Small Businesses Advice

Great small businesses advice from Richard Branson via the Open Forum.

When it comes to social media, Branson said that “For businesses, social media offers both challenges and opportunities. For example, an unhappy Virgin passenger might use the megaphone of a social media platform to complain, when a push of an onboard call button would resolve the issue. But at the same time, social channels can help your customers find one another and allow them a change to interact, which makes an onboard community on an airplane, for example, a “smaller, warmer, friendlier” place.”

Branson believes that when businesses carefully monitor and respond, social media helps businesses anticipate needs. For example, when a Virgin passenger expressed his concern on Twitter about whether he might make his connecting flight, Virgin staffers made sure he made it.

Social channels can also offer immediate feedback on what your customers will respond to: When Virgin America announced a fare sale on Twitter, it became the fourth highest sale day in the airline’s history.

I think that’s what it’s important to remember when giving social media advice for small businesses. This is a route into your prospective and current customer base. You need to seek out where they are and connect with them. To find out who’s unhappy and who’s singing your praises so that you can respond to both – providing useful and immediate customer service for any problems and positively acknowledging the good feedback.

Share this:

Virtual Admin vs Social Media Virtual Assistant

A virtual admin is someone who helps out with typing and other office-related skills, catching the overflow without actually being based in your office.

A social media virtual assistant performs a somewhat different role. S/he is responsible for maintaining your online presence. The traditional PR role with some added oomph from the addition of online social media.

"social-media-virtual-assistant"The aim of all these interactive tools is to reach out to people and share your product or service in a fun way. Jo Dodds described it brilliantly recently when she coined the 3 ‘C’s – Connection, Conversation and Commitment. Getting to know people and building relationships by providing useful information and other help.

The main thrust of both Twitter and Facebook is regular status updates. Some of these can be personal but others should be informative statements or useful links that relate to your business or niche and so will require online research. Few business owners have the time to oversee the routine running of their companies AND look up relevant facts to entertain and engage with their social media audience.

Ensuring that all Direct Messages on Twitter, Facebook and any other platforms are answered promptly or possibly merely filtering out any spam so that the business owner can see the wheat from the chaff to be able to respond personally. Decluttering and organising using human intuition rather than a software program to eliminate the unnecessary, so that the task is nowhere near as overwhelming as it would first appear.

By identifying a series of accepted responses to certain questions/comments, the SMVA can deal with the regular day-to-day customer service-based interactions, leaving the business owner the luxury of more time to address any more complicated enquiries. If s/he wishes to participate more often in one media, the SMVA takes up the slack in the others but, because all responses have been pre-agreed, the transition is seamless.

The content and replies on any website blogs, Facebook Fan or Group pages, Youtube or Flickr accounts should also come under the remit of the SMVA, where the goal is to make sure that the same visual and verbal message is distributed across all media.

The social media virtual assistant also keeps abreast of technological developments in terms of both software and which platforms are relevant to and most effective for the promotion of the business, ensuring that the company website is bookmarked, publicised and generally brought to the attention of as many interested potential customers as possible but without aggressively shoving up their nose.

Share this:

Marketing Funnel

So many local businesses just don’t seem to understand the concept of the Funnel. It is no longer enough just to have a presence on the High Street or an advert in the Yellow Pages. With so much competition from other businesses offering the same service only a mile or two away, you have to offer more, be more personal, make the customer feel like you are the best choice for them and will have thier best interests at the forefront of your mind.

This involves making contact personally and quickly, but there is a fine line to tread so as not to appear too desperate for the business. Following up is not to be confused with being pushy.

You want the customer to buy your product and tell their friends all about it in a positive way. This involves being personable and providing an invaluable service. Too often the British business owner is laissez faire in a take-it-or-leave-it way. The attitude is all wrong because we don’t like to sell ourselves but, by standing back, we can appear unenthusiastic, even rude.

Sometimes a shift of ethos can be required.

I got a great deal of invaluable advice for the small business owner on how to create a funnel from a piece by Scot Smith on FaceBook.

"Marketing Funnel"Basically, Scot was expressing his surprise that so many small and seemingly relatively successful businesses seemed so reluctant to respond to his email enquiries about their services.

Whilst trying to arrange his upcoming wedding, none of the businesses he contacted collected his ‘lead’ information – email, address, phone number; one refused to quote him via email or telephone and insisted on sending a written quote by mail, risking the likelihood of losing out to a quicker response. And then compounded the error by not following up to check on the competitiveness of his quote with the one means of communication that he did have.

Another, more enterprising, individual had set up a direct mail marketing campaign for prospects identified within the target demographic. He had the ability to partner up with other companies offering complementary services, possibly even charging them to advertise, but this was all for nothing if he didn’t collect the lead information that allowed him to start the process.

Scot says: “Client data is your most valuable asset, and thus should be the focus of your interactions during the prospect-to-customer conversion process. With the internet, your competitor is only one page away. If you don’t have the burning desire to get an agreement with your prospect, and aren’t able to efficiently explain the benefits and advantages of your service; you will not close the sale. Easy!”

However good your service/product is, it will still sell better to a local customer through a conversation with your prospect and the sooner that conversation happens during the conversion process, the better.

The most efficient way to close a sale with an interested buyer who has contacted you by email direct is to reply to the email with a phone call, and only mail information if expressly requested. If you can call your contact within hours of the original query, the more likely it is that you’ll get them during their “want-to-buy” state of mind. This is the point where you can invoke buying emotions most easily with little, if any resistance. Not every consumer works this way but it is your job to make the purchase exciting and build your prospect’s want for your service during your conversation by explaining the benefits and value in your product, offering an incentive to make an initial deposit and then emailing a copy of the contract immediately but allowing a cancellation period. This could secure your client before they go to your competitors and is far more likely to produce a positive result than exchanging emails for days without properly ascertaining the client’s requirements.

Scot suggests that all business urls should be linked to an autoresponder that directs prospects to a landing page before they get to see the website. The landing page would collect e-mail, telephone, name, address, and something silly and nonsensical like a favorite color. Attempt to make it fun whilst keeping the buying emotions at fever pitch.

It’s a good idea to offer an incentive to complete the lead form as well. These ‘carrots’ are designed to persuade your viewer to go ahead and fill in the information box. If you use AWeber, Mailchimp or another auto-responder to collect the lead information, these services will automatically send a second email containing the incentive you offered for your lead generation.

Scot gives this example: “I was looking for wedding services so I might make my incentive an e-book with local venues, photographers, caterers and other wedding services with short reviews and comparisons. Maybe have an option to opt-in to offers from my partners who I would also charge to be listed in my free incentive offer for opting-ing. If nothing else, I would simply include a line in my Terms & Conditions that allows me to share information with other recommended and reputable Wedding Service companies that might also he of interest, and simply sell leads to my partners once I have a contract negotiated for my services. The opportunities here are endless if you keep an open mind that’s conversion oriented but also helpful to your prospect.”

Selling in this way is quite a difficult concept for a lot of British businesses. It is almost alien to our ‘nation of shopkeepers’ mentality to try to ‘persuade’ people to buy but, worse, it interferes with our attitude to ‘privacy’ to demand the name and address of every customer before we will do business with them.

This is what I meant about a shift of ethos. Persuasion is not necessarily the object here, it’s making the customer feel that, if only he had your product/service, his immediate ‘need’ would be satisfied. It’s appealling to an innate human emotion and building it up so that it overrides the natural reticence to spend money. And, with their email address, if they don’t buy the first time, you can ‘tempt’ them with other related products that might tickle their fancy in the future. You are still helping them to satisfy that need.

In these days where competition for many target markets is so extraordinarily fierce, combined with an economic climate that is making people more frugal in their spending, every available tool should be used to bolster your selling arsenal.

Scot is looking to connect with other like-minded thinkers and doers via Facebook.

Share this:

My first Affordable Small Business Website Design

Well, my plan for world domination has got off to a cracking start.

A few weeks in and my first client is already ranked Number One on Yahoo for his two chosen keywords.

For Google, we have achieved a good slot in Places with a position in the top four on the map for both keywords and second in the organic rankings for a non-directory listing. Not bad for a site that is only a few weeks old.

And this is now starting to translate into telephone and email enquiries.

A good way to achieve this position in the rankings is to use your keyword in the url. So many people want to use the name of their business but, if no one knows who you are, they don’t know who or what to look for.

It’s far better to identify a good search term and try to rank for that. By all means buy your business name as a domain too – you can always forward it to the main site to ensure that you don’t lose any traffic once you become more established.

Working on the basis that Google is a logical machine, if you type in a search term and the spiders have crawled a url which matches that search term, chances are it’s going to be pointing traffic in your direction eventually. However, you can also give those spiders a few clues by raising your hand and calling them over. Giving yourself a ping is always a good idea. As is making sure that you start to get a good selection of backlinks on trusted sites by submitting your site to the local listings.

Even more important is to have a strategy for ensuring that your website contains unique content which is informative, regularly updated and pulls in visitors. Making a blog part of your template is a great way to achieve this. It’s simple to use and very effective.

So, remember the Google Caffeine Algorithm? If your site has good, often changing content, a few back links to show that content is appreciated by other people and some comments to demonstrate that people are connecting with you on the site, then you have the Holy Trinity.

Content. Backlinks. Activity.

And Google will start to notice you.

Share this:

Article Theft

With the promise of making a quick buck, many webmasters are setting up sites selling affiliate products. However, with Google’s new Caffeine Algorithm, they need to ensure that their website has regularly updated content but the legal way to do this involves articles which contain adverts for other people’s products.

This has led to a rise in the incidence of ‘Article Theft’.

I use Google Alerts to keep me up to date on what is happening in the various niches that I frequent for my different affiliate products and my local customer’s businesses.

As I glanced down the list, something caught my eye – a very familiar title. Clicking the link I found an article that bore the same title as a piece I had written some months previously. Like many writers, I submit to a number of different article directories to promote my own sites and products but also so that other webmasters can use my work to populate their own sites with content.

The rules are that other webmasters can use your work, providing they do not change it in any way and ensure that the ‘resource box’ is also printed. This box contains personal information pertaining to the author and a couple of links to their sites or products. This is the reason why professional writers work in this medium – for the free publicity and backlinks for their sites.

However, glancing through this particular piece, there was something not quite right. It was the same basic structure as my original article but had quite clearly been ‘spun’, a process where the article is entered into a software programme that works like a thesaurus and changes all the synonyms. The problem with this method is that, invariably, the meaning of the original piece becomes lost.

And so it was with mine. Where almost every word has been transposed randomly to another which has vaguely the same meaning, the result is a piece of gobbledegook.

Naturally, the resource box was nowhere to be seen and, to be fair, I was not that upset because I would not have wanted my name associated with such gibberish. It made me wonder how the webmaster thought he could possibly be successful at selling any products based on this unintelligible ‘information’ but he had a fairly high ranking on Alexa – the software that measures blog traffic and content levels.

On consulting the article site concerned, I was advised that, in cases where an article is reprinted without proper credit or links, the author should first contact the offending webmaster and ask him to restore the article to its original form, including the resource box as, in most cases, it is ignorance of the rules that causes this problem.

However, should a gentle request not result in any positive action within 48 hours I should report the transgression to the site’s ISP (hosting provider) who would enforce the Acceptable Use Policy (AUP).

In this case, the webmaster had kept the title because it was keyword-rich but the use of the spinner to change my content so as not to be flagged by Google as duplicate copy tends to suggest a deliberate act. I emailed him with a strongly worded warning that if it was not restored or removed then I would invoke the AUP with the site’s ISP.

It took two emails, but the article was taken down. I can see that at least two other authors’ articles have received the same treatment and I have alerted them to this fact but there is little more that I can do on their behalf.

Plagiarism and article theft are one of the big problems on the internet and many authors use Copyscape to regularly check that their work has not been used elsewhere improperly. Clearly, if I feel so strongly, I am going to have to invest time that I do not have keeping an eye on my back catalogue.

It’s very irritating.

Share this: