High ROI Marketing Channels for Small Businesses

No one has to tell you the goal of marketing is to make a profit – spend your budget, and get enough of a return back to make the company a profit. There are many marketing channels and millions of unique media open to your business, so what do you choose?

This post isn’t long enough to be a marketing 101 course about determining your target market, so let’s cover one traditional mass medium and 2 forms of targeted, new media that your small business budget is able to afford.

The Shotgun Approach

Mass media are described often as “the shotgun approach” or “spray-and-pray media.” The truth is that most mass media are poor for direct response, and they’re much better for branding. There is one, however, from my experience, which gets a message out to lots of potential customers, has a direct response mechanism built in, and is affordable. That is the B2C trade show.

No matter what business you’re in, there are likely several B2C shows that are right up your alley. If you have anything to do with home improvement, there are multiple home shows and interior design shows per year in larger cities. If you’re into technology, there are many tech-focused shows each year. You get the idea – lots.

Plan on paying somewhere around $500-$1200 for a booth in one of these shows. Invest in a well-designed, fabric back drop to draw attention and help brand, and prepare what you’ll share with attendees who are interested.

You might be laughing and saying, “Trade shows are the oldest medium there is. They aren’t innovative or edgy.” You’re probably right, but this argument has 2 things going for it: 1. Your competitors are likely not there because they’ll be thinking the same thing, and 2. Many of these shows get tens of thousands of attendees. Where else are you going to have the opportunity to get exposure by thousands of people per day? Enough said.

Laser-targeted Media

No matter which medium you go with, you’re going to pay for eyeballs. If the medium is impressed upon a large group of people, it’s going to cost more. If few people see it, it will cost less.

Following this line of reasoning, what if you could laser target your exact customers and pay only for those impressions that are legitimate potential customers? Let me introduce you to inbound marketing.

Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing are the media where you are making yourself available to someone who is already in the market for it. While most traditional methods of marketing are disruptive and are trying to interrupt you from what you are doing, inbound pitches you what you’re already seeking out.

I’m quite partial to Internet marketing, and my two favorite channels are pay-per-click advertising (PPC) and search engine optimization (SEO). The ads you see in the sidebar when you do a search online are triggered based on your search query, and they only pay when you click on the ad. This makes for very targeted ads. They may be paying between $.15 and $15 for that click, based on how many competitors are also trying to show up for that key word, but you’ve qualified yourself with a specific search and a click, so it’s more likely to bring them business.

When search engines show you the results you searched for, they use certain criteria to decide which sites to show you. With around 40% of people clicking the first result, it can be very lucrative to be in the top spot for an often-searched keyword. This is where SEO comes in. Either bringing someone in-house to do SEO or hiring an agency can help get your business to a favorable position for certain relevant keywords. Once you’re there, searchers who already have the intent to find your product or service will come upon your business.

Although PPC pays off only as long as you’re paying, SEO has an investment quality to it so once you achieve rankings, they stay consistent for some time with little maintenance.

So there you have it – 3 very different marketing channels that can bring high ROI for your small business!

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AJ Wilcox is a marketing manager who loves data and lead analysis. He’s had excellent results both on and offline and shares his experiences whenever possible. He enjoys competitive running and exotic cars, and lives with his wife and 2 kids in Utah.

5 Ways to Save Your Day

Entrepreneurs, freelancers, and even cubicle dwellers fight a common enemy – time management. Ever get to the office, open your email, blink and your day’s gone? Me too. That’s why I started a quest to find ways to save my day. Here are 5 tools & habits to help you in your battle to save your day.

1. Hey Superman, Where’s Clark?

If you’ve got even one entrepreneurial bone in your body, you’ve probably experienced those 48-hour hauls of straight coding to beat a deadline or all night design sessions to please a client. As invincible as you feel right now, it’s important to remember that your body does have limits (not to mention the fact that taking breaks might have given your body enough rest to finish the coding in 24 hours instead of 48). Sure we all know we should get up and send some blood to our legs every now and then, but does it happen? Regularly? Taking a moment every so often, (dare I say, hour?) to not work, will actually increase your productivity. But how to remember to pause…

Enter “Awareness” – http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/awareness/id435317534?mt=12

There are a plethora of screen-locking, pop-up generating, flat-out-annoying applications out there ready to remind you (and sometimes force you) to walk away from your 32” monitor for a few minutes every hour. The other day, a coworker suggested I check-out an app called Awareness – it’s designed to play the sound of a singing bowl (What’s a singing bowl? Checkout the video on the Awareness homepage.) every hour that you don’t take 5 minutes away. It recognizes keyboard and mouse use, and resets the timer if they sit idle for at least 5 minutes (timing is editable in the preferences). I love this app because if I’m in a groove, it lets me keep plowing through as the gentle humming dies down slowly. The bowl sound then rings again in another hour, helping to gently pressure me into thinking, “Man, I’ve already spent 2 hours on this… 3 hours… OK! 4 hours, that’s it I’m getting up.” It also helps me realize I’ve spent an entire hour on email and gotten nothing on my priority list done. Which, speaking of email…

2. Achieve “Inbox Zero”

The same friend who recommended Awareness also recommended I try out Sparrow email. Sparrow comes in a free ad-supported version and a paid ad-free version. I’m using the free version right now and love it. It’s designed to simplify Gmail beautifully to help “to get to inbox zero.” From my reading through the discussion forums in their support center, Sparrow can also support IMAP & Exchange, so Yahoo users are in luck, however it’s really designed to integrate seamlessly with Gmail accounts. What makes Sparrow special (and a great time-management tool) is its ability to push you through email quickly. The design of the windows, quick replies, and conversation view help me plow through my inbox much faster than when I’m staring at my clunky Gmail page.

3. Schedule Email Time – Instead of Letting Email Schedule Your Time

The problem is, just using a fancy, well-designed email application doesn’t necessarily save your day. So try this: schedule your email time. Seriously. Open your calendar app, set a recurring appointment no more than 3 times per day, dedicating 20 minutes with your inbox. In that 20 minutes, don’t let those emails send you running into a project. If an email reminds you of something you need to work on, open a new browser tab related to that project, then continue through your email. Then at the end of 20 minutes you’ll have a few tabs needing action and can prioritize your time looking at all of them, instead of responding to needs as they come in. (Which might leave your most important clients with the last 5 minutes of your day!)

The goal is to get through as many emails as you can in that 20 minutes. Don’t get distracted by fancy offers from AppSumo or bill reminders that lead you into catching up on your finances for an hour. Treat this as a dedicated appointment on your schedule with a client – email gets all of your focus for 20 minutes. That way email doesn’t get most of your focus all of your day.

4. Name Your Days

My brother taught me this trick. He’d look through what he had to do, then look ahead at his week and name his days based on his 5 biggest priorities. So if you’re a freelance photographer, maybe you’d look ahead and say

  • Monday is “Marketing Monday”: time to catch up with my social followers, update my ads around town, in Google AdWords, etc.
  • Tuesday and Saturday are “Photo-shoot Appointment Days”: go out and take some pictures!
  • Wednesday is “Super Editing Wednesday”: just you, a gallon of coffee and Photoshop.
  • Thursday is “Catch-up Thursday”: have more editing? How about a client that couldn’t do Tuesday or Saturday? This is the day for the extra stuff there wasn’t time for or that got added in later.
  • Friday & Sunday are days off. Crucial to your sanity & longevity. See suggestion #1.

It’s important to leave some flexibility. Obviously, you don’t want to turn down business if the only day they can meet is Marketing Monday – take the appointment if necessary. But running your week with this structure will help guide your responses in conversations from something like, “Uh, ya we can meet whenever” to “I can do Tuesday, what time are you free?” See how much more professional that sounds? Plus, you just defended your focus time.

5. Focus on the Focus

A clean desk is a happy desk. Well, for most people. Some of us need a little bit of clutter to avoid distraction. I know it sounds counter-intuitive but, at least for me, it’s true. If everything is too orderly, I find myself staring at the wall for hours. Hence, high school homework being such a drag for me back in the day.

The point? Find your focus groove. Are you active and extroverted, needing something else going on around you so you can focus? Make the local coffee shop your office. It helps me tremendously to have that buzz around me, as long as it’s a buzz that doesn’t need my attention. Working from home doesn’t work at all for me because at any point a family member might have a question or need my help with something or just want a hug – all things I love doing, which means I gladly walk away from the project I was working on. Maybe a dead-quiet office with an empty desk, a single pencil and yellow pad are your best focus weapons. Whatever the case, figure out what environment contributes to your productivity the best, and hang out there 95% of your working time.

A little tag on suggestion #5 – music. Do you work better with it on or off? Loud our soft? I’ve read that if you do listen to music while working on any project involving writing or reading, instrumental music is the best option as there are no triggers to the linguistic part of your brain. However, some studies have shown that exciting, fast paced music helps people perform at higher levels than normal. Just be aware that music might feel good to have on while you work, but might actually be slowing you down.

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Scott has a business degree from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with an emphasis in entrepreneurial studies. He works remote full-time (from various offices – home office, work office, Starbucks, his Jeep, etc.) trying to get the most out of his day as he spreads the word about HireAHelper and how much money they can save people who are moving. Help him spread the word by connecting on Twitter @hireahelper.

SimplifyThis is helps entrepreneurs and freelancers automate invoicing and scheduling with our Web based appointment scheduling and invoicing software. Follow us on Facebook for tips on time management, small business marketing and entrepreneurship.

 

 

Pinterest for Business: A Primer for Marketers & Entrepreneurs

What was once a small social media site dominated by 20-something women looking for new recipes, the latest fashion trends, and ideas for weddings that might not even be in the near future has now become a great place for local businesses to get links and promote their products or services.

According to a new Shareaholic study, Pinterest now beats YouTube, Reddit, Google+, and LinkedIn for the amount of referral traffic it drives to websites.

Not bad for a site that is still invite-only.

So what does your business need to know to benefit from what Pinterest has to offer? The first thing you need to do is request an invite if you don’t already have a profile. While you can look at other “pins” (images that include a brief description as well as a link back to the image source) Pinterest users have added without having your own Pinterest profile, you won’t be able to upload any pins, which won’t present your business with any benefits now will it?

How should you look for an invite to Pinterest? Check with friends on other social networks that you use. If you’re on Facebook, it’s highly likely one of your friends is on Pinterest and can send you an invite. You can also check Google+ and Twitter to ask someone to send you an invite. You can sign up with either your Facebook or Twitter account and then later unlink them if you wish. However, for business purposes, you probably want to keep your profiles linked together.

Once you score an invite, you’ll be asked to create a username, enter your email address, and create a password for your Pinterest account. Your Facebook profile picture will default as your Pinterest profile photo, but you can change it at any time.

You can change your Pinterest settings to include more information about yourself, including your business’s website and your location. Include some of your keywords in your “About” section on Pinterest, and make sure you include links back to your website as well. You’ll also want to make sure you don’t hide your Pinterest profile from search engines (you’d have to physically change this setting if you want to hide your profile as profile settings default to making sure your profile is visible to search engines). You can also change your profile image to a photo of your business or your logo instead of your Facebook or Twitter profile picture.

Pinterest will then take you to a variety of subjects and ask you to pick a few things that interest you so it can suggest who you should follow. For this example, let’s say I’m a local restaurant. I’d select the “Food and Drink” category when selecting who to follow.

Pinterest will then automatically have your account follow people it thinks you might be interested in following. You can unfollow these people at any time, but it might do you well to see what others in your category are posting on Pinterest.

The next thing you’ll want to do is create what’s known as a board, which is how Pinterest users categorize their pins. For my fictitious restaurant, I’m going to start boards pertaining to things I offer in my restaurant, such as the wines we carry, our appetizers, entrees, and desserts.

There is an easy tool you can install that allows you to grab images online to create pins to add to your pinboards. You can also take screen shots or upload images from your computer to create your pins.

Once you have created your boards, start creating pins. These pins are why Pinterest is becoming such a large source of traffic for websites: It makes it easy for Pinterest users to go directly to the source of information for each image they see.

This is where things can get labor intensive on your end. You will want to create pins for each item that you want to link to on your website. For example, if your restaurant offers eight types of wine, take a photo of each type of wine and create a different pin for each wine on your wine list. If you feature two chardonnays, take a photo of each wine and upload them to your computer where you can create a pin.

To upload images from your computer, select the upload a pin option, add the image, and create a description of the image. You should try to include keywords or terms in all your pins so people know what exactly they are looking at. For example, if you offer chardonnay from Cupcake Vineyards, create a pin that says “Cupcake Vineyards chardonnay available at Amy’s Restaurant in Tampa, Florida.” You can then provide a link back to your full wine list in the individual pin so when people view that pin, they can easily see what other wine options are available at your restaurant.

You’ll want to do this with all your products, or in this case dishes, that your business offers, providing links off the pins for where Pinterest users can go for more information. For example, if your restaurant provides the following dish, take a photo of it, include a description of the dish, and place a link back to your menu that appears on your website.

Adding these pins will involve a lot of your time, but given the amount of traffic that Pinterest is now driving, it could be well worth the investment for your business. Take visually compelling photos of products or services you offer: If you own a yoga studio, take photos of instructors performing different poses and provide a link back to your class schedule. If you own a landscaping business, take photos of some of the lawns you’ve worked on and link to your services.

Aside from all the images of products or services you offer, create a board with pins from images in your area. For example, if my restaurant is based in Tampa, Florida, I’ll want to include iconic images from Tampa to create a local pinboard, which might include photos from the Bay, images from the Buccaneers and the Rays (local sports teams), and any other locally well-known images, such as a photo of the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City (a historic restaurant in downtown Tampa).

You don’t need to have everything available immediately, and you can add to your boards as you go, but to stay ahead of what the competition in your area might be doing, it’s best to start pinning right away. You can also search Pinterest for friends or business contacts that are on Pinterest and start following all their pin boards. Pinterest will display search results based on the terms used in pin descriptions, which is why it’s important you include your location and description of your services with all the pins you create.

Pinterest is growing enormously in popularity for marketers, and some are speculating that it might soon feature no follow links on its website, which could slash the SEO benefits it now provides. While the future of this social network is uncertain, there is one thing marketers know for sure: Right now, it’s driving tons of traffic to websites that are using it properly

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Amy Moczynski is a marketing associate for digital marketing web design company 352 Media Group, managing all the small business SEO and social media services for its small business division. You can follow her on Twitter @amymoczynski.

SimplifyThis is an online invoicing and web appointment scheduling tool designed to help busy entrepreneurs manage administrative tasks so that they can do more of what they love.

Top Tips for Getting More (and Better) Client Referrals

As a proud owner of a small business, you will most likely spend a lot of time working on providing the best possible customer service. You put everything you can into making sure that your customers or clients are pleased with your work, and feel like they’ve gotten top quality service and good value for money. Those clients say they’re happy, and they may even write great testimonials for you if you ask them to, but are they referring new business to you? Having a strong client base is an important part of preventing a crisis for your business, so if you aren’t getting new leads from your existing clients, maybe you should stop to think about why.
Referrals can be brilliant for business. They’re even better than “hot leads” – your sales team don’t have to do any selling to get them as customers, because they come to you already knowing that they want to buy. If you have to then turn them down, because you’re too busy, out of stock, or simply know you can’t deliver on the deadline they want, then when you tell them that, they’ll be impressed by your honesty. Instead of looking unprofessional, you’ll come across as exclusive. That’s something that money can’t buy.

Encouraging Referrals

You can’t force people to refer their friends, but you can encourage it. The best thing to do is to pick your best customers – the ones that provide regular orders, pay on time, and seem switched-on and in touch with the business world. If you’re working for several people, and some of them are older clients you picked up when you were charging low rates, don’t look to those people for referrals. They’ll tell everyone how cheap you are, and the last thing you want is more people buying your services based on price alone.
Once you’ve picked out the quality clients, ask them if they’d be willing to spread the word about your business. If you’re embarrassed about asking, then put together a small promotional pack, and include a special offer with it. This doesn’t have to be a huge discount, but even something such as “refer a friend and you both get 10% off our standard price next month” will help to generate some buzz.

Track Your Leads

Once you have a marketing plan in place, don’t just leave it at that. If you want to make sure that your new plans will work as well as possible when it comes to preventing a crisis, then you’ll need to have as much information as possible available to you. Good marketing and effective crisis controlrequires knowledge of every part of your business – including which of your customers have been the best advocates, which companies tend to talk to each other, which times of year are busiest for you, and which times are likely to be quiet.
Remember that the customer/supplier relationship is almost symbiotic. If you need a customer to survive, then you should try to make yourself indispensable to them too.
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This post was written by James Harper on behalf of Insignia who provide training on crisis control and preventing a crisis. James writes on matters relating to businesses large and small.

Simplifyhis is an all-in-one online invoicing and web appointment scheduling tool that helps small businesses and entrepreneurs to simplify administrative tasks.

Cleaning Your Way to Improved Productivity

If your productivity at work needs a boost, why not try this common sense trick: clean your office! That doesn’t just mean tidying your papers. Cleaning goes deeper, and its one of the most Zen things you can do for yourself at work. Having a hygienic and organized office not only allows you to locate things and work efficiently, it also provides a calm and stress free work environment. Whether you work from home or an outside office, have a happy work environment and avoid falling ill by following these simple steps for maintaining a clean office.

Five Simple Steps to a Cleaner Office

1. Take a look at your trash bin

Working in an office generally means there are armfuls of paper waste created daily as well as post it notes and scrap paper. By the time the end of the day rolls around your desk may look like something out of a preschool. The best thing to do at this point is clear it all into the trash bin to allow for a fresh start the following day. Throwing rubbish out at the end of each day will ensure you never have to deal with months worth of paperwork to sort all in one go and it will become much easier to find important documents quickly. Avoid throwing food scraps into your office bin, they often don’t have lids and could attract unwelcome visitors or create an unpleasant smell. Instead throw food waste into the kitchen or outside  bin.

2. How hygienic is your work space?

Everything looks reasonably clean, but is it? Do you share the phone, computer, or even a stapler with anybody else? It’s common knowledge that germs and illnesses spread faster in an office than fire through a bush. We’re all touching and sharing the same equipment as passing bacteria from one another continuously throughout the day. Although this can’t be eradicated completely you can lower the risk of infection and create a more hygienic workspace by keeping some antibacterial wipes in your drawer. They are easy to whip out and give your desk, pens, keyboard and whatever else a quick freshen up. This is especially important if you have a shared office. Hand sanitizer is also great to keep on your desk.

3. Electrical equipment needs cleaning too

So everything is starting to look clutter-free and that is great, but there is another major part of the office that needs attention. Computers, photocopiers and just about anything electrical needs regular cleaning too. Dust build up in computers causes them to overheat which could eventually result in a short or even a fire. Take the time to dust your electrical devices to prevent losing any important computer documents or the evacuation of your building!

4. Call a professional

Keeping desks clean and keyboards wiped is a good step in the right direction but some areas will still need to be thoroughly disinfected and scrubbed on a regular basis. A professional cleaning service will be able to take care of this by regularly sanitizing kitchens, bathrooms, windows, trash bins and just about anything else that needs to be cleaned. They can also restock toilet paper and towels for your office and usually work after hours to avoid disrupting the work space. Do your research before hiring an agent and ensure they come highly recommended by other businesses. Be careful with trying to save money with a professional cleaner, pay a cheap price and risk receiving a cheap job.

5. Make a habit

There’s no point following these procedures if it’s going to become a yearly ordeal; instead make organization habitual and part of your daily routine. Imagine never having to look through mounds of paperwork for that missing document again? Work focus is important but so is balance. Start with small changes and work from there, for instance you could make a rule to clean your coffee mug and put it away as soon as you take the last sip or always shred unneeded documents immediately instead of leaving it for the following day. Before you know it, office clutter and germs will be a thing of the past.

A clean and tidy office is a healthy and productive office, take the time to achieve a good cleaning routine and you and your co-workers will be well on your way to enjoying a clutter free work-life!

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Author Bio: Jessica is a writer who frequently blogs about cleaning workplaces. She writes for OCS, a commercial cleaning company who offer a full range of services from pest control to washroom hygiene.

 

 

How to Become a Web Entrepreneur in Your Free Time

Creating a startup company doesn’t necessarily need to be a full-time, go-for-broke affair. Oftentimes, your biggest barrier to finally embarking on those “be my own boss” dreams is that you’ve settled too comfortably into your career and can’t give up a stable paycheck. But don’t let that stop you from “side hustle”, which means building out your business ideas while you continue to maintain your regular day job. In particular, pursuing a new business that is web-based allows you the flexibility to dedicate time at your own availability and create something compelling with constrained resources. Here are some tips on how to approach this sort of endeavor:

Learn some technical skills on your own

Whatever is your burning idea for a web company, my first piece of advice is to learn some basic technical skills. When starting out, it is usually cost prohibitive to hire a developer. Not to mention, it is better to have more control over your project rather than be dependent on someone else for something as crucial as tech development.

Many non-technical people get frightened at this notion of actually coding, but I will attest that the core languages of the web are extremely learnable — I’m talking about HTML/CSS, javascript/jQuery, and PHP/MySQL. You definitely don’t need advanced computer science degrees to figure these out. There are tons of great tutorials and resources on the web for learning these including W3 Schools and Code Academy. As a general note, I’d say that learning how to program is perhaps one of the most useful skills you can teach yourself in this modern age of technology and the internet. It gives you an extraordinary amount of versatility in your ability to turn ideas into something real.

Find your stride

There are many key pieces to building out any web business, including development, promotion, maintenance/administration, and so on. Expect to wear a lot of hats and get flustered from time to time. Managing so many aspects of business is certainly no small amount of work, but at the end of the day you will find it incredibly rewarding to be able to actually build out your own influential corner of the web.

The prospect of developing a web business while continuing to sustain a full-time job may seem quite daunting, but you’ll begin to realize that the sacrifice in sweat is far outweighed by passion and entrepreneurial fire to succeed in developing out your project. Still, understand you’re still human and can burn yourself out. Focus intensely but pace yourself wisely. Spread the development of your web business over the course of months, expecting to dedicate about 10-15 hours a week towards making progress. And if life gets momentarily unmanageable, you can always hit the pause button and resume when things slow down (one of the best perks of being your own boss). Also remember to get enough sleep when things get busy. An often-made mistake is to constantly sacrifice sleep time to squeeze out a few extra hours of work — you’ll find out that lack of a recharge just burns you out much faster.

Be smart about your time

Perhaps one of the best ways to prevent burnout is to be intelligent about where you dedicate your energy. It is a common curse of entrepreneurs to be nitpicky perfectionists, getting hung up in small details while bigger and more important things need to happen. Don’t spend weeks tooling away on an inconsequential feature when you haven’t even started thinking about how to promote your business yet. Put some thought into finding ways to make your tasks more streamlined as well. For example, if you bill clients for advertising or services, products like SimplifyThis include invoice/payment features that make your life a lot easier, clearing administrative time sucks from your to-do list and giving you extra energy to focus on the more important aspects of building your business. Additionally, be as shrewd as you can be in planning out viable strategies before moving full throttle in any direction. For example, it is valuable investing time into researching where you will find your most loyal customers and how to make inroads in getting their attention, rather than blindly trying to cast a broad marketing net over the web. Stick to principles of smart business and good time management, and you’ll find yourself on your way to creating something successful of your own.

See Gary Vaynerchuk speak about how to stop doing what you hate at Ted.

Be realistic about where this will take you

Side hustle is fun and exciting, and sometimes it becomes successful enough that you can quit your day job and possibly even grow it into a larger company. But even if you build everything out and are only able to make, say $5k to $20k a year (a high schooler’s salary), still be very proud of your accomplishment. Stick with your day job and gladly rake in the supplemental income (view it as a nice raise that you’ve earned). And above all, take a lot of pride that you’ve created something on your own that is far more compelling than the daily grind of normal work. You’ll also discover that the more you do this, the more you learn, and the more successful you are likely to be in the future.

Outside of his day job as a management consultant, Frank Lo has developed a network of ski research sites that focus on connecting hardcore skiers with useful mountain information such as accurate ski resort vertical drop stats, ski resort trail maps, and more.

SimplifyThis is an online invoicing and web appointment scheduling tool designed to help busy entrepreneurs manage administrative tasks so that they can do more of what they love.

Think Your Way To Business Success

Positive thinking is powerful, in fact, it’s a business phenomenon.  Just ask the hundreds of successful authors and cognitive psychologists who have sold, and made millions pushing the idea that “what you think, you create”. But how do you stay positive when times get tough?

It’s obviously easy to be positive when things are going well for your business.  But how do you keep that Pollyanna glow during a downturn?  Here’s how to stay positive at any time.

Make a list of all the good things that have happened in the last month

No matter how gloomy things are, if you look hard enough you can always find a positive.  By looking at those good things, you may find new opportunities.

Network with positive people

If you’ve got friends in business, try to support one another in times of trouble.  Make each other laugh by sharing hard-luck stories.  When told in a self-deprecating manner, it often becomes clear how small your problems really are.  And laughing is the best medicine!   Sharing your problems with others will also help them.  Their stories may stop you from making the same mistakes.  Also, offer positive advice and encouragement and accept the same back

See to be

This may sound like it has been lifted straight from a positive thinking bible, but it does ring true.   If you can picture yourself achieving success again, your chance of success increases immensely.  Don’t underestimate the power of creative visualization.  When you’re in a positive frame of mind, new positive ideas may come to you that you never would have imagined if you were down in the dumps.

Don’t give up!

Even the most successful people have had their fair share of setbacks.  Learn from them and grow.  We only really learn the right lesson when we make a mistake.

If something negative does happen, try and see the positive in it

For example, if a proposal is rejected by a client, don’t wallow in despair.  Instead, visualize how it will feel when your proposal is finally accepted.  Even imagine getting more money!  Everything happens for a reason – you don’t always find out that reason straight away, but if you think back on past experiences that seemed to be the end of the world at the time, I bet you can find the positive that has come from it!

Remember, it’s only a failure if you don’t learn the lesson.  The lesson will then shape you into the person you need be to succeed.  Go through these tips and put them into action.  At the very least, while going through the list, it will take your mind off your troubles!

Remember that hard work is involved!

Always go forward with gusto and enthusiasm.  Keep promoting your brand so it stands out from your competitors

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Dana Flannery is a specialist in Website Marketing and on page optimization.  Visit her Facebook Marketing Facebook page for free tips and advice.

SimplifyThis is dedicated to creating simple, intuitive, and easy to use solutions for prevalent age-old business problems. Our online invoicing and appointment scheduling software helps small business owners to simplify administrative tasks.

Business IT: When is it Time to Upgrade?

Every business’ technology needs are different. Some companies are heavily reliant on their computer equipment and need increased performance while others can get by longer with more of the same. Some need cutting edge equipment and have the budget to burn while others get by with hardware from a few generations ago, waiting for a price break or a Dell or HP Discount to upgrade. Sooner or later, however, upgrade time comes to all companies. When that occurs depends on several factors.

End of Life

Every piece of hardware has a prescribed lifespan that takes into account normal wear and tear, the typical cycle of new technology and the demands of the environment. When that “best practices” lifespan ends, it’s time to replace the hardware. These are the general rules of thumb:

High-end hardware in a heavy-use environment:

  • Laptops: two years
  • Desktops: three years
  • Servers: three to four years

Lower-end hardware in a non-technology-intensive environment:

  • Laptops: three to four years depending on wear
  • Desktops: five years
  • Servers: four to five years

Capacity

There are times when a business’ computer equipment should be upgraded before the end of the typical lifespan. The first of these is capacity.

Regardless of how well the IT department tries to “future-proof” its technology, increasing demand can lead to hardware reaching capacity before its end of life. Unexpected company growth or increased usage can lead to greater demand on servers, for example. The server that did the job well a few months ago is now underpowered because it’s being utilized more than expected. Laptops and desktops, likewise, may turn out to be not good enough and unable to meet performance demands.

User demand on client-side, server and even network equipment can easily drive a company on its upgrade path sooner than expected. The first step is usually to upgrade existing equipment with more memory, increased storage or even a better operating system. These upgrades often turn out to be temporary fixes, though, especially in high-demand environments. Eventually a full replacement, ahead of schedule, may be necessary.

New Projects

Another upgrade driver is new projects. It’s hard to tell what a business’ needs may be in the future when computer equipment is purchased today. New initiatives may be rolled out that necessitate upgrades long before the expected replacement date.

Businesses are always evolving and technology is sometimes called upon to evolve with them. Maybe the file server now needs a document management application. Perhaps the sales team can’t get by without a dedicated CRM package. It’s even possible that the company’s web servers now need to be brought in-house. Any new initiative like these could require new hardware or upgrades to existing hardware. New projects, like capacity and typical lifespans, drives a business’ need to upgrade its computer equipment.

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SimplifyThis is our pursuit to conquer the complexity of overbearing business processes which should have become simple and efficient with the use of technology. Our online invoicing and appointment scheduling software helps small business owners to streamline administrative tasks.

 

5 Tips for Increasing Your Business Web Site’s Appeal

If you are running a business, you need a great way to attract customers. One of the more common techniques used is to attract customers through the use of the Internet. You can manipulate the content of your site to attract plenty of potential customers, but you need to keep them there once you have them. What are some ways to improve the appeal of your website to customers?

Highlight the Advantages of Shopping Online With Your Business

The best way to get customers to shop with you is to convince them that this is without a doubt the best way to go. Make sure that your customers know that they can get the same great customer service, but with less time spent shopping and at better prices.

Offer free shipping on purchases, or offer coupons for those who shop online. Even if your company is well known outside the web, it will still help increase sales and attract new customers.

Make Your Site User Friendly

This means that your load times should be reasonable and the site can be easily navigated. Offer a site map if need be to help customers find the items they want without having to spend all day looking. Customer service should also be easily available for customers who cannot find what they are looking for.

Have company contact information in case a customer would like to make a complaint, or offer suggestions to make your website easier for them. If the customer has a good shopping experience, it will make it likely that the customer will come back for more of your goods in the future, and will tell others about that experience.

Keep all Information Current

All relevant information that a company should reasonably provide should be kept current. If your company has a new address, that information should be up to date. Make sure telephone numbers and management contact information is correct.

When it comes to pricing, all prices and specials should be up to date so as to not confuse the customer. Not having correct information online just makes the company look foolish and unprofessional. Having inaccurate information can also open a company up to lawsuits and customer complaints that will generate bad publicity overall.

Flexibility of Payment Options is Critical

If you insist on making customers pay with a check, or only accept a couple of different credit cards, it is going to be hard for your customers to pay online. Offering payment options via Paypal, or allowing the use of multiple credit or debit cards will make it easier for your customers to shop with you.

If a customer feels like they won’t be able to complete a transaction, it won’t make it more likely that this customer will shop with you anytime soon.

How Your Site Looks Also Matters

Design and concept is critical for making a website appealing to customers. Do research into different color combinations, and hold focus groups to see what customers prefer. A sleek, modern design will make customers want to spend with your company and do business with you.

If a customer feels like the site looks like it was made in 1994, it might make the company seem outdated. Unless your business goes for a retro-feel as a brand strategy, keeping up with consumer tastes is going to help out.

Any company that is looking to make more money and increase revenues is going to want to have a sleek website that attracts customers. You want to make sure that you have given the customer a good reason to shop on your site, give them an easy shopping experience and then make it easy for the customer to finish out the transaction. A company that can do this for its customers is going to find that it has an easier time being successful at increasing its brand loyalty.

Syndey B. is a writer who loves to educate her readers on all sorts of topics from car insurance laws to auto insurance discounts. When she’s not busy writing, she volunteers at the recreation center teaching computer classes to senior citizens.

 

 

Connecting With Your Local Community to Drive Sales

“Go local” isn’t just a eco-friendly slogan. It’s an opportunity for businesses to cater to the demands of their community, utilizing an eco-movement to brand their business and drive sales.

The one-size-fits-all advertising mentality is no longer relevant, and the “buy local” movement provides the perfect platform for paying individualized attention to your community. Customers expect to have personalized relationships with their favorite businesses—a process small businesses can take on more easily than big-box chains.

As a small business and an important part of your community, you’re perfectly poised to take advantage of this local angle. Here are five ways to cater to your local community and drive sales.

Get social with social media

Your social media efforts will not be a success if you’re pinging customers with tweets that say, “Take advantage of our 10% discount! For a limited time only.” It is not engaging or original.

There are countless resources about social media for small businesses. The bottom line is to be a you must get social.

Think about what you get out of your closest friendships:

  1. Humor
  2. Conversation
  3. Understanding
  4. Support

Show your customers that you care when they have a criticism by listening, validating their complaint, and offering either to change your approach or offer some sort of compensation. For example, if a customer complains about poor customer service, provide them with something from your business at no charge. And don’t fill your social media accounts with generic “10% discount” announcements. Ask questions, get your customers talking! The more you sound like the person who lives next door, the more your customers will want to drop by and hang out.  Not convinced? Here are six case studies showing how social media drives business.

Befriend your competitors

The competitor down the road can be your ally. When pooled together, your shared products and services can promote a far bigger vision that will get your name out in front of customers in a much more powerful way. If you run an acupuncture practice, consider teaming up with a masseuse so your clients can develop a holistic approach to preventative health. If you run a local sporting goods store, team up with your competitor to start a sports league. You can draw off of each others’ expertise and bolster your personal brands by working together. A stronger community means more exposure and better referrals.

Connect with local bloggers

Who needs the local paper these days? Journalists are solicited to on a daily basis, making it more difficult for your business to get coverage. Almost every community has a blog devoted to a topic synergistic to your business. These blogs are run by readers for readers – meaning they often have a very loyal following. Get a nod from today’s taste-makers and you’ll have eager customers lining out the door. Consider hosting contests, giving away products for reviews, and building up a solid partnership with local bloggers. Over time, their readers can become your customers.

Do your research

Market research is essential to understanding your customers. Through surveys, focus groups, in-depth case studies, and more you can target your marketing efforts to drive sales. There are even companies who provide market research assistance to small businesses, allowing them to barter for their services and save money.

If you go the survey route, it can provide secondary benefits besides just data. For example, you could ask questions like, “Were you aware of our customer referral program? Would you like to learn more?” Now, not only did you get them to fill out your survey and provide relevant data, but you have their contact information and permission to contact them regarding an opportunity that could lead them down an additional sales funnel.

Survey tip, tie a giveaway or discount into a survey to incentivize customers to fill it out.

Reach out to local cultural communities

If your business operates primarily within a Chinese community, you’ll want to launch initiatives that will target that segment. Small gestures like catering to their language or recognizing important traditions can go a long way. These outreach efforts are best paired with hyper-local customer reward and referral contests, which acknowledges their tight knit community in your neighborhood.

Adria Saracino is a blogger and outreach consultant for businesses both big and small. When not advising on the best ways to get business coverage, you can find her writing about style at her personal fashion blog, The Emerald Closet.

Simplifyhis is an all-in-one online invoicing and web appointment scheduling tool that helps small businesses and entrepreneurs to simplify administrative tasks.

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