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How Your Small Business Can Compete With Giants

2012 December 6
by Ivana Taylor

It’s hard for any small business to get the leg up on their bigger competitors. It is a sad but simple fact that people know the big companies exist and are often unaware of the existence of many smaller companies. The huge marketing campaigns larger companies can afford to create doesn’t help either. The only thing you can do is try to advertise yourself, but if you attempt to compete with bigger companies by marketing in traditional media you will fail. Thankfully guerrilla marketing is a great alternative for businesses wanting to grab attention and a loyal customer base.

Guerrilla marketing refers to any form of advertisement that is unconventional and does not use traditional media such as television, magazines and newspaper. As such, what you can do with guerrilla marketing is limited only by your imagination, and is often low cost enough that even the smallest of businesses can afford to do it. The downside is that when not done right a guerrilla marketing campaign can blow up in your face. It’s best to get some general liability insurance to be safe, but if you want to attract attention you need to take the risk.

An example of how guerrilla marketing was used can be seen in the case of The Blair Witch Project, a now famous and profitable film. At the time though it was simply a low budget affair assembled by a group of college students. In order to build hype for the movie, they decided to make a website claiming it was a true story. It included mocked up missing person reports, lore on the Blair Witch and even interviews with ‘the authorities’. The site was so realistic that even now some people believe that the movie was real, and it certainly got a lot of people into theaters.

When was the last time you saw a mainstream marketing campaign decide that the best way to advertise a product was to make two huge plastic mock ups of political candidates, grow some ivy on their head as though it was hair, then have people vote between them on who has the best ‘hair’? And yet, this is exactly what happened in Cow Wow’s guerrilla marketing campaign to advertise their fertilizer. This was so out there that the client actually cancelled the entire campaign at one point for fear it would all go wrong, but an amendment on how much the heads would tour and the nature of the voting changed their minds. A good thing too as the unique and frankly bizarre advertising stunt netted a lot of customers for the company.

Guerrilla marketing can even be used to provoke a very specific response from a very specific party. When it comes to advertising for a small business this is usually not necessary, but for charity work it can be invaluable. In Paris, the Medecins du Monde ran a campaign where they simply handed out easy to assemble tents to as many of the homeless who couldn’t find shelters as they could. The sheer mass of tents springing up prompted a strong response from the government, who gave the homeless a great deal of support after that. This just goes to show how even a simple campaign can have a huge response when done right.

You don’t need a lot of money to run a marketing campaign, and if your aim is to compete with larger corporations that approach is counter productive to begin with. A creative guerrilla marketing campaign is often the perfect way for a small business to attract lots of attention and customers.

Inexpensive Solutions for Marketing

2012 December 4
by Ivana Taylor

With the consumer world turning to the internet for just about everything, it’s important for companies, both large and small, to maintain a web presence. Understanding how to create a website is the first step, but you will also need to maintain your website, build a blog and use a few other marketing methods to increase your online presence. Here are a few quick tips to help with your website build and marketing.

Building and Maintaining Your Website

 

If you don’t already have knowledge of web design or you just don’t have the time, you can outsource the actual website build to a professional design. You want to do your research first, so that you understand all the possibilities. Your web designer can set your site up on an easy to use content management system, such as WordPress. This will make it very easy to manage your site and create a blog.

 

Your actual website needs a homepage, about, contact and other pages for any services or products you offer. These shouldn’t change much, but your blog should. The best way to create your blog is with a page on the same domain as your website. The link will look like this: http://www.yourdomainname.com/blog.

 

The blog will give you the ability to post regular information about your company, any current sales or discounts, the industry or anything you want. With up-to-date information, you can not only attract more visitors, but also keep them coming back often.

 

Marketing Your Site

 

You don’t need a large budget to properly market your website. With your blog, you will gain the opportunity for visitors to share your posts on social networks and all over the internet. This type of marketing is very powerful and as long as you post high quality content, on your blog, visitors will share your posts. You can also share your own posts on social network sites, such as Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.

 

Using content is a very cheap way to market your website and create authority in your industry at the same time. Even if you’re not a good writer, you can hire someone to write for you. One of the best ways to use content and gain a large amount of visitors to your website is through guest blogging. Just write (or hire someone to write) a guest article and contact a high traffic blog, in your industry. If they use the post, you will get to put a link back to your site in the resource box, which can lead to a large amount of traffic.

 

Another very productive method to help your company stay connected with customers and continually market to them is to build a list. You can give away a simple free gift, such as a free digital report or something downloadable, if a visitor subscribes to your newsletter. This method of marketing is very cheap and you can use an autoresponder to stay in touch with your subscribers, announce sales or even launch a new product.

 

Just putting your company name on a website won’t bring in new clients, but a professionally designed site with the right marketing will. If your company can’t be found online, even if your products don’t sell well online, you could be losing customers. Investing in a website will give you another way to connect with potential customers and you can easily maintain and marketing your site without spending much cash.

Ads Just For You

2012 November 29
by Ivana Taylor

Online advertising, especially targeted ads, has evolved over the years. It all started with banner adverts. Websites with a lot of traffic were paid a good sum by advertisers based on the CPI model. This led to the creation of ad networks.

The ad networks started to face problems. Advertisers were clueless about the exact number of impressions they would get in a particular month, and some website publishers didn’t have enough impressions for an order to be completed. Some cases had publishers exceeding the number of impressions than the buyers were demanding.

The improvement in online advertising came when Yahoo introduced keyword advertising. The concept was that companies and advertisers would pay on a per click basis, and each click would redirect the visitor to their particular website/blog.

Advertisers could now pay according to the selected keywords. Google reinvented this concept later on. Google adsense was created. This ad network allowed advertisers to place the ads on their desired websites. They were allowed to pick the keywords, and Google displayed ads on pages that were relevant with the keyword. Adsense is still widely used by advertisers and publishers.

Gmail was introduced with similar online ad technology. However, it was dependent on emails to check the relevancy of the keywords to display relevant ads. Ads were also introduced on video sharing websites, with YouTube offering pay per click ads as well.

Today, more relevant ads are displayed to search engine users. Companies and entrepreneurs have managed to invent technologies that personalize the ads displayed based on the consumer experience. An example is Phorm technology.   Today, more relevant ads are displayed to search engine users. Companies and entrepreneurs have managed to invent technologies that personalize the ads displayed based on the consumer experience. An example is Phorm technology.Phorm is a leader in online marketing software in which ads can be targeted specifically to the online user. These programs provide users with custom advertisements instead of general sidebar links that really nobody clicks on.

 

Relevant ads have made online advertising much more effective. Advertisers are now able to reach their targeted customers, and spend according to the number of impressions they receive. Bidding (real-time) is also on the high. A report from IDC (International Data Corporation) suggests that 1/3 spaces will be bought for online adverts till 2015. .

The ads displayed today are able to grasp consumer’s attention. Large ad units which display rich creative graphics and content are growing quickly across the internet. Online ads are now also being displayed in large units on smartphones. Advertisers have also come a long way. They are now creating ads that engage the readers. Ads now include videos, polls and other engaging content that makes the visitor want to ‘check them out’. The way things are going, the relevancy will continue to increase in the future.

Moving First – Take Advantage With Your SEO

2012 November 15
by Ivana Taylor

 

As we all know, making the first move in business has its advantages. What not everyone realizes is just how effectively you can leverage this situation in terms of SEO. I’ve been doing SEO for years and I also own an online pool store, so when I got wind of a particular big opportunity, I jumped at it. The results were impressive.

The quick back story here relates to the Americans With Disabilities Act. After being signed into law by George H.W. Bush, pieces of the legislation have slowly been rolled out. When I heard the deadline for assisted pool access was being given a deadline of March 2012, the light bulb went off. This was going to be big.

The main form of assisted access that would meet these regulations was hydraulic pool lifts. This was a very small industry with only a couple fairly large players who never had much competition, because, let’s be honest, how many of these things have you ever seen? But, now there were going to be 300,000 pools in the United States that needed a pool lift.

The Plan, Part 1 – On Site Changes

First off, we needed to carry the major lines of pool lifts if we wanted to have any chance of reeling in web traffic to our store. We added the most popular products from the major players and made sure we had unique content about the lifts on each page. Google is not a big fan of duplicate content, so we got away from the manufacturers’ descriptions and wrote our own descriptions. We made sure to have page titles that included the brand, model number and major keywords for the category, namely “pool lifts”, “swimming pool lifts” and “ADA pool lifts”. We added a category for pool lifts in our main navigation and also added a link to the main pool lifts page off of our home page.

Aside from products, we wanted to make sure we were set up as an educational source as well. Considering ADA compliant lifts cost somewhere between $2,000 and $6,000, we knew there would be plenty of potential customers who wanted to do their homework before making that kind of investment. So, we did our homework and wrote our own educational guide. Again, we avoided copying directly from the ADA site, as Google would see that as duplicate content and it wouldn’t help us out in that capacity. While it wasn’t perfect, what we had for content definitely set us up as well as the top couple players.

The Plan, Part 2 – Link Building

For the average business owner, the unknown key to ranking high in Google is link building, that is, finding high quality, relevant links to your pages. We knew pool lifts wasn’t the sexiest topic, but we knew we could at least find a few places that would likely link to us – we just had to figure out where they were and what our pitch would be.

We had an established relationship with a site called Swim University, which has a blog about anything pool related, so we reached out to the site owner and offered an explanatory post about these new regulations. Shortly thereafter, we had a link live on that site (which you can see here). This was a good start, but we still wanted more links to beef up our status. We found more guest writing opportunities on sites dealing with disabilities, as we found them to be receptive to our cause (such as this Cerebral Palsy site). We also maintained two high ranking blogs of our own for Swimtown, so we created posts on those that linked back to our pages. Finally, when we realized it was difficult to get listed on a lot of other disability resource sites and pages, we figured we’d build our own. We put up a directory to help people find qualified installers (a real need for the end customer) and promoted it to installers so they would get themselves listed. The end result of that is our site poolliftinstallers.org, which has a big ad for Swimtown on it and also links back to our site. Two birds, one stone.

The Results

This was by no means perfect, but the original deadline for the lifts was March 15th, 2012 and was later pushed back to May 18th and once again to January 31, 2013. Needless to say, the waters have gotten deeper and more competitive since that second deadline. But, a large number of lifts got moved by that second deadline and as we were ranked in the top 3 for our main keywords (and a huge number of other lift related terms), we saw some huge benefits from our efforts. Here’s a snapshot of the traffic.

 

Obviously, the huge rush was at the first deadline as every hotel owner and commercial pool in the country panicked to either buy a lift or learn more, and the graph above is just organic search traffic that included the word “lift”. We peaked the week of the deadline with 1,717 lift related visits, but typically were getting 400-600 per week (due to Google not providing all search data, our true traffic numbers were likely substantially larger than this). I’m not at liberty to say exactly how much revenue this turned into, but I can say pool lifts have been a huge contributor to our sales being up more than 250% year to date for 2012.

 

About the Author: Adam Henige is the owner of Netvantage Marketing, a search marketing agency as well as Swimtown Pool Supplies, an online pool store.

How to Market A Startup Company

2012 November 9
by Ivana Taylor

by Jenna Smith

Many things are involved when you start a business, especially if you plan to achieve the ultimate success that others have. Someday information written about you may read like the Forbes profile of Charles Phillips. But before you reach that level you will have to take care of the details related to starting your company. Besides basics like choosing a company name you will also need to find ways to get the word out about your business. 

Whether you have a physical storefront or your business is based online, it is best to include both offline and online marketing. The more methods you use the more people you can potentially make aware of your business. Decisions about which marketing methods will be used should be based on your target market and your budget. The goal should be to reach an interested audience without blowing your budget.

Getting Started With Online Marketing

A little research will help you find numerous online directories. These listings are great places to add information about your company. Ensure that you select the best-suited category. Include your business name and a bit of information about the services or products you can provide. Be sure to include the URL of your business.

With a little effort you can find various online forums and community sites that your target audience is likely to visit. Members of such sites can create a profile. In many cases you can add you business information, including the name, description, web address, and contact information. Get involved in discussions; make informative posts and ask questions.

Social networking sites are also great places to promote your business, and besides being free, this method is easy. Just post updates and announcements that will make others aware of what your company has to offer.

Informative articles, blog posts, and press releases are also wonderful ways to spread the word about your business. When done correctly this can set you up as an expert in your field. Every post added to your blog will potentially increase the traffic to your site, which means you will have increased opportunities to make sales.

Offline Marketing

Simple brochures, handouts, and business cards are inexpensive ways to promote your business in the offline world. Some related businesses that target the same or similar audience may allow you to leave printed material in the store, lobby, or office.

Becoming an active member in professional associations for your industry is a fabulous way to network and spread the word about your business. You may also want to consider placing print ads or even sending out post cards and coupons.

Translating Data Into Decisions

2012 November 8
by Ivana Taylor

by Jenna Smith

Business is not an art, nor is it a discipline. It is a science. Certainly factors play into it that don’t typically bleed into science much, such as economics and the opinions of the public. But at the end of the day a good business does research, interprets this research, then looks at the best possible outcome to make the most money. Sometimes though it can be hard to process all this raw data into decisions, which is where data analysis comes in.

Though it may be over simplifying things a bit, at the end of the day most data gathering and analysis can be broken down into research and development, or R&D. Research involves gathering as much relevant data as possible. Not all of this are polls and statistics based on the customer base. Though knowing what your customers want and think of you is important, there are other factors at work.

The expenses you can expect if you take a certain action is also something that must be looked into, as well as the number of forms and time it would take to build a new site and so forth. In the end, whenever there is a question asked, it is the job of those in research to go out and gather as much data on the answer as possible.

Here is where it gets tricky. Development, using it in the loose term, must then wade through the data and find the optimal solution. This is not nearly as easy as it sounds, as though sometimes data lines up neatly, sometimes it conflicts. For instance, surveys show that a very vocal minority of the customer base won’t shop at your store unless you stock product X.

However, product X would have approximately half of the profit margin that the product it replaces has. The question then is how many other products would the customers buy if they came into buy X, which requires sorting through more data. In the end, sometimes you need advice from professionals, such as LexisNexis data analytics.

Think of all the business blunders of recent history. Odds are most of them were because either there was not enough data or the data was misinterpreted. Both gathering and correctly interpreting data is vital for any businesses health, great or small. Just focusing on your bottom line or making your customers happy and you will fail.

Recognizing When It’s Time to Get a Web Server

2012 November 1
by Ivana Taylor

By Jenna Smith

Businesses need websites and web services for customers. Nearly 20 years ago, the Internet came into widespread use, and businesses could get away with not having an online presence. Those days are now gone. As they did then, free website services still exist for businesses and individuals to use. However, there comes a point when a business needs to purchase a web server.

Free Service Limitations

Most free website services are only for personal use, but there are a few for business use. They usually come with two limitations: ads and data restrictions. For blogs, online publications, periodicals and other writing-related businesses, ads are almost expected. However, if your business isn’t one that usually displays ads as a part of the online presence, there comes a time when they detract from your overall appeal.

Data restrictions are a worse than ads in some ways. Data restrictions usually come in the form of caps on bandwidth, which translates into the amount of people who can look at your site, download content and otherwise interact with your business online. The more people start visiting your site, the more you need increased bandwidth to accommodate them. Not only do free services tend to cap the amount of data you can send and receive each month, they often put your site on a slower connection. That means that your website will load slowly for visitors.

Free Your Business with a Web Server

Slow websites tend to make visitors find another business that offers the same or similar services. A free website service can actually impede your business’ growth because of slow connections! In addition to extremely limited bandwidth, free services also provide very little in the way of space for files and limited email capabilities. As your business expands, your website will too, and you will need more email addresses.

Web servers like the ones available at www.siteground.com can help a business expand its online presence with various packages and encourage growth. Transfer your small business website to a hosting package, and upgrade to a web server later on. The cost is low for a small business, but your site will have faster speeds for visitors, more space for expansion with no downtime and more email capability.

Even though free services seem like a good deal at first, most individuals grow out of them within a month or two. Businesses outgrow them even faster. Choose a web server option that fits your needs and your business will likely expand exponentially.

What’s to Learn from The Cheesy Google Chrome “Coffee” Commercial

2012 October 30
by Ivana Taylor

I’m not sure how we got on this topic, but a client and I got to talking about the series of Google Chrome Commercials that have been out lately.  I haven’t seen this “Coffee” commercial – I have seen the one with the dad and the daughter who goes away to college and misses him.  It’s called “Jess Time” .

I took the time to watch it and was struck by how they were able draw you in with the emotional story and show you all the cool Google Chrome features in the space of a couple of minutes.

So let’s deconstruct this little piece of film to see how to improve that next presentation.

  1. Focused objective drives the video — what do we want to feature and show people?  What does my product or service DO?  What circumstances would best illustrate the features and benefits of the product.
  2. Got characters.  The first thing you’ll notice is that you are introduced to Jen and Mark right away.
  3. Specific circumstance.  The next main ingredient is the specific circumstance they find themselves in — notice it’s one most of us have been in as well.  So it’s not just a circumstance, it’s a shared emotional experience.
  4. Relevant music.  The soundtrack is there to support the emotion and fills in for all the words that AREN’T printed anywhere – but you hear them.
  5. Few words – lots of pictures and videos.  This is a video that didn’t require a huge amount of production.  In fact it primarily used still photos and a few videos that you could have put together yourself.
  6. Demonstrated features inside of real applications — How many times have we made the mistake of getting caught up in the features and what they can do — without focusing on the applications or real life circumstances that will allow us to use these features.  Granted, there aren’t too many people who would take that much time or effort to rescue a relationship via a document, but remember that wasn’t the point.  The point was to illustrate how something works inside of your life.

And then there’s the spoof…

One barometer of how good something is or how well it touches an emotional trigger is whether or not people parody it.  Since we only heard Mark’s side of the story, you might think Jen should give the poor schmuck another chance — but what’s Jen’s side of the story — take a look at this.

 

 

Tips for Managing a Booth at a Conference or Trade Show

2012 October 28
by Ivana Taylor

By Jenna Smith

A booth at a conference or trade show cane be a great way for a small business to increase their exposure ad attract new business. However, managing a booth takes some careful thinking and smart planning to make it a success. Follow these tips to ensure a successful booth that will attract lots of new customers.

Make It Look Professional

It is not necessary to drop tons of money on the flashiest booth at the conference, but do spend enough to ensure that they display looks solidly professional. It should be easy-to-read and let people know why they should stop at the booth. Attention-grabbing headlines are a great way to do this. Do not mess around with putting up homemade signs. They will turn off potential customers and lose business left and right.

Get a Sense of the Past

Do some research and see what kind of booths have worked in the past. It should be easy to contact someone that organizes the conference to ask them about some of the most popular booths during past years at the conference. Following in the footsteps of previously successful booths is a great way for small business owners to move down the path towards success at the conference.

Promote

It is important to do lots of promotion before the event in order to ensure a successful booth. Send out invitations to customers to stop by and take a look at the booth. Call important customers to set up a time for a private appointment to take a look at the booth. This is a classy touch that will be rewarded with business deals.

Everyone Loves Free Stuff

Take advantage of this fact by giving away things at the booth. People are much more likely to take the time to stop and look at a booth’s offerings if they know that there is free merchandise involved. The giveaways do not have to be big items. Small little things like pens, key chains and pads of paper will work fine. Just be sure to put the company logo on every item that is handed out.

There’s an App for That

There are some great event apps out there that will help in the planning of an event. Take a look at app stores to see what is available. Planning a successful booth at a conference is easy with a little help form an app.

Get Attention

It never hurts to have a little eye candy to generate attention for the booth. Hire some attractive models to stand outside the booth and help pull in traffic. Once customers are attracted into the booth by the models, they will have the opportunity to take a close look at everything the booth has to offer.

Keys to Success

Do the proper planning, make it look professional, attract attention and give away free gifts. These are the crucial steps in ensuring that a small business has a successful booth at a conference or trade show. Follow these steps and it will be a smash success.

What is Internet Reputation Management and Why Do I Need It

2012 October 25
by Ivana Taylor

by Jenna Smith

Online reputation management is the new online marketing trend and there is good reason for it. This is a method of preventing a bad review or comment from affecting your online reputation.

Why is a Business Online Reputation So Important?

Social media websites changed the way people saw the Internet. It made it possible for anyone to write, comment or review anything. In some ways, this has damaged many people, as this information can often influence the way others think of the person or business being talked about – even if the posted information isn’t true.

What is internet reputation management?

As a business, you should work at making sure positive reviews, and information is posted about your business to compensate for any negative information posted there. So if negative information is ever posted it won’t be so damaging. That’s where professional internet reputation management services come in to play. This type of service ensures there is more favorable information on the web when your company is Google’d than unfavorable.

How can a Negative Online Review Damage my Reputation?

Studies by online marketing experts show that most people review or look up a company online when thinking of using their services or purchasing their products. However, when researching a company and only finding negative information, these same studies show that about 50% of potential buyers have a change of heart after reading such reviews.

Compensate

To prevent the above scenario from happening, businesses prefer to implement online reputation management procedures to create a positive reputation. The online reputation management team will implement several simultaneous tasks. These tasks work much like SEO tasks, but instead of placing your website in an easy to find position on the search engines, an ORM expert places favorable information about you that is easily accessible by readers.

Services a reliable online reputation management (ORM) handles for you. While the tasks will vary depending on the information already available online, most incude:

- Forum posting to improve our credibility and establish your company as a reliable source of industry information

- The right ORM company will run contests and surveys to get your previously satisfied customers to post positive reviews on your website and other review sites, as well as social media networks like Facebook and Twitter.

- Social media management – by posting comments, answering people’s questions and offering up industry related links the ORM company can help cement your favorable online reputation.

While these are not difficult tasks they do take time, and sometimes you are just too busy with other tasks that are important to the operations of your business. But important ORM tasks also take persistent work, so hiring a professional company to do the job for you.