Using Mobile In Your Small Business Strategy

November 19, 2015  |  No Comments  |  by Stephanie  |  Improve Your Business

business strategy

Now that the percentage of Americans who own a mobile device outranks those that don’t, entrepreneurs can integrate mobile as a business strategy to cut costs, increase efficiency, improve customer experience, and deepen customer relationships. Here’s how.

 Confirm maps listings are accurate. Forrester predicts that a businesses’ ability to connect with customers during relevant mobile “moments” will dictate competitive advantage going forward. Confirm the accuracy of your businesses’ online listing with all  the possible location based search engines (like Google and Yelp) to make sure your locations, hours of operation and contact numbers are accurate. Ideally, your contact information will also be optimized for mobile. Customers should be able to contact you directly from their mobile device without having to key in a phone number, or email address.

Design your website for mobile relevance. A mobile-centric business strategy isn’t just about whether your website accommodates a mobile user’s smaller screen.  Analyze your website and social media metrics to understand which devices your customers use, and which pages they visit on them. Consider how mobile use impacts your customer experience, and potentially, hinders your acquisition rates. If your mobile users have low conversion rates, for example, it may be an indication that your current site makes it difficult to make a mobile purchase. The issue can be due a host of issues, including slow load times, inappropriate design elements on your web page, or your site’s configuration. All can be solved for–but not until you know it’s a problem.

Your promotions can all be adapted for mobile,too. Just keep one word in mind: Simplicity. If you send customers a promotion via email but then take them to a forced log in page in once they’ve clicked, it’s not conducive to mobile users (most of whom use their device to check email). If you showcase a product on social media (another channel primarily visited with a mobile device) but don’t allow a seamless transactional experience that empowers the mobile user to purchase it, your efforts are for naught.

Mobile as a business strategy is one of the simplest improvements you can make; you already have the one tool you need to see exactly what the customer sees on their mobile device! Stress test all of the touch points on your own mobile devices. Is the experience seamless throughout. If it gets clunky at certain points, why–and how long did it take you to get frustrated?  Does your mobile site and purchase flow stack up to the functionality offered by major brands? If not, what’s lacking–and how can you address it? Be honest: Would you be happy with every aspect of the interaction with your business if you were a customer on a mobile device?  If the answer is no, make a list of where you can improve–and make those adjustments part of your business strategy.

Make your business model mobile. Using mobile as part of  a business strategy means taking advantage of mobile tools that empower you to connect with customers exactly when they’re looking for a business like yours. That means during search, when they’re ready to purchase, and when they’re moved to leave a review of their experience with your business. How can you replace current processes in your business model with a mobile alternative, for a better experience?  Replace traditional checkout lines (and their wait times) with mobile point of sale devices that allow your sales team to “meet” customers the moment they’re ready to checkout. Deliver promotions and coupons to mobile users’s devices so they can redeem them on the spot, without having to remember a coupon or a loyalty card. If you have a physical storefront, how might you expand your market presence and reach with a mobile version of your business that you can leverage to attend events, showcase your core product offering outside of your typical geographic boundaries, and bring your business to your customers?

 

Email Etiquette 101

October 13, 2015  |  No Comments  |  by Stephanie  |  Improve Your Business

Email etiquette

In 2011, The Radicati Group predicted that there would be more than four billion email accounts worldwide by the end of 2015. Back then, it estimated that “the typical corporate user” sent and received about 105 emails a day.  Fast forward to today, and the research firm says that number has jumped to 121 messages a day.

Though email can be the quickest way to say what’s on your mind, at the exact moment you need to communicate your thoughts to the recipient, the sheer volume of messages that are exchanged make it all the more difficult to stand out in an already crowded inbox.

Whether you’re among the 75% of small business owners surveyed by the Direct Marketing Association who called email marketing an “important” aspect of their marketing strategy, a corporate worker who relies on emails to communicate with others in your company, your vendors or your boss, or a freelancer trying to establish connections with new clients and peers, there’s a right and a wrong way to write emails.

Here’s a look at the new rules of email etiquette we all must follow–or risk being placed in the dreaded trash bin or spam folder.

Get to the point. Your subject line is the first thing your recipient may notice about your email–especially when it’s read on a mobile device (which is now the case with 2/3 of all email messages). Craft a headline that’s accurate, relevant and meaningful, based on what you know about the person on the receiving end.

A couple tricks to try:

  • Test your subject line by reading it aloud before you hit “send” to eliminate unnecessary words.
  • Pretend you’ve got  three seconds or less to explain your email on a friends’ voice mail. Take note of what you say, and make it a coherent subject line.

Focus your effort.  If you’re using email to generate business, focus on the marketing strategy most likely to provide the most bang for your buck. In the DMA’s survey, more than half of respondents said that regular newsletters and welcome emails were important contributors to business goals. Fewer than 20% of respondents got anything worthwhile from birthday/anniversary-related offers, or product replenishment notifications.

Know when to hold–and fold.  Email is a communication that’s hard to “undo.” Consider how long you’re willing to wait for a response when you send an email. If you need an immediate answer, pick up the phone and call the person or stop by their office. Whatever you do, don’t send the email, wait five minutes–and call. It’s overkill.

If you’re sending an email whose “journey” you want to follow, like an invoice, a resume, or a request for an important conversation, consider a tool like Yesware that will sneakily “track” your email’s status. Most people will ignore that “high importance” flag, or refuse to acknowledge that “read” receipt.

If you’re using email to generate publicity, stick to the “one and done” approach. If you send a pitch to a reporter who doesn’t bite, sending  a follow up email to see if there’s interest is probably more likely to land you in the spam folder than result in a relationship. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t send them another idea in the future, but be respectful of how many messages person likely receives in a 24 hour period. Lack of response is often a non-verbal “no.”

 Be contextually appropriate. Email is an informal communication, but it’s not a license to be sloppy, thoughtless in what you say or why, or presumptive in your relationship with the recipient.

Consider the impact when you send an email has on its ultimate fate. As mentioned above, most emails are opened on mobile devices. People tend to check email on their phone or tablet in the midst of doing something else: They’re bored in a meeting, waiting in line at the grocery store, or sitting in traffic or on mass transit. If your email uses large graphics, or attachments or links that take longer to load or navigate than your recipient has to invest in it, adapt your message to your user–or risk getting send to the “trash” folder.

The time of day or night you send emails speaks volumes on how it’s perceived, too. Save promotional or email marketing messages for the times a person is “off the clock” and reserve serious, business-oriented communications for the work day.  A slew of messages  about concerns with a project sent to a team at midnight will probably be taken a lot less seriously than one you hold off on sending until appropriate office hours.

Reserve those emoticons, caps, swear words, winks, explanation points and “LOL”s” only for those email recipients you consider friends.

Stop replying to all.  Hard to believe this rule is still being broken in 2015, but the offenders are still out there. If you’re replying to an email on a mobile device, figure out how to reply only to the sender before you include a group of 20 unnecessary recipients in your response.

 

 

Benefits of Business Breaks

July 31, 2015  |  No Comments  |  by Stephanie  |  Improve Your Business

benefits of business breaks

Steve Jobs once said deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do. It makes sense on the surface. But it’s tough to put the benefits of that philosophy into action, especially for entrepreneurs.  Taking down time when you’re self-employed inherently means your income and opportunities come down a notch or two in tandem. If you’re central to your business model, turning down opportunities may mean saying no to a certain amount of money. Detaching from your email for several days may mean you miss a client’s urgent need that someone else is more than willing to swoop in and serve. 

These are the facts of relying on yourself and your efforts for income. Concerns associated with them are legitimate. There are no guarantees and no safety nets when you own a business.

But there’s another fact. Regardless of how successful your company, the size of your staff, or the revenue you generate, you are not your business. You’re not really a business owner. You’re not really an entrepreneur. That’s just the title you wear for society’s sake. 

So what are you? A human.  One who needs to rest, and who needs to recharge. You can track your steps, improve your endurance, build your myelin, lower your resting heart rate, optimize your sleep schedule, and micromanage your caloric intake all you want but you cannot game the truth of life. At some point, you have to take a break. No one can outrun, escape or deny this fact.

For those of use who have deep pride in our ability to do it all and then some, admitting we’re mere mortals feels threatening. Insulting, even.  But when you choose to deny this fact, there’s just one person to blame when you eventually feel totally and utterly burned out.

I don’t care how much you love your job. I don’t care if you’re at the top of your game. You need to say no to some projects. It’s the only way to have the mental and emotional reserves you need to tackle the really major opportunities you want to “yes” to with your full potential.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Here’s what the science says about the health benefits of taking the occasional vacation.

Vacations can extend your life. Travel doesn’t just give you an opportunity to step out of the routine of your daily life, it can extend the quality and duration of it. According to “Destination Healthy Aging: The Physical, Cognitive and Social Benefits of Travel” a joint study conducted by the Global Coalition on Aging and Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies (TCRS) , women who vacationed every six years or less had a significantly higher risk of developing a heart attack or coronary death, compared to women who vacationed at least twice a year.

Time off reconnects you with people. When’s the last time you had a meal or conversation with someone without a smartphone within arm’s reach? People and your ability to have relationships with them are everywhere. Put down your phone, and look around every once in awhile.  A recent survey conducted by the U.S. Travel Association revealed that 83% of those who travel as a couple said the romance is still alive in their relationship; 72% of the couples surveyed said their travels actually inspire more romance. Relationship expert and author April Masini says vacations can also provide a renewed sense of connection to the outside world for single ladies. “Mental health sags when relationships falter or fail to surface for singles. Travel gives you something in common with others, and that commonality not only makes you feel good about yourself, it binds you to people with similar interests.”

 You’ll lower your stress. “Vacations help us reduce cortisol levels that assist female hormones to come back in sync (high cortisol deregulates hormones), and allows us to disconnect so we can recover. This leads to greater levels of happiness and pleasure–important ingredients for successfully managing stress and going the distance with our bigger professional goals,” says women’s health and success coach Jennifer Racioppi. Vacation also tends to make us more open to simple activities like a morning walk to get coffee, which deliver benefits beyond health. In the study “Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking,” researchers who measured the creativity levels of stationary test-takers against those who completed tasks in motion found that walking (especially outdoors) improves creativity—and has lasting residual effects. “Incorporating physical activity into our lives is not only beneficial for our hearts–but our brains as well,” says study co-author Marily Oppezzo, PhD.

 

 

 

 

 

How to Reinvent Your Career Passion

March 5, 2015  |  No Comments  |  by Stephanie  |  All, Improve Your Business

Remember that career test your high school guidance counselor provided to help guide you in choosing the right college major, and potential career path? It likely asked a series of questions about your interests, your personality, your strengths and weaknesses to determine where you’d likely be best suited in the working world. Regardless of whether you took the advice to heart, the fundamental notions of the traditional career test still has value in your professional life–even if you’ve been working for several years. Here’s how you can take a cue from career tests of days past, to reinvent a stalled career, or be even more valuable in a job you love.

What can you do with your expertise?  One of the hallmark goals of a career test is to assess the subject matter you have existing interest and skills in, and translate how you can apply the knowledge into something actually get paid to do. But, when you’ve been in a career for several years, what was once exciting and new begins to feel like the dull and mundane. As a result, you’ll probably start to devalue just how much you do know–and underestimate how necessary and important that knowledge is to someone else.

Use the fundamental idea of a traditional career test to reassess where you can invest your professional knowledge to help someone else, and in turn, your renew your own level of interest.  Join a networking group, whether by way of a local gathering, or a robust online industry-specific community. Pay it forward and act as a mentor to interns or junior employees in your company. At worst, you’ll get a confidence boost from the reminder that you are indeed a professional force that adds value. At best, you’ll find a renewed curiosity for your role or profession. Either way, you’ll benefit.

Focus on you.  There is no “I” in a team-based work environment, but there is some value in putting yourself front and center of your professional life to tune in with the best path for your professional future. In the book The Art of Doing: How Superachievers Do What They Do and Do It So Well, c0-authors Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield explain that shifting your professional focus from extrinsic motivation (things you do primarily for task accomplishment, accolades from leadership, or a raise) to intrinsic motivators (the things you do for your own interests and enjoyment) can help you identify what originally drew you to your profession. (Even if your role is a far cry from your personal interests, identifying how you can solve for that problem is the first step to course-correcting your professional path). Consider whether there are specific departments and/or job functions in your company that you find interesting, and would like to know more about—even those unrelated to your job description. Set a personal goal to spend some time each week educating yourself on the topics that pique your interest, including participating in Twitter chats, professional groups on LinkedIn, and reading the blogs of industry thought-leaders. Because you’re learning for your own benefit, you are in control of what deem interesting– and how you’ll use the knowledge to contribute to your career. Learning is a lifelong process; you might be surprised at how interests seemingly unrelated to your job actually have potential bearing on your professional life.

Take stock of your accomplishments.  Careers go through period of ebb and flow, like any relationship in life. If you’re in a professional low point, take a step back and consider the journey your career has taken you on thus far.What many different responsibilities, managers, co-workers, and compensation packages have you had throughout the years? How did they contribute to your life at that time, and your ability to get where you are today? When you remember your proud accomplishments along with the professional challenges you’d rather not have experienced, you can appreciate the sum total of the journey and recognize that ultimately, it’s all temporary. That recognition can help you push past any negativity you’re feeling about your work life, and reignite your desire for recreating the exciting times when challenges felt less like a roadblock–and more like a positive hurdle to overcome.

How to Reinvent Your Career Passion

March 5, 2015  |  No Comments  |  by Stephanie  |  All, Improve Your Business

Remember that career test your high school guidance counselor provided to help guide you in choosing the right college major, and potential career path? It likely asked a series of questions about your interests, your personality, your strengths and weaknesses to determine where you’d likely be best suited in the working world. Regardless of whether you took the advice to heart, the fundamental notions of the traditional career test still has value in your professional life–even if you’ve been working for several years. Here’s how you can take a cue from career tests of days past, to reinvent a stalled career, or be even more valuable in a job you love.

What can you do with your expertise?  One of the hallmark goals of a career test is to assess the subject matter you have existing interest and skills in, and translate how you can apply the knowledge into something actually get paid to do. But, when you’ve been in a career for several years, what was once exciting and new begins to feel like the dull and mundane. As a result, you’ll probably start to devalue just how much you do know–and underestimate how necessary and important that knowledge is to someone else.

Use the fundamental idea of a traditional career test to reassess where you can invest your professional knowledge to help someone else, and in turn, your renew your own level of interest.  Join a networking group, whether by way of a local gathering, or a robust online industry-specific community. Pay it forward and act as a mentor to interns or junior employees in your company. At worst, you’ll get a confidence boost from the reminder that you are indeed a professional force that adds value. At best, you’ll find a renewed curiosity for your role or profession. Either way, you’ll benefit.

Focus on you.  There is no “I” in a team-based work environment, but there is some value in putting yourself front and center of your professional life to tune in with the best path for your professional future. In the book The Art of Doing: How Superachievers Do What They Do and Do It So Well, c0-authors Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield explain that shifting your professional focus from extrinsic motivation (things you do primarily for task accomplishment, accolades from leadership, or a raise) to intrinsic motivators (the things you do for your own interests and enjoyment) can help you identify what originally drew you to your profession. (Even if your role is a far cry from your personal interests, identifying how you can solve for that problem is the first step to course-correcting your professional path). Consider whether there are specific departments and/or job functions in your company that you find interesting, and would like to know more about—even those unrelated to your job description. Set a personal goal to spend some time each week educating yourself on the topics that pique your interest, including participating in Twitter chats, professional groups on LinkedIn, and reading the blogs of industry thought-leaders. Because you’re learning for your own benefit, you are in control of what deem interesting– and how you’ll use the knowledge to contribute to your career. Learning is a lifelong process; you might be surprised at how interests seemingly unrelated to your job actually have potential bearing on your professional life.

Take stock of your accomplishments.  Careers go through period of ebb and flow, like any relationship in life. If you’re in a professional low point, take a step back and consider the journey your career has taken you on thus far.What many different responsibilities, managers, co-workers, and compensation packages have you had throughout the years? How did they contribute to your life at that time, and your ability to get where you are today? When you remember your proud accomplishments along with the professional challenges you’d rather not have experienced, you can appreciate the sum total of the journey and recognize that ultimately, it’s all temporary. That recognition can help you push past any negativity you’re feeling about your work life, and reignite your desire for recreating the exciting times when challenges felt less like a roadblock–and more like a positive hurdle to overcome.

Facebook for Business

June 18, 2013  |  No Comments  |  by Stephanie  |  All, Improve Your Business, Make More of Your Money

Does your business really need a Facebook page? If so, how do you even use Facebook for your business? Here’s the straight scoop on all your social media questions for small business.

There’s a lot more to Facebook than setting up a page.  If limited social media know-how is holding you back from using Facebook for business, fear not. Setting up a business Facebook page is simple, free, and your page is live in just a few minutes.  If you’re already connected to your customers and industry peers with your personal Facebook account, the tool makes it simple to suggest that they “like” your business page, too. If you simply want a Facebook page to be on Facebook, it really could be that simple. The hard part, of course, is ensuring that you draw, and maintain, traffic to your business Facebook page.

You’ll reach some customers and prospects—not all. Who sees what on Facebook is determined by an algorithmic system called EdgeRank, based on three factors: 1) affinity (whose posts you interact with most),  2) weight (the features in a post, including links, videos, photos and the comments it generates and 3) time decay (“recency” of the post). While EdgeRank guarantees that you see things on Facebook that are of interest to you every time you log on, it also guarantees that your business page won’t appear in every person’s newsfeed who iikes your page. It’s your job to get into that feed, based on the very factors noted above. The more they interact with your posts, the more you’re exposed on newsfeeds. Of course, there is always the odd chance that someone will seek your business Facebook page organically, but it’s unlikely. According to comScore, Facebook users spend just 12 percent of their time on the site looking at brand or profile pages.

 

You must know what moves your customers. The key to getting a customer response is knowing what engages them. Ask questions of them, post images and videos that inspire, and make them want to share the information with others. Address problems, and emotional desires. Be informative and educational. The more popular your posts, the greater the likelihood they’re seen by others. When your posts generate “likes,” positive comments, and shares, you increase the odds that you’ll reach your fans’s News Feeds, and possibly, more prospects. Even with a successful strategy, competition on Facebook is stiff. According to Ignite Social Media experts, just 16 to 17 percent of your fans will actually see your posts.

You can pay for exposure, but there are no guarantees. Facebook now has the option to buy sponsored posts, ads, and offers and you can create an ad in minutes, for as little as $10 a day. But, there is no shortage of paid ads and sponsored posts—and no guarantee that users won’t just skim right past your post.

You must spend time figuring out what works. Facebook Page Insights can help you understand more about your audience, and activity surrounding your posts and page, but you must carve out time to understand it, and experiment. Facebook is always changing, and so is what “works” on it at any given moment. If you’re ready to try Facebook, make sure you have time to pick a strategy, try it, and keep learning as you go.

How to Hire a Freelance Writer

April 9, 2013  |  No Comments  |  by Stephanie  |  All, Improve Your Business

Recognize that your business could benefit from a freelance writer–but have no idea how to go about finding one? Here are five simple things to consider when you’re ready to hire a freelance writer.

Have a budget. Whether you’re posting on Craigslist, Elance or some other industry site, have a firm number in mind. Not only will it help you to understand the level of talent your budget will buy, it tells freelancers that you know what you’re doing, and you’ve done your research.

Be clear on your needs.  I’ve been a copywriter, a marketer, a PR person and now am a freelance writer. They’re not all the same job. If you need a writer, be prepared to tell that person who your audience is, and what makes them “tick,” so the writer gives you the product you seek. If you don’t know who your audience is, you don’t need a writer–you need a marketing consultant first. If you have a story but you just want to get it published in a high profile venue, you also don’t need a writer; you need a PR person. Though they are closely related skill sets, they’re not the same, and they each command different rates, and “rules of engagement.”

Don’t go for the cheapest person.  One of my favorite sayings ever is “if you can’t afford a professional, you definitely can’t afford to work with an amateur.” While there are always those fresh talents out there, finding them isn’t easy, and if you’re budget really is limited, you don’t have the time or money to waste on finding that person. Suck it up, pay competitively, and the benefits you receive from working with a writer who makes your experience turn key will prove invaluable.

Reach out directly.  You can post on job sites, but you’ll probably be flooded with responses, and left feeling overwhelmed. Look at the bylines of blogs and industry news that you read, and google the author’s name. Odds are, they’ve got a website. Reach out directly and find the talent you’re confident in, because you have already been wowed by their work.

You Get What You Pay For

March 6, 2013  |  No Comments  |  by Stephanie  |  All, Improve Your Business

As a freelance writer for the personal finance, small business, career, and health/wellness space, I come across a variety of clients, large and small. Some realize the value of hiring a professional, and understand that with experience, comes a certain rate. Others figure that investing in a writer who commands a certain rate per word just isn’t worth the cost.

To some degree, I understand the hesitancy; there is no shortage of content farms and novice writers willing to produce articles for next to nothing. Interestingly, the size of the client has no correlation to their attitude on what a writer is worth. (Don’t believe me? Award winning journalist Nate Thayer recently wrote about his experience with The Atlantic. I’ve had a similar experience with another major site, which I won’t name out of fear of legal action, but it made me quite “Huffy…”)

I’m not saying anything that professional freelancers and consultants don’t already know, but it highlights the importance of working to establish a stellar reputation as a freelancer. When you produce quality work, the clients who value it have no issue with your cost.

Those who don’t value your services, won’t; they never will. Instead of beating your head against the wall or diminishing your own value just to earn a project, take the timeless advice of Kenny Rodgers:  “Know when to “fold ’em, know when to walk away–and know when to run.”  For the day will certainly come when the business learns a valuable lesson in being penny smart, and pound foolish. I learned that lesson firsthand, just yesterday.

It started when I came across a Tweet that really struck me in its truth: “If you think it is expensive to hire a professional, wait till you hire an amateur.” Couldn’t say it any better than that.

Later that day, I read a Facebook post by credit expert John Ulzheimer, pointing out blatant misinformation published on a personal finance site who I’ll spare exposing here. Interesting, I have spoken to the powers that be at the site about potentially doing some freelance writing work for them years ago, but they didn’t feel I was worth my rate. (Which, in truth, really wasn’t that high). They were recruiting writers through various “remote work” sites (which I’ll also leave nameless), and certainly, there were cheaper options than I. Presumably, they found the talent they sought at the rate they desired. But, to their detriment, the talent who fell in the parameters of their budget proved to be anything but experts in their field. A costly choice, to say the least. Here’s how the karma unfolded….

Though the site probably saved a few hundred bucks in the long run, they’ve destroyed their reputation in the personal finance community, by reporting information that is flat out wrong (and could easily have been verified by simply doing a bit of light research). With that one act of “pound foolishness” and sloppy reporting, the site has earned a rep as one full of fallacy, and frankly, ignorant advice.

As the saying goes, you get what you pay for, and it’s an interesting case study in an age old motto. Before you make your next hiring decision, consider: Can you afford to reestablish your brand position once a poor hiring decision leaves it tarnished?