GUEST POST: Simplify Your Business, Simplify Your Life!

simplifyRunning a business, raising a family, and carving out a little time for yourself is a careful balancing act. We all figure out the life hacks that lighten the load of our myriad responsibilities. When it comes to business, we need methods that simplify without cutting corners.

Keep all your plates spinning with no-nonsense strategies for spending less time and energy on your business while still giving your clients one hundred percent.

Have No Fear, Simplicity is Good

If you start feeling a little panicky at the prospect of letting go of some responsibility, you’re not alone. While it is normal to become attached to your projects and to feel validated by spending too much time working, it isn’t helpful to your business, yourself, or your family. If you have employees, get them involved in reviewing all projects. This will help you get an objective perspective about what projects could be changed or scrapped. If you’re a sole proprietor, clearly identify your goals, then sort your projects and responsibilities by whether they are working toward your goal or getting in the way. The first step in simplifying is to get rid of everything you don’t need.

Automate Everything You Can

Sometimes setting tasks on autopilot can backfire. Social media is one place you must engage in real-time interactions with your clients. Social channels are increasingly becoming a primary means of contact for customers, so give them the attention they deserve. Pitches and follow-ups should also come from you (or at least a very well-segmented email list) to avoid targeting the wrong people.

What can you automate without annoying your clients? Start by addressing the simple, repetitive tasks, such as bill paying and ordering. Automate contact forms to add new contacts and notify you or the appropriate department. Client account updates, employee scheduling, A/B email testing and everything you want your people to access immediately can be fully or partially automated.

Get Online Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Project Management in One

If you’re using two or more programs to manage contacts and projects, you’re probably wasting time and money. Find a tool that lets you do both, complete with all the tools you need for both CRM and project management. Insightly, for example, allows you to establish links between projects and contacts. Plus, Insightly’s new user interface brings linking front and center, so you can create connections between items even faster.

Ensure projects are flowing smoothly with a project management system all your people can use. You won’t have to waste time asking for updates on the progress of a particular task when you can simply pop into a project from the Web and see where it’s at.

Cultivate a Minimalist Culture

At work and at home, you can keep things simple by learning to look at everything from a minimalist perspective and encouraging those around you to do the same. The goal is to reduce all the various kinds of clutter in your life. Whether streamlining business processes, digitizing old paper files, or finding a way to say goodbye to great-grandma’s knickknacks, you work to minimize the stuff taking up space in your life. In business, some of the best ways to approach minimalism are to limit social networking, use the phone rather than email when it makes sense, and spend wisely on business tools. Essentially, consumption doesn’t guarantee success, but it will take your time and money if it gets out of control.

You don’t want to trade the quality of your business for the illusion of simplicity. Every change you make requires careful consideration of all its potential consequences, intentional or not, for you, your family, employees, and clients. While you may find obstacles, it is possible to simplify in a way that works for your business and your lifestyle.

Diana Dohertyis a freelance writer specializing in SEO content, and is a contributor to ChamberofCommerce.com. She loves all things tech, photography, craft, military family life, and business. She earned her BA in English Writing Arts from SUNY Oswego.

GUEST POST: 3 Reasons Your Small Business STILL Needs a Blog

blogsBlogging is certainly nothing new. In fact, next to social media and mobile digital marketing endeavors, putting time and effort into a blog may seem like a waste – or even “old fashioned” in technology terms.

The benefits of a small business blog are still plenty, though, and worth even a little bit of time dedication each week. Here are just a few of the reasons that despite all of the competing marketing technology, a small business blog is still a wise move:

It keeps you current on your industry. Owning a small business means a lot of “nose to the grindstone” moments, but in order to keep your business on trend and really meeting the needs of customers, you really need to stay up to date on your industry as a whole. By setting up a blogging editorial calendar for yourself and then sticking to it, you are building in time to expand your own knowledge base as it relates to your field – and to your small business needs, too.

It’s an easy way to attract new visitors. When people want to find the answers to questions, they go online. By blogging in the areas where you are knowledgeable, you can attract some traffic from online searchers who need answers about those very topics. In this way, you may be reaching a whole new audience that you would have never “met” without the blog, or by using traditional advertising. Decide what it is you can add to the discussion surrounding your industry and then write about it. By showing potential customers your expertise, you are setting yourself up for a repeat site visit in the future – one with a direct revenue connection attached.

It keeps you human. As technology becomes even more efficient, people spend less time with small businesses online – which is all the more reason to grab their attention when you can. A blog with fresh content gives consumers a reason to visit your site and get to know your company better. Blogging adds a personal dimension to your small business that is not easily achieved through the flash and quick-hitting style of a mobile app or even a basic website. A blog is also a great outlet for informal conversations with readers – and an opportunity to use plenty of visuals to pique their interests.

How has a small business blog positively impacted your business?

Megan Totka is the Chief Editor for ChamberofCommerce.com. She specializes on the topic of small business tips and resources. ChamberofCommerce.com helps small businesses grow their business on the web and facilitates connectivity between local businesses and more than 7,000 Chambers of Commerce worldwide.

MozCon 2014 Infographic Featuring My Quote!

Huge shout out to Eddie O’Driscoll and the Irish based digital marketing company DPFOC for including a quote from me from last year’s MozCon in their  “Interesting Quotes from 2013” section of this infographic!

DPFOC-IG-March-(mozcon)LENA

GUEST POST: The Top 4 Marketing Initiatives Trending on Twitter

Though it sometimes takes a backseat to wildly popular social media cousin Facebook, Twitter can be a really successful place for marketers to reach an intended audience with more directness, and less frills. Twitter has recently taken some steps to improve its business features for marketers even more. Everyone from large Fortune 500 companies to local small businesses can take advantage of the new, along with the tried and true, ways to reach out to Twitter’s 255 million userstwitter trends

Take a look at four simple ways to improve your Twitter presence, and expand your influence to its followers.

Promoted Tweets

Forget needing to put any major money behind designing a digital ad campaign that your audience could completely ignore anyway. Twitter now offers “Promoted Tweets” which allow brands to essentially purchase views of a specific tweet in the feed of a targeted audience. The great thing about using this Twitter tool is that you can target both current and potential future followers with a specific message. There is even a way to include a call-to-action to increase website traffic, or promote a specific sale or discount.

Twitter Cards

Let the Twitterverse know exactly who you are when someone retweets your content by attaching a Twitter Card to it. You can add Twitter Card information by adding a few lines of HTML to your website. There are a variety of card styles to choose from too – including a summary card, photo card, app card (with direct download information), product card, and lead generation card.

One-Click Video

Advertisers who pay for promoted videos to appear in-stream on Twitter will now see those videos play with a single click by users. It’s a user-friendly way to embed video promotional content that is similar to the automatic play video roll-out that Facebook unveiled earlier this year. This type of ad delivery is much more attractive and engaging for users who can watch a video without ever leaving their Twitter feed.

Hashtag it Out

Not all of the smart promotional moves on Twitter take money to pull off. You can cash in on what is trending by applying the right hashtags to your tweets. You can also totally ignore what is trending and apply smart hashtags to the words or phrases that best represent your business and what you are trying to accomplish. The right people will find your content if you apply the right hashtags.

What marketing advantages have you discovered via Twitter?

Photo via Flickr/Creative Commons

Megan Totka is the Chief Editor for ChamberofCommerce.com. She specializes on the topic of small business tips and resources. ChamberofCommerce.com helps small businesses grow their business on the web and facilitates connectivity between local businesses and more than 7,000 Chambers of Commerce worldwide.

GUEST POST: Twitter Tips + Tricks for Your Small Business

Your small business may be new to the social scene, or it may be a place you’ve been exploring for several years.  Either way, social media is a perfect low-cost place to market your business and create a social media fingerprint when used with consistency.  Twitter can generate more traffic to your website and create awareness for a brand – plus, Pew Research tells us 72 percent of online adults use social networking sites, so it’s important to make sure your business is where your potential clients are. If you

twitter-tips

want to improve your game, use these tricks on Twitter.

Skip the Hard Sales

Instead of treating Twitter as a place to sell, use it as a way to boost consumer loyalty and share helpful information with

your followers.  Utilize Twitters as a way to build your brand trust on social media. Over-marketing does nothing more than leave a bad taste in followers’ mouths – you might even lose them if you promote your business too much.

Keep it Brief

Valuable links and well-written content are helpful, but remember that Twitter users appreciate brevity.  Use a redirect service to shorten the links you share.  Take some time to consider which best suits your business needs and brand.

Ditch Some Characters

The maximum number of characters accepted on Twitter is 140, but the new thing is to tweet with even less.  Brief and punchy tweets capture your followers’ attention instead of getting buried in their newsfeeds and will increase their likelihood to respond.

Follow the Leaders

Twitter is much more than just posting your own tweets – it’s a wealth of information you can tap into and learn about your competition.  Instead of just following your competitors, make sure to follow their followers, too.  This gives you insight on how you can grow your Twitter following– it might even shine a light on what your rivals excel at so you know where you need to improve. Use what you learn and tweak your own tweets – you just may secure some of your competitors followers.

Add Pictures for Perfection

All social media networks respond well to photographs, Twitter included.  Twitpic is a great way to share photographs.  If you take photographs on the move, download the Twitterific app to your Smartphone and you can post pictures from any physical location.

Always Respond to Comments

No matter which social platforms you use to market your business, you should respond to each comment made on your post or tweet.  Even if you simply thank a reader for taking the time to look at what you posted, you will make a positive impact.

If you receive any negative feedback, combat the comments right away – they will hurt your reputation if you ignore them.  If you aren’t certain how to handle bad online business reviews, just remember that the customer is always right and never fight with a patron no matter how certain you are that you’re correct.  Acknowledge grievances and apologize and make up publicly.  Make the complaint an asset to win over the customer and maybe even those readers who viewed the exchange publicly.

To succeed, social media strategies need adequate attention.  Focus on your Twitter account and remember that it can help lead your business to increased success.

How have you utilized Twitter to enhance your small business marketing?

Megan Totka is the Chief Editor for ChamberofCommerce.com. She specializes on the topic of small business tips and resources. ChamberofCommerce.com helps small businesses grow their business on the web and facilitates connectivity between local businesses and more than 7,000 Chambers of Commerce worldwide.

GUEST POST: 3 Keys to Social Media Success

More than 81 percent of small businesses see the value of using social media as a business tool and realize that Facebook, Twitter, and the other platforms can develop increasing levels of social media success.  As you work on your social media strategies, keep in mind that customers want to see a brand that offers value.  Value is one of the most important ways to build a social media audience because it paints a clear picture for customers: your business is worth their time.social media success

Here are some everyday ways to add value to your social media efforts for real success:

Stop the Sales Pitch

One reason businesses may not see success generated from their social media marketing is simple: all they try to do is sell, sell, and sell some more.  Stop the sales pitch.  Social media is more than just an avenue to hard sell your business offerings.  Instead, it’s a place to build relationships with your customers and prospects, educate your audience about what you have to offer, and make them love your brand.

Carve Out Time to Build Your Brand

Your audience needs time to become familiar with your brand.  After they feel comfortable with you, it’s time to educate your customers and prospects on the products and services you offer.  As you plan your social media campaign, do so in a way that you can control and see that your brand meets your customers’ expectations. Keep in mind that when you join social media platforms, you won’t see immediate results.   Fruition does not happen overnight – the social media arena can produce notable results, but not instantly.

Before you sign up for Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, and the like, take the essential time to choose the best social media platforms for your business.  Select a couple that will work the best and give yourself ample time to create a strong presence on each platform instead of trying to be in too many places at once and struggling.  Focus your time and funds on the most effective social media platforms to drive targeted consumers to your business.

Give Your Customers What They Want

When a person likes a business via his social media page, it is likely because the content the business shared was useful to him.  A common social media failure among today’s businesses is that businesses don’t give customers what they want.  Instead, they post pretty pictures, technical jargon, and things unrelated to the business.

Instead, it’s great to post a variety of information – think discounts and promotions, inspirational quotes, giveaways, and of course, some information about products and services.  Consumers want to see the value of your brand, especially as it relates to them.  When you give them what they want, you are setting your business up for success.

Every business has competition – and the rivalry has risen to a new level as more and more businesses are now on the social media bandwagon.  As a small business owner in this fast-paced world, it’s essential to constantly evolve your methods of reaching customers and stay ahead of your competition.  Strive to find effective strategies and methods that will add value to your customers and strengthen your brand.  Value is the key to keeping your business a notch above the rest.

How do you add value to your business and brand through social media efforts?

Megan Totka is the Chief Editor for ChamberofCommerce.com. She specializes on the topic of small business tips and resources. ChamberofCommerce.com helps small businesses grow their business on the web and facilitates connectivity between local businesses and more than 7,000 Chambers of Commerce worldwide.

Photo via Webtrends

GUEST POST: 4 Tips to Build a Social Media Audience in 2014

As small businesses strive to create a booming social media marketing strategy, it can pose a challenge to sort through the statistics, distractions, and overwhelming amount of incorrect Social Media Audienceinformation.  One statistic tells us that each Facebook fan is worth around $174 – but most small businesses would laugh if you ask if they’ve seen that money reflected in their revenue.

For small businesses aiming to engage audiences via social media and get the most return on their investment, deciding where to begin can be an intimidating task.  Remember that Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook can help your business succeed. Take a look at this advice to get a handle on some good practices to help you build and retain a social media audience.

If Possible, Go Ahead and Pay

While you will hear often that Facebook is free marketing, there’s a little more to it than that.  Yes, the platforms are free but social is an endeavor where you must pay to play.  Businesses with a serious intention to enter the social media world need to consider allocating a marketing budget specific to social media.  It’s difficult to make a big impact if you aren’t putting some dollars behind your efforts.

If you can’t afford to invest in social media, don’t be discouraged.  Keep the focus on quality over quantity.  Concentrate on building a strong audience and make sure your most devoted customers are part of your social media audience – and that you consistently provide them value.  Show your core fans that you care and they will pay you back by singing your praises to their friends and family.

Select Your Platform(s) with Care

Don’t feel like you need a presence on every single platform. Some businesses flourish better on visually rich sites, while some may thrive better on a different platform.  If you don’t feel comfortable on Pinterest, don’t rush to sign up.  It’s okay to select where you are active with care.  Before diving in, make sure your social media efforts are reaching the right audience.  Use your answer to guide you when it comes to joining Twitter or Facebook or anywhere else – or passing it up.

Build a Community of Fans

A big benefit of liking or following a brand is the promise of being informed about events, discounts, and any special offers.  Plus, social media allows businesses to show their audience a human side of their company.  Through interaction with your followers, you can create a tight-knit community of people who will engage with your business regularly.  Focus on a community-centric attitude and pay attention to the fans and followers who take the time to find and support you online.  Take their feedback and comments to heart – and always respond to all messages and questions.

Remember that Social Never Sleeps

A job listing for an eight-to-five social media manager position is just asking for a plethora of missed opportunities.  Your customers are most likely to be online during non-business hours – nights and weekends.  That’s when you need to be active.

Social media is a powerful avenue for everything customer related – it never sleeps.  Make sure to post on social platforms every day and monitor comments, shares, and so on. It’s one way to engage with the online community. It doesn’t necessarily mean you need to post 24/7 but you probably don’t want to neglect Facebook or Twitter the entire weekend.  If you do, you could miss potential business or frustrate an upset customer who is waiting for an answer and feels like they are being ignored.

As you work hard to build your social media audience, always remember that you’re marketing to humans, not robots.  Consider that people respond best to visuals over text-only posts and work hard to create a loyal group of supporters.  It takes some time and effort, but with dedication, social media can take your business many places.

How has your business successfully built and retained a social media audience?

Megan Totka is the Chief Editor for ChamberofCommerce.com. She specializes on the topic of small business tips and resources. ChamberofCommerce.com helps small businesses grow their business on the web and facilitates connectivity between local businesses and more than 7,000 Chambers of Commerce worldwide.

 

5 Ways Facebook Can Help Your Online Business Succeed

The e-commerce bandwagon is both a blessing and a curse for online business owners. Yes, you can get a business up and running in no time – which is why over 30 million online retailers exist worldwide – but there is also more competition than ever to succeed. A solid marketing strategy that utilizes popular social media sites such as Facebook can build your business for free – and is key to your small business success.

Facebook is a tool to drive sales, and also a platform to market and sell products, build your brand identity, and interact with customers.  Take time to build your ideal fan base and promote your Facebook page.  Then put these tips to work in order to best market your e-commerce business on Facebook:

Enable Social SharingFacebook-Business-Page

Aim to place social share buttons in prime real estate locations throughout your e-commerce website. “Like” buttons encourage your customers to become engaged – and when they share content with friends your page potentially gains more views.  After a customer likes your page, he or she will see the status updates your company makes in its newsfeed.

Vary Your Content

Diversity is essential in social media – don’t let yourself get stuck in the rut of posting just one style of status updates.  When you share updates, mix up the content and try new things.  Don’t be afraid to break away from your normal posts and explore new ways to reach your audience.  There are several Facebook posting techniques that work well.

Interact With Your Customers

Of course, you need to always aim to engage your customers.  If a customer replies to one of your posts, take the time to respond with sincerity.  Facebook promotes interaction and this is an easy way you can show who you are and what your business values are.  After all, interaction is a two-way street that you as the merchant can easily pave.

Sell…Without Selling

Your Facebook fans don’t want you to sell to them every single chance you have.  Instead of being a product or service pusher, take time to write and share useful tips and articles, videos and customer testimonials.  This makes your business more credible and trustworthy and your customers will grow to value your expertise – and trust you when they need to make a future purchase.

Remember that Customer Service is Always King

Facebook is more than just an extension of your marketing strategy – it’s a customer service portal that needs to be manned around the clock.  Utilize Facebook as a tool to contact customers, respond to their questions and resolve issues and complaints.  If you receive a private message, make sure to reply promptly to prevent tarnishing your reputation.

Remember Facebook is much more than simply a tool to drive sales.  It’s a platform to market and sell your services and products – but also to build brand identity and engage your customers.  It’s a simple yet effective way to earn your customers’ trust and make a good name for your e-commerce business.

How do you use Facebook to build your brand and drive sales?

Megan Totka is the Chief Editor for ChamberofCommerce.com. She specializes on the topic of small business tips and resources. ChamberofCommerce.com helps small businesses grow their business on the web and facilitates connectivity between local businesses and more than 7,000 Chambers of Commerce worldwide.

GUEST POST: 4 Ways Small Businesses Can Create a Social Media Fingerprint

Prior to the social media explosion, simply having a presence on the major social platforms set a business apart from its competitors.  However, over the last handful of years, branded social media has become an expectation as people realize Twitter and Facebook can build your business for free.  Customers turn to these social media powerhouses as a quick and simple way to connect with businesses.  That’s why 88 percent of U.S. companies will market on Facebook by 2014.

Now that most brands are active on social media, the name of the game extends beyond simply being present to crafting a distinctive social media marketing strategy. social media fingerprint

Essentially, you should be making your virtual fingerprint so your business stands out from the millions of others out there.  Here are four tips for business owners who want to create a distinctive reputation in the social media arena:

Create a Variety of Content

As you work to establish your social fingerprint, you must create content that brings your company to life.  Add depth to your brand through a blog that focuses on your area of expertise.  Write consistent posts and also show that you know how to use other forms of social media content like Pinterest boards.  Connect with your visitors in as many ways as possible and make it a goal to post to your blog every day.  Remember, you can use guest bloggers as contributors too.

Establish Your Brand’s Voice

Social media success boils down to authenticity.  Take time to find your brand’s social voice.  Consider your persona, tone, language style and purpose.  Do you want to sound friendly and personal?  Be inspiring and honest?  Do you hope to entertain or focus more on selling? Blend the characteristics and make sure you like the way the language appears and sounds to the readers.

Write a Brand Overview

Take a step back and look at your brand.  View it like you’re developing an informative document for a high-profile client.  Make sure to share information about your brand’s background, measurable objectives in place, your cutting-edge strategy and tools that will measure your success.  This document serves as a map for putting the brand foundation in place.

Promote Yourself with Care

A business that does nothing but encourage visitors to buy products won’t go anywhere.  Remember your relevant content will do the selling for you.  Traditional selling approaches are dead.  Instead approach social media with the intent to help and engage others, be an active listener and resolve to promote your business with care.

The social media sphere offers small business owners a bountiful amount of opportunities to interact with their current and prospective customers.  Focus on engagement and be true to yourself.  Before you know it, your business will make its imprint in the social media world.

How do you make your business stand apart from others on social media platforms?

Megan Totka is the Chief Editor for ChamberofCommerce.com. She specializes on the topic of small business tips and resources. ChamberofCommerce.com helps small businesses grow their business on the web and facilitates connectivity between local businesses and more than 7,000 Chambers of Commerce worldwide.

Photo via http://www.arnoldit.com

GUEST POST: 5 Must-Haves for Power Blogging

Blogs are more powerful than many business owners realize. Though they are designed to be informal, they should be taken seriously by anyone trying to grow their business and customer base. Did you know that 61 percent of U.S. consumers have made a purchase based on a blog post?

So how can you be sure that you are making the most of this smart form of content marketing? If your posts are missing any of the following things, it is time to take another look at your blog:blogs

An image. Adding art to a blog post will make it more inviting to the reader, even if the image is generic in nature. The site Work at Home Mom Revolution uses open-domain images of animals (often dogs) alongside each post, even though the content is rarely about actual animals. Site owner Lisa Mills knows the images will capture the attention of readers and might even make them chuckle a little. It’s best if your images do relate to your content, of course, but the point is that any image will elevate the aesthetics and attract readers. Ideal images to use are ones that you own or have created. However, you can also find photos or graphics for free on sites like Creative Commons.

Tags/labels. No matter what blogging software you use, you should have an option for tags or labels. These are basically categories that your specific post falls into and they are also search-engine friendly. If you blog about your photography business and write a post on the summer’s wedding trends, some of the tags you could consider are: weddings, summer weddings, wedding trends, wedding fashion and wedding photography. There is no list of what tags to use so apply as many as you see fit.

Meta descriptions. Ever noticed that when a search engine returns a result page, there are descriptions under the headlines? Most blogging software will allow you to write a meta description for each post. If you do not take advantage of this, the search engine will likely default to the opening paragraph of your post which may or may not give a great description of the ideas you convey throughout it.

Keywords. Speaking of search engines – make your blog posts as keyword-friendly as possible without sacrificing content. Find natural spots in your writing to use the keywords associated with your business, geographic area or industry. Not only will this improve your chances of being found by a stranger doing an online search, but it will also let readers know your areas of expertise right off the bat.

Internal links. As you build up a blog index, refer back to previous posts. Ideally, this will keep a reader on your blog longer and increase your page views. It also improves your credibility because it shows the range of topics you discuss on your blog. You should link within the body of your post and also give readers a short list of related posts at the bottom.

The trick to successful blogging is to implement strategy but make it look effortless. Your first priority should be a smooth, enjoyable experience for your readers. Seamlessly incorporating these blog suggestions takes some time and practice but the payoff will be killer blog content that also improves your page rank. What is most important to you when you blog?

Image via Flickr on Creative Commons

Katie Parsons writes for ChamberofCommerce.com where she specializes in business news affecting major markets. ChamberofCommerce.com helps small companies with online growth. Plus, it facilitates connectivity between local firms and over 7,000 Chambers worldwide. She is also the administrator for a community blog for moms.

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