then build your marketing arsenal. In other words: Do the work and then let it work for you.

Successful adoption of automation alleviates time suck, helps establish customer relationships, improves your storytelling ability and ties together your purpose and product. Marketing automation may play second fiddle to your everyday operations, but it can't be ignored as a useful tool that will have a direct impact on your future growth.

Look Beyond The Web: 4 Ways To Promote Your Small Business Offline - Forbes

Posted: 20 Feb 2019 08:23 AM PST

To take your marketing to the next level, you may need to get traditional.Getty Royalty Free

Thanks to the internet, getting the word out about your business is faster and easier than ever. With the push of a button, you could potentially reach hundreds, thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of consumers.

Exclusively promoting your business online might sound like a great deal. But, neglecting offline marketing could cost you.

Not everyone in your target audience is online. And, some people who are online may skim past your online marketing efforts. Consider offline marketing in conjunction with digital promotion.

How To Promote Your Business Offline

I've talked about ways you can spice up your marketing strategy in the past. Now, I'm going to focus on ways to integrate offline promotional efforts into your strategy.

Offline promotion goes beyond product packaging, driving a vehicle with your business logo on it, and giving away branded merchandise.

If you're looking for new ways to promote your small business offline, give the following a spin.

1. Join Your Local Chamber Of Commerce

A chamber of commerce gives business owners the opportunity to network, share ideas, promote their companies, and establish credibility. There are local, state, and national chambers of commerce you can opt to join.

Although you must register and pay dues, joining your local chamber of commerce can be a great way to promote your business offline.

You can talk with other chamber members about your company, opening the door to partnerships. In turn, a fellow member might recommend your business to its employees and customers.

Many chambers of commerce offer free promotion and marketing resources, both in print and online. Your chamber may print information about your business in their directories, newsletters, and magazines.

Chamber of commerce benefits can extend to the online sphere, too.

Your chamber might link to your business from their website, boosting recognition (and search engine optimization, too). And if your chamber of commerce is active on social media, they might give your small business a shoutout.

2. Attend Trade Shows

Trade shows present opportunities to promote your business in front of a large, yet focused, audience. When you participate in trade shows, you can gain brand exposure, acquire new leads, and position your company for partnerships.

You can attend local trade shows or take a business trip out of state. Before you attend, make sure you know your ideal customer profile (ICP). Sign up for trade shows that fit your ICP. Otherwise, you'll be promoting your company to the wrong audience.

If you want to participate in trade shows, prepare beforehand. Although you can attend trade shows and network in the crowd, I'd recommend reserving a booth. That way, you can get your logo and name out there on a larger scale.

When you sign up for a trade show booth, create an eye-catching display. Some things you need include business cards, marketing materials, table covers, signage, lights, and branded clothing.

Consider factors like electricity, booth location, internet access, and booth size when signing up for a trade show.

Here's another tip: simplicity is key. When my payroll and accounting software company, Patriot Software, attends trade shows, we create easy-to-read signs. Don't try to cram too much information onto your signs.

3. Send Out Direct Mail

Consumers open somewhere between 80% and 90% of direct mail. For those of you who track your email marketing campaign metrics, an 80% open rate is huge. On average, consumers only open 20-30% of emails.

Promoting your business through snail mail can do more than encourage people to hear what you have to say—it can also motivate them to take action. Six percent more consumers said they'd take action after receiving direct mail than email.

Why is direct mail still effective when everything is online? Beats me. But if I had to make an educated guess, I'd say it's due to a variety of reasons, such as:

  • Recipients don't need to worry about exposing their computers to viruses when opening mail
  • Direct mail doesn't go into spam folders
  • Direct mail might stay on a consumer's radar (e.g., on their refrigerator)
  • Recipients may receive significantly less direct mail than emails
  • Some recipients prefer physical mail over digital mail (similar to the book vs. e-book debate)

When you send direct mail, don't neglect your business's digital presence. Promote your business's social media pages and company website on your physical mail materials.

So, what kind of things should you send in the mail? You could send coupons, announce new products or services, welcome people to the neighborhood, or mail greeting or thank-you cards.

4. Create And Distribute Business Cards

Twenty-seven million business cards print daily. Even in the digital age, business owners and employees alike recognize the significance of having business cards.

If you haven't already, consider creating business cards. Business cards can be great tools for promoting your business. Not to mention, they're compact, making them easy to carry around and distribute.

Optimize your business card by including sufficient personal and business information. Add your name and your business's name, phone number, and logo. And, you can integrate your business's digital outlets by including your website, email address, and social media sites.

How One Small Business Found Its Way Into Restaurants Across The US - Forbes

Posted: 20 Feb 2019 05:48 AM PST

New York small business CounterEv is making tables out of waste for popular burger joint, Shake Shack.CounterEv

If you're having a burger at Shake Shack or a salad at Sweetgreen, you may be seated at a table made of reclaimed wood from bowling lanes by a small company called CounterEv.

Jim Malone, the founder of CounterEv, started the business largely by accident: living in the small town of Catskill, New York, approximately 100 miles north of Manhattan, he started building a log home and discovered the world of woodworking. As a producer for Saturday morning cartoons, this was a very different world that Malone knew little about.

But he decided to experiment with reclaimed wood for his log home and what began as a little experiment turned into a Craigslist-based business: he posted his creations-- a bench, or a simple a table-- on the site to see if locals were interested in purchasing. The answer, he says was a resounding yes. The response was so strong that he decided to switch industries, going from the cartoon business to furniture and woodworking, an annual average career transition but one that's led him to think more deeply about sustainability, the future of business, and what it means to continue to manufacture in America.

With two shops now, one in Brooklyn and one in Catskill, Malone is expanding the business to interact directly with customers and reach more homes. In addition to their retail fronts, they've ramped up their website, building an e-commerce business to go with his B2B focus to date.

Counterev's new website offers smaller items for the home: chopping boards, accent pieces, bowls.CounterEv

But Malone says that he is driven by something more than just selling furniture. "I knew I wanted to do more than just exploit the novelty of using this beautiful old wood to make furniture. It had to be something more."

That's come in the form of sustainability and innovation with his materials. In 2004, it was a more or less a one-man show, run primarily by himself. Fifteen years later Malone has assembled a team of 15 craftspeople in their Kingston workshop who create a variety of products for businesses such as Shake Shack and Sweetgreen using recycled wood. This emphasis on using reclaimed materials has caught the attention of business owners.

When he started experimenting with woodworking in 2004, Malone stumbled across wood from bowling lanes. "I just fell in love with the vintage heart pine and spent a lot of time experimenting and trying to make something unique that fit my sense of design and of course was also functional. At the time, no one was using reclaimed bowling lanes for anything. They would wind up in a landfill when a bowling center was demolished," he explains.

That wood is now found in some of America's newest fast-food empires. Randy Garutti, the CEO of Shake Shack, discovered CounterEv's tables at Sweetgreen. By then, Malone says they had already done the DC-startup's first 8 locations. Garutti was not happy with their original table maker and liked CounterEv's aesthetic and story. He offered them an opportunity to design tables for their 3rd location. CounterEv's been with Shake Shack as they expand across the country. "Their growth was slow in the beginning so it allowed us to figure some things out and grow to meet their needs as they scaled," Malone says.

Using reclaimed materials though, he notes, is not easy. "It's labor-intensive to prep. It's unpredictable, and of course, there's the rarity factor. For the first several years of business people always asked me how long I thought I could keep using reclaimed bowling alleys."

He still doesn't know the exact answer to that question but says that he's managed to stockpile enough "for healthy growth looking forward several years."

To date, the company has repurposed over 100,000 square feet of reclaimed bowling alley lanes. CounterEv's desire to think about environmental issues, Malone argues, goes hand in hand with being a small, craft-driven business and one that's entirely self-funded.

"It's generally more expensive to use reclaimed materials, just like it is for a business to maintain high standards for environmental and social responsibility. But it's part of our DNA, as the saying goes, so it's not something we have to work at. It's just who we are," he says. "I think it's much harder to retrofit a large business with truly sustainable practices. That's why you get so much greenwashing from more established brands. They're desperately trying to respond to changing consumer priorities, not being innovative or setting a standard."

To put the concepts to paper, Malone is now looking at becoming a B Corp in 2019, a concept that resonates with his values, he says.

Though they've become known for recycling bowling lanes, they're also thinking about the other elements of woodworking that can be toxic to the environment. For instance, varnishes and finishes are often made with chemicals that release VOCs. "Our focus is really on sustainable manufacturing in all aspects of production," Malone iterates.

That includes continuing to manufacturing in New York and keep the whole business close to home, despite the ups and downs of the economy.  "Being close to production has been essential in developing the kinds of products that fit the brand we've been building," he says. "That said, competition is what the free market is built on, and competing with overseas manufacturers is challenging. Fortunately, consumers are becoming more enlightened, and when they're able, they're choosing to buy from brands that have authentic commitments to social and environmental concerns."

As CounterEv expands, they're relying on those more savvy consumers to buy from their new B2C website and are in the process of launching a new upholstery line this year that Malone says is "super sustainable." 

"We're always experimenting with new materials," he says. "We're not just here to make a buck by mass producing classic designs from the last century. For us, it's about making high-quality, unique furniture that's good for the environment—both outside and inside your home."

How to Accept Credit Card Payments for Your Small Business - Nav

Posted: 21 Feb 2019 12:01 AM PST

For many consumers, paying with cash is so 20th-century. It's essential that every small business offers non-greenback options at physical and virtual locations. Customer convenience, however, means an additional cost for companies that includes as much as 2.50% per transaction, plus other fees associated with card processing. This can be particularly hard on small businesses, especially those just that are just getting started.

It's essential, despite the cost, for businesses to meet customers where they are, especially since so many goods and services are sold online. Companies must graciously accept debit, or credit, or mobile wallet options like Apple Pay and Google Pay to stay competitive. While it's a fact of life that plastic should be part of your payment acceptance plan, there are many nuances to the credit card game that need to be researched and understand in advance.

Here's what you should know before you begin.

What to Know About Accepting Credit Card Payments

Which Credit Card Processor Is for You?

Looking for the best processor is a lot like looking for insurance. An ethical agent will find the policy that suits your particular needs. An unscrupulous one, however, will sell you a product that makes the most profit for his company.

This could happen if you encounter a "predatory" processor salesperson, according to Molly K. McLaughlin of PC Magazine: "Small business owners, in particular, are often the targets of such practices."

Quote-generating sites like CardFellow.com and BuyerZone can help you find the right processor, based on factors such as:

  • Number of transactions per month
  • The average amount of these transactions
  • Total monthly revenue

These sites also have blogs that explain topics such as interchange fees and effective rates. That's helpful because credit card processing is far too complex to describe in a single article. Additionally, not all card processors are transparent about their practices. Worst-case scenarios include hidden costs, difficult-to-understand contracts, and fees that can be manipulated to the processor's advantage.

McLaughlin notes that because rates and contracts are different for each customer, "it's difficult to make a direct comparison" of different credit card processors. It's essential to read agreements carefully before signing – and just as important to know what your company needs and doesn't need. For example, a cupcake truck that sells lots of $5 sweets is very different from a New York steakhouse famous for Kobe beef and expensive wines.

How Card Processing Works

All processors accept major credit cards plus those mobile wallet options. Although U.S. consumers have been relatively slow to warm up to services like Google Pay, we're finally catching on. According to a report from Zion Market Research, nine out of 10 mobile users will be making payments this way by 2020. Back in 2017, only 50% of consumers used mobile payment.

(That's good news for businesses: A study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign indicates that mobile wallet customers shop more often and spend more money when they do.)

When one of your customers pays with a card, the company that issued it isn't the one that processes the payment. That's handled by one of the major processing companies, such as Global Payments, First Data, and Flagship. These companies pay a flat fee to the card issuers.

Once a processor clears a payment, it doesn't reimburse the small business owner directly. That's handled by one of several types of intermediary companies. A small business is most likely to work with:

  • Independent sales organizations, which are registered with banks, such as Helcim, Cayan and Sam's Club Merchant Services
  • Merchant services aggregators, which create a sub-account for your small business in its own merchant account; some examples are Square Point of Sale and Intuit Quickbooks

Fees to the card issuer, the processor and the intermediary make it expensive for small businesses to accept plastic. As noted above, these costs are quite complicated and, at times, less than transparent.

More Costs to Consider

Not all payment forms are created equal. For example, debit card fees are lower than credit fees. Corporate or exclusive cards, as well as American Express, carry higher processing fees.

"Card not present" transactions – those done online or over the phone – also cost more due to a higher risk of fraud and chargebacks. The average cost for a card-not-present transaction is approximately 2.30% to 2.50% for Discover, Mastercard or Visa, according to Cardfellow.com (which also reviews processors). But for cards used in physical locations, the amount is about 1.95% to 2%.

To accept credit, you'll need equipment, such as a point-of-sale terminal, a mobile card reader or, for e-commerce, a virtual terminal. According to PC magazine, it's smarter to buy rather than rent; even a "free" equipment offer generally means a lease agreement that could wind up costing your business money.

Some companies offer "tiered" or "bundled" pricing, a complicated system that lets processors juggle charges among several categories. Fees are not always fully disclosed, and the amount you pay can be manipulated so that you wind up paying more. Tiered pricing "has played a big role in building the processing industry's shady reputation," notes Ben Dwyer of Cardfellow.com.

Some processor agreements include hidden costs, such as cancellation fees. Or a contract might let the company add new fees or increase old ones without notice. Again, due diligence is important. Even if you've gotten leads from one of the quote-generating sites named above, it's essential to read the contracts closely to make sure you're getting the right deal for your company's needs. You can also ask colleagues and those who work in your industry what processor they use; trade shows and industry events are a good place to hear about new competitors and special offers that processors could be ready to offer new customers.

Educate yourself about your options, choose carefully – and watch sales grow as you make it easier for customers to do business with your company. While credit card technology will change much over the next decade, those who are already using it will find it easier to adapt. Get in with both feet and prepare to make adjustments as you go.

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$50,000 up for grabs in FedEx small business contest - Tacoma News Tribune

Posted: 20 Feb 2019 02:39 PM PST

Small business owners, FedEx knows you're busy, but it still wants you to enter its contest.

The annual FedEx Small Business Grant contest offers "grants and services to 10 U.S. based small businesses, distributing a collective prize pool of $220,500 — the largest sum since the contest was established in 2012," according to a company news release.

Winners also will receive an additional dollar amount in credit to use for FedEx Office print and business services as well as packages "to help with website optimization, design thinking, social media and print expertise."

Top prize is $50,000, plus $7,500 in FedEx Office print and business services. Other cash awards are offered.

2018's winner was a Chicago company, Rumi Spice, which sells saffron imported from Afghanistan.

The contest is open to U.S.-based small businesses (fewer than 99 employees) in operation for six months or more.

To enter, visit www.fedex.com/grantcontest and enter contact information along with a short profile about your business with four photos of your business or product. You also can submit a 90-second "elevator speech" video. The contest runs until March 25; voting to take place from Feb. 27 to April 1. Winners will be announced April 29 at the grant contest website.

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