November 29, 2010

Small Business Reputation Management

Filed under: Company Headlines — admin @ 11:50 am

Cyber Monday emphasizes the importance of e-commerce in a big way. Plenty of small business owners miss out on this retail celebration because they don’t offer online sales. While this may be a deterrent to some consumers, there’s more to the advertising picture than meets the eye.

Simply having a web presence will suffice in most cases, at least when it comes to local customers. These days, prospective buyers expect to be able to find product images as well as prices without leaving the comfort of their homes. But having a useful website is just one piece of the e-marketing puzzle.
In this instance, small business owners should probably follow the model that larger companies employ. Almost every huge retailer, regardless of industry, allows customers to review their items and services. The authenticity of these reviews is nearly impossible to verify, yet consumers place a great deal of trust in these amateur assessments.

Small business owners don’t necessarily have to incorporate a review platform into their websites in order to stay on top of this trend. That’s obviously a solution for those with the technological and financial resources to do so. Everyone else ought to focus on researching their own brand name. This might sound odd as businesses typically believe that they are in charge of their public images. Such thinking applies to a bygone era, not the 21st century digital age. In today’s tech-savvy society, consumers control company’s reputations with their words as well as their dollars. There are tons of review resources/directories available to both satisfied and disgruntled customers alike, such as Yelp, CitySearch, InsiderPages, LocalPAGES, and the like. Unfortunately, former employees and competitors sometimes attempt to tarnish a good name by writing bad reviews online. Basically, anything connected to a company name that appears on a search engine is fair game.

Although entrepreneurs cannot prevent negative comments from showing up occasionally, they can stay on top of their internet reputations. The easiest way to keep up with this type of information is by conducting searches. If there’s something negative, try to address the complaint wherever it lies. This isn’t always possible, but it’s certainly worth trying. Almost any response is better than unanswered accusations or issues. Subscribe to RSS feeds or email alerts for these kinds of sites, when applicable, in order to stay on top of things.

Naturally, there are going to be glowing reviews, too. Don’t make the mistake of focusing only on the bad stuff. Use positive comments to promote a particular area that the company excels in. Maybe the staff impressed someone with outstanding customer service or found a rare item on the shelves that the major chains no longer carry. Make sure that other customers see these remarks and encourage the faithful to put in their two cents.

November 24, 2010

Google Encourages Small Business Blogging

Filed under: Company Headlines — admin @ 2:45 pm

With Small Business Saturday just around the corner, Google decided to remind entrepreneurs of the value within one of its more popular, free tools: Blogger. This suggestion is not really new advice, although surprisingly few companies have chosen to utilize this cost free platform.

Blogging benefits small business owners in several ways. First off, it’s well established that quality blogs are useful for SEO (Search Engine Optimization) purposes. Incorporating a blog onto a business website improves page ranking and increases site traffic. But blogs are also useful to cultivating a web presence for advertisers without technological expertise. Plenty of small businesses still haven’t created fully functioning websites for a variety of reasons. Most of them don’t have the time or financial resources at their disposal to implement or manage a sophisticated site. These individuals should consider taking advantage of inexpensive hosting channels, such as Blogger, to hone their skills and broaden their consumer base. At the very least, consider Blogger a means of transitioning into web marketing. Setting up a Blogger account only takes a few minutes and creating professional looking content couldn’t be easier. Blogger makes it easy to write posts and insert images as well as videos. These tools allow you to showcase new products, demonstrate services, or share news and opinions relevant to your particular industry.

Businesses with functioning sites will also benefit from Blogger because it facilities customer interaction. Blogging fits under the social media category because it’s considered an interactive forum. Most business websites don’t have a space for customers to ask questions or start a discussion. A blog allows your customers to communicate with you directly without having to rely on a third party, such as Facebook. This is especially valuable for businesses with an older consumer base. Basically anyone can figure out how to navigate around a blog, and merely starting one signifies that you care what the customers think. Plus, the content expectations are lower when it comes to a blog. People expect Facebook updates multiple times per day whereas it’s perfectly acceptable to update a blog a only few times a week. Daily posts are appreciate, but not required.

Blogs are no longer digital journals; that stereotype fails to capture their versatility and creative potential. Besides, Google’s recommendations are pretty reliable. After all, many small businesses wouldn’t exist without search engine marketing. Take a tip from the experts and start typing today!

November 12, 2010

Saluting Veteran Entrepreneurs

Filed under: Company Headlines — admin @ 12:07 pm

Veterans face numerous obstacles following the discharge from military service. They may encounter difficulty trying to adjust to civilian life, especially when it comes to finding employment. Military experience looks great on a resume, but even this isn’t enough to guarantee jobs in these uncertain economic times. Vets unsure about their financial futures may want to consider starting their own company or opening up a franchise store for instant branding.

Navigating through the complex process of becoming your own boss isn’t easy, but many ex-soldiers find it extremely rewarding in the long run. There are plenty of special programs designed to assist veteran entrepreneurs, such as the International Franchise Association’s VetFran initiative. They’ve helped over 2,000 vets achieve their small business dreams since the program’s inception in September 2001. The IFA partners with lots of top corporations in a wide variety of industries, including Quiznos, Servicemaster, 7-Eleven, Sears Carpet & Air Duct Cleaning, CruiseOne, and Liberty Tax Service. Vets have the choice between 400 participating retailers and service providers.

Rest assured that the IFA will provide support every step of the way and ensure access to member exclusive perks. For example, opening up a franchise always requires a considerable amount of start up costs. The IFA offers big discounts to qualifying vets that aren’t available to otherwise eligible clients. There are lots of ways to raise the necessary capital, and taking advantage of government grants is highly recommended. The IFA doesn’t work directly in this aspect of the franchising procedure, but parent companies usually refer clients to preferred lenders. There are options besides loans, such as financing via an existing 401K. There are also IFA approved professional consulting services ready to answer your questions, brain storm, and develop a solid game plan for the future. A casual discussion forum is at your disposal 24/7 on IFA’s website for amateur tips and advice, too. Plus, vets get free admission to the Franchise Expo South in Miami Beach, the West Coast Franchise Expo in Los Angeles, , and the International Franchise Expo in Washington D.C. Additionally, there’s a no cost, vet specific seminar at each of these events. Going to an expo isn’t mandatory, but attendees often find these affairs bring outstanding networking opportunities. Visit www.franchise.org for further details.

November 11, 2010

Hooray for Small Business Saturday!

Filed under: Company Headlines — admin @ 4:42 pm

The giant retailers look forward to Black Friday while the e-tailers have their sights set on Cyber Monday. More often than not, the profits from these super shopping days bypass local Mom and Pop stores altogether. Small companies typically cannot afford to run the kind of promotions or offer the deep discounts consumers expect on these particular dates. But New York’s Mayor Bloomberg is determined to make the 2010 holiday season a successful one for small businesses across the nation.

He’s enlisted the help of lending leader American Express, along with a host of other cool sponsors, to start a new annual tradition known as Small Business Saturday on Nov. 27th. As an incentive to kick this event into overdrive, Facebook is giving away $100 worth of free advertising to 10,000 participating small business. Companies are encouraged to spread the word on social networking sites, blogs, etc. and to concentrate on reaching out to entrepreneurs outside the New York metro area. With any luck, other cities will decide to join in on the festivities. Merchants can count on free promotional tools and general marketing tips to generate some buzz for this worthy cause.

Consumers can show their support for neighborhood retailers by visiting area stores on the big day. In order to spur spending, American Express will be handing out $25 cash back to registered cardholders that make a purchase at a participating establishment. Large chains, franchises, and online transactions don’t count! Interested American Express customers need to register between Nov. 8th and 27th to receive benefits.

If you’re a buyer without an American Express card, there are still plenty of ways for you to get involved. First, you should consider working with American Express. Second, log onto Facebook and “Like” Small Business Saturday; American Express has pledged to donate $1 for every “Like” to Girls Inc. While you’re on Facebook, give a shout out to an awesome Mom and Pop. Also, make sure they know what’s going on so they don’t miss out. Finally, head out to your favorite independent stores on the 27th and show them some love…with your wallet, that is!

November 4, 2010

BloombergTV Reality Show About Small Businesses

Filed under: Company Headlines — admin @ 10:59 am

Bloomberg TV, the pride of New York’s billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg, understands the unique challenges that forward thinking small business owners face. The organization also noted that the general public loves the concept of local entrepreneurs reaching for and ultimately achieving the American dream. Small businesses have been a focal point of recent economic discussions, which has raised consumer interest in the plight of so-called mom and pop companies to an all time high.

In an effort to sustain this enthusiasm and assist a worthy cause, Bloomberg created a reality show similar to the Canadian program Dragon’s Den. Bloomberg’s The Mentor debuts tonight at 9pm and 11pm EST (check local listing for station information). Thursday’s broadcast will re-air on Friday night at the same times. The weekly show is devoted to helping small business owners reach their marketing and expansion goals. Every episode will revolve around a specific company and its proposed strategy. The producers plan on matching the little guys up with top corporate executives that are involved in the same or similar industries.

Think of The Mentor as the commercial version of the Big Brothers and Sisters foundation. The CEOs will be offering guidance as well as sharing their personal experiences. This provides an interesting twist in terms of framing public perception with respect to the small business/ big corporate divide. Most the time, media representations depict a kind of David vs. Goliath competition between the two entities, which doesn’t necessarily mirror reality. Instead of zeroing in on cut throat antagonism, The Mentor illustrates interaction based on cooperation towards a mutually beneficial outcome. Instead of demonizing the wealthy for being successful, the show casts CEOs in an almost nurturing light, and that’s a breath of fresh air.

The first episode features the owners of a California’s Oceanside Ale Works alongside Jim Koch, the founder of one of America’s most prominent beer manufacturing companies, Samuel Adams. Oceanside Ale Works wants to become a nationwide chain, and who better to instruct them on key production, distribution, and marketing decisions than Koch? Rumor has it that future installments are going to include more heavy hitters from well known corporations, such as Jamba Juice, Seventh Generation, and 1-800-Flowers.

November 3, 2010

Small Business Post-Election Briefing

Filed under: Company Headlines — admin @ 10:59 am

The election results are in, and the Republican Party won a majority in the House of Representatives while the Democrats maintained their slim advantage in the Senate. As the excitement slowly fades, voters might be wondering how these developments will affect their daily lives. The new Speaker of the House in waiting, John Boehner (R-OH), has pledged to preside over an era of small government. He’s repeatedly stated that his party will attempt to repeal the Obama administration’s health care reform efforts, but this seems unlikely given the Senate’s current composition and the President’s veto power.

Indeed, numerous political analysts are predicting endless gridlock as the House and Senate battle over conflicting ideological visions. The pundits generally agree that voters are fed up with the floundering economy and impatient with the pace of recovery, all of which fueled the anti-incumbent sentiment evident in last night’s proceedings. But neither party will be able to fully implement its respective agenda, so lots of small business owners still feel uncertain about their company’s future.

If you find yourself in this position and you live in the D.C. metro area, then consider attending the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council’s “Small Business Post-Election Briefing.” It starts on November 4th at 10 am and will be held in the First Amendment Lounge of the National Press Club building. This symposium features a diverse group of knowledgeable panelists, including two representatives from organizations that focus on African-American and Latino owned companies. They will be discussing a wide range of interesting topics, including health care, green energy, taxation, and job growth.

To be clear, the SBE Council can be considered a right leaning advocacy group, otherwise known as lobbyists. They favor lowering taxes and are opposed to labor unions as well as economic regulations. The session will outline the association’s strategies and preferences, although membership is not a requirement for attendance. Space is limited, so please RSVP by calling Mabel Vaught at 703-242-5840 or via email: mvaught@sbecouncil.org. Ms. Vaught will be happy to answer any questions you may have about the event, so feel free to contact her.

November 2, 2010

Going Political

Filed under: Company Headlines — admin @ 11:16 am

With all the excitement of attending Ad Tech New York and other important affairs, voting might slip your mind on this Election Day. But some small business owners have already played their cards, so to speak, by injecting themselves into the civic debate and funding their very own political ads.

The Las Vegas Review Journal reports that while there are no official figures, there appears to be a rise in participation on behalf of local entrepreneurs. Much has been made concerning the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission, which grants corporate entities First Amendment Freedom of Speech protections with respect to overt campaigning. As a result, small business owners are permitted to have their voices heard just like their larger multinational counterparts.

Naturally, these newfound freedoms require a significant investment in an unorthodox type of marketing. Most businesses focus on advertising their prices and services as well as creating customer incentives, such as coupons or promotions. Expressing personal opinions about governmental matters doesn’t exactly coincide with the usual black Friday sales. Still, Nevada businessmen Gerald Shlesinger and Kent Davenport both delved into the state’s hotly contested Senate race and achieved positive results. They claim loyal customers and prospective consumers have contacted them to express support, even though they have no need for a particular product.

Perhaps it’s better to think of political advertisements as a way of branding. These kinds of ads may not bring in the same RIO as direct ploys, but they can be useful when it comes to generating awareness. Neither of these men mentioned any negative responses, but business owners should be aware of the potential impact of displaying partisanship. Davenport explained that he carefully cultivated distance between himself and Republican candidate Sharon Angle so as not to appear biased against Harry Reid’s party affiliations altogether. These cautionary calculations are advisable because expressing partisanship risks alienating customers that don’t share your policy preferences. It’s fairly easy to envision a business becoming the target of a grassroots boycott because of political marketing.

Have you considered engaging the public via political ads? Or have you used subtler tactics, such as putting up a sign as a silent endorsement? Give us your thoughts and reactions!

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