Don’t get overwhelmed by social networking sites like Twitter & FB

•April 21, 2009 • Leave a Comment

All this talk and media hype of social media can be overwhelming. I’ve met with numerous small business owners recently who are looking for innovative ways to generate revenue in today’s economic climate. Because you cannot pick up a newspaper today without reading about Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media sties, these business owners are struggling to figure out how to use all these applications while running their business. I’ve honestly met with several people who have folders filled with web articles printed out entitled things like “How to Use Twitter” and “Social Networking Sites You Shouldn’t Miss”. These business people are spending so much time printing the articles; they’ll never find the time to use the actual sites to help them generate revenue!

I say, before investing undue hours or even days researching and learning these applications, first find out if your customers/prospects are even using these sites! For instance, if you are selling products to business professionals, then linkedIn may make sense as they are probably using it to network with customers and prospects. But if you are selling products to stay at home mothers, Facebook or other social networking sites like CafeMom may be better suited for your time.  Also, if you are selling technology products that are “cool” then you should make sure that people should be twittering about your products! By understanding your customer’s focus, you can save yourself time by focusing in more appropriate areas.

If you do decide to pursue one or more of these sites, I’d recommend you simply jump in and set up an account on the site.  Set aside 15 minutes or so a day log on and surf the site. Don’t be afraid to click, post, etc. That’s a great way to learn how to use the sites, why people use them, and what is considered “acceptable” ways to use them to grow your business. Most of the time you can edit or delete whatever you do by accident (just remember most of these sites make this information you post public in some fashion!)

For instance, maybe set up your own personal Facebook profile if you don’t have one. It is a great way to stay in touch with friends and family. Additionally business can be generated on this site though this profile- although that is really a secondary goal (but you may find by talking about your day in your “status updates”, people my remember your business and send referrals your way… ).  After you get the hang on Facebook, you can look into a Business Facebook page which is designed to promote businesses and share that with your family and friends network (but that’s a topic for another day!). Good luck and enjoy it! Remember, it should be fun, not scary!

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5 Reasons Why you Must be on LinkedIn

•April 21, 2009 • 1 Comment

If you don’t already have a LinkedIn profile and are responsible for generating revenues, get one now! It’s free and very easy.  I believe it is a necessity for any business professional.

1. It legitimizes you. People now often go to LinkedIn to see your public profile while they are on the phone with you to see learn quickly if you are “real”, that you are truly a player in the industry, and to see if you have mutual friends that they can later check for a reference. It is similar to having your resume online.

2. It legitimizes your business. You can set up a corporate profile in Linked In too. This way they can look up and confirm that your organization is real (and you can position your organization appropriately for your contact base!

3. It allows you to research a prospect. You can check out a person’s public profile and see if you have anything in common to personalize the call. Maybe you have mutual friends or contacts. Maybe you both went to the same college or have similar interests.

4. Connections, connections, connections. They used to say “location, location, location”. Now, it’s invaluable to utilize your connections to grow your business. You can connect with business associates, acquaintances and use it to network with prospect or new organizations through people you know. Recently a contact of mine wanted to get into a particular department in Bank of America. I happened to go to college with a key person in that department in the Boston location. I was more than happy to make the connection so they could help each other grow their business. A win-win for everyone.

5. It’s a “forward Address book”. How many times have you thought of someone that you lost touch with years ago and wanted to reach them to say hello or share a business idea with them? If they were a LinkedIn contact of yours, you’d simply click on their profile and could quickly send them an email to their current address and you’d be back in touch. It’s that simple.

I’d recommend you COMPLETE your LinkedIn profile. You should make sure you include:

1. Several of your past jobs (the farther you go back the more people from your past will find you),

2. Your education. Past classmates are likely to reconnect and support fellow alum.

3. Your website (not only does this help you get more traffic to your site, it further legitimizes your company

4. Your photo. People are more naturally inclined to do business, or network, with someone who seems human. Also, if you do decide to meet a new contact for coffee, you will already know who you are looking for!

5. Upload your email contacts to set up your first contact list. It is a simple step that can help you get the ball rolling. Note- At first, only link with people you honestly know so you don’t spam prospects. Later, as you get established on LinkedIn, you can network with people in groups etc by sending relevant and personalized invitations to connect.

6. Join groups. Groups are a great way to get to know people with similar background, industries, and geographic locations. I’ve had some great networking experiences reaching out to groups of college alumni and parents of my kids schools.

7. I’d also put a link to your LinkedIn profile into your signature line on all your email accounts. People are likely to click it and to ask you to connect with them, further expanding your network.

4 Fast & Free Ways to get Industry Research

•April 11, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Once you really know your customers, you also need to really understand the external trends that impact them day to day. I’m continually amazed at companies that don’t know what is going on in their industry, especially when this information is available- only a few keyboard clicks away!

The internet is an amazing place to get market research- Free! People often think they need to pay for big research projects to learn information that is available on the internet, if you know how to find it.

Try General Search terms: You may want to know if a particular market is growing and how quickly. Use search terms like “trends” “statistics” and “industry” in conjunction with some key words for your product or service. Try a couple of different ways and you will find relevant sites that have already summed up the market for you.

Go to your competitor’s websites or sites that sell to related industries. Most public companies have investor relations pages with this market data readily available in their financial reports.

Find on line “experts” in the industry (bloggers, consultants) who will have relevant information free on their websites. They do this to prove to customers and prospects that they are knowledgeable.

Government and associations: The US government has a ton of information on industries. Places like the Bureau of labor statistics has a wealth of information on different jobs and growth trends in those positions. Also, many key markets have associations that list free information on their market.

Start with your customers and you’ll be one step closer to success!

•April 11, 2009 • 2 Comments

Ever see a promotion from a one of your favorite places to shop and think “who cares”? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen companies put together what they thought were great discounts or promotions for their customers… and these programs never increase business! It usually boils down to two simple problems: either the company does not understanding their customers OR they haven’t thought out the promotion and how it can be redeemed. I’ll cover the first issue today.

Small business owners often struggle at defining their customers or completely understanding the trends in their industry. There are some simple things you can do which will help you be more targeted and efficient when you put together programs to entice people to buy your product or service.

Know your customer well. Profile them. Envision what they look like, what they wear, what they do for work and fun. Some businesses actually create a visual representation (cartoon or photograph) of their customer segments. They give them names, a personal history and fully describe their lives. This allows everyone in the company to visualize who they are selling to and keep focused on those people. Part of this description will allow you to define the “demographics” or things like age, gender, education for your customers or prospects. All your future marketing materials will be based around this information. This is very important.

Really talk to some customers or prospects (if you are trying to reach a new market). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say “I assume they use my product this way” or “I’ve been told by distributors that this feature is important.” This isn’t good enough. This may give you inaccurate information or something too general. Try to speak with your best customers regularly. These are the ones who buy from you often. Ask them all sorts of open ended questions. What problem does it solve (ask for specifics)? How exactly do they use it? For instance if you are selling Velcro, find out what things they are holding with the Velcro, what environment is it used in, what were they doing before they had this product? This really helps you understand their “pain” or need for your product or service. Why do they buy your product not something else? Also by talking to them, you’ll learn to put things in their words. You’ll be able to prioritize your product/services benefits based upon their real needs. You may even come up with ideas for new products or variants.

When you are done with this you can find have time talk to the ones who only bought one time and find out why too! But that is a story for another day.

Sometimes good marketing starts with the basics. If you don’t really take time to know your customer, you are guaranteed to have a much harder road to travel.