Posted by: stephenfetters | September 1, 2015

Why You Need a Business Plan

If you are a small business owner, I’m sure you’ve been told you need a business plan.  You may have even looked into it and decided you didn’t have time to fill out a 50 page template with charts, graphs, and spreadsheets.   
Make no mistake, you definitely need a plan.  But, you can start out simple (think one page) and then build on it.  Here’s a post that can get you started. 

Why You Need a Business Plan (And the Best Style for You)

 

 

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Why You Need a Business Plan (And the Best Style for You)

This is the first in a four-part series by Hal Shelton, SCORE small business mentor and author of Writing a Successful Business Plan. Topics include why you need a business plan (and the best style for you), four sections every business plan must have (and why they’re important), when is the best time to revamp your business plan, and creating a business plan for a nonprofit.

Running a business without a plan is like running down the street with a blindfold on. Abusiness plan removes the blindfold, creates a map, and prepares you for the certain bumps in the road.

In this post, you will discover what a business plan is, why you need one, and what style is best for your situation.

What Is a Business Plan?

A business plan contains five key elements:

  1. Business goals
  2. The reasons why these goals are attainable
  3. A plan for reaching those goals
  4. Data backing the uniqueness of the products and services to be sold
  5. Supporting information about the organization and team attempting to reach those goals

But it is much more than a document: It is a process to test ideas to determine if they are feasible and financially attractive. During the process, you develop a consistent set of messages, based on facts and analysis, which can be used in discussions with customers, funders, board members, advisers, vendors and employees.

While you may think the only goal of business plans is to seek funding, ultimately, a business plan is written for yourself — to help you set goals, decide whether to start or grow a business, and develop a compelling message of why you will be successful.

As a small business owner, you are probably working 60 to 100 hours a week and still not getting everything done. If you are working this hard, make sure it is worth the effort. Again, this is where a business plan comes in. For example, if you forecast earning $20,000 a year, is this good news? It is good that the number is positive; however, if you live in a large city, have family financial obligations, are paying off bills and saving for retirement, and plan to make this your full-time activity, it is unlikely you will be satisfied with $20,000. Wouldn’t it be good to know this before you invest too much?

What’s Your Style? Finding What Type of Plan Is Right for You

Business plan styles range from informal, back-of-the-envelope sketches to 30-page plans with illustrations and exhibits. Which style you choose depends on a number of factors including are you seeking funding, are you starting a new business or growing an established business, is the business complex and needs much explaining, etc. Common to all styles is a clear message.

Plans for Existing Businesses

Start with a short plan, emphasizing mission and goals, to ensure the venture/project is headed in the right direction for the next year. If you are planning to grow your business, focus on markets, products, and services, in addition to having sufficient resources. If you are solving an operating issue, focus on that particular matter, such as staffing, cash flow, operations, vendors, etc.

For example, a business that is focusing on increasing sales may determine after talking with its customers, looking at its competition, and conducting research, that it needs to enhance the awareness of its products and services in the marketplace and, in particular, the online marketplace. In my book (www.secretsofbusinessplans.com), I share an all-graphic, brief business plan that is ideal in this situation.

If you’re seeking funding from your current bank, use a medium-sized plan in the 7 to 15-page range. Talk with your small business loan officer and see what they require from someone the bank already knows.

Meeting Expectations

Most business plans start with an executive summary and end with the financial statements. In between are sections that describe the business idea operationally. You have the flexibility to arrange this discussion in a manner that best describes your company. However, if the format is too different from what your audience is used to, they may find it difficult to read your plan. Make it organized, clear, and purposeful.

It helps to know your audience and what information they need to act favorably. For example, a customer wants to know you will provide quality products/services and will be around to provide maintenance or upgrades. A vendor wants to know that you will pay invoices on time and be a repeat buyer. A banker wants to know how much money is requested, what it will be used for, how long the funding is needed for, and reasonable projections that you will have the resources to repay the loan in full. Hence, while you may focus on sales, the banker will focus on cash flow.

Usually you will not be in the room when your business plan is read, so it needs to speak for itself and reflect positively on you and your business.

Be able to explain the following clearly and succinctly:

  • What customer problem you are solving, and why your solution is better than current alternatives; sometimes called the value proposition
  • What tasks are necessary for the business to succeed
  • Most important, why you will be successful

Key Lessons

• A business plan is primarily written for yourself. However, it should not be about you — it should be about the market and your customers.

• A business plan is both a document and a process.

• Business plans need to be tailored to your situation and kept current.

• Design your business plan in a manner that best explains your business idea.

• Know your audience and what information they need to act favorably.

• The message is more important that the style.

Next Steps

  1. Note the reasons you are considering writing a business plan.
  2. Describe your audience, what you would like them to do after reading your plan, and what information they need to favorably take that action. The audience could be you, a banker, an angel investor, a key vendor, a potential employee, a contracting official, a key customer, etc.

Next month, we will look at four sections every business plan must have (and why they’re important).

Hal Shelton’s business planning skills were developed as a certified SCORE small business mentor, corporate executive, nonprofit board member, early-stage company investor, and author of The Secrets to Writing a Successful Business Plan: A Pro Shares a Step-by-step Guide to Creating a Plan That Gets Results. Suggestions for additional topics are welcome; email Constant Contact or Hal directly from his website:www.secretsofbusinessplans.com.

Posted by: stephenfetters | August 25, 2015

Why You Need an Operations Manual (Even if There’s Just You)

So you’ve gone into business for yourself.  Congratulations!  I’m assuming you’ve written a business plan.  Everyone says you need one.  Here’s a different question, have you written your operations manual?   
“Huh?” you ask.  “What’s that?”
Read this excellent post explaining what an operations manual is, and why you really do need one.  (Hint…it’s not as intimidating as it sounds)

How To Create An Operations Manual For Your Business

Gary

October 11, 2011
OperationsStartup

Create operations manual for businessHaving a written plan is important to any business, big or small.  Putting the standards you set for yourself and your business on paper will not only help you create consistency for your business, it will help you to avoid a pitfall that many small business owners face;  Being able to maintain the quality the business owner has set for the business as they grow and hire new employees.  

Too many times a business with a rock solid level of service starts to slowly degrade as they grow and new employees are added to the mix.  A written operations manual will help give you the discipline to stay on track as your business grows. Most likely when you were first starting your business, everyone was telling you that a written business plan is a must. You need to get your vision, your plan and financials on paper so you (and your bank) can see that you have thought things through and have a clear plan of how your business will make money.  Once your business is actually up and running, how many times do you think you will refer back to your business plan?  If you are like most people, the answer is somewhere between rarely to never. A business plan is just that, a plan for your business.  It’s an overview of what your business is about and how it will make money.  It’s your vision of how you see your business now and in the future.  While this is very important, you also need a written plan on how you will run your business, day in and day out.  This is where a written operations manual becomes so important.

What is an Operations Manual?

An operations manual is something different for every business.  For some it may be a 1000 page, phone book sized manual, detailing every little detail of the business in a step by step guide.  For others, it may simply be a series of checklists that are stored in a binder or as an online document. The only requirement is that you have some sort of written plan that you and your employees can reference when they need to know something. While many operation manuals will be chock full of details such as the company’s mission statement, values, organizational charts and sections for each key component of a business, you do not need all of that.  At least not when you are just starting out.  I think this is the misconception that many people face when it comes to writing an operational plan for their business, it does not have to be large and comprehensive, it just needs to be useful.

“Planning is an unnatural process; it is much more fun to do something. The nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise, rather than being preceded by a period of worry and depression” (Sir John Harvey-Jones)

Why Do You Need an Operations Manual?

There are lots of reasons for having a written operational plan for you business, the ones I feel are most important are: Create a standard for your business.  For the most part, customers would prefer consistency from a business over random and inconsistent acts of awesomeness when it comes to customer service.  If the owner gives a customer one experience but your employees give that same customer (usually not as good) another experience, it will confuse and diminish the quality of the business in the eyes of that customer. A written plan will make sure everyone knows what expectations you have set for your business and employees. Better trained employees.  If you are like most small business owners, you probably walk new employees through every step personally, explaining what needs to be done and what you expect from them.  Do you do the same exact thing for every employee that you hire?  Probably not.  What will happen if your manager needed to start training new hires? Would the training be the same? A written training plan will ensure that all new hires are given the same information to help create consistency among all of your employees.  It will also allow you to delegate some training responsibilities to other employees without diminishing the impact of that training. Easier to scale your business.  To take a quote from Michael Gerber in The E-Myth Revisited, “How is it that McDonald’s can deliver on it’s customer promise in every one of it’s 20K plus restaurants, each and every day, when a small business owner can’t do it with a single location?”  You can say alot of things about McDonald’s but the one thing you can’t say is that they are inconsistent. When operating multiple locations, or even franchising your concept, it’s impossible to deliver on your brand promise without a comprehensive operational plan in place. Make your business more valuable.  One day, for various reasons, you may need to sell your business. Telling a prospective buyer “This is the way I do it” and “This is what I tell my employees” is much less valuable in the eyes of a prospective buyer than “Here is the way we operate our business”. Nobody is going to want to buy the ideas in your head, they want something tangible, proof that your business is an actual business, not you running around telling everyone what to do. An operations manual will be proof that there is an actual business going on here, something that can run with or without the owner present.  Now that is valuable.

“Reduce your plan to writing. The moment you complete this, you will have definitely given concrete form to the intangible desire” Napoleon Hill

What Should You Put In Your Operations Manual? The most important thing when writing an operations manual is for it to be useful, otherwise it won’t get used.  Start with the information that you will need to reference the most and would like to keep handy.  Whenever I help to create a written plan for one of my clients, I usually start with the following:

  • A contact list for all employees, vendors, emergency numbers, insurance company, landlord (if you have one) and anyone else that may need to be contacted in case an issue arises and the owner is not present.
  • A series of checklists on the basic functions of the business.  Create checklists for cleaning, opening/closing the business, supplies and any other task that requires easy and repeatable steps to follow.
  • How to guides.  Create simple “how to” guides that you and your employees can reference in various situations.  If the POS (Point of Sale) machine crashes on you in the middle of the day, do your employees know what to do?  Create a quick guide outlining the steps on what they should do if this should happen.  What if an employee needs to call in sick?  There is an injury in your store?  Write simple 1-2 page guides on what needs to be done in each case.
  • Policies.  While i’m not a huge fan of policies (i know they are needed, they are just not always used for the right reasons), outline your customer policies (or promises if that’s what you call them) so all of your employees are on the same page. Refund, exchange and payment methods are all good policies to start with.

Once these sections are complete I like to concentrate on the daily operations of the business.  I start here because this is (hopefully) the first part of the business that you can start delegating to others.   Just like in the “how to guides” above, start creating “mini guides” of your daily operations.  It may include ordering procedures, daily tasks that your manager must ensure is completed every day or anything else that is relevant to your business that needs to be done on a daily basis. If you only created the above sections for your business and stopped there, you should be proud of yourself because most small businesses will go their entire existence and never even get that far. As you can probably see by now, a written operations manual is made up of a series of short sections that are strung together to create a bigger manual.  It’s actually very easy to start creating one, just start with the sections outlined above and you will be on your way to having your own written plan for your business.

Resources

Creating your operations manual.  There is no easier way that I know of to create training guides than with Screen Steps. One of the biggest headaches in creating a training manual is inserting screen shots and images, if you use Microsoft Word you know what i’m talking about.  Having to take a screen shot, download the image, insert it in the document and then re-size it is a major pain and consumes alot of time. Screen Steps let’s you  snap a screen shot of your computer screen and automatically inserts the image into your document in about 3 seconds without having to download the image first.  Screen Steps is the reason that I actually enjoy creating how to guides for this blog. Hosting your operations manual online.  I’m a fan of Google Apps and use it for all of my businesses.  What I do is upload the finished documents to my Google Docs account and then create a password protected intranet site using Google Sites to host the manual. It can then be easily accessed by any employee from any computer.  Both products come free with a Gmail or Google Apps account.  I hope to come out with a video tutorial shortly outlining exactly how to set this up so stay tuned. Three Ring Binder.  After I upload each document, I print a copy to place it in a three ring binder which is left in a spot where employees can easily reference it when needed.  I use page inserts to keep the pages from tearing and use tabs for easy reference.

Start Creating Your Manual

I have outlined why and how to start creating your own operations manual for your business.  As you can see it’s easy to get started, you just have to start. Making it relevant to your business and employees is the key. Your operations manual will never be complete, it will always need revising so don’t think of it as something you need to do all at once.  When you find things that work for your business, take the time to write them down and add them to your manual a little at a time.  It should grow and change over time,  just like your business.  I usually take a few hours quarterly to update and revise my manual. If you have questions about getting started, shoot me an email at gary[at]3bugmedia.com.  I respond to all email requests.  Cheers.

Posted by: stephenfetters | August 18, 2015

How to Keep Track of All Those Contacts

You’ve gone into business for yourself.  You are beginning to build a client base.  Suddenly you think, “Holy Cow, how am I going to keep track of all these people?”  The answer is a good customer relationship manager (CRM) program.  There are lots of them out there, so how do you choose.   Attached is an excellent article that should help you decide.  
(As a side note, I use Nimble and have found it easy to use and very reasonably priced)

Image via sugarcrm.com

Image via sugarcrm.com

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software is a must for every B2B business and most consumer businesses. CRM software enables a business to record contact information, track interactions, and plan follow-up tasks with clients. Businesses that don’t have CRM software do the same task much less efficiently, through a combination of email inboxes, spreadsheets, and calendars. Implementing a CRM system tends to lead to greater revenue, without a company having to spend more on advertising or hire more salespeople.

There is no wrong time to start using a CRM software; however, the sooner the better. The most difficult part of implementing a CRM system is getting all the data into the system. The less data that exists outside the system, the easier it is to get started.

Choosing the right CRM for your business can be a difficult task, especially given the hundreds of options, the differences in features between providers, and the wide range of price points. To help lift the burden, we’ve pinpointed five questions you should ask to narrow down the CRM search.

1. How many employees do you have?

The more users on a system, the more you have to worry about staying organized and keeping information secure. If you have more than 10 users or so, you’ll probably want the ability to change access privileges so you can control what each user can view and edit. If you have multiple sales teams, you may also want territory management, which lets you divide sales people into teams so they aren’t all sharing leads or clients. You can find both these features in Zoho CRM.

If you have under 10 users, then these issues probably aren’t as big of a concern. Rather than deal with the additional cost and effort of setting it up, you could use a simpler system like Insightly or Nimble.

2. Do you need it for sales, marketing, customer service—or all three?

While CRMs are most commonly used by salespeople to manage their deals, systems like Zoho, SugarCRM, and Salesforce can also be used to handle customer service cases and online marketing campaigns.

For example, you can have customer service tickets automatically imported from a form on your website. A customer service agent can then log in to view these tickets, send a response to resolve the issue, or pass it along to another agent. Likewise, you can import leads from web forms and have these prospective customers added to email campaigns.

If you’re looking for just online marketing and sales tools, Hatchbuck offers robust online marketing tools that are also a bit more user friendly. By tracking user behavior such as what links they clicked, or (if you’re an online store) what purchases they made, you can build a detailed profile of customer preferences. You can use this data to send more personalized marketing materials, such as a coupon for a product they’ve shown interest in.

If you only need basic contact and sales management, then you can keep things simple by using Insightly or Nimble.

3. Do you want it to work with other systems?

Do you want to be able to quickly send sales information to your accounting software? Or perhaps you want to sync your contact book with your email marketing service?

These are just two of many ways you can integrate your CRM with other systems. Realtors, online stores, contractors, developers, human resources departments, and project managers all have special software they use day to day. Integrating with a CRM can mean less tedious work and reduce the chance of errors when you transfer data between systems.

Salesforce boasts the largest number of integrations and add ons of any CRM, with over 2,600 available in their app store. Zoho and SugarCRM also support many third party integrations. However, even if the software you want isn’t supported, you can potentially build it yourself if you or someone you know is handy with code. Zoho and Salesforce have an API and SugarCRM gives you access to the source code.

Insightly and Nimble have fewer integrations, but they can still be linked with popular software like Quickbooks, Mailchimp, or Evernote.

4. What additional features do you need?

There’s loads of additional features you may want and only be able to find in certain CRMs. For example, many businesses today want to be able to monitor social media channels to find mentions of their businesses, or see what their clients are up to. You’ll find this in Zoho and Nimble, although Nimble takes it much further by combining all your social media and email connections into a single contact book. Nimble then scans these channels for opportunities to engage.

Insightly includes project management tools, which can be great for businesses who want to track the progress of an order after the deal has been finalized. Zoho also includes project management, but you have to install it as an add on. Zoho actually offers many other business programs, such as accounting, website visitor tracking, help desk and more, which can all be linked with the CRM.

Bitrix24 takes a unique approach by adding collaboration tools to their CRM. You can IM or video chat with other users, collaborate on documents, and post statuses with comments, much like Facebook. The best part, however, is that there’s a free edition for up to 12 users.

5. How much can you afford to pay?

A simple rule to remember—the more advanced features you want, the more you will have to pay. Here’s the pricing information for the CRMs we mentioned in this article:

  • Insightly is $7 / User / Month
  • Nimble is $15 / User / Month
  • Zoho CRM is $35 / User / Month for the Enterprise Edition
  • SugarCRM is $65 / User / Month for the Enterprise Edition
  • Salesforce is $125 / User / Month for the Enterprise Edition
  • Hatchbuck is $300 / Month for an unlimited number of users
  • Bitrix24 is free for up to 12 users

Conclusion

Answering these five questions will get you started on the search for a CRM. Remember that each additional feature tends to raise the cost and complicate setup. Rather than fumble with advanced features that won’t even be used, stick with what you need and you’ll likely see a lower price tag.

Which CRM does your business use, and have you found it suits your needs? Share your experiences in the comments. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Marc Prosser is the publisher and co-founder of Fit Small Business, a “how to” publication for small business owners. Prior to starting Fit Small Business, Marc Prosser served as the Chief Marketing Officer of FXCM (NYSE:FXCM). During his eleven year tenure as CMO, the company grew from under 10 people to over 500 employees located throughout the globe.

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Posted by: stephenfetters | August 14, 2015

10 Key Elements Needed to Build Your Own Website

Are you a small business owner  who is considering building a website?  Don’t be fooled by those offering a free “one size fits all” deal.  Doing it yourself requires paying attention to these critical elements outlined in the attached post.

Building Your First Website? Here Are 10 Key Elements You Should Consider First

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What makes a great website?

Forget Hamlet and all that “to be or not to be” nonsense – how to build a great website is the real question that many web designers, developers, bloggers, and website owners have struggled with. There is no magical recipe or a one-size-fits-all solution, as the definition of a “great website” can depend on various factors, like your skills, budget, and niche.

However, there are a few general guidelines and practices that you should consider on your quest to build a great website. I’ve presented them here in the form of bite-sized tips. You can use them as a checklist to help you optimize and launch your first website. If some of these tips seem like common sense, that’s because they are.

A great website is not detached from reality; it makes the most of its platform’s limitations and accommodates the needs of its audience. Here’s what you need to make it:

Clear Vision and Purpose

What’s the purpose of your website? Why are you making it?

Every website planning session should start with these questions, and yield straightforward answers in the end. Your mission should be clear to the visitors of your website.

If you’re selling a service or a product, focus on it. If you’re trying to establish yourself in a niche, implement some tried-and-true ways to achieve that. Creating a personal blog about your interests? Clearly state what they are.

Your visitors should never have to guess what the website is about.

Smart, Content-Aware Planning

While you’re still in the planning stage, think about what kind of content you want to produce, and decide what will be your website’s flagship content. Then, design your website around that choice, so that it adapts to the type of content.

Are you a photographer who wants to create an online portfolio? Build a gallery-style website with support for high-resolution images. Do you just want to write a blog? Don’t waste time building from scratch, use an existing blogging platform likeTumblr or WordPress. If all you need is a simple landing page, you could try anUnbounceInstapage or Pagewiz template.

Dynamic SEO Strategy

Content and design are two fundamental elements of every website. Useful, engaging, and shareable content drives visitors to your website, while attractive, functional design makes it easy and enjoyable to consume the content. But to get to your website, people have to find it first, which is why you have to optimize your keywords, titles and topics for search engines.

The “dynamic” part of the story means that you can’t just set up a plugin and trust it to do everything for you. SEO is a process, an activity that requires effort and a lot of continuous research. Track your traffic, measure engagement and learn what brings people to your website.

Keep up with search engine algorithm updates and keyword optimization trends. In short, make sure your strategy can be quickly modified or changed if it becomes necessary. And for the love of all that’s holy, don’t make your content sound like it was written by a robot!

If you are planning on building your site with WordPress, we have previously published a comprehensive SEO guide for beginners, you should check it out.

High-Quality Stock Materials

The Web of today is predominantly visual, and you wouldn’t be wrong if you said that images are as important as written content. They complement the text, break it up to keep the reader interested, and provide additional information in the form of diagrams, screenshots, and infographics.

While you could always create your own graphics, sometimes you won’t have enough time or inspiration, which is why it’s important to find a reliable source of stock materials. You could try PhotoDune for high quality stock images andGraphicRiver for stock graphics. Another option is to hire a professional for completely tailor-made graphics.

Wherever you source imagery, just make sure to attribute images properly and to check if the license allows you to use them for commercial purposes.

Flawless Performance

A great website doesn’t only look right; it also works right. Frequent downtime, broken links and server errors can damage the reputation of your website and drive the visitors away. One of the most important steps in the website building process is choosing a good hosting service.

Ideally, it should offer several pricing plans so that you can pick the one that suits you best, and come bundled with handy tools and support for website maintenance. You can also improve the speed of your website by optimizing images for the Web and tweaking the options of your CMS (but only if you know what you’re doing!).

If you would like to learn more about optimising images for the web, Ben Smithett has published a comprehensive post here.

Responsive Layout

Layout is one of those elements that can make or break the visitor’s impression of your website. It should be eye-catching yet uncluttered, and present your content in a logical way. You don’t have to stick to a traditional top-down paradigm – feel free to experiment and create unconventional website layouts. Grids are a popular choice these days, and they are relatively easy to customize.

If you’re building a website with WordPress, you can choose from hundreds of fantastic pre-made themes with all kinds of layouts. Another solution is to use aresponsive landing page template that will look great on mobile and convert well.

You should also consider responsive design. The principles of responsive design boil down to a layout that scales across devices and looks equally amazing on computers, tablets and smartphone screens. By having a responsive layout, you will save yourself the trouble of creating separate “mobile” versions of the website, and maybe a few coins, too.

Sensible Navigation

Navigation goes hand in hand with the layout, so it makes sense to work on them at the same time.

Essentially, menus should not be confusing or complicated. Avoid too many sub-menus with multiple levels, and keep the main navigation visible and easily accessible. When you start creating content for your website, think about how you want to categorize and tag it. Make it easy for visitors to find what they’re looking for by including a search field in a prominent part of the website.

Smart, Content-Aware Planning

Adding a sitemap is also a good idea. On the other hand, don’t add a footer just for the sake of it – instead, make it contain useful information. Which brings us to the next point…

All the Information

If your website doesn’t contain relevant information about you, your company and/or product, and your mission, it’s not a great website. Who are you? Where is your company based? Which products and services do you offer, and under what conditions? How can people contact you? Remember that all this information is important to your visitors, and it helps you establish your brand.

Provide simple contact forms, general information about your business, and an unambiguous privacy policy. Describe your terms of service and include a FAQ page. If you’re an author or a blogger, why not create an entire “About Me” page? It can double as a portfolio or a collection of links to your previously published works.

Visual and Typographic Flow

Throughout this text, you might have noticed that tweaking the visual components of a website has been emphasized as extremely important. The reason for this is simple: a great website is a careful balance of quality content, a functional, optimized backend, and an attractive design. In other words, you can write the best blog posts in the world, but if your website is slow and looks like something from the 1990s, it will be hard for you to reach a wide audience.

Visual and Typographic Flow

Luckily, making a website pleasant to read is not as hard as it might seem. There are many free, online tools to help you build color schemes and learn about color theory. Likewise, it’s not that hard to figure out the basics of typography.

There are many tutorials and resources that will teach you about optimizing font size, choosing the right line spacing, and establishing a vertical rhythm. In the end, it’s all about flow and harmony – a great website is a whole whose parts fit together perfectly.

Backup and Automation

Let’s say you did it – you’ve created a great website. You’ve poured in hours and hours of hard, creative work, and you’re extremely happy with the result. The last thing you need is to lose it all.

But as you probably already know, accidents can happen, and it’s too easy to lose data. That’s why you have to prevent it by doing regular backups of your website. You don’t have to do it manually; in fact, most website maintenance tasks can be automated, and you should make use of some great tools, plugins and code snippets available for free.

Moreover, similar products exist to help you optimize, clean up, and generate HTML and CSS code, and if you ever get stuck in your web development endeavors, you can consult these handy cheat-sheets.

Of course, you’ll find countless similar advice-dishing lists on the Web. It’s up to you to decide which suggestions you’ll embrace – after all, it’s your website. Perhaps the most important aspect of a great website is that you, as its owner and creator, are satisfied with it.

To get to that point, you don’t have to follow all the rules; in fact, sometimes it might be better to break a few. Just remember what Shakespeare wrote: “All’s well that ends well.”

Over to You

How does your website measure up against these criteria for a great website? Are there any more factors that you would add? Please share your thinking in the comment box below.

Daniel Katz

Posted by: stephenfetters | August 11, 2015

How to Use A/B Testing to Improve Performance.

If you are a small business owner with a web site, you should be constantly testing your content and your pages for performance.  One way to do this is with A/B testing.  The attached article gives an excellent explanation of what A/B testing is, and how to go about it. 

How to Use A/B Testing to Optimize Your Small Business Website

Posted by Lisa Hephner on June 28, 2013 in Tip of the Week

AB test schemeIn many ways, your small business website is your virtual front door.  The first impression you make when a customer peers inside can be the difference between a long and profitable relationship and a missed opportunity.  It can also be the difference between turning away an unsuitable customer and wasting your time on an unprofitable interaction. Thus, it is critically important that you devote the time and resources necessary to making sure that your website is both compelling to the customers you want to reach, and also quickly informs unqualified visitors that they are in the wrong place.

While it would be nice if you could magically create the perfect site out of thin air, the reality is that trial and error and lots of testing is the only way to optimize your website.  There are many schools of thought on optimization, and many techniques you can use.  However, the most simple is a basic A/B test.

What Exactly Is an A/B Test?

An A/B test works just the way it sounds—you compare the effectiveness of page A to the effectiveness of page B.  In order to do this, you need to decide on the action you want a visitor to take and what you want to get from that action, and then evaluate how well the web page produces that result.  Typically you test one element at a time, and once you have a result you can go on to the next element.  For instance, you might test the form headline first and then test the color of the submit button.

How Does an A/B Test Work?

Here’s a simple example.  If you run a tree service business, you might test two request quote form headlines, “Request Quote” (Page A) and “Request Tree Service Quote” (Page B).  You would then determine how many form submissions you got from each page, and how many actual sales you got from each page, in order to determine which call to action generated the most revenue (not just the most submissions).   (For example, while page A might generate more requests, it is likely that page B will generate more qualified requests because the form headline is more descriptive of your services—but you won’t know for sure until you test.)  A/B testing can be just that simple, and all you need to do to implement it is to put a hidden field in the form so that you know from which page it came.

How Do I Set Up an A/B Test?

However, the key to a statistically significant test is to randomly assign either the A or the B page to your site visitors during the same time period.  For this you need some type of testing tool.  If you set-up a free Google Analytics account, you can use Content Experiments to create and track A/B tests, but this will require some programming.  There are also a number of paid options available that provide A/B testing using simple interfaces that require no programming knowledge to use. A free 30 day trial is available from Visual Website Optimizer, and requires only your name and email address to create an account.  Optimizely also offers a 30 day free trial, but you’ll need to provide a credit card to sign-up, and remember to cancel if you don’t want to continue after the trial period.

For a great introduction to A/B testing, read A/B Testing: A Beginner’s Guide to Website Testing.  Professional Website Optimization with A/B Testing: Tips and Tools provides tips for implementing tests, as well as overviews of testing software including A/B test plugins for WordPress and Ruby on Rails. And, a recent post from internet entrepreneur Neil Patel, 7 A/B Testing Blunders That Even Experts Make, describes common pitfalls to avoid.

Take a few minutes today to think about what you really want your website to do, then formulate your tests.  If you’re not sure where to begin, check out the Landing Page Analyzer and the A/B Idea Fox from Visual Web Optimizer for suggestions to get you started.

 

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Image Credits:
AB test scheme by Daniel Waisberg, on Flickr

– See more at: https://paysimple.com/blog/how-to-use-ab-testing-to-optimize-your-small-business-website/#sthash.nsq1XKW1.dpuf

Posted by: stephenfetters | August 4, 2015

Want More Sales? Improve Your Customer’s Experience!

As small business owners we should be constantly looking for ways to improve customer experience on our websites.  After all, this is what will keep customers coming back.  In the attached post, there are 5 simple things you can do to enhance your customer’s experience. 

Whether online or offline, a customer’s first time experience with your business is incredibly important and has a very large impact on the likelihood that they return again.

On average, loyal customers are worth up to 10 times as much as their first purchase. (White House Office of Consumer Affairs)

So how can you ensure that wherever new customers discover your business they get the first time experience they deserve and that will keep them coming back? Just follow these five techniques and you’ll own your customers’ first time experience.

1. Online: Simplify Your Site

One of the most common reasons potential customers leave your website before purchasing, submitting an email address to a form, or inquiring for more information is that they couldn’t find what they were looking for.

Make sure your homepage is easy to understand and navigate. Not sure if it is? Check out Peek, a free service of Usertesting that provides 5 minute videos of real people using your site and offering comments. It’s incredible what you can learn about your website from hearing someone else experience it for the first time.

Peek-by-Usertesting

2. Offline: Get To Know Your New Customers

It’s pretty easy to notice a new customer in your physical business. They may look a little lost as they try to understand the products/services you are offering, your prices, and even the physical layout of your store. As a small business owner, you should aim to engage these new customers with a 10 second introductory story letting them know what your business is all about.

Your story could go something like this, “Hi, have you ever been to [business name] before? Great, thank you for stopping by, we specialize in [Product/Service] and I’ll be here to answer any questions as you walk around if you need me.”

Approximately 9 out of 10 US Consumers say they would pay more to ensuresuperior customer service. (Customer Experience Impact Report by Harris)

Make sure you deliver that superior customer service from day one to keep your new customers coming back.

3. Online: Focus Your Website Visitors on What Matters

What’s the most important part of your site? Is it a contact form where users enter an email address? Is it your store where customers can purchase products? Or is it your blog, where you write regularly about topics related to your business?

Make sure you direct new users to the actions you want them to complete on your site. You can accomplish this goal by putting these elements higher up on your homepage, reorganizing your site navigation, or using a free welcome bar like Notibar. Notibar allows you to create a custom welcome bar that matches your site design and is impossible for new visitors to miss! Add a promo code for an even more compelling offer.

20banner



4. Offline: Offer a Discount on a Future Purchase

One of the easiest and best ways to improve your first time experience is to include a big discount on a future purchase. Although it may seem you’re reducing your future profitability, the truth is actually quite the opposite.

It’s 7 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep a current one. (White House Office of Consumer Affairs)

Knowing this, it’s definitely worth the small investment of providing discount on a future purchase to turn a new customer into a repeat one.

5. Online and Offline: Communicate With Your Current Customers

As a small business owner, you are also the spokesperson of your business. Make sure to communicate with your customers over Twitter, Facebook, or email on a regular basis. Tell them about your new products and services. Thank them for their loyalty with a discount offer they can redeem in store or online. Wish them happy holidaysduring the holiday season. This type of continuous messaging will help convert first time customers into long-time advocates of your business.

Finally, make sure your customers have an outlet to share their experiences, both positive and negative, with you.

If you can resolve a complaint in a customer’s favor, they will do business with you again 70% of the time. (Lee Resources)

A new customer’s first time experience with your website or your brick-and-mortar business is incredibly important and can mean the difference between a one-time small dollar purchase and a lifetime of loyalty. Given these high stakes, it’s essential to treat the first time experience with the care and support it deserves.

How do you make your new customers feel special? How do you convince customers to return to your store time and time again? We’d love to hear what has and hasn’t worked for your small business!

About the Author: Alex Mitchell is a Product Manager at Webs and Pagemodo for our Social Media Marketing and Local Listings products. Find more from Alex on Google+.

Posted by: stephenfetters | July 31, 2015

How Small Business Owners Can be More Efficient

As small business owners we are all pushed for time.  There just never seems to be enough to get it all done.  George wondered if I could find some apps that could help make us more efficient.  

Here is the first in this series.  I will also be on the lookout for things we can add to our websites to make them more efficient. 

Thanks George for the idea, and the support.

We’re always on the lookout for small business tools and apps that will increase productivity while preserving our sanity. So we decided to reach out to fellow small business owners to hear what they recommend.

The number of replies wowed us, as did people’s passion as they wrote to us about their favorites. While we encountered many interesting apps and tools, a few names rose to the top because they were the ones that multiple people from myriad industries brought up repeatedly.

You’ll find the results below along with comments from some of the business owners who recommended these business tools.

Slack

Slack’s tagline is “be less busy,” an apt description for this team communication platform. According to its website, Slack gives you “everything in one place, instantly searchable, available wherever you go.” Use the free version (which includes an unlimited number of people) or try one of the reasonably priced upgrades to access other features.

slack-screen-shot

What small business owners are saying about Slack…

Bill Fish is the founder and president of ReputationManagement.com. He says, “We absolutely love to use Slack. It is such a great tool to keep in close contact with the entire staff as well as any outside consultants. It’s super easy to set up groups to keep the conversation only to the relevant parties. In 2015, with so many people working remote, Slack has been a lifesaver for us.”

Yale Zhang is the CEO of Safe Heart, which boasts the first smartphone pulse oximeter powered by the headphone jack. A new user to Slack, Zhang says, “It has made communication easy, clean, and integrated between our office in Atlanta and our other office in China…the ease-of-use and integration this application provides to our other productivity software has made this an indispensable tool in our day-to-day operations.”

Myles Anderson, founder and CEO of BrightLocal.com (trusted tools for local SEO), also loves Slack’s ability to seamlessly integrate with other software. He explains, “We use it to pull in information and alerts from various applications like Zendesk, JIRA, Airbrake (there are tons more) so that it acts like an information hub for our business. Rather than checking each of these applications independently, we just keep an eye on Slack and have all the alerts in one place.”

Shane Park works for Coinplay.io, a PC digital games store that partners with game developers and publishers. He calls Slack his company’s “life blood.” Park says, “We’re a small team of three—all remote—and staying in contact is crucial to meeting goals and adapting to events. Our developer has created webhooks from our own website to Slack so that we can stay on top of important events, such as possible fraud and when users make requests to our server. We also have webhooks for social, customer service, and tasks so that we always have a pulse of what’s going on.”

Trello

Trello describes itself as “the free, flexible, and visual way to organize anything with anyone.” The free version is quite popular, but if you need more support and added features, you can check out Trello Business Class and Trello Gold.

trello-screen-shot

What small business owners are saying about Trello…

David Henry, founder of lifestyle apparel company Riverpoint Threads, can’t say enough good things about Trello. “I use it to schedule out my days, weeks, and months as well as set my monthly and yearly goals. It allows you to set due dates for any projects or deadlines you have, you can collaborate with several team members on it, and much more. It is a very versatile app that you can use on your smartphone or computer to keep your productivity at a maximum. It is the only app I have found that is exceptionally easy to use and has no limits.”

Justin Kerby, who works for marketing agency CAVE Social, says his company uses a variety of productivity tools, but his favorite is Trello. “Trello allows us to visualize our daily, weekly, and monthly tasks and prioritize as needed. Trello allows us to create a digital Kanban board so that we can see what is done, what needs to be done, and what we are currently working on.”

As a project coordinator with Yoko Co., a website design firm, Staci Jansma knows how important it is to effectively manage teams. Jansma also appreciates Trello’s visual boards for tracking and managing projects. “We can see at a glance where they are at.”

Trevor Ewen, a partner for a small software firm called Neosavvy, says that when developing and releasing products on a client deadline, productivity is key, and Trello gets the job done. “Trello is immensely intuitive, great for collaboration, and easy to customize for the needs of a project. I enjoy the tool so much I even use it for spring cleaning in my home. It keeps me on task and provides measurable goals to hit.”

Wunderlist

Wunderlist describes itself as “the easiest way to get stuff done.” It’s the ultimate to-do list app and has legions of fans since it works on all major devices. You can create a free account or upgrade to Wunderlist Pro or Wunderlist Business.

wunderlist-screen-shot1

What small business owners are saying about Wunderlist…

Srajan Mishra, who works for manufacturing and exporting company TSI International, calls Wunderlist a “must have” for all small and medium business owners. Mishra explains, “In today’s multi-channel and multi-device world, it is so important to have a to-do app that can be synced across all kinds of devices. Wunderlist is available for android, iOS, Windows mobile, Mac OS X, Windows desktop, on the browser as well as a Chrome extension. ”

Lisa Chu, owner of a children’s formal wear brand called Black N Bianco, is also a fan of Wunderlist. She says, “I love this app because it’s a lot more efficient than a notepad, and I can add my employees onto Wunderlist and assign them a task directly from this app. Without this app, my life would be very unorganized and my productivity would suffer because of it. I cannot see my business continue to grow let alone survive without Wunderlist.”

TeamworkPM

Teamwork is all about “project management made easy.” It offers a variety of pricing plans, including ones geared towards small businesses.

teamwork-screen-shot-home

What small business owners are saying about TeamworkPM…

Dawn Martinello runs Monday Morning VA, where she teaches and helps entrepreneurs how to run successful, profitable, and meaningful businesses. Martinello says her workday starts and ends with TeamworkPM because it helps her stay focused (she loves the app’s built-in timer). She adds, “The calendar system allows for different events to be color coded, which means I can pop everything from staff vacations to launch details into the calendar and have it all show up color coded in their dashboard. For extra bonus points, it allows me to add privacy options to the events, too!”

Shareef Defrawi owns Bonafide, a digital marketing agency in Houston. He’s a fan of TeamworkPM and has an interesting way of describing it. He says, “If you’ve heard of Basecamp, it’s like that tool on steroids. It helps us manage all the projects we’re working on and basically serves as the brain for our business. Everything from project and task management to client communications happens inside Teamwork. We get virtual paper trails for conversations, file storage with version history, even virtual whiteboards for brainstorming ideas.”

Defrawi also talks up the app’s integration capabilities. “The best part is it integrates with lots of other tools right out of the box, most notably our time tracking tool, Harvest. So not only can we document all of our business functions in one place, we can periodically review them to look for ways to make them more efficient.”

Do you have a favorite small business tool or app that helps boost productivity? Share yours in the comment section below!

Jason Moreau

About Jason Moreau

Jason on Google+

This entry was posted in Case StudiesEmployee RelationsIdeasSmall Business Resources. Bookmark the perm

Posted by: stephenfetters | July 28, 2015

10 Easy Steps to Make Sure You Are Visible in Your Local Market

As small business owners, we should make sure our promotion activities are specially tailored to our local markets.  Here are 10 easy things you can do to make sure your business is being seen locally. 

10 Easy Local SEO & Online Marketing Tips

TopRank Online Marketing     GoogleLocal SEOMicrosoft BingOnline MarketingSEOSmall Business,Yahoo

Google Places PinThere are currently 29.6 million small businesses in the U.S. (SCORE). 63% of consumers and small business owners use the Internet to find information about local companies and 82% use search engines (Webvisible & Nielsen).  That means there’s a lot of opportunity for local SEO.

Recently I attended GetListed.org’s Local University in Minneapolis which focused on how to optimize web sites for local search.  Out of all the good information that came out of the event, here are 10 easy things you can do today to optimize sites and content to attract local customers.

1. Claim your profile.
It’s as simple as logging into Google PlacesBing Local and Yahoo Local and walking through the verification steps which include a phone call or post card to verify your address.

2. Upload Pictures.
The local sites listing services like to provide their users with pictures of your business. To help ensure that they see some good pictures, upload your own. They don’t have to be professional photos, but they will represent your business so make sure they are decent.

3. Control information across the internet.
A big part of local search optimization and marketing involves obtaining information from other sites. Local listing aggregation services search the internet far and wide to find pictures, reviews and any information they can on your company. Submit your info to services like Localeze & infoUSA.

The downside here is that if something is incorrect on another site, it could find its way back into your local listing. If that happens, you have to go back to the source and ask them to fix the issue and then wait while the fix makes its way into local sites.

4. Ask for reviews.
Most local sites, except for Yelp, are fine with you telling your customers to review you. So do it. On your contact form thank you page, on invoices, on email communications, make a point to say “Hey we’d love it if you gave our business a review on Google/Bing/Yahoo Local.” These reviews, good or bad, make your business more creditable to future customers.

5. Bad reviews are good.
No company is perfect, so when users see all positive reviews, something looks wrong and they may actually choose a different company. Bad reviews are a part of any business and a few bad reviews can make the good reviews that much better. Obviously, you don’t want to encourage bad reviews.

6. Add local phone number.
On your website, be sure to publish your local phone number in text vs within an image or not at all. 800 numbers may be nice, but on their own they don’t give any kind of location indication.

7. Have a full physical mailing address on all pages of your website.
Your address is important and it should be on all pages of your website to re-enforce your geographic location.

8. Think like the searcher/customer.
What would your customers put in a search box to find you and buy your products?

Lets say you own an outdoor sporting good store; like hunting, camping, hiking and fishing. If a searcher puts put ‘shoes’ into a search box, they probably aren’t a good match as it’s such a generic term. If they put ‘running shoes’ you’re still not a match as your sporting goods store doesn’t focuses on running. If they put in ‘hiking shoes’ then you want to target them.

Business owners often get caught up in popular keywords or keywords that will drive a lot of traffic and forget to focus on less popular keywords that have a higher probability of making sales.

Remember to think like the customer.

9. Multiple locations need multiple landing pages.
Local sites don’t like a business having more than one local listing, but if the business has two locations, than that’s OK. However, you should ensure that each location links back to a page on your website that is all about that location and what it has to offer. Sending both local listings back to the same page, or homepage, isn’t ideal.

10. Treat Customers ‘Righter’
Everyone knows that they need to treat the customer right, but with social media, review sites and the ability for good, or bad, news to spread like wildfire, you need to treat your customers really good or “righter”. This includes online and offline customer service.

Local search takes into account information business owners put in their local profile, information it finds on other sites and information on the business’ website. Even what happens offline can be taken into consideration as customers may bring back those experiences in the form of online reviews.

Local search is it’s own unique entity as no one can control everything that appears on their local listing, but business owners can take steps to ensure that what gets listed is a good representation of the company. For more information, here is a list of local SEO blogs that we’ve reviewed in the past for TopRank’s BIGLIST with many, many more tips.

Posted by: stephenfetters | July 24, 2015

Pick a Number…and Profit

As small business owners, we are constantly searching for data to tell us how well we are doing. One very effective tactic is to pick one metric and focus on it.  For instance, Southwest Airlines focused on being the lowest cost airline in the industry.  Here is a very interesting post on just how to do that. 

A single metric for business: Profit per x?

I’ve been profoundly affected by a book: Good to Great by Jim Collins which has studied hundreds of companies to understand what made some of those good and others great. The findings are just incredible and the way the book is written allows any business person to reflect on its own attitude and approach and try to pursue the path of greatness in business.

I won’t go into every points addressed in the book, although I wanted to call out one of the thing Collins noted: great companies have a very clear metric they were following relentlessly. It’s the denominator of the formula:Profit per x. Each of the great company had a clear profit per x. For example, profit per visit for Walgreen, profit per employee for Abbott, profit per region for Circuit city, etc.. It seems very simplistic but it drove billion dollars businesses’ strategy and became the heart of their culture. The shift of revenue metric from one denominator to another was often time the starting point of fantastic results.

As I was reading this I asked myself what could be the right denominator of a profit per x of a very small business, and how could this drive the strategy of the company. I was fortunate enough to run such a small business, Iniflux, in the past and I was trying to think what it should have been.

The first step is to determine what metrics we have and that is probably the biggest issue most small businesses are facing. When you are small, you often live day by day, each deal is important, be it outside of your realm of skills, focus is not a virtue, and because management is so close to the field there is no time to think too broadly about culture, strategy, hiring and investment. Accounting is outsourced to a CPA which role is mostly to help filling taxes and make sure the company pays the right taxes to the state and the visibility of the cost structure is very weak.

Building those metrics takes time initially but they are crucial to growing the business. You need to ask the right questions:

– What are my costs? How much does every employee cost really? What’s my total overhead cost (attributing overhead correctly is also very important)? What is my cost per profile of employee? per employee? per deal? What is my sale cycle length? by type of deal, by size of deal, by sales person? How much hours of each profile have been put in on each deal? How much do I spend in marketing? where? for what return? what is my support cost? How much is debt costing me? etc..

– What are my revenue? What margin do I make by type of product, by deal size, by sales guy? How much revenue by practice if you have several? by region? compared to last year? and the year before? etc..

The idea is to have a perfect picture of your cost and revenue structure. The goal of this exercise is not to just do it once but also to be able to track those metrics over time and see trends appear. Once this is in place, the company has to compare itself to the market, and comparable companies in particular if this data is available. For example, what’s a good revenue per Sales in the first year? the second year? Hopefully you will realize that you are good in certain areas and weak in others but overall, you will know, from now on, how to plan for the future. By understanding your core metrics, planning becomes much easier. Later you can always compare your plans with your metrics to see if you are on track. Another to know more is to talk! talk to other small business owners, go to networking events, ask questions, talk.. IT is in fact incredible to realize how much first hand conversation can bring, and often times how people are open to talk about their company and experience. Who does not ask gets nothing. Talk.

So, as you are planning, what should be your denominator? The x of profit per x. Force yourself to think about a single one. What should it be?

I will take a few example to illustrate the impact that such an approach could have on your business.

As a service company, the denominator could be: Customer. Profit per customer. If you are set on this what does it mean: The number of customer is not that important, what you want is increase the profit for each of them. That might drive you to go see your current customers more. It might drive you to drop customers with which the type of deals you have are not in line with your strategy (service versus pure software/hardware sales for example). It might drive you to expand partnerships with a single partner. It might drive you to diversify your offer into a more complete or global offering. You will try to find ways to cross-sell or up-sell products with existing customers. At the same time you will try to reduce the cost allocated to each customer which means you might want to have someone dedicated to each customer that knows them in and out and can be efficient, spending less time on each new deal. You may want to incentivize your sales team on this metrics as well.

Now as the same service company, the denominator could be: Practice. profit per practice. Let’s imagine you have a security practice and a database practice and you want to maximize the revenue per practice. To achieve that goal you will have to develop certain expertise that justify higher sales costs, maybe find product in those practices that have bigger revenue and margin, your training costs will be distributed differently to maximize for this denominator. You may even want to drop one of the practices all together. Overall your strategy will be quiet different that is your denominator is “customer”.

If you are a SaaS software vendor, you denominator could be “visitor”, “paying customer”, “server”, “marketing campaign”, etc.. and each of them will call for a different focus, culture and strategy.

Finding your denominator is going to be very hard and will certainly be the source of many debate internally. Be honest with yourself, face the hard reality of your situation. Don’t just come with a denominator, try to figure out what is going to be the strategy to increase it (using the great tracking you have put in place earlier). You might realize that this focus will be what takes your company to the rank of great company.

2 THOUGHTS ON “A SINGLE METRIC FOR BUSINESS: PROFIT PER X?

  1. Fantastic book and great blog.
    Our company is currently running through this book for the 3rd time and we still haven’t found our profit/x for either of our 3 businesses (construction, design, rubbish removal.)
    We have the other 2 parts of the hedgehog concept but this is by far the hardest!

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Posted by: stephenfetters | July 21, 2015

Avoiding the 7 Blunders of Internet Marketing

If you’re a small business owner today, you are led to believe if you just put up a website, a Facebook page, or send out a bunch of emails, success is automatic.  I’m sorry to tell you, nothing could be further from the truth.  Read the attached post to find the 7 deadly mistakes many small business owners make. 

7 Small Business Internet Marketing Blunders

The reality, of course, is very different. The Internet is a tremendously competitive marketplace. To be successful, you need to be able to connect with prospects faster and more efficiently than your competition.

It’s easy to make mistakes along the way. Here are some of the most common small business Internet marketing blunders we’ve seen:

1. Creating a static site

Some small business owners get excited about creating their website. They spend weeks tweaking and designing, just to get everything in place. Then, once the site is launched, it sits unchanged. This is a big mistake, for several reasons. First of all, the search engines like fresh content. If you’re not regularly publishing something to your site (for example through a weekly blog post) your rankings will fall. In addition, there tends to always be at least some timely information on your site. If a potential customer visits your site and sees a listing of monthly specials for six months ago, she’s not coming back to the site again anytime soon.

2. Testing too little

Just because you think a site looks good, is easy to navigate, and will increase sales or leads doesn’t mean that’s the case. You need to be smart about testing out your site’s various elements. The same holds true for a given marketing tactic. Simply purchasing pay-per-click ads for some random keywords isn’t nearly as effective as testing out various keywords to see which offer you the most positive results.

3. Keeping design and content creation in-house

Design and content creation can be expensive, there’s no doubt. However, the fact is that there are verifiable advantages to relying on experts to do what they do best. Just like you hire a reliable accountant to handle your books, you need to hire reliable developers to help frame your Internet presence. Fortunately, with outsourcing sites abounding, you have many options when it comes to finding talented individuals to hire on a contract basis.

4. Spreading social media marketing efforts too thin.

Social media is one of the hottest areas of Internet marketing right now. It’s easy, however, to just fire a barrage of ammunition at all of the various social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. A small business should have a presence at each of those sites, but you need to concentrate your efforts where they can do the most good. For example, some businesses will want to focus almost exclusively on LinkedIn, especially if you’re mostly a b2b endeavor. If your business has lots of products and images, you’ll probably want to utilize Facebook. Those who are in a service-related business might have the best luck with Twitter. You can experiment with the various sites, but ultimately you want to focus in and concentrate your efforts on one or two sites.

5. Paying for ads

Pay-per-click advertising isn’t always a bad thing. That said, there are so many other more effective and less expensive Internet marketing models. Ad campaigns can be a part of an overall Internet marketing strategy, but they should never be the centerpiece or the only piece.

6. Ignoring local search

More people looking for local businesses turn to Google today than turn to the phone book. Your small business needs to take advantage of that fact, and the best way to do so is via local search optimization. Even if you have a business that doesn’t rely primarily on business from a single geographic area, you can still benefit by targeting some larger geographic markets.

7. Forgetting to evaluate

You need to keep all of your marketing efforts (not just your Internet marketing efforts) under constant scrutiny. If you can’t demonstrate verifiably that your Internet marketing efforts are increasing your bottom line, then you probably need to change strategies. Internet marketing, just like offline marketing, should always keep ROI in mind.

The Internet offers all sorts of opportunities to businesses, and not just large corporations. Avoiding these common mistakes is the first step in putting the power of the Internet to work for your business.

About the Author

Benji Hyam is a Social Media Coordinator at Vistage International, an executive coaching organization that helps CEO members build better companies through unique business coaching and executive development opportunities.

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