Archive for the ‘Work Your Biz Wednesday’ Category


How to Plan Your Holiday Vacation While Keeping Your Business Running

11-26 holiday vacation small The holiday season is upon us, and with that comes vacation time for many entrepreneurs. If you’re on the fence about shutting down your business while you go over the river and through the woods because you’re worried you’ll miss out on sales or opportunities, keep reading. You absolutely can take a vacation while keeping your business alive. Here’s how:

Tip 1: Start Planning Early

If you know you’ll be out between Christmas and New Year’s, plan for your vacation now. Let your clients know you’ll be out, and if they need any work done, to inform you now so you can get it done early. Clear your plate of work so that you can walk out the door confident that you didn’t leave any activities undone. This will also help you transition back to work on your return, and keep you from having to face a giant pile of work after such a relaxing vacation.

Tip 2: Put Someone in Charge

If your company will continue to operate in your absence, find a replacement for you for the week. At the minimum, you need a point of contact you can include in your vacation email autoresponder so that if people who email you need immediate help, they can get it. I always give a few points of contact in my autoresponder so that the appropriate person can help my clients.

Make sure the person you put in charge is confident in “being you” while you’re out. Go over any protocols or questions they have, and discourage them from contacting you unless it’s a true emergency. Empower them to make decisions in your absence.

Tip 3: Schedule Your Marketing

What I love about marketing tools these days is how you can schedule your social media updates and blog posts in advance. No one even needs to know you’re not working! Carve out time from your busy schedule to get your social media updates scheduled in your absence, as well as to write a few posts to go live while you’re out.

Tip 4: Tie Up Loose Ends

Do you have bills due while you’re out? Meetings you’re supposed to attend? Make sure everything is squared away so you don’t disappoint anyone who expects to meet with you (and don’t miss due dates for bills!). The more details you pay attention to now, the more refreshed you can return to the office after the holidays.

Tip 5: Relax. Your Business will be Fine

More than all the tactical, this is the hardest for many business owners. They are convinced that their businesses will fall apart if they’re not there. But the truth is, your business can handle it. Whether you’re a solopreneur or you have a capable team, if you’ve let clients know you’ll be out and done your part to clear your plate, you can relax and enjoy your time off.

And given that many other people take vacations at the end of the year, rest assured that there will be no crises while you’re out!


The Power of the Press Release

11-19 press release smallAs a small business owner, you need as many tools in your marketing arsenal as possible. Press releases are an excellent resource for helping you reach more people online as well as attract the attention of journalists and bloggers. But you don’t need to hire a public relations professional to start leveraging press releases. Here’s your guide to getting started.

Focus on the Angle

Press releases, by their very nature, focus on news. They’re not promotional articles or advertising. So if you’re going to write one, you need a news angle. That might be that you just opened your shop downtown, or that you recently secured your first government contract. Ask yourself this: would this fit in my local newspaper? If not, you don’t have a topic for your first press release.

This is especially important when you reach out to journalists to cover your story. They don’t care how great you think your company is; they want stories that their readers are interested in. So keep your focus on relevant news, and you’ll be fine.

Consider Your Channels

There are websites that focus solely on distributing press releases online. These are great for getting your news out there on many sites, as well as getting links back to your website. The more places your press release is found, the more opportunity for potential customers, as well as journalists and bloggers, to stumble upon it.

Another option you have is to send that press release directly to journalists you think might be interested in your news. Start locally; you’ll have a better shot of making it in your local daily newspaper than on the front page of New York Times.

Keep Your Timing in Mind

If your news happens in two weeks, you need to start pitching journalists now, and ask them to honor the embargo of 2 weeks (that just means they won’t leak your news until your specified date). While journalists and bloggers will need more lead time to write the story, online press release distribution services don’t, and many can publish your release within a few hours of submission. Chart out your timing before you need your news announced so you avoid last minute time crunches that could ruin your carefully-timed news announcement.

Watch Those Metrics

One of the purposes of using press releases online is to attract website visitors. Once you’ve published a press release or have gotten mentioned in online media, check your analytics after a few days to see if this coverage resulted in a boost in traffic. See where the traffic is coming from; one site that publishes press releases might send more than another, and this is important for your overall marketing and PR strategy.

One press release won’t result in dozens of new customers, but a steady cadence might. Only publish releases if you’ve got something newsworthy, but do build them into the bigger picture.


Developing a Quality Employee Review Process

10-12 employee reviewIt’s in your own best interest to nurture your staff and make sure they’re productive and thriving at your company. After all, turnover costs you money, in searching for a new hire and training him, so you’re better off making sure the staff you have is optimized. One way to do that is to set up an employee review process that not only helps you, but also helps your team understand your expectations and strive to meet them.

Set Them Up Regularly

You can adhere to the typical once-a-year employee review schedule…or you can meet more often, like two or three times a year. More frequent (and more informal) reviews can keep your employees on track to goals, and leave less time in between reviews so they stay motivated.

Think about your timing: is December really the best time for your reviews, given that half the staff is out of the office, and you’re time-crunched getting work done before the end of the year? Instead, schedule them based on their hire date so you don’t have dozens of reviews to get through in a single month.

Establish Goals Together

As I said, your review process should benefit you and your employee. Discuss goals together that each individual staff member can strive for. Perhaps you’d like to see one turn out two extra reports a week. That’s a reasonable goal.

Or if he’s angling for a promotion, make a list of goals he needs to accomplish in order for you to consider him for that promotion. This makes getting a promotion very black and white: if he can’t successfully accomplish the list, he won’t be eligible for something he wants.

Provide Constructive Criticism

This isn’t a time to sugarcoat your honest assessment of an employee’s work. Nor is it an opportunity to berate someone if they haven’t lived up to your expectations. Emotions shouldn’t be in the review process.

Find ways to constructively tell an employee about something you want him to work on. For example, if you find his work as of late to not be the quality it used to be, you could say:

“A few months ago, you were delivering top-notch work, and I was so impressed. But lately it feels like you haven’t been putting in that same effort. Is there a reason why?”

This approach does several things. First, it puts him at ease, because you start off with an honest compliment. It also opens the door for further conversation. Maybe he recently had a baby, and his lack of sleep is attributing to his lower quality work. Or maybe he didn’t feel you appreciated his efforts, so he slacked off a bit. Taking the right approach can mean the difference between you putting your employee up in arms and actually getting to the bottom of what’s changed.

Develop Metrics

The only way you’ll be able to measure where your employee is next year is if you first set up a baseline to measure against. Consider it your report card. Pick the areas that are most important to you (timeliness, quality work, motivation are a few examples) and give him a number, 1-10, for each. Then next year you can compare the new numbers to the previous ones and see if there has been an improvement.

Staying in touch with your staff this way helps you avoid potential loss of productivity and keeps your staff better, now that they know your expectations.


8 Useful Websites to Help You Find, Hire, and Train Your Next Employee

Someone using LinkedIn on an iPadIf you’ve never hired an employee — or if you find the task tedious — never fear! There are websites and tools designed to make the work so much easier. Here are my picks for the best websites out there for everything related to hiring. Not only will you save time and money on the recruitment process, but you’ll also find the most talented candidates out there.

1. LinkedIn

I’d be remiss if I didn’t start my list out with this giant. Not only does LinkedIn help you browse the profiles of qualified professionals in your area, but you can even post your job there. The applications that come through LinkedIn tend to be more qualified than some of the job boards out there.

2. HireVue

Not every company is hiring locally. If you’re expanding your virtual team, HireVue can help you with the interview process. You can “meet” face-to-face via webcam and record your interview so you can go back and review it with colleagues later. Can’t do that in real time!

3. Niche Job Boards

Sure, you can post your job on Monster and CareerBuilder, but those are pretty generic in the job seekers they attract. Instead, look for job boards that focus on your industry, like Dice for technology or Hoojobs for PR. The more niched the job board, the better the quality of applications you will receive.

4. Elance

If you just need a freelancer and not a full-time employee, Elance is a great place to look for one. Browse categories like marketing, writing, or IT, or post your job and let professionals come to you.

5. Social Media

Your social profiles are also great places to put the word out that you’re hiring. You can also use them to search for people talking about your industry and scout them out as potential job candidates.

6. Your Website

It should be obvious, but with so many other places to post jobs, many businesses forget to use what’s right under their noses: their company website. Here you can post your job description (for free) and link to it from your social profiles.

7. Grovo

While you’ll need to do some training on-site, if you want your new employees to learn specific software systems, Grovo is a great place to do so. There are tutorials on how to use platforms like Hootsuite, HubSpot, and Basecamp, and you can get reports to see where your employees are thriving and where they need more help.

8. Litmos

If you’d rather create your own training courses, Litmos provides the platform to do so. With this tool, you record the videos and set up the training materials. Then your staff can access them from anywhere.

With so many tools available to help the hiring process along, your job as a small business owner is a breeze.


How to Establish and Sustain Your Competitive Advantage

horse racing smallNo matter what industry you’re in, I’m willing to bet it’s pretty competitive. You constantly have to be on your toes and know what the other players in your field are doing. However, it helps if you have a strong competitive advantage. This is that je ne sais quoi that makes your brand unique and attracts customers to you. If you don’t know what your competitive advantage is, this article will help you find it, as well as help you keep it.

Defining What Makes You Unique

Not sure what your competitive advantage is? Here are several examples:

  • You offer products no one else does
  • You focus on quality products
  • You offer stellar customer service
  • You charge less
  • You offer a unique experience

If you were to ask your customers why they come back to you again and again, what would they say? Don’t be shy to ask them this exact question. Sometimes you’re too close to your business to see what your advantage is, and your customers’ answers may surprise you.

Shifting Your Mindset About Your Competitors

Even if you’ve got an amazing competitive advantage, it’s important to not rest on your laurels and assume you will always be on top. It’s easy to mimic those benefits your company offers, and if you’re thriving, you should expect that other companies will do just that.

When business is booming, it’s easy to think you’ll never be anywhere but #1. When your competitors are light years behind you, or you put all your energy into one large client, you take your focus away from that competitive advantage. But you shouldn’t. Have the attitude that that advantage is something you have to fight for, every day.

Sustaining That Edge

Once you accept that your competitive advantage is something you can never take for granted, you’ve got to be diligent to stay on top of owning it. If your advantage is offering the best product on the market, make sure you’re paying attention to all other players and the quality of their products, as they’ll likely improve over time. Continue to innovate on your own product so it’s constantly evolving too.

If customer service is your strong suit, make sure your staff has continual training, and that you monitor a few calls to ensure they’re following your high-quality customer service protocol.

Remember: sustaining that competitive advantage takes effort. If it’s truly important to you to own that advantage, put energy into maintaining it every day.


5 Out-of-the Box Digital Marketing Ideas

10-22 Outside the boxWhen it comes to marketing your small business, you don’t want to have the same marketing campaign as your competitor, but sometimes you simply can’t find the creative juice to develop an inspiring idea. Here, we’ve got five ideas to jumpstart your thinking and get you moving toward increased sales and floods of new customers.

1. Viral Video

If you’ve never considered creating a video, there’s never been a more affordable time to dabble in the medium. Many of your customers likely prefer video as a means to consume content, over written content. By developing a few strategic videos (try a how-to to start) you can attract a different audience from your standard one, and you can reach a wider number of people if you invest in making a killer video that people want to share.

Getting Started: John Jantsch has a great list of video editing tools that will set you off on the right foot with your video marketing. 

​​2. Infographics

If you’re heavy into blogging, remember that you don’t always have to write your content. Liven up your blog with an occasional infographic, and then see if your traffic jumped for that post. An infographic takes a dense amount of information and makes it visually appealing so that more people absorb it.

Getting Started: If you’re not design-oriented, use a tool like Piktochart to easily create visually appealing infographics.

3. Giveaway

What better way to attract people toward your brand than by giving something away? That might be some of your products, or maybe a larger prize, like an iPad. If you list your giveaway on sites dedicated to giveaways, you’ll reach people who otherwise wouldn’t have heard of your product.

Getting Started:  Set your parameters for the giveaway. How can people enter? Are there multiple ways to get entries? How many winners will you select? What’s the deadline? Where will you promote it? The more you promote it, the more entries you’ll have, and thereby more leads. 

4. Co-Marketing

Let’s say you sell peanut butter, and you know a guy who runs a jelly store. If you partner up, you can combine forces to market your products together. Maybe you offer a 25% off of jelly coupon to every customer you have, and he does the same for your peanut butter. Or you go in on online advertising together, cut your costs, and double your results.

Getting Started: Look to your local community to find possible partners. They shouldn’t compete, but should sell products that complement yours. 

5. Speaking

Speaking as an expert in your field is an excellent way to brand yourself. Choose a topic you know well (and maybe one that lends itself to people deciding they’d rather hire you to do it than do themselves), and give plenty of value in that speech. Afterward, be available for people to approach with questions.

Getting Started:  Look for conferences and trade shows in your industry, then pitch event planners on the topic you’d like to cover. After getting a few under your belt, they’ll come easier.

Always be on the lookout for opportunities to market that maybe everyone else isn’t already doing.


How to Get Paid 7 Days Sooner in Your Small Business

One of the biggest pet peeves of small business owners is late-paying clients. We’re not running corporations, so cash flow can make or break our businesses! And when a client doesn’t pay on time, we can’t pay our own vendors. It’s a sticky situation, but with a little strategy to light a fire under your clients, you can get paid not only on time but even seven (or more) days early.

Look at Why They’re Paying Late

If you have a client who typically pays on time, one late payment may be nothing to worry about. But analyze your accounts receivables to see if you have other clients who habitually pay their invoices after your due date.

Next, look at your payment policy. Is it clear on each invoice when the payment is due? Do you let your client know at the beginning of your business relationship when payments are due? If it’s not clear to a client when you expect a payment, you can’t blame them for the problem.

If this is the case, send an email letting your clients know your payment policy. Consider sending this to all clients so those late-payers don’t feel you’re picking on them. Make it objective and simply a notification of your company policies. And make sure that due date is clear on each invoice.

You can also send a reminder a few days before the invoice is due. It’s completely understandable that your email invoice might have gotten lost in the stack of emails in your clients’ inbox.

Offer Incentive to Pay

There’s two ways to go about this: in the first, you can charge a penalty for late payments. Not everyone wants to take such a negative approach, but if you think that’s the right motivation to get your clients moving (after all, who wants to pay more if they can simply pay on time?), then try it out.

The other is to offer a discount for early payment. You’ll have to decide how much money you’re willing to part with in order to get paid on time. Many businesses offer something like a 2% discount if the invoice is paid 7 days early, or even 5% off if they pay 14 days early. Make the amount enough to motivate them to pay early.

Whichever incentive you decide to offer, mention it in the email you send about your payment policy. It’s imperative that you clearly communicate any changes to your clients, as well as give them a heads up of a few weeks or even a month before this new policy kicks in. The last thing you want to do is upset your customers.

If They’re Still Not Paying on Time…

Consider each on a case-by-case basis. Perhaps one client is having his own financial woes. In that case, set up a payment plan that works for both of you. If it’s not a financial problem that’s keeping a client from paying on time, consider whether you truly want to continue working with a problematic client like this.

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7 Keys to Digital Marketing Success

Man working at his desk during the dayIf you’re new to running a business online, you might feel like you’re looking up from the bottom of a very tall mountain. There’s so much to learn, and so much competition. Sure, it can be daunting, but you’ll learn the best strategies for your business over time. But for now, here are seven strategies that will give you a little boost to get started on the right path.

1. Have a Strong Presence Online

This is probably my biggest tip from my own personal experience. When I’m not running my #SmallBizChat or blogging, I’m on Twitter, Google+, or LinkedIn chatting with contacts and sharing content. I strive to create value to small business owners, and want them to know that they can find great advice and tips from me, no matter which channel.

Decide what you’re known for and what you can help people with. Then dominate that field on every digital channel that makes sense.

2. Limit The Channels You Use

Notice in the last tip, I said to use “every digital channel that makes sense.” That does not mean you need to be on every single social media out there. Find out which ones your customers are spending time on, then settle in to roost on those. I’d say you can’t successfully manage a presence on more than three or four. Find what number and which sites you enjoy using and stick to those, even if it’s just one to begin with.

3. Read, Read, Read!

You can’t succeed as a business owner if you operate in a bubble. Sure, you know a lot about your industry, but there’s still a ton left for you to learn. And you also need to stay on top of other areas like marketing and business strategy.

Find blogs you enjoy reading and subscribe to them. Participate in LinkedIn groups so you can get access to more content on your industry. Make continuous learning part of your daily to-dos.

4. Get Your Website Right

Because your website is often a potential customer’s first interaction with your brand, you need to ensure it speaks to them. Your copy should be targeted exactly to the audience you’re trying to reach and quickly tell them that they’re in the right place for what they’re seeking.

5. Leverage SEO

Being found on search engines is imperative for the success of your digital business. Use keywords that zero in on what you offer, and that will help you rise up search engines. And if you’re a local brick-and-mortar business, such as a bakery, make sure you include the name of your city or town in those keywords.

6. Use Email to Reach Your Network

Email, too, can help you expand your business. Segment your list so that it’s divided into groups of people that make sense, such as those that have bought shoes, those that have bought women’s dresses, et cetera. You want to send a highly targeted email to each group so they feel connected with your offer, not turned off by it because it’s not relevant.

7. Be Consistent

Everything you do online has to keep being done if you stand a shot of success. Update your social media daily, or at the very least, several times a week. Blog consistently. Send your email newsletter out at the same time each month. 


5 Things to do to Prep Your E-Commerce Site for the Holidays

It’s crazy how the end of the year seems to speed up, isn’t it? One minute we’re enjoying fireworks on the Fourth of July, and the next…it’s Christmas. For most people, this just means it’s time to start thinking about buying presents, but if you run an e-commerce store, it means a lot more planning. Don’t procrastinate until November to get your holiday marketing and sales strategies in place. Get started today.

1. Decide on Your Marketing Campaigns

No, it’s not too early to brainstorm on what this holiday season’s marketing campaign will look like. You’ll need ample time to plan out your social media and blogging calendar, as well as purchase advertising and tweak your SEO keywords.

Look at past campaigns and assess what worked and what didn’t. Then use that information to develop an even smarter campaign to reach new and existing customers this year.

2. Get Your Email List in Order

Even if you’re regularly using email to market to your customers, you need to get a game plan for the holidays. If you use a sophisticated ecommerce system, you should be able to pull the email addresses of the customers that bought from you last holiday season. Start a new list of past holiday customers to send promotions to. They already know the quality of your products, and you’ll make it easy for them to buy again from you this year.

3. Plan for a Bump Up in Inventory

The last thing you want is to run out of a product in the middle of the busiest shopping time of the year. So budget to increase your orders with your suppliers, and even find backup suppliers in case the companies you typically work with can’t keep up with demand. See if you can negotiate a lower per-unit price if you boost your order size.

4. Recruit Holiday Help

You should consider bringing on additional hands to help you fulfill orders and answer customer service calls for Q4. Start looking now. You need time before the holidays to recruit and train your temp staff to ensure that they’re on top of their game when sales start escalating in late November.

5. Plan Promotions

Will you take advantage of Black Friday or Cyber Monday? What about Free Shipping Day, which falls on December 18 this year? These are all easy opportunities to build promotions around, so set up a calendar, select the days you want to pump up promotions for, then plan out your emails and social media updates for each.

Speaking of social media, make sure you’ll have time to manage your accounts, if you’re the person who usually does so. If you let your social networks fall to the wayside last year, consider hiring a freelancer or part-time marketing assistant to help with it this year. After all, retailers have seen as much as 66% of Black Friday sales as a result of social media shares, so you want to capitalize on that this year!

The sooner you start planning and working on your holiday sales strategy, the smoother it’ll go at the end of the year.

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