Category: Small Business

Succeeding in Search Marketing: Three Tips for Small Business Owners

Seo_SimplifyThisSearch engine marketing offer considerable value to small and medium sized business owners. Consider the following tips and how they can be practically applied to market your small business online.

Understand Search Marketing and the Role of Google

As a starting point, seek to understand search marketing. Fundamentally, search marketing is the practice of increasing the visibility of your brand online by increasing the number of search results that your website appears in as well as your website’s position on the search results page. This can be achieved through pay-per-click advertising or organic search engine optimization. With pay-per-click , commonly known as PPC, you pay to have your website appear in search result pages, and with organic search engine optimization, you compete with other websites to climb your way toward the top of search engine result pages (SERPs), through a number of techniques. The techniques are geared toward signaling to the search engine, whether it be Google, Yahoo, Bing or another, that your web page offers the information that the searcher is looking for, and that the information you offer is relevant, well written and coming from a reputable source. Google and other search engines base the prioritization of your site on hundreds of indicators, most of which are secret. Though Google’s algorithm is secret, there are some best practices that marketers know for sure. As a small business owner, it pays to take the time to familiarize yourself with Google’s own recommendations.

The Importance of Local Search

While the Internet may have provided a connection between small businesses and a global consumer market, local businesses need to focus on developing a local customer base. Local search helps customers in your geographic region to find you, while also laying the foundations from which you can expand into larger, national or even international markets. The majority of local search engine marketing will rely on listing your business in a variety of local directories, including Google Maps, Yelp, and Yellow Pages Online. Listing in local directories can take some time, but doesn’t require any special skill. To get started with local search marketing, familiarize yourself with Moz Local, and check your local listing score.

Publish Quality Content

It is crucial that you pay attention to the type of content that you publish to your site. Whether written by you, a paid writer or a guest contributor, consider the content’s quality and relevance both to your business and to people visiting your site. If someone offers to write content or contribute to your blog, you’ll need to be selective and only agree to do so if the content they provide truly has value for your readers. There are no cheap and easy tricks for creating quality content. When deciding what content to post to your blog, remember if it seems quick and easy, it may actually backfire as low quality content will indicate to Google that your site isn’t worth their searchers’ time.

5 Fundamental Principles of Project Management for Small Businesses

For those of us who work on a project basis, the ability to successfully develop products and bring them to market within a specified time frame depends less on a magical snap of our fingers and more on the masterful application of solid project management practices. With this in mind, it is worth considering the fundamental principles of project management and how they should be applied. Below, some of our favorite suggestions for leading and managing projects.

Image: by Alicja Colon / Unsplash.com

snap your fingers

Strong and Decisive Leadership

As a basic rule, strong and decisive leadership is crucial to effective project management. While all projects may be temporary and have a clearly defined beginning and end, they also have specific goals and cost requirements so it is important to determine whether or not they even represent a good use of your existing resources in the first place.

This requires a certain level of authority to understand the precise aim of the project and the problem that it is trying to solve. Only with this knowledge would one take the next step which would be to analyze all the information in order to find the best possible solution. While the storage, appraisal and application of big data can enable today’s project managers to execute informed decisions in real time, having the courage of your convictions as a leader, and the ability to decide if the project is even worth your time in the first place, remains an important aspect of leadership and project management.

Risk Analysis

Once you have made an informed decision to commit to a project, the true art of effective management can begin. Another cornerstone of this is risk analysis, which provides you with an opportunity to proactively review the proposed project in detail and identify any potential pitfalls or issues ahead of time.

By working closely with others to brainstorm ideas and discuss the problems that could derail your project, you can plan for the worst case scenario and ensure that there are steps in place to succeed and achieve your goals.  For the most part this will require you to develop alternative plans and security measures, which for online projects may involve the backing up of data and the use of support servers.

Cost, Time and Quality Management

Given the temporary nature of project based work, it should be relatively easy to calculate cost, time-frame and quality management. What some business owners do not appreciate, however, is that these factors are interdependent and therefore any changes will have a direct impact on all aspects of your project.

If you are forced to change the time frame, for example, you must recognize that this cannot be done without influencing the cost of the project or the quality of the end result. Whether you are forced to extend a project and increase labor costs or bring a deadline forward and compromise quality, it is important that every decision is taken with these co-dependent factors and the mechanics of their relationships in mind.

Delegation and Organization

Regardless of the size and scope of your project, it is important that you also respect the fundamental principles of organisation and delegation. For smaller projects, this simply means that you manage your time effectively and schedule tasks to suit all predetermined deadlines.

For larger tasks, you may need to delegate work and responsibility while maintaining an overview of all deliverables and ensuring that they are met in time. Regardless of your position, these values should not be overlooked and you may even consider utilizing project management tools and cost-effective applications to help distribute, manage and organize tasks. From appointment scheduling software to open-source project management programs, these tools can boost efficiency and productivity without considerable investment.

Composure

As a project manager and leader, your demeanor throughout the course of the project is key. Composure is therefore a key value and attribute, as this will enable you to remain focused on the project as a whole and treat both hardship and success in the same balanced way.

After all, you are likely to encounter difficulties during the process of achieving project milestones, so it is important to retain a level-headed approach and not become overly emotional in the event of either success or short-term failure. By remaining consistent in your approach and maintaining a sense of authority as events unfold, you can inspire confidence in others and ensure that your project remains on a steady course.

 

Building an Online Presence for Your Small Business: Tools of the Trade

Every commercial business must generate a profit if it is to be successful, and this requires you to sell a product or service that is demand. Even then, it is crucial that you actively market your brand to consumers, using the tools at your disposal and widely accessible online resources.

But what are the main tools of online marketing, and how should you use them to maximize your businesses potential.

tools of the trade

Image by Florian Klauer / Unsplash.com

Your Website

Your website is central to any online marketing campaigns that you engage in. Regardless of whether you sell products through an e-commerce model or advertise a service that is delivered offline, it is crucial that you create a website that is easily accessible, well-designed and compliant with Google’s constantly changing search engine criteria.

So aside from keeping updated with Google’s latest algorithm changes, you should also consider taking innovative steps to improving the efficiency and usability of your website. Service driven business owners may look to integrate appointment scheduling software with the website (see our own appointment-scheduling product), for example, as this will enable customers to engage with your brand and manage their individual accounts online. You should also feature bold and interactive icons on your website, so that visitors can easily access your branded social media profiles or add their details to an emailing list.

Your Blog

The brand that your business chooses to project is also important, especially in terms of inspiring loyalty among consumers and emerging as an instantly recognizable market leader. Clarity and consistency are the key points to bear in mind when developing your brand both offline and online.

When it comes to delivery, it is important to understand the most productive methods of establishing a strong and prominent online brand. While brochure websites were once extremely purposeful online branding tools, for example, you may find blogging today to be a more effective tool for engaging potential customers. Blogs allow you to establishing yourself as a thought leader, and build trust and loyalty among existing and potential customers. Integrate an interactive and regularly updated blog with your website.

Social Media

The rise of social media and its emergence as a professional resource has had a huge impact on the popularity of online marketing, especially among small and medium-sized businesses. Not only does it provide an excellent medium for developing a strong professional network, for example, but it also enables you to market your brand, products and services to a large and diverse group of consumers.

Use social media to actively engage customers in direct, emotive and real-time conversations, in order to build a loyal consumer base and drive genuine traffic to your website. The same principle also applies to strengthening existing customer relations. New to marketing through social media? Learn how to get started.

Direct Email Marketing

In some ways, the emergence of social media as a promotional tool has encouraged some small businesses to ignore the benefits of email marketing. There is no reason why small business owners should not use both to their advantage, however, especially as they represent relatively low-cost online marketing solutions that deliver consistent results. An estimated 44% of recipients reported making at least one purchase based on a promotional email in 2013, so this type of marketing clearly has an impact on consumer behavior.

In fact, this statistic suggests that email marketing tends to create the most effective relationships between brands and consumers. Email marketing is also one of the most cost-effective online marketing methods, so it is ideal for small business owners who want to expand without heavy investment.

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Generating Leads with SEO and Social Media

You have a product or service that you know people could benefit from, maybe even millions of people. But how do you go about bringing people to your business and then turning them into customers?  

lots of potential customers

Though the concept of search engine optimization (commonly called SEO) for lead generation can be confusing, especially as search engine optimization techniques sometimes come under Google’s scrutiny, many marketers consider it to be the most effective method for generating new business leads. So long as you adopt an organic and value-driven approach to content creation modern SEO practices and similar techniques are a great way to generate leads.

Preparing for Lead Generation: Understanding your Market

Before you begin to develop and implement lead generation strategies, it is first important to understand your market and core consumer base. Consider the following: 

  • The need to understand your customer: Understanding your consumer is particularly important, as your ability to meet their needs is crucial to effective lead generation. After all, no single customer will invest in a product or service unless they have a need or a desire for it, regardless of how innovative your marketing strategies are. It is therefore your challenge to reach out to them and tailor your strategies to meet their needs, using techniques such as surveys, social media engagement and customer service interaction to gain a critical insight.
  • What is your unique value proposition? Once you have understood the needs and wants of consumers, the next step is to connect them to your business offering. Understanding how your business meets your customers needs will enable you to propose relevant solutions that offer genuine value. These must also be deliverable, as even the most creative marketing propositions will fail if they are unrealistic or unreliable.
  • Clearly define the term ‘lead’ across your company: One of the key issues with lead generation is that different people within the same business often have conflicting definitions of the term. While some may consider a lead to be someone whose contact information has been procured from a list or fellow business, others may consider leads to be individuals who have actively engaged with the brand and sought out additional information. All of these potential descriptions are technically correct, so it is your task to create a uniform definition that is understood by everyone who works in both sales and marketing at your company.

How to Generate Leads Using SEO and Similar Techniques

With a clear understanding of your customers and the term ‘lead’ clearly defined, the next step is to find ways to bring these people to you. SEO techniques will be a key driver of this, it is always preferable to combine these with other disciplines as part of a wider marketing and lead generation strategy. These include:

  • SEO for lead generation: Despite obvious challenges, most marketers consider SEO to be a highly effective method of generating leads. SEO generally involves a number of on-page and off-page techniques–meaning you will apply some techniques directly to your website, and others you will focus on connecting your site to other websites. On-page optimization may include making sure your site is optimized from a technical standpoint, so that search engines, such as Google, can easily crawl your site and return it in a search result. Some of the best practices for technical optimization can be found here. The second part of on-page SEO is having the right pages of content on your website, content that answers questions that your target audience’s questions. This is commonly called content marketing.
  • Content marketing for lead generation: In simple terms, content marketing involves creating and publishing quality content that is relevant to your readers’ needs. This technique dictates that you must prioritise the quality, relevance and value of your content ahead of volume alone, which in turn helps you to establish your brand as an industry authority. This also helps to develop trust between consumers and your brand. From a lead generating standpoint, having information-rich content on your website helps to attract the right people to you. It is close cousins with another marketing technique called inbound marketing.
  • Social media for lead generation: Social media is a fast evolving marketing tool, and one which is increasingly useful for generating leads. It is now possible to measure the effectiveness of lead generation through social media, thanks to innovative features such as ‘Facebook offers’ which enable online vouchers to be redeemed offline.

Lead Generation and Nurturing: The Importance of Long-term Thinking

While each of these considerations and techniques can help you to generate a diversity of leads, this means little unless your strategies are created with a long-term outlook in mind. Not all leads are created equal, and some may require the investment of time and effort if they are to be successfully converted into sales and revenue. This is commonly referred to as lead nurturing, which is the process of cultivating positive relationships with potential customers even if they are not actively looking to buy or purchase a service.

There are numerous ways through which this can be achieved, including email marketing and the development of a high quality company blog. As discussed the publication of high quality content can help you to engage an audience and develop brand authority, and a company blog provides a permanent vehicle for this strategy. By publishing informative and insightful articles on a regular basis and sharing these socially, it is easy to develop relationships with undecided and curious consumers. Your can even share this content with segments of un-engaged leads, as a way of previous customers back to the fold.

 

Lead Generation 101: How to Create Interest in a Product or Service

What practical steps can you take as a small business owner to generate leads? Here are some ideas.

Understand and Target the Needs of your Consumers

getting ready to workWhile the concept of analytical CRM (customer relationship management) is commonly associated with large corporations, its basic principles can be applied to all small businesses. It essentially provides a process through which businesses attempt to understand and target separate markets, using unique consumer insight and detailed information that is stored in a centrally located software program. Even you have a small venture and minimal resources; you can still apply this technique using a basic Excel spreadsheet or a Microsoft Access database. The exact software that you use is relatively unimportant, as it is the accuracy of the data and your approach that will ultimately help you to understand your customers and communicate with them effectively.

Image: Aleksi Tappura for Unsplash

Converse with Customers through Social Media

While every business owner understands the need to develop an integrated social media presence online, only a select few use these mediums as effectively as possible. Instead of focusing on traditional metrics such as gaining likes and followers through specific social media sites, for example, you should look to engage potential consumers in emotive and real-time communication. This ensures that your business brand is interacting regularly with customers, using innovative, relevant and consistently delivered content to enhance their experience as consumers. Sites such as Twitter and Facebook are also developing advanced metrics that measure social media interaction and how this translates into sales conversions, using a similar model to that used by PPC (pay-per-click) marketers.

Use Customer Service Interactions to Generate Leads

While large corporations are often unwilling to invest in their customer service operations, smaller entities often handle this process on an ad-hoc basis. According to leading entrepreneur Seth Godin, however, this means that both large businesses and SME’s are missing a huge opportunity to interact with consumers and reach out to them when they are at their most engaged. If a consumer has taken the time to contact your offices, for example, they are clearly engaged with the brand and may therefore be more responsive to discussing your products or services.

Even if they have made contact to discuss a problem, your capacity to resolve this effectively will provide a gateway into further conversation and offer you a unique opportunity to generate leads. While this may take time and effort, it will also deliver value in terms of sales conversions and your businesses turnover.

For a comprehensive resource for those getting started with lead generation, have a look at the B2B Lead Blog.

The 5 Essentials of Entrepreneurship: What do they mean in Practical Terms?

While the term ‘accidental entrepreneur’ is commonly associated with the shift in working dynamics that took place after the recent economic downturn, it has far greater relevance to a wider period of history. After all, some of the world’s most ground-breaking inventions and innovations developed in error, including Coca Cola and Penicillin.

In fact, the ability to adapt and capitalize on unexpected discoveries is a cornerstone of successful entrepreneurship. It is by no means the only one; however, as there are several essential factors that contribute to independent accomplishment in the business world. Consider the following examples and how they can be applied in practical terms:

Vision and a Constant Demand for Improvement

Steve jobsVision is often associated with entrepreneurship, although it is a fairly broad term that can have various applications. Fundamentally, it is a desire to effect change and implement a unique understanding of how things ought to be, although this also requires drive and knowledge to translate this into actionable steps. This demand for change usually evolves from dissatisfaction with the present, as entrepreneurs are renowned for their ability to identify gaps in the market and constantly drive improvement.

In practical terms, this requires 3 distinct actions from any aspiring entrepreneurs. Firstly, you must identify a gap in the market and a clearly defined problem that requires a resolution. The next step is to develop an all-encompassing vision that serves as a solution, before breaking this down into a series of small and actionable steps. There are numerous examples of how this process has worked well, but Bill Gates’ desire to create a business out of software that would ultimately make home computers accessible to every household in the world provides the most relevant case in point. This resulted in the Microsoft Corporation, which emerged from an innovative vision and became a multi-billion dollar organization.

Image: Wikipedia

The Ability to Immerse and Involve People in your Vision

While entrepreneurship may be a journey, it is not always one that needs to be taken alone. Every aspiring entrepreneur needs help and guidance if they are to develop a successful business venture, whether this comes in the form of an established mentor or hard-working members of staff. Ultimately, a successful entrepreneur must have the ability to constantly recruit and develop a purposeful team, while also ensuring that each individual shares, understands and is able to contribute to an existing commercial vision.

With this in mind, it is clear that any aspiring entrepreneur must have the courage of their convictions and an ability to communicate openly about their vision. The benefits of immersing others in your vision are considerable, as they enable you to create a viable infrastructure that aids productivity and long-term efficiency. By employing committed and hard-working individuals to manage the operational side of your venture, for example, you can focus on strategic development and manage the process of evolution in line with your vision.

Adaptability and an Agile Mind

ZuckThere are a number of entrepreneurs in the world, many of whom have established multiple businesses in various sectors. While this is partially due to the typical entrepreneurs’ constant drive to effect change, it is also a result of the changeable nature of business and industry. Successful entrepreneurs tend to have adaptable and agile minds, which are constantly identifying new opportunities and areas for further expansion. This enables them to succeed even during difficult economic times, as they can alter their vision and develop interests in more prosperous markets.

Image: Mark Zuckerberg says “Move fast and break things. Unless you are breaking stuff, you are not moving fast enough.”

An agile mind can be extremely beneficial in the business world, especially in a volatile economic climate. Even the conflict between Russia and the Ukraine apparently heading towards a resolution, there is little doubt that international trade dynamics have the potential to trade considerably in the next financial quarter. For entrepreneurs with global interests, there may well be a need to change course and diversify income in alternative geographical regions. If you can apply this proactive and agile mental outlook on a daily basis, it is possible to succeed even during times of turbulence and austerity.

The Ability to Listen, Empathize and Respond

If we consider entrepreneurship as a constant journey of discovery and self-improvement, then it stands to reason that you must be able to listen and respond respectively to feedback. Whether this is positive or negative, you cannot let your ego dictate your response or prevent you from learning potentially valuable life lessons. Whether dealing with employees or discerning customers, a successful entrepreneur must always strive to listen to others, empathize with their point of view and respond in a positive manner.

For small-business owners and relatively experienced entrepreneurs, this can be an extremely challenging process to manage. Not only can it be hard to empower individuals so that they offer honest feedback (especially employees), but it is also difficult to digest this information and translate it into positive change. This is why open and regular one-to-ones with staff members is extremely important for aspiring entrepreneurs, as it enables them to host a structured discussion where both parties are empowered to talk freely about their concerns. You should also look to combine positive with negative feedback, as it is important to maintain morale and offer praise where it is due.

Determination and Perseverance

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amelia_Earhart

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amelia_Earhart

Perhaps the most important entrepreneurial element of all, perseverance is pivotal to long-term success in the commercial world. This is because even the most innovative concept or business model can be derailed by external market factors, whether this is a significant economic decline or fluctuating levels of supply and demand for a specific product. With this in mind, an entrepreneur must have a determined nature and persevere with their vision, regardless of the circumstances around them or the difficulties that they have faced in the market.

As an entrepreneur, you have the opportunity to showcase perseverance on a daily basis in the pursuit of commercial success. It may also be evident at every stage of the entrepreneurial process, from product design to marketing and sales. If we continue with the Microsoft analogy, it is well known that the brand were synonymous with short-term failures in the 1990’s, as they constantly looked to develop new software that would often require significant alternation over time. This is a lesson to us all, and one that underlines the importance of maintaining a focused vision and remaining true to this until it is fully realized.

Social Media Marketing for Small Businesses

Of all the contemporary marketing methods, it is social media that arguably offers the most to small and independent business-owners. In addition to helping small business owners to cultivate long-term relationships with existing customers, social media is also becoming increasingly effective when it comes to generating leads and raising awareness in the first place.

everyone on a deviceWhen you consider that resources such as Facebook and Twitter are also beginning to integrate metrics to help brands measure consumer engagement online, it is clear why companies expect to double their social media marketing budgets over the course of the next five years. This suggests that rather than questioning whether social media marketing is right for them, the majority of brands are considering how to create an integrated and effective strategy that generates the maximum return.

Image: Ana Dzubinska for Unsplash

Social Media Marketing: The Key Statistics for 2014

For small businesses that are grappling with the formation and implementation of a social media strategy, it is important to gain a clear insight into the medium. In terms of current trends, digital asset management platform WebDAM recently collated data from a host of social media and marketing experts and quizzed them on their expectations for 2014. Here are three of the most interesting findings.

Landing pages that included videos see an 86% in conversions

The use of audio-visual mediums and graphics is considered key to social media engagement, and experts reported that this type of media delivers a considerably better conversion rate than text or imagery alone.

Customer testimonials have the highest effectiveness rating for all types of content marketing

The lines between social media engagement and content marketing are becoming increasingly blurred, which partially explains why socially shared and independent customer testimonials have emerged as the most effective method of promoting goods and services online.

Emails with Social Sharing Button have a click-through rate that is 158% Higher than those that do not

Direct email marketing remains a viable method of engaging consumers in 2014, this statistic suggests that individuals are more likely to respond positively if they can easily access branded and clearly visible social media profiles.

The Key Takeaways for Small Businesses

These statistics are particularly useful as they offer a clearinsight into prominent social media trends. Even with such detailed and clearly defined information, however, it is crucial that you take the time to analyse the data carefully and translate this into a viable strategy that suits your brand. Consider the following:

  • Create an integrated social media campaign across multiple platforms: The fact that landing pages with video content deliver a conversion rate that is approximately 86% higher than standard, it is  clear that you must strive to develop an integrated social media strategy that is hosted across multiple platforms. It is becoming apparent that a combination of engaging text and stimulating imagery represents the best way of interacting with customers, so strive to utilize diverse resources including Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube in addition to hosting content on your own website. While your precise choice of sites will depend largely on your target consumers and their behavior, it is clearly unwise to focus on using a single content medium.
  • Keep all socially shared content organic and relevant: It is quite interesting that customer testimonials are considered to be the most effective form of content marketing, although small business-owners may be initially unsure of what they should draw from this. The primary message here is that social media provides a natural back-drop for positive and organic interactions with consumers, so brands must be proactive when engaging their clients in conversation concerning individual projects and ranges. By hosting innovative product promotions across your social media channels and encouraging associated consumers to share their feedback with the brand, you can create an organic buzz around your business and leverage your customers as an effective and natural marketing tool.
  • Integrate social sharing buttons into all online communication: While concepts such as social media, blogging and email marketing may be separate, they are often used within a single campaign to achieve a predetermined set of company-focused goals. This means that they should be integrated where possible, so that consumers are afforded access to branded social media channels across all online communication methods. It is extremely convenient for customers to interact with brands through social media, so it is your duty as a small-business owner to encourage this by making your branded and integrated profiles clearly visible whether you are sending a promotional email or publishing a blog post. This would even apply of you create a guest post and publish it on an external website, as including social media links in your author bio will instantly offer readers an opportunity to interact with your brand.

If you are hoping to develop an effective social media strategy for the year ahead, you will first need to research the market and its trends thoroughly. You can then analyse the data and highlight the trends that are relevant to your business. Given the fact that sustained social media marketing will require a financial investment, this may ultimately help to save your business money and maximize your returns over the long run.

Online Business Courses and What Small Business Owners Can Learn From Them

In developed economies throughout the world, freelancing is a well-established and increasingly popular phenomenon. Thanks to the dual impact of technological advancement and the Great Recession, the current generation of workers have eschewed traditional employment opportunities in the pursuit of independent success.

studentThis trend is particularly prominent in the U.S, where an estimated 20-33% of the workforce now consists of freelancers and independent contractors. The same principle also applies to education, as the evolution of specialist online courses means that aspiring entrepreneurs and freelancers need no longer pursue higher education in its traditional format.

Image: Steven Lewis from Unsplash

The Best 5 Online Business Courses and what you can take from them

With this in mind, it is easier than ever for those with a proactive mind-set and entrepreneurial outlook to achieve commercial success on an independent basis. Here we have made a list of the most purposeful online business courses in the modern age, and also noted the crucial lessons you can take from them.

An Introduction to Statistics (accessible through Udacity)

This self-paced course is available through the Udacity platform, and it should be considered as a fundamental element of any business education. Its content teaches students to read and draw insight from existing data, while also introducing them to the tools that can be used to achieve the most accurate results. It has particular relevance in the field of analytical CRM, which is being integrated by businesses to help them understand their customers and drive successful marketing campaigns. The course has no prerequisites or barriers to entry, although students should at least display a basic understanding of algebra and numeracy.

This is a flexible course that can be completed at the leisure of each individual applicant, and its teachings can be extremely beneficial for independent workers. This is because both freelancers and entrepreneurs are required to market their skills to a predetermined target audience, as they shoulder the sole responsibility for ensuring that they source adequate volumes of work. By understanding the needs of clients and the opportunities that exist in your chosen market, you can tailor your service to optimise demand and earning potential.

An Introduction to Microeconomics (accessible through MIT OpenCourseWare)

Another independent and flexible course, this introduction to microeconomics should also be considered as an entry level program of learning. Available on YouTube, it is often taken by undergraduates who are looking to learn and understand the core basics of economics and its application in business. Featuring fundamental elements of business such as supply and demand, it delivers a foundation of knowledge on which a venture or service can be built. There are no previous academic qualifications required to take the course, although a basic grasp of numeracy is essential.

The course is hosted by expert Jonathon Gruber, and it has emerged as one of the most popular that has been produced by MIT in recent times. The content of the course has numerous practical applications in the world of business, predominantly because microeconomics studies the behaviour of individuals and educates individuals on how to execute sensible decisions when given scare resources such as time or money. When you start out as a freelancer or small-business owner, this will enable you to maximise the financial and human assets at your disposal to achieve the best possible returns.

An Introduction to Operations Management (accessible through Coursera)

From a basic foundation of theory and knowledge, as an aspiring business student you may well look to progress onto more detailed courses such as the Introduction to Operations Management. Delivered by Coursera and accessible through YouTube, it is approximately eight weeks long and covers a total period of up to 56 hours. Designed for both students and executives alike, it helps to educate individuals on the fundamental principles of operational management and the disciplines required to deliver an independently created product or service.

Although this course has no academic requirements to speak of, it is a more intricate and evolved course for advanced students. It is a must for freelancers and entrepreneurs, however, especially those who are looking to make the difficult transition from traditional employment to working independently. This is because it prepares applicants for the processes involved with organising and managing a business venture, while also enabling you to analyse working methods and drive constant improvement.

An Introduction to Marketing (accessible through Coursera)

Another Corsera based course, this learning program is accessible through YouTube and runs for an estimated nine weeks. It is an MBA course, and therefore ideal for anyone with an existing background and a sound foundation of knowledge. It requires students to commit an estimated six hours of their time each week, and although there are no formal academic requirements it may be a little daunting for individuals who are completely new to the world of business and entrepreneurship. That said, its core lesson is one that remains absolutely pivotal to anyone who aims to work independently or establish a commercial venture.

Whether you are hopeful of operating as a sole proprietor or ultimately establishing a limited company, the most important requirement is that you are able to market yourself and your key skills. Without the ability understand the needs of customers and relate to them on a meaningful level, it will be almost impossible to tailor your service and market it effectively. In this respect, you could argue that this is the most important course you can possibly undertake as a student of business, as it remains fundamental to the whole process of selling yourself and your service.

How to Build a Start-up (accessible through Udacity)

Once you have established a viable idea and wish to put this into practice, it may be time to complete the Udacity based ‘How to Build a Start-up’ course. A self-paced program of learning, it is relatively unique in that it is not produced in partnership with a university or taught by an established professional, while it also centres on a practical business topic rather than a theoretical one. It therefore has considerable merit in the modern world, so long as each student has a clearly defined vision that they are ready to put into practice.

Under the guidance of successful entrepreneur Steve Blank, students will learn the basics of developing a start-up venture while also acquiring unique insight from an individual who has achieved considerable success in the commercial world. This will help to bridge the considerable gap between conceiving a vision and translating this into a profitable business model, while also offering advice on how to develop a product or service successfully. As both freelancers and entrepreneurs share the need to develop a structure that can help them work independently, this practical course has widespread and unique appeal.

About SimplifyThis

Take appointments directly through your website. Automate and streamline administrative tasks and focus your energy on growing your business with SimplifyThis–two-in-one appointment scheduling and invoicing software for small businesses.

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Four Internet Marketing Techniques for Small Businesses

Today savvy marketers develop informative content across multiple platforms including websites, blogs, and social media networks (to name a few), in order to inform, entertain and support their existing and would-be clients.

Google Globe

Four Internet Marketing Techniques for Small-Business Owners and Tips for Best Practice

While your precise campaign may be influenced by budgetary constraints and the nature of your targeted audiences, the following four techniques are among the most popular for independent business ventures. 

Content Marketing

In simple terms, content marketing is a marketing technique that involves creating and distributing valuable content (in the form of blog posts, videos, webinars, and images to name a few) in order to attract and build favor with a defined audience. In recent years, content marketing has emerged as the acceptable face of search engine optimization (SEO). After a series of Google updates, content marketing is now used by an estimated 93% of marketers, primarily because it helps to promote organic growth and search engine visibility. Content marketing costs approximately 62% less than traditional online marketing methods, while it also generates three times as many leads.

This means that it delivers considerable value to small-business owners, especially those who focus on creating informative and engaging copy rather than relying on a high volume of output that is largely irrelevant to their industry. Essentially, it is important to publish content that helps to develop your authority on a particular sector or topic, as this will serve the dual purpose of delivering value to customers while also organically improving your search engine performance.

Blogging

A company blog provides a central location for the majority of your content.  It can be an excellent vehicle for driving traffic and customer engagement.

The success of your blog relies on the production of regular, quality content, however, as without this you will not be able to engage readers or challenge them to interact with the brand. Your online presence must be continuous, and you should also consider requesting authoritative guest content if you are unable to post directly for a set period of time. It is also worth optimizing your blog as you would a professional website.

Social Media Marketing

Social media has evolved considerably since its inception, with the result that it is now considered as a purposeful and measurable marketing tool. Not only does it offer you real-time access to a global audience, but it also provides a diverse range of mediums that allow for the publication of multimedia content. Sites such as Facebook and Twitter are at the forefront of this movement, while these sites have also recently developed features that enable brands to measure consumer engagement the success of their social media activity.

In terms of best practice, it is crucial that you strive to engage with users on a consistent and regular basis. Statistics suggest that companies respond to just 30% of consumer queries through social media, which means that they are missing out on an opportunity to provide value through the medium and interact with individuals when they are actively engaged with the brand. You should also look to target consumers with both text and imagery when marketing specific products, services or promotions. This approach also helps you to share your content across multiple sites, allowing it to benefit from organic traffic and widespread exposure.

Video Marketing

Video marketing remains an extremely effective short-term strategy, especially as the speeds with which branded promotions are shared within their first three days of launch have doubled during the last three months. So although the lifecycle of the viral video may be shorter than it once was its initial level of exposure has risen considerably since the start of 2013.

While there is some evidence to suggest that some forms of video marketing are more effective than traditional digital advertisements, it is important to pay attention to the content of the video. Engaging and informational videos will have a longer lifespan than those with novelty value, for example, while the inclusion of an innovative and descriptive title will also enhance the organic ranking of your material.

These four Internet marketing methods are all extremely purposeful, and although some may be more relevant to your brand than others they are at their most effective when they are used as part of a comprehensive campaign. The most important feature is that these methods can be accessed by SMBs with even minimal budgets.

Ways to Reclaim Yourself in Your Business

Raise your hand if you started a business so you can have a better quality of life.

peaceful feetNow raise your hand if you’re a full-time entrepreneur who feels that their quality of life has significantly improved as a result of becoming an entrepreneur.

If you try that experiment in a group setting, you’ll often find that most people raise their hands to the first assertion, but not the second one.

Why is that?  Where do we lose our way and fall short of the commitment to experience personal fulfillment in our lives as entrepreneurs?

Image by Danka Peter from Unspalsh

How entrepreneurs lose their passion (and how to reclaim it)

It may be a hard truth to swallow, but if you aren’t selling a product or service, you are not running a business; you’re testing an idea. No matter how well known or well-liked your small business may be, and no matter how involved in your community you may have become as a result of starting your business, it is sales that drives a business.  If your products or services aren’t selling, you are technically not in business.

If most of us accept selling as the primary aspect of business ownership. At the same time, when we make making money our sole focus, or make money  more important than service and feeling, we judge ourselves by our net profits and begin diminishing the value of our “why”

Getting reacquainted with your why

Did you go into business solely for income? Most of us did not, yet most business plan and marketing strategies place little emphasis on the reason we are in business.  Money is indeed a wonderful benefit of being in business, and it’s a vital part of our ability to live well and take care of our families and ourselves.  It is also important that we remember why any job won’t do, and why we’re not just selling random widgets.  Most of us sell something we believe in, and the more we keep ourselves connected with the intricacies and positive feelings associated with what we believe, the more we can infuse that unique set of emotions into our work.

There is a popular saying that goes “people buy into the dreamer before they buy into the dream.” The implication here is that the person doing the selling is the liaison between the product/service and the potential buyer, and as such, should be clear on the value of the product/service. Follow these guidelines to stay connected to why you went into business in the first place — your “why.”

  • Think about your own core values, and seek to consistently infuse them into the flow of your business.  Contrary to popular belief, who you are and how you operate (in business) need not be opposing forces.
  • Don’t be afraid to invest your emotions in your business. Allow yourself to feel good about what you sell, and remember why this particular thing spoke to your heart, and not just how much potential it showed for your bank account.
  • Know your core values. Work to stay aligned with those values as part of your business’ structure, and integrate those aspects of yourself into your work as often and as consistently as possible.  That way, you can reap the dual benefits of income and fulfillment, and you can celebrate yourself and your life daily, whether you sell 1000 products or just one product on any given day.

Ultimately, entrepreneurship offers the reward of fulfillment, whereas many 9-to-5 jobs offer only the financial rewards.  If you started your business because you wanted to apply some of your core values to your work environment, you can do so while still making income a focal point.  The risk is not in the prioritization of money, but in the sole prioritization of money.

About the author:  Akilah S. Richards co-founded The Life Design Agency to help entrepreneurs discover, design and express their unique products and services.  Akilah works primarily with women on the emotional and spiritual life components.

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