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5 Things Small Business Owners Should Be Doing

Editor’s Note: Eric Zimmett is a tech writer and small business consultant who works at StateCollege.com assisting businesses with how to navigate today’s difficult marketing and advertising landscape.

In his inaugural tech column for StateCollege.com, Eric Zimmett gives you five things small business owners should be doing. His “Tech Talk” column appears biweekly on StateCollege.com.

5. Social Media

Social Media is a great space to interact with customers on a variety of fun, engaging platforms.

Use social media as a conversation with your customers – to strengthen existing relationships, build new ones and give a little taste of your personality as a business owner.

Today, your customers will expect you to be using social media. Participate: launch a Facebook Page; use Twitter, Foursquare or Pinterest. Engage and interact with your audience.

Facebook

Facebook is an excellent hub for conversations, news, comments, contests and photos. Facebook also offers a small-business advertising program. A good Facebook Page requires quality content and regular frequency. Update your Facebook Page every day and respond to comments and questions promptly.

Facebook rolled out its new Timeline layout to all brand pages Friday. Read more about the new brand pages at facebook.com/about/pages. Not on Facebook Pages? Get started at facebook.com/pages/create.php

Twitter

Twitter announced last week, on its sixth birthday, that it has reached 140 million users (in tune with its 140-character limit). The micro-blogging platform serves as a way to alert followers of news, specials, changes or insight into the company.

This week, Twitter introduced Twitter for Small Business, self-serve ads including promoted accounts and promoted tweets. Learn more at business.twitter.com. Join Twitter at twitter.com/account/new.

Foursquare

Foursquare is a mobile application that rewards customers for visiting your business. Reward check-ins with a special discount or offer. Or award your most frequent customer – which Foursquare dubs Mayor – with the highest prize.

Foursquare requires minimal effort to keep going. Unlike Facebook Pages and Twitter profiles, Foursquare is user-generated. Users check-in on their own. Users unlock specials that you’ve created and compete with friends on their Leaderboard.

Is your business already on there? Claim your venue at foursquare.com/business.

Pinterest

Pinterest is a pin-board for interests. Launched just two years ago the site has already eclipsed 11 million users, according to a January report by comScore, becoming the fastest site in history to reach the 10-million mark. Businesses have found recent success on Pinterest by interacting with users and sharing company photos and/or products. The best part of Pinterest is the ease of sending visitors from a Pin to your website or product page, especially when it comes to e-commerce.

4. Blogging

A blog is a great way to share your expertise in your field, to brand yourself as an expert.

It’s also a great way to stay on top of trends, new information and be connected with your industry. Start a blog and stick to a regular schedule to keep your posts fresh and relevant.

Three leading blog services are WordPress, Blogger and Tumblr.

Keep your content focused. Don’t sell your business on your blog; that will happen organically after you’ve branded yourself as an expert in your industry.

3. YouTube

The best part about YouTube – other than those funny cat videos – is that you can build your own online TV network free of charge.

Build a YouTube Channel and either link to videos in your industry (Informational Videos or How-To videos) or record them yourself. Creating the videos on your own allows the viewer to get to know your business.

A new feature introduced last week by YouTube allows for simplified video editing, making it even easier to get started with your own channel.

2. Get on the Street

Slow business day? Well don’t just sit there, hit the streets! Talk with your customers one-on-one. Offer samples, coupons, or ask questions. What better a way to get customer feedback than talking directly to them? Thinking of implementing a new menu item? Or changing your store layout? Ask people on the street. Some won’t want to talk to you. Focus on the ones who do.

Put your face in front of the business. Then your customers aren’t just shopping at the store on the corner, they’re shopping at your store on the corner: Bill’s office suppliesJohn’s book storeWendy’s coffee shop. They’ll connect with your business on a more personal level.

1. Advertising

Advertising isn’t just for national brands. Local businesses need it more than anyone. It isn’t enough to just open your doors and hope people come in. Advertising builds companies. It informs, sometimes entertains, and reminds customers that you’re there, and that you have the products they want and the expertise to service them.

Believe it or not, it’s possible to generate word-of-mouth. It’s called advertising. When you advertise your business, and advertise the same message often enough, you’re using word-of-mouth to build buzz about your business.

Search-engine marketing is an online super-highway where you can connect with customers who are searching for your products and/or services. Make sure your website is well optimized and contains information – skip on the fluff – that best portrays your business.

If you don’t know how to build an effective website or make it search-engine friendly, find someone who does. Being visible when customers are searching for you is an important step in acquiring new customers.

What are you waiting for?!

So get out there and talk with your customers; whether it’s in person, in the ads or on your blog. Be friendly. Be yourself. Have fun. Interaction is key. Show people how much you love your business. Because if you do it well enough, they will too.

See this original column on StateCollege.com.
Photo by Flickr user anniemole

5 Small Business Musts

The Top 5 Small-Business Musts

5. Social Media

Social Media provides another way to connect with customers. But recent research has shown that it has little impact on purchase decisions.

Don’t expect it to increase sales. As I’ve said before, social media is a conversation with your customers. It should be used to strengthen existing customer relationships and give a little taste of your personality as a business owner. Don’t let it replace other areas of advertising and customer service.

But it’s an important place to be. Anymore, your customers will expect you to be using social media. Participate, be on Facebook, use Twitter, use Foursquare, offer specials to customers. Engage with your audience.

The following social media platforms are the most popular today, though they are not perfect for every business. Most can find a way to incorporate a Facebook Page or a Twitter Profile, but Foursquare requires a physical location with foot traffic. Have a plan before you get started.

Facebook

A Facebook Page is an excellent addition to a company website. A great place for comments, conversations and contests. It’s all about content and frequency. Update your Facebook Page every day. Updates, News, Commentary, Jokes, Questions, Photos from recent events, the options are endless. Just try to have some focus.

For my related post on ways to connect with customers and promote your business, click here. And here for my informational post on Facebook.

Need help creating a Facebook Page for your business? Click here for Mashable’s guide to the new Facebook-Page layout.

Twitter

Twitter provides a way to alert customers of news, specials, changes or insight into the company. Or maybe a business quote of the day. Be creative. Twitter is also a great place for contests.

Business owners can also use Twitter to stay up-to-date on industry news. Follow related companies or industry experts. You’ll have access to all of their tweets on your home page.

For my post on Twitter, how it started and where it’s headed, click here.

Need help using Twitter for your business? Click here for Mashable’s How-To on Twitter.

Foursquare

For businesses with a physical location, in particular ones that have heavy traffic, Foursquare is a fun mobile application that rewards customers for visiting your store. Reward check-ins with a special discount or offer. Or Offer your most frequent customer, which Foursquare dubs Mayor, with the highest prize.

Unlike Facebook Pages and Twitter profiles, Foursquare is user-generated. In fact, most business listings on Foursquare were added by the users themselves, not the business owners. Are you already on there? Check it out at Foursquare.com.

For a business owner, Foursquare requires the least effort to keep going. Users check-in on their own. Unlock specials that you’ve created and compete with their friends on the Leaderboard. In addition to the new Explore feature. To read my in-depth post on Foursquare, click here.

Need help using Foursquare for your business? Click here for Mashable’s How-To on Foursquare specials.

4. Blogging

 

blog is a great way to share your expertise in your field. To brand yourself as an expert.

It’s also a great way to stay on top of trends, new information and stay connected with your industry.

There are a number of blog services that do not charge for use. Three leading blog services are WordPress, Blogspot/Blogger and Tumblr. I use WordPress to host this blog, though I pay an annual fee for the domain, ericsadblog.com. The free domain would be ericsadblog.wordpress.com. If you don’t want the wordpress extension, you can buy a domain name for small annual fee.

Keep your content focused on truth, on topics that matter to your customers. Do not sell your business on your blog. That will happen organically after you’ve branded yourself as an expert in your  industry.

3. YouTube

The best part about YouTube — other than those funny cat videos — is that you can do it all. And it’s free.

Build a YouTube Channel. And link either Informational Videos or How-To videos for your industry, making your YouTube Channel a great resource. Or better yet, record the information and How-To videos yourself. Creating the videos yourself adds a very personal touch. It allows the viewer a look inside the business. If you link videos other have created, users will remember them. If you create the videos, the users will remember you.

2. Get on the Street

Slow business day? Well don’t just sit there, hit the streets! Talk with your customers one-on-one. Offer samples, coupons, ask questions. What better way to get customer feedback than talking to them? Thinking of implementing a new menu item? Or changing your store layout? Ask people on the street. Some won’t want to talk to you, but don’t worry about it. Focus on the ones who do.

Even just talking to people –small talk —putting your face in front of the business. Then your customers aren’t just shopping at the store on the corner, they’re shopping at Your store on the corner, Tom’s Store, Mary’s place, Wendy’s coffee shop. It makes it personal. You want them to connect with the business on a more personal level than just a simple trip to the grocery store.

We remember people, not stores. Think of one of your favorite businesses. What are its employees like? Friendly? Do you know any by face or name? Had any conversations with them? If so, I’ll bet you remember the person and the conversation.

One of my favorite retail stores is Best Buy. I love the products Best Buy carries. But I also love the customer service. The way they greet me with a simple “hello” every time I walk in. Best Buy employees are also very knowledgable and accessible. They aren’t trying to sell me; they’re trying to help me. It’s something I remember, and in part it keeps me coming back.

1. Advertising

Advertising isn’t just for national brands. Local businesses need it more than anyone. It isn’t enough to just open your doors and hope people come in. Advertising informs, possibly entertains, and reminds customers that you’re there, and that you have the products they want and the expertise to service them. Advertising Builds Companies. It brands them as the place to go.

Believe it or not, it’s possible to generate word-of-mouth. It’s called advertising. When you advertise your business with audio, and advertise the same message often enough, you’re using word-of-mouth to build buzz about your business. Audio like TV and Radio. The key is frequency and getting your message to the same audience.

Online banner ads, newspaper ads, magazine ads — or any other print ads — offer a way to reach consumers in the market today, or the day you run your ad. But it works much differently than a TV or Radio ad. Know the basics before you get started.

Search marketing is another way to reach consumers who are searching for your products and/or services. Making sure your website is well optimized and contains all necessary information — skip on the fluff — that best portrays your business.

If you don’t know how to build a solid website or make it search-engine friendly, find someone who does. Because being visible when customers are searching for you is an important step in acquiring new customers via the web.

What are you waiting for?!

So get out there, talk with your customers! In person; in the ads; in your blog. Be friendly. Be yourself. Have fun. Interaction is key. Show people how much you love your business and what you do. Because if you do it well enough, they will too. But don’t focus on selling your business; that will happen organically when people see how much you care about it. Sincerity is easy to spot.

The common thread with this Top 5 Small Business Musts — in case you missed it — is Interaction. Interact with your customers. Interact through Social Media, Blogs, YouTube, In-Person and in your Advertising.

Free ways to connect with customers and promote your local business

Nothing replaces positive word of mouth and a great ad campaign, but there are exciting (and free) ways you can connect with your customers and grow your business.

In many ways, marketing works like a machine, with all of the parts, large and small, working together in unison. Advertising, Customer Service, Social Media all play a part. Do not downplay any one of them.

In this post, I’ll take a look at four free ways you can connect with customers and help promote your business and events. All you need is a little time and some web savvy.

Facebook Pages

Facebook is a great way to connect directly with your customers on a daily basis. As long as you do it right. It’s all about content and frequency.

To do a Facebook Page right, you’ve got to update every day. Don’t have the time?  Then hire someone to do it for you. Don’t have the cash to pay them? Trade them. That’s right, offer your products/services for free if they update your Facebook page throughout the week. Find someone you trust to represent your business (then make sure he/she can spell) and tell your new Facebook front-man what you’re looking to do.

By the way, there is a difference between a Facebook Profile (like you and your friends have) and a Facebook Page (for a business, like a fan page). There’s also a Facebook Group, but groups are meant more for closed conversation like clubs or organizations. So you want to go with a Facebook Page.

Now, the content. What do you post? Make it somewhat relevant to your industry.

Facebook Fun. Want to do something exciting on your page to draw interest? Hold a giveaway. The goal is participation. Try to upload content that your customers will like (and “like”), comment on and hopefully share.

You can also hold fun giveaways or contests on your page.

Where do you get ideas, you ask? Look at what larger companies are doing and, well, copy them. Ikea photographed a living room set and announced that the first person to tag a piece of furniture got it. Tag the couch and it’s yours. Lamp, go ahead, tag it and it’s yours. You can do this too. On a smaller scale, unless you want to give away a living room. There are tons of ideas out there right now, happening every day. You’ve just got to keep your eyes open, then find a way to make it work for your business.

More of this under “Freebies” below.

Need help creating a Facebook Page for your business? Here’s a helpful step-by-step piece from eHow.com: How to Create a Facebook Page for your business.

QR (Quick-Response) Codes

QR codes are awesome. But it’s not exactly new technology. QR codes (a type of 2D codes) have been around since the ’90s. And use of the codes is on the rise. In fact, 2D code usage quadrupled last year. The rise in smartphones is likely the cause. So use them. Find a QR-Code generator online (free) and create some content.  QR Codes can be scanned by any smartphone equipped with a QR-Code reader (also free) just like the scanner at the grocery store scans the bar-code on your Cheerios. Codes can link directly to a URL (a website, landing page, Facebook page or to a video on YouTube) or Text, a message of your choice. But don’t just put a link to your website on there. The least you can do is link it to your Facebook page. Give people a reason to scan it. And make it worth it.

Where to put it?

On your website; on your Facebook Page; on your store signage; on your packaging; on your business cards; on employee shirts; in the restroom? Why not. Anywhere. Be creative.

Need help finding a QR-Code Generator? Google is a wonderful thing. Just Google Free QR Code Generator. I picked Quickqr. To generate a Quickqr code, after visiting the site, simply enter a URL or Text in the “Enter URL or Text” box (simple, no?).  Then, hit “Generate Code.”

The code (which looks like a funky matrix-like image) will display right on your computer. From there, you can do one of three things: 1) save the code by right-clicking on it and selecting “save as.” 2) Adjust the image size, of the code you made. Or 3) e-mail the code to yourself and grab it from there.

Oh, one more thing. Before you unleash the QR Code to the public, make sure it works. Get your smartphone (using a free QR-Code reader) and scan the code. Or find a buddy with a smartphone. To find a list of QR-Code readers, just Google it: Free QR Code Reader. Or browse through the available apps in your app store of choice.

Freebies

Freebies are a great way to get new customers in your door. And it is well worth the investment on your part. Offer vouchers on Facebook, maybe in a trivia contest or interactive game. Or maybe just offer them first-come, first-served, limit of the first 10 or 20. Friends will forward to other friends. You’ll create your own buzz. Maybe do this once a month, or on special occasions.

Freebies are also an easy way to acquire new customers.  But they’ll only be back if they’re greeted with a quality product. So make sure, whatever you do, that you do it well. If someone visits you for a freebie, if the experience is a positive one, they will be back. And they’ll pay cash for it next time. Bad experience, good luck. Not even a freebie will bring them back.

Start a blog

The most time-consuming of the four, but a blog is a great way to share your expertise in your field. To brand yourself as an expert, in a sense.

It’s also a great way to stay on top of trends, new information and stay connected with your industry.

There are resources out there for Blog Etiquette about the frequency of your posts and blog content. They (the blog experts) say if you have a blog you should post once a week. I tend to agree, though a post every other week would be adequate. You would be safe with two posts a month of average length, or four shorter posts per month, once a week. You get the idea.

Whatever you do, be consistent. If you post the first and third week of the month, always post on the first and third week of the month. If you are not consistent, you’ll quickly lose whatever following you have.

There are a number of blog services that do not charge for use. Three leading blog services are WordPress, Blogspot/Blogger and Tumblr. I use WordPress to host this blog, though I pay an annual fee for the domain, ericsadblog.com. The free domain would be ericsadblog.wordpress.com. If you don’t want the wordpress extension, you can buy a domain name for small annual fee.

Keep your content focused on truth, on topics that matter to your customers. Do not sell your business on your blog. That will happen organically after you’ve branded yourself as an expert in your  industry.

Click the above graphics [Wordpress, Blogger and Tumbr] to visit the sites.

Sources: eHow.com, Facebook.com, WordPress.com, Blogspot.com, Quickqr.com, Tumblr.com, mashable.com

Update: Two days after my post, I spotted the following stories, all three published on March 8, 2011. …for further reading on these topics.

1) eMarketer: Blogs and social media generate cheapest leads published 3/8/11

2) Advertising Age: Social Sampling Scores Big for Kleenex as a Million People Share Packs published 3/8/11

3) Mashable: Why QR Codes Will Go Mainstream published 3/8/11