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Social Media - the Good, the Bad and the Very Ugly
twitter-bird-6You would have to live under a rock or in a remote cave to not be assaulted with the importance of social media to your business. Of course the ones shoving it down your throat are companies that would love to do it for you or companies that will improve the SEO of your website by adding all sorts of social media.

Can social media be a viable marketing tool? Yes, it can but only if you understand the potential for good and for harm.

Can it improve the SEO for your website? Yes, it can but if you have screwed up how you are using it, it might not make any difference.

The number of social media sites seems to grow everyday but let's take a look at the most commonly used: MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and in addition blogs. If you use any of these social media or other sites just be sure you have very good virus protection as many of these sites can be virus heaven.

MySpace is primarily for teens and young adults. If you sell products or services specifically to this age group, then consider using MySpace as part of your marketing plan.

Facebook has users of all ages. It does have interest groups that can be hard to find but they are there.

LinkedIn is considered to be a business to business rather than a business to consumer networking site. It is based on interest groups and an effort is made to keep a professional tone.

Twitter is only for short messages of 140 characters or less. There are ways to use certain coding in messages to target specific interest groups.

Blogs are more like short articles that can be stand alone or reside on your website. Blogs can and should utilize SEO to help their ranking and attract readers.

You need to become an expert on whatever site or sites you choose; it is important to research each site and find out the details of what you can and can't do, how to access interest groups, and how to set up an account.

Social media sites like MySpace and Facebook were developed as a means of social networking; a way for friends, family, and people of similar opinions or interests to connect with each other except for LinkedIn. It wasn't long before businesses realized that they also provided a way to connect with their consumer markets in a new and more personal way. For some companies it has resulted in increased business while others have done themselves no good and at times serious damage.

Many businesses made the mistake of trying to act as if they were just another friend or contact which usually led to a very unprofessional presentation, created a lack of trust, and even the posting of inappropriate content for a business. Derogatory comments about certain customers or the competition, unrealistic claims, worthless coupons or discount codes and other practices ultimately cost businesses customers as well as trust. It only takes a few bad practices to destroy a brand or business because potentially hundreds of thousands may end up knowing about it.

Another pitfall is not understanding the power and scope that social media can have and how that can impact any marketing. A perfect example is what happened to a small Midwest grocery store chain. They decided to offer a $5 coupon with no minimum purchase to their fans and anyone else. The coupon was good for 5 days. By the third day the grocery chain had to close the campaign, remove the coupon from their Facebook site and do some immediate advertising that the campaign was over, the coupon was no longer valid and issue sincere apologies. They had hoped the coupon would bring more customers into their stores to do their major shopping. Not only was that not the case, they had neglected to calculate how many coupons might be redeemed. In other words their failure to anticipate the potential number of redemptions not only cost them far more money than was budgeted for in the campaign but made a lot of customers and potential customers very angry. They are still recovering from that debacle.

LinkedIn is primarily a site for business networking. It is interest group based and each group has its own rules. On some, direct advertising is allowed while others will ban those who do that or relegate them to a specific area. Group members can start discussions or respond to ones. Not only is it about networking and marketing but also about learning and sharing of information. Every effort is made in most groups to ban scammers and to keep everything on a very professional level. I personally have found it to be a valuable experience in many ways.

Twitter is a different kind of site in that you can only send out a message of 140 characters or less. It can be very difficult to say anything of importance with such limitations. Some businesses choose to send out message after message to tell their story a sentence at a time. The danger with that is that too many tweets in a 24 hour period can get the account and/or business banned as spammers.

Blogs, while not the standard social media form, are still a way of networking and marketing. There are as many kinds of blogs as there are writers but the three most common are ones that educate or inform, those that are about your business and are almost straight marketing, and those which often rant and rave about some subject, industry or power such as big business or the government. One blog every one to two weeks is fine but no more than 2 or 3 a week. Just be careful if you are complaining that you are not turning off customers or insulting them.  Willow and I know one person who sends out a blog almost every day.  The problem is that the majority are copies of articles or written by someone else on a completely different subject.  It is okay to use someone else to write your blogs if you are not a writer but stay on subject.  It is also okay to reprint articles or blogs that are on subject and which you have permission to use (essential) every once in awhile when it is a particularly good and pertinent one.  Just don't use them as a substitute for your own content.  It just makes you look lazy.

Whether you choose to utilize any form of social media is entirely your choice and don't allow anyone to shove it down your throat if you are not comfortable with the concept. If you choose to participate and you will be the writer be sure to project a professional image whether you are on MySpace or LinkedIn. If you have an employee do the writing be sure you approve everything before it is posted. The same is true if you hire someone (or someone volunteers) to write your social media content. Someone with at least a basic knowledge of SEO is useful.

Here are some general rules that will help you be successful at social media marketing.

1. When writing or reviewing all social media content be sure it is professional and reflects the vision and mission of your company.
2. Do not post personal information. Leave that for personal accounts. That being said, be careful what you post on a personal account as well. If a potential customer links to your business account on Facebook they may look to see if you have a personal page as well. Posting on your personal page that you got drunk at a party is not going to give a good impression. Remember that everything you post can be read by millions of people and it is out there forever.
3. Review your business page frequently to see what people have posted on your wall or added to your LinkedIn discussion. Remove, object to, or ban those posts and/or the writers that are inappropriate. That does not mean you should censor legitimate comments or complaints because you can learn from them and address them in your next post.
4. Think through such marketing concepts as discounts and coupons before you post them. You don't want to find yourself in the position of the grocery chain.
5. Do not make personal attacks on employees, customers or the competition and don't post any gossip, privileged or private information - ever. Not only is that unprofessional but it can cause you a lot of trouble personally and legally.
6. If someone attacks you don't get defensive. Several months ago a man posted a discussion on LinkedIn where he was advocating doing some borderline legal things to get money for funding a business. I replied that there were many standard ways to apply for funding. His response to me was a very vicious personal attack. I was angry but my only response was that when a differing point of view sparks a personal attack, it speaks volumes. He did not reply because there was nothing he could say. Don't get into an ugly debate where you both look bad. Arguing with an idiot makes you look like an idiot, too.
7. Keep a sense of humor. Be able to laugh at yourself if you post something dumb or make a really goofy mistake. Remember the advice about making lemonade from lemons. Use it to your advantage and make it the subject of your next post.
8. Web marketing whether through your website, social media, a blog or other means is not a cure all nor will it increase your sales immediately. People have to find you and want what products or services you offer. They may not want it today but they might need it next month or next year. Keep your posts interesting and informative so that they will continue to follow you until that magic day where their needs can be fulfilled by your products or services. It all takes time so be patient. Many people give up writing new posts, blogs, or starting discussions when they don't see immediate results. That is a waste of everyone's time and effort. Stick to it, do it well and you will see results.

Be sure to check to see if your city, metropolitan area or even state have their own social media/networking sites. Many do so don't neglect them in favor of only the national/international sites.

 

 
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Marketing 101
As far as I am concerned thistock_000011198000xsmall-marketingere are 2 rules to marketing:

1. Use whatever ethical type of marketing that works for your company and
2. Do not use methods that make you or your potential customers uncomfortable.

I'm not going to sit here and tell you what methods work and what ones don't because there are so many variables that have to be taken into consideration such as marketing budget, location (local, regional, national, international), demographics, target market(s), and legalities.

Unless you have a large marketing budget and can hire an advertising agency or independent marketing guru, you will need to develop your own marketing strategy and implement it. For small businesses with no or little budget, I highly recommend the Guerilla Marketing books by Jay Levinson. He has ideas for all sorts of tactics that are legal, ethical, and highly effective for all types of businesses. Chances are that you will find several ideas that you can apply to your particular business. For instance, one of his suggestions in an early book was having matchbooks printed with your company information. In today's anti-smoking climate that is probably not a good choice unless of course you own a tobacco shop, possibly a bar, or a cigar bar. Check out his books at your local library or local or online bookstores.

There are almost as many ways to market products and services as there are products and services. Let's take a look at the traditional ways to market and examine the good, the bad, and the ugly of each method.

The Yellow Pages

The Yellow Pages used to be where everyone went to look for businesses and many picked names such as AAAA Cleaning just so that they would be the first listing in their category. Unfortunately, they are no longer the only game in town and can actually have severe limitations in today's world. First of all, the original Yellow Pages is put out by AT&T which used to be Ma Bell and still has some Bell segments. Verizon publishes what they call the Super Pages. Other providers have their own versions. The problem is that you got a free listing if you had your business service with whoever provided your local service and only in their version of the Yellow Pages. If you live in an area that has more than one provider, you would only be listed in your provider's yellow pages and not in the listings of other telephone service providers. Now you would have to pay for a listing or ad in the yellow pages of the competition. But what if your business uses a VoIP phone service or you have a toll free number through a provider like Ring Central as I do? You are out of luck unless you place a paid ad in the yellow pages. No free listings for you. Yellow pages ads are not cheap and you can rack up quite a bill if you have to pay for several ads. Then there is the issue of their business categories. What if there is no category that fits what you do? I ran into this when I first started my business. There was no category in which a writer of business plans fit. There still isn't a good one today.

As Willow wrote in her article "Do You Need a Website?" the Internet is taking the place of the yellow pages for many people. It is faster and easier to look up a company on the Internet and find out a lot of information besides location(s), and phone numbers and hours than it is to find the yellow pages and leaf through it. In addition, you might think a company would be listed under a specific category only to discover that it isn't. The internet gives you almost unlimited ways to find a company and when you have a website you can keep it updated with changes in hours, additional locations, sales, and new products or services. You can't do that with the yellow pages.

If you live in a smaller town or city, a listing or even an ad can be useful and a good local marketing tool. Businesses used to depend heavily on the yellow pages when starting out because they were affordable and the payments could be spread over the year. There was always the potential problem that you could start your business but it might be months before the new yellow pages came out that listed your business. Fortunately, in smaller towns and cities, word of mouth and visibility could overcome that problem.

Today, in larger cities, it could be 18 months or more before your business listing would appear. For instance, the deadline for a listing to appear in a July edition, could be December 1. What if you order business phone service on December 5? Then your listing would not appear until 1 year from the coming July. You could have moved, changed your name, or even gone out of business before the listing appears. Be sure to pin down the sales rep as to exactly when your listing would appear. It makes no sense to pay for an ad that won't appear for 18 months. Plus the cost is very high these days.

Then there are the scam yellow pages that are not officially affiliated with any telephone provider and list only those companies they can con into paying for a listing and an advertisement. Some are complete scams and never publish anything at all. Others may publish a book but have seriously limited distribution. No matter what they do or don't do they are a rip-off. Mostly you will hear from these companies via telemarketing and often their opening ploy is to say they simply want to update your information. (The same spiel is used by those who claim to represent one online yellow pages or another.) They assure you that there is no charge but then try to sell you an ad. Online you will find all the regular yellow pages plus usually even more information on a company through many sources. So don't fall into the traps for paper or online versions.

Local Newspaper Ads

Time was when a new business, if they could afford it, took out an ad in the local newspaper whether it was a daily or weekly newspaper. If there was a major city newspaper then a company would take out a smaller ad at least for a few issues.

Today's reality is that many newspapers have gone out of business and even many of the major are in deep trouble due to drops in subscribers and in advertisers. Many former advertisers have decided to spend their marketing dollars on more permanent forms that will not be lining the bird cage the next day. Websites, social media, as well as radio and TV spots are now the most commonly used forms of advertising.

Do not discount your local newspaper for sporadic advertising that is free. When you open your business, add a new client, promote someone, move, or get involved in a community project, send the paper a press release. They may or may not print them but the more compelling you make the press release the more likely they are to print it. You can always write a letter to the editor in response to an article in the paper. However, if you write it and mention your company name, it is best to not take sides in a controversial issue. (You wouldn't want to take the chance of possibly offending your best customer.) Not only is this part of marketing it is also part of branding your company name. If you become involved in community service projects don't be shy if the media shows up to write a story and take photos. However, for business, the celebrity idea of bad press is better than no press should never be applied to your business.


Direct Mail

Direct mail, whether it is individual pieces you send out or coupons/information pieces in something like ValPak, can be a complex issue. Companies like ValPak make it relatively easy to do direct mail marketing and some of these companies do a much better job than others. Before you do anything else, you should go to the Direct Mail Marketing Association's website https://www.dmachoice.org/ in order to learn more about direct mailing, how this organization sets guidelines and allows consumers to opt out of many types of direct mailings. If you choose to use a company to help with or do your direct mailings, check to see if they check their mailing lists with the Direct Mail Marketing Association. Sending mail to those who are on a Do Not Mail list will likely anger the recipient and lose you a potential customer who might learn about you another way and be interested.

Packaged mailings

If you choose this method, you need to do some homework in order to be effective. The first question is who are your customers and where do they live? You need to know that information in order to make sure that your marketing piece is included in the appropriate mailings. For example, let's say you design and make window treatments from your home. Since this business would likely need more affluent customers, being part of a mailing that goes into lower middle class neighborhoods would likely be a completely wasted effort. So you really need to check out your own demographics and the associated zip codes before agreeing to any mailing. The company will be able to give you a lot of that information but you need to check it out for yourself.

The other very important item is the marketing piece itself. It needs to be attractive but not too flashy that addresses a need or want of a potential customer. It should also be in good taste. Some of these companies will help you with the design, often at an extra price, but if their advertising people are good, it can be money well spent. Just remember that you want your piece to reflect well on your company so stand your ground about how the piece should look and the image it portrays.

Individual mailings

There are many issues to consider in conducting your own direct mail marketing campaign. Of course you will need the same demographics information and a well designed piece whether a letter, mailable brochure, postcard type or other type of mailing. A great source of information is the Direct Mail Advertising from the US Postal Service. For more information go to http://www.usps.com/directmail/ or pick up information at your local post office. There are many different postage rates for direct mail, a variety of requirements, and a lot of options as well as general information on direct mail campaigns. I suggest you read all the information concerning rates and requirements thoroughly.

Now come a number of decisions that need to be made that will impact the cost of direct mailings.

Where will you get the addresses of those you want to contact? If there are only a few people or companies that you wish to contact, then you can build your own database or spreadsheet that can usually be done as a mail merge to customize your mailing. (Does anyone actually read the marketing pieces sent to Resident? I don't unless it is a coupon type magazine.) That leaves the question as to where to go to obtain mailing lists. There are many sources and companies that sell or rent mailing lists. Preferably you will select a provider with a good reputation, which uses great demographics in their compilations and has processed their mailing lists with the DMA. Such a company may be more charge more for their lists but you save money by not sending out mailings to those who don't want them or whose demographics are so poor that you are mailing materials to customers who can't or wouldn't have need of your products or services. That can mount up to a lot of savings in materials and postage.

There are also companies that specialize in lists of businesses. Companies are classified by NAICS codes which is something that you will need to know for your own business and tax purposes unless you are a sole proprietorship. You can find the complete code list and description at http://www.census.gov/eos/www/naics/. However, the list is not updated often and some businesses can have odd codes assigned to them. For instance, companies that sell prepaid (or stored value) debit cards that are not linked to a bank account are listed under a computer programming code rather than under a financial services code.

A large direct mail campaign can be very time consuming and expensive. For the best postage rates, your mailing list will have to go through address verification, sorting, and delivery to the post office and there are the fees associated with several of these requirements. Before undertaking a mass mailing, you may want to check out the costs of having a direct mail company take care of everything. It will be more expensive than doing it yourself usually, but if you add in the cost of labor for one or more employees or even a temp employee, the extra cost may be well worth it.

Direct mail marketing can be a powerful tool when used correctly and with consideration for those who prefer not to receive such material.

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Starting Up and Starting Over

startupWillow and I have both started up and started over. We have proven to ourselves that we are survivors and we know that you can be one, too. It is painful and hard and almost daily you want to give up. Yet, you have a dream and you just keep putting one foot in front of another and keep going.

Read more...  [Starting Up and Starting Over]
 
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Pollyanna or Chicken Little?
twofacesWe hope you are neither. We all know that it takes grit and determination to start your own business but there are two attitudes towards life in general that can completely undermine any grit or determination you may have to start your own business. Even if you manage to start one, it is likely doomed to failure because both attitudes defy reality. People with either of these attitudes can be damaging as friends and employees as well.
Read more...  [Pollyanna or Chicken Little?]
 
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The Home Based Business

family2So many women dream of having a home based business with pictures in their heads of working in their jammies in front of the computer until noon or being able to stay at home with young children instead of going out to a regular job. Unfortunately, for the majority of women they are just that - dreams. The realities of owning and operating a home based business are, in most cases, quite the opposite of the dreams. In this article, we are going to look at the issues and legalities of home based businesses and then we will tackle the myths and special problems associated with home based businesses.

Read more...  [The Home Based Business]
 
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