Team Building Ideas to Strengthen Your Business

As a business owner, you ultimately must ensure that new recruits mesh well with your established team. Unfamiliarity can breed problems and inefficiencies, and it hampers proper communication. One way to bring new employees into the fold is through team building exercises. These activities help foster interdependence and trust among your employees. New employees learn to work with each other and with old-timers for the good of the team. In the end, the time and money spent on team building should be repaid many times over. What follows are several team building ideas that can strengthen your business.

Charity Run

In a charity run, sponsors donate money based on how many miles are covered by walking, running, or biking. This idea has several strong points. First, it helps a worthy cause, such as medical research or victim support. Secondly, it gets employees out of the office and helps establish interpersonal relationships. Thirdly, it’s a fantastic marketing tool that will raise your social profile. Finally, it helps promote fitness and reduce stress for your staff. Consider creating T-shirts for your staff to wear during the run and see if you can involve other organizations as well. Usual course length is a few miles or kilometers, but any length will do.

Christmas Tree Decorating

Malls, hotels, and other venues often host displays of Christmas trees during the holiday season. You might participate by having a decorating contest for teams of employees, with the winning selection submitted to the sponsor for display. Each team could be given a tree, a budget, and a few hours to acquire and apply decorations. Perhaps you’ll emphasize a theme, such as environment responsibility by allowing only recycled materials for decorations. Reward the winning team with some prize, such as free pizza. Even though there is only one winning team, everyone wins by participating in a competitive and enjoyable activity.

Scavenger Hunt

Teams of employees compete with each other to be the first to collect a list of items. A newer twist is to have each team also perform some tasks as well. A proper scavenger hunt requires a decent amount of preparation, but employees seem to love them, especially when you hand out prizes in the end. You can conduct the hunt at your office, but its more fun to pick an outdoor venue, such as a local campground. With proper preparation, this can be a hugely successful team-building activity.

Karaoke Night

Employees who would never individually go up and sing at a karaoke bar might be willing to sing in a group. You can set up teams of participants and make arrangements with your local karaoke bar to sponsor a contest. Winners should receive a fun gift, and all participants should be acknowledged.

Paintball

What better way for your staff to work off their aggressiveness than with a paintball contest. Your town probably has a nearby paintball course you can hire for the day. Organize teams of employees to compete for prizes and recognition. Paintball rewards strategic thinking, bravery, and common sense — all traits you should cultivate among your staff.

Conclusion

Team-building is well worth the expenses involved in promoting it. You can set up activities that range from modest to challenging, with negligible to substantial budgets. If you plan something elaborate that you’d like to finance with a loan, contact us at IOU Financial for a quick business loan that’s easy to repay.

7 Tips for Boosting Your Tax Refund

The tax season is slowly kicking into gear. It’s a constant struggle to keep up with the legal changes, leaving many of us with missed opportunities, pondering just how much we could have gotten in tax refunds.

In this article, we aim to help you with a few simple tips. Each of them offers a glimpse into the current law, more like a lead you can use to further find out how you can benefit most from tax refunds this year. Interested? Keep reading. 

The Power of Tax Credits

Tax credits are often mentioned to be better than deductions themselves. This is because they subtract from your tax bill in a 1:1 ratio, and not in proportion to your rate. It’s a pure “dollar-for-dollar” deal.

There are several tax credits for which you can qualify as a business owner:

  1. Work Opportunity – a credit for employers who hire candidates facing significant employment obstacles, such as food stamp recipients or ex-felons;
  2. Disabled Access – similarly to the first one, a credit for employing candidates with disabilities;
  3. Qualified Research Activities – credit for resources spent on research and development – whether for a product, software, or a patent.

Look into the tax credit regulations to know which ones you are eligible for.

Prepay

If there are any fees that should be paid in January of the following year, try to pay them off by the end of December.

However, don’t get carried away in the race to pre-pay everything and run your account balance low. Look for smaller expenditures in membership fees, software subscription renewals, office space rental, warranties, etc.

Track Mileage

Whether you are an employer or an employee, track your commute to work. Over time, the mileage can add up to a significant tax deduction. There are two ways to go about it:

  • The Standard Deduction Rate – which covers the actual mileage (the IRS adjusts the rate each year, so make sure to stay informed), and
  • The Actual Expense – which covers everything else: gas, parking fees, insurance, etc.

According to a lot of firsthand online testimonials, many have found that the standard deduction rate works best for them. If you’re having trouble tracking mileage, there are smartphone apps that can help you get accurate tracking. Plus, it’s easier to turn it into a habit.

Stay in the Loop

When it comes to taxes, changes are being implemented every year. More so for businesses than for private households. It’s expected that most of it will be difficult to follow, especially when we’re busy.

Luckily, you can hire a tax expert to help you. Together with them, you can look over your current state, where the missed opportunities are, and how to fix any possible mistakes you’ve been making so far. It’s a great way to get a leg up on your finances and to make the taxes work for you, not against you.

Your 401K

“Investing” in your 401K or IRA (Individual Retirement Account), is a great way to ensure your future money is safe from taxation. It stays that way until you make your first withdrawals, which can be a few decades from now. Look into maxing out your contributions each year, and if the company you work for has a specific percentage for matching your investment, be sure to take advantage. 

If you are a business owner, your follow-ups to the employees’ contributions can also be written off as tax-deductibles. Just make sure to consult your tax expert beforehand, because the return value depends on the payment method.  

Employee incentives

We all know about the health and retirement plans, but there are also company picnics, gifts, bonuses, and even educational assistance. These can all be tax-deductible. Again, the best way to go about it is to visit the IRS webpage and check which ones are eligible for your business.

Write off Bad Debts

While many are already familiar with bad debts, it doesn’t hurt to remind: you can write off bad debts from clients that didn’t manage to pay you out. However, this comes with numerous caveats. It depends on how much time has passed for your request to be valid, and also on how well the business is doing financially. You’re more likely to get the debt written off if the company is near foreclosure and bankruptcy.

In the End

The secret to boosting your tax deductibles lies in your knowledge. Get informed as thoroughly as you can. A lot of the abovementioned tricks are known among experienced business owners and employees as well. If possible, hire an accountant or a tax expert for help. Look for advice among your peers, as firsthand accounts give great insight into what is possible and what isn’t.

Guest Post: About the Author

Michael Deane is one of the editors of Qeedle, a small business magazine. When not blogging (or working), he can usually be spotted on the track, doing his laps, or with his nose deep in the latest John Grisham.

5 Webinars for Small Business Owners

Small business owners and entrepreneurs know that they can never stop learning. Webinars are effective learning tools, whether its filling in knowledge gaps, learning the latest techniques, or networking with industry leaders. Good webinars are definitely worth your investment in time. You can find a wide range of topics available, including product development, selling and marketing, administration, and e-commerce. What follows is a list of free online webinar providerss and courses to help build your business skills.

U.S. Small Business Administration

The SBA’s mission is to help develop and support small businesses, startups, and entrepreneurs. One important way it expresses that support is through a large catalog of online courses and webinars. You’ll be able to find materials covering topics such as:

  • Planning a business
  • Business launch
  • Management
  • Growing your business

The course material is immensely helpful for new entrepreneurs, because you can learn how to write a business plan, observe legal requirements, and explore financing options. You’ll also find courses on sales, marketing, savings plans, social strategies, and many other topics.

National Federation of Independent Business

The NFIB is a member-driven organization that advocates for small and independent business owners. It runs live webinars that cover a variety of issues important to small businesses. You can find many webinars of great practical value, such as these recent ones:

  • Drugs in the Workplace: What Small Businesses Can and Should Do Now
  • Personal Branding on LinkedIn
  • 6 Ways to Use Local SEO for Your Small Business
  • Technology Trends Critical for Small Businesses
  • Is the Sun Setting on the US Economy and Small Businesses?

Recorded webinars are available at all times on topics spanning finance, taxes, healthcare issues, marketing, and much more.

SCORE

SCORE is the country’s biggest network of business mentors dedicated to launching and growing small businesses. It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and a resource partner of the SBA. SCORE offers free online workshops, live and recorded, covering many topics such as:

  • End the Year in Good Legal Standing
  • A Practical Approach to Small Business Budgeting
  • What Small Businesses Need to Know About Cybersecurity
  • 5 Easy Marketing Tricks to Grow Your Business
  • Funding Options for Veteran Entrepreneurs

To attend, you simply register online for any of the webinars that interest you.

Small Business Expo

The Small Business Expo is dedicated to helping small businesses thrive across the nation. SBE hosts annual shows in 17 major U.S. cities. The shows include exhibitions, workshops, seminars, and product demonstrations. You need not physically attend to participate in live webinars, and recorded webinars are available on demand. A typical show hosts more than 25 free workshops where you can learn business-critical skills and strategies to grow your company. Some examples include:

  • Managing Credit for Business Success
  • Linking HR to Your Business Strategy
  • Franchising 101
  • Artificial Intelligence for Business
  • 3 Super Powers of CRM

Bizlaunch

Founded in 2003 by Andrew Patricio, Bizlaunch teaches entrepreneurs how to build profitable businesses. It hosts online webinars, workshops, and seminars to mentor small business owners. Recent webinar offerings include:

  • Low-Cost and No-Cost Marketing Tools You Can Use to Grow Your Business
  • How to Use Offline and Online Networking to Grow Your Business
  • How to Build a Laser-Focused Strategy to Grow Your Business
  • Franchising — What You Need to Know
  • The Secrets of Writing a Great Business Plan

Conclusion

The webinar providers we’ve listed here are but a small sample of what is available nationwide. All they require is your time and attention. If you are looking to grow your company, you’ll find webinars an invaluable resource that can save you from many rookie mistakes.

Speaking of growing your company, IOU Financial stands ready to finance your growth with business loans up to $500,000 featuring instant pre-approval and fast 1-to-2-day funding. Our loans are quick, flexible, and convenient, with affordable rates, fixed loan payments, no upfront costs, and available loan renewals. Contact us today!

4 Social Media Marketing Failures & What You Can Learn from Them

With over two million businesses using Facebook for advertising, 50 million businesses using Facebook business pages and 93% of Pinterest users using Pinterest to make plans and purchase decisions, businesses whether small-scale or large-scale, B2B or B2C, local or international, etc. have little to no choice but to use social media marketing to try to reach out to potential customers and engage their current customers.

Reasons for Social Media Marketing

Of course, there are several reasons why businesses, brands and companies use social media marketing. These include:

Access to market and potential customers

According to Statista, 1.37 billion active users visit Facebook every day. Many of these active users visit Facebook and other social media platforms to check on the activities of friends and family, pursue their interests, sell something and socialize online. A business can easily attract the attention of potential customers with ads on the social media platform that their target customers visit the most.

Encouraging engagement

Social media marketing is the best way through which businesses and companies can engage their current customers and retain them. You can use social media marketing to create a two-way communication means for your customers, allowing them to make their wishes known and you can update them on new developments on your products and services.

Customer service support systems

Social media marketing is another great opportunity for companies, businesses and brands to get customers’ opinions by tracking customers’ questions and complaints about the business all over social media platforms. Companies can also get feedback and criticism from customers’ social media conversation with others.  It is also the best way to curtail customer loyalty because customers will also appreciate the fact that when they post comments on your social media page, they receive a personalized message rather than an automatic message.

Affordable advertising

Compared to traditional marketing, social media marketing can be pretty affordable and sometimes free of charge, after all, you don’t have to pay to open a social media account on any of the numerous social media networks that exist. Even social media marketers who decide to use paid advertising only have to pay, based on their campaign type, for clicks on ads.

Measurable advertising

Apart from being affordable, social media marketing is also measurable. That is, using different analytics systems: Twitter analytics and Pinterest analytics, you can find out the number of people who viewed your ads, clicked your ads or walked away after viewing your ads.

Drive brand awareness

Many startup companies and businesses have applied different social media marketing strategies to drive their brand awareness and increase their brand visibility and recognition. And since 59% of shoppers prefer to buy new products from brands they are familiar with, companies or businesses will benefit greatly for making potential and present customers familiar with their brand.

Target audience awareness

By observing the activities of your customers and potential customers, you can find out their needs and wants directly by asking them for their opinions with surveys or just questions, or by tracking their social media comments about your brand. This way, you can have a better understanding of your customers, their reactions to your products and services and your competitors which would inform your social media marketing strategies.

4 Social Media Marketing Failures That You Can Learn From

With the many advantages of social media marketing, this does not mean that your social media strategy cannot end up failing, having little return on investment or bringing negative attention to your product. This is why every business or company using social media marketing have to look out for other company and brand marketing failures so that they can learn to avoid making the same mistakes.

1. The Coca Cola 2016 marketing hit-and-miss

As the Christmas holidays were approaching in 2016, Coca Cola decided to do their holiday season advertisement with a snow-covered map of Russia which unfortunately excluded Crimea, Kuril Islands and Kaliningrad. They should have probably avoided creating a map of Russia at all, since the Russian map is a highly controversial issue especially since Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

After the Russian internet users’ negative reaction to this map excluding Crimea, Coca Cola social media marketing team decided to recreate and post another Russian map which included Crimea this time and unfortunately, earned the wrath of Ukrainians and their online support for the ban of Coca Cola.

This marketing hit-and-miss was further complicated by some important figures in Russia who posted that because of Coca Cola’s restructured map, global American Companies had accepted the annexation of Crimea even though the official stand of the United States and even the European government is one of condemnation of the annexation of Crimea. This marketing hit and miss therefore, warranted many apologies, taking down both social media marketing campaign maps permanently and left behind some unhappy Ukrainians and Russians.

2. Melbourne Cup and horse racing campaign

The Melbourne Cup attempt to connect with their online and social media audience definitely flopped in a most predictable way. After all, the company itself was a controversial one in the first place. The Melbourne Cup attempted to get audience to #NameAHorseRace after themselves on Twitter, forgetting that not everybody approves horse racing and that many people thought it was an example of animal cruelty.

Although, they did promote what they did best and tried to engage their customers, they failed to think of how this marketing campaign could backfire against their brand. In short, they did not think about how people would react to the controversial topic that horse racing is.

3. Dove’s transformation campaign

Dove has always been known for empowering women and encouraging women to focus on realistic standards of beauty and the concept that everybody is beautiful in their own way.

Their “Real” beauty marketing concept has always worked for them as seen from their “Real beauty sketches” marketing campaign and “Evolution” marketing campaign had focused on making women proud of their natural looks over the years and it had worked for them till they brought the Transformation marketing campaign.

The Dove Transformation ad saw a black woman transform to a white woman after the use of the Dove body lotion. Of course, a marketing ad involving anything like skin color or race definitely resonated wrongly with their target audience both black and white. This ad had the misfortune of offending racists, non-racists and people against racism.

The marketing ad also disproved all their previous brand messages and contorted the brand image that they had spent over nine years trying to build. With that single ad that went against the “all beauty is real beauty” concept, they dismantled the reputation they built over the years. The ad alienated and even insulted a large part of their audience and definitely caused many to walk away.

Despite their apology after the ad was removed based on customer (women of all races) complaints and backlash stating that they were uncomfortable and even infuriated with the ad, it still took some time for Dove to recover from this brand awareness setback.

4. The Audi #PaidMyDues campaign

From research, Assignment Man have realized that while planning for social media marketing campaigns, inevitably, brand social media marketing teams can decide on marketing ads that bring no returns to the company (no return on investment or brand awareness).

For example, the Audi #PaidMyDues marketing campaign which had nothing to do with beautiful luxury cars and definitely backfired. Many people follow Audi on different social media platforms to see different beautiful photos of luxury cars. So, when Audi decided to tell real-life stories about people triumphing over adversity, they definitely didn’t carry their audience along.

Of course, they probably thought they could engage their followers by asking them to tweet or Instagram their inspiring stories but they were wrong because many followers felt irritated with these inspiring stories which did not have anything to do with cars. Some social media audiences were found complaining about how the marketing campaign had nothing to do with cars and many threatening to unfollow Audi on social media.

Although the Audi #PaidMyDues campaign did not offend anyone’s values, it resulted in a great drop in engagement level with their audience, customers felt that Audi was no longer as invested in their main purpose which was making great cars and many customers also felt that Audi was not listening to their opinions and customer feedback since it took them more than two weeks to completely drop the campaign despite complaints from clients.

What You Can Learn from These Social Media Marketing Failures

Know your target audience

Based on research by an academician at custom paper writing service, any brand, company or business that does not know their audience is sure to fail in their social media marketing. Taking the example of Audi’s #PaidMyDues campaign which was based on good intentions but definitely did not resonate with their audience.

Consider the different ways marketing campaigns can be misconstrued or twisted

Companies and businesses need to be careful of the way their campaigns can be twisted on social media. Different types of people hide behind their phones and computers on social media and will take any opportunity to get followers on twitter and get influence by ridiculing people and brands if given the chance. Therefore, brands on social media should be careful not to create open-ended social media campaigns that can be twisted in different lights and backfire.

An example is ALDI social media marketing campaign which asked people to fill in the blanks. The ad was something like “Complete the sentence by filling the blank space” and it ended with sentences like:

“I became an ALDI lover when I tasted ________ for the first time.”

The ad was definitely twisted by people on social media who began to make crude comments and eventually the campaign had to be terminated.

Keep track of your analytics

Track your analytics and customer feedback to see if your marketing campaign is resonating in the right way with your target audience.

Be careful with controversial concepts

College-paper.org reviews also advises that you should be careful how you feature controversial concepts like sex, drugs, race, violence, etc. in your social media campaigns.

Deal properly and carefully with social media negative feedback

All in all, companies, businesses and their social media marketing teams should be careful to improve their skills, logical thinking, and knowledge so they can deal with social media negative feedback in the right way.

Conclusion

Although, it is kind of inevitable for companies and businesses to make social media marketing mistakes once in a while due to different reasons, these can be minimized by looking at other brand’s social media marketing campaigns (especially competitor’s) and knowing what your target audience wants or does not want.

Guest Post: About the Author

Becky Holton is a journalist and a blogger at best paper writing service. She is interested in education technologies, expert writing, my assignment help and is always ready to support informative speaking. Follow her on Twitter.

Be a Better Leader — 9 Podcasts to Listen to

As a business owner, you face many conflicting forces. For example, there is the pressure to be the best business leader you can be versus the need to work 26 hours a day growing your business. One way to resolve this conflict is through podcast listening. The beauty of a podcast is that you can listen while driving to work, eating lunch, or performing some mindless chore. By carefully selecting which podcasts to audit, you can gain insights on leadership topics that will help you become a more effective businessperson. What follows is a list of some of the best leadership podcasts for your listening pleasure:

  1. The Go-Giver, Host Bob Burg:

    This podcast grew out of the bestselling book of the same name. Its central thesis concerns ways to provide value to your customers and others, and how this can increase your profits. It’s also a fulfilling way to live. Each episode brings you a useful short interview with a business leader or expert that will make a valuable point you can apply to yourself and your business.

  2. Leaders in the Trenches, Host Gene Hammet:

    The host has interesting background, having built and lost the business he always wanted. He knows how to delve deep into business discussions with top leaders who can share successful strategies. It’s a fascinating way to learn more about marketing, sales, and leadership.

  3. Online Marketing Made Easy, Host Amy Porterfield:

    The host is a powerhouse media influencer who has helped many entrepreneurs build their online businesses. She has been featured on cable and in business magazines as a marketing expert with insights on how to overcome obstacles holding back your business.

  4. The Nice Guys on Business, Host Doug Sandler:

    This is a wide-ranging podcast that touches on a variety of subjects gleaned from real life. It casts a truthful light on the good and the bad of running your own business, with advice on how to use your positive instincts to inspire yourself and others to do their best. The podcast is a welcome respite from the toxic attitudes currently poisoning our society.

  5. Mixergy, Host Andrew Warner:

    This is a podcast featuring startup stories of business owners and entrepreneurs. Every episode includes an interview with a successful business leader who describes how they grew their businesses and overcame failure. New episodes appear three to four times each week.

  6. Leadership and Loyalty, Host Dov Baron:

    Here is a refreshing podcast that teaches you to be fearlessly honest when need be, yet to temper that honesty with emotional intelligence. The host interviews leaders and authors across a wide range of organizations but who share strong ideas on how to inspire loyalty.

  7. This Is Your Life, Host Michael Hyatt:

    This podcasts offers specific and useful advice to driven entrepreneurs on how to succeed in business and in life. He gets down to brass tacks on how to set and achieve your goals while encouraging productivity and loyalty from others.

  8. Masters of Scale, Host Reid Hoffman:

    The host of this podcast is the co-founder of LinkedIn and knows a thing or two about building businesses from the ground up. He features discussions with founders of popular companies, including Starbucks and the Huffington Post.

  9. Coaching for Leaders, Host Dave Stachowiaki:

    The host understands that you must learn leadership skills — it isn’t inherited (or inherent). Experts come onto the podcast to offer advice you can translate into concrete action. Every month, the podcast devotes one episode to answering listener question. You can become a free subscriber to the host’s weekly leadership program.

These podcasts should get you off to a good start. Once you begin listening, you’ll be hooked. Podcasts have become one the most valuable tools for the dissemination of information in today’s fast-paced environment. Listening to a few can make a big difference in your company’s success and in your personal life.

12 Creative Marketing Ideas to Boost Your Business

A business without marketing is like a person without an identity. Without a proper strategy, the target audience cannot understand your mission, competitive advantages, and professional vision. Therefore, it’s not the issue of whether you should use marketing to boost your business, but rather how to do it most productively.

There are literally thousands of marketing mechanisms to rely on while promoting your products or services, but we want to help you out by filtering creative ideas that can make the biggest impact on your target group. Let’s see the 12 most interesting tactics.

1.   Create High-Quality Content

The basic rule of contemporary marketing is to create amazing content that draws attention and inspires potential customers to engage with your business. Although it sounds simple, it’s not that easy to make standout content in the world where people and organizations publish millions of posts daily.

This is why we recommend you to take the extra step and make a versatile content strategy. You should mix different formats to impress the target audience and combine the following features:

  • Blog posts and images
  • Videos, GIFs, and animations
  • Audio podcasts
  • Graphics, charts, and infographics

2.   Guest Blogging

Another great way to market your business comes in the form of guest blogging. What makes this tactic so powerful is the fact that it’s not pushy but rather subtle and indirect. The idea is simple – you will publish an excellent article on someone else’s blog and insert a link to your website along the way. Users who read and like your post will likely decide to visit your blog and get acquainted with your business in general.

3.   Optimize Content for Engine Searches

Search engine optimization (SEO) is one of the most important marketing mechanisms because 93% of all traffic comes from Google and similar platforms. In such circumstances, you must conduct a keyword analysis for each post individually and use only the most relevant terms and phrases.

For example, check out these three SEO phrases:

They probably look the same to average users, but content creation agencies know that each keyword is different and targets a highly specific audience group. You have to be just as delicate when choosing keywords for your own posts.

4.   Answer Questions on Quora

Quora is one of the largest question-and-answer websites as it attracts millions of users from all over the globe. You can take advantage of it to promote the business using the same principle as guest blogging. The only difference is that members of Quora rate answers, so your post has to be very good to stand out from the rest of the commentators.

5.   Concentrate On the Right Social Platforms

The Internet is full of social networks that gather thousands, millions, or even billions of users. There are so many options to choose from here, but the usual suspects include Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Snapchat, and similar.

Our suggestion is not to waste the energy trying to cover each of the major social platforms. Instead, you should focus on two or three networks that can help your business to flourish. This is more than enough for most companies, so don’t try to bite off more than you can chew.

6.   Don’t Be Shy to Advertise

Digital marketing gives you a plethora of extremely precise advertising opportunities. From Google AdSense to social media advertising, you can publish sponsored content on multiple locations to raise brand awareness.

The thing we love about it is that you can target users very accurately, so the return on investments is guaranteed. You should, of course, spend most of the time thinking about organic promotion, but a few nice ads every now and then can really do a lot for your business.

7.   Organize Social Contests

Another thing you can do via social media is to organize contests. According to the report, a typical contest earns brands more than 30% of new social followers. It’s a super-engaging marketing trick because people just can’t resist free stuff. All it takes is to offer small perks and your fans will be more than willing to take part in the contest.

8.   Refresh Old Posts

As you keep publishing content week after week, you will run out of ideas sooner or later. This is why you should make use of this sneaky tactic and refresh older posts from time to time. Jake Gardner, a content marketer at the paper writing service, says this tactic doesn’t even require a lot of work: “You can simply change images, replace outdated stats with fresh data, or add some new tools to your lists. The content will look more appealing and it will probably earn you a bunch of new visitors.”

9.   Build Brand Ambassadors

Another thing you should think about is building relationships with your customers and turning them into brand ambassadors. It’s a wonderful opportunity to raise brand awareness through the power of word of mouth marketing.

The easiest way to do it is through social networks because they enable you to approach followers, ask them questions, answer their own inquiries, like, and re-share their posts. In the long-term perspective, it will help you to strengthen relationships with your fans and turn some of them into loyal brand advocates.

10.   Don’t Forget Email Marketing

Despite being the oldest channel of digital marketing, email newsletters are still a dominant tool of business promotion. Almost four billion people use email services, so make sure to exploit it to approach customers regardless of their locations.

11.   Host Events

We already mentioned that successful marketing campaigns usually combine digital and traditional features. Corporate events represent one of the most fruitful mechanisms of traditional marketing because they give you the chance to meet customers and clients face-to-face.

The benefits of organizing business events are numerous – you can talk with the prospects, sell products or services directly, boost team morale, contribute to local communities, etc. Therefore, you should always dedicate at least a small portion of the marketing budget to corporate events.

12.   Utilize Local PR

The last tip on our list is to engage locally and take advantage of public relations. Try to find local media outlets and specialized industry magazines where you can give interviews, advertise, or place business-related stories. This tactic is particularly important for companies with physical branches trying to win over more clients from the neighborhood.

Conclusion

Growing the business and outperforming the closest competitors is impossible without some serious marketing efforts. But it’s getting increasingly difficult to find a perfect combination of new and traditional promo mechanisms, so we decided to help you out by presenting the 12 most important and creative marketing ideas. Don’t hesitate to use these tricks – they could give your company a brand new boost!

Guest Post: About the Author

Lilian Chifley is a digital marketing expert working mainly with online writing services. Her current assignments are with https://australianwritings.net/, https://bestessayservicesreview.com/bestessays-review/ and AssignmentGeek writing service. When she’s not at work, she loves to go out for jogging or cycling, read motivational and inspirational books and spend time with her two young daughters.

Learn Valuable Skills Online to Better Serve Your Business

If you run a small business, you’re probably always looking for ways to improve quality and boost the bottom line. The good news is that you can learn many valuable skills online, often for free, that will help you achieve your business goals. These skills can help you improve your marketing and cut expenses for tasks that you now farm out to part-timers or consultants. The following is our list of skills for you to consider learning.

Marketing-Related Skills

  1. Copywriting:
    Does your website content show you off at your best? Do you feel your marketing emails are effective? If eigther answer is no, part of the problem might be weak copywriting. Poor grammar, inappropriate word choices, and boring copy self-sabotage your marketing efforts. While you can hire a good freelance writer at a reasonable rate, you might also want to improve your writing skills and take on some of the work yourself. You can improve your copywriting skills for free at websites like Copyblogger.
  2. Search Engine Optimization:
    SEO is a way to improve the results of online keyword searches. It involves several technical tasks as well as analyzing data from search engines like Google. Your goal is to get your company listed on Page 1 of search results for your chosen keywords (i.e., the terms a searcher might enter). While excellent, authoritative copy is a must, you can also boost your results by making it easier for the search engines to understand your website content. SEO does this, while data analytics shows how the public is responding. Check out the free online courses available from Google.
  3. Social Media:
    Nowadays, it’s almost mandatory to maintain a social media presence in order to compete effectively. Being a social media guru requires time, effort and skill. The payoff is improved buzz about your product or service, which can lead to higher sales. You can learn the ins and outs of social media at sites like Lynda.com. While some charge money, they often have a free trial period to test them out.
  4. Photography/Graphic Design:
    Beyond great content, your website and other marketing collateral should be visually compelling. Instead of buying the same old stock photos that everyone else uses, you can decorate your website with your own photographs and graphic designs. It could very well be worth your while to learn Photoshop, which will allow you to use your graphic skills to improve the look of your websites and other materials. Many sources of Photoshop training are available for free or a modest membership fee, such as Kelby One.

Other Skills

  1. Excel:
    Spreadsheets are almost mandatory for recording, tracking and presenting data. With them, you can do budgeting, track inventory, and a thousand other tasks. Excel is the most popular spreadsheet program, and you can get free training from Microsoft.
  2. Bookkeeping:
    You might be surprised how today’s powerful yet friendly bookkeeping software packages make bookkeeping an easy task that doesn’t require an accounting degree. Products like QuickBooks can handle your business bookkeeping as your business grows. You can get free training and certification from Intuit, the maker of QuickBooks, or from other free sources.
  3. Tax preparation:
    If your taxes aren’t too complicated, you can file them yourself using one of several tax preparation packages. For example, you can visit the Intuit website for free TurboTax training.
  4. Finance:
    If you have big ambitions in the business world, you just might want to become skilled at finance and financial decision-making. Many colleges and other institutions offer online courses that lead to certificates or degrees in finance. Also, check out the many finance-related articles offered at IOU Financial.

Conclusion

We’ve just scratched the surface about what you can do to beef up your business skills via free and paid online resources. Think about what would work best for your business and then get moving. You can bet your competitors are!

9 Tips for Building Customer Retention and Customer Loyalty Through Relationships

Retaining loyal clients just makes business sense. Repeat clients spend more and are easier to convert than first-time shoppers. But building those relationships can be tricky, especially if you manage a lot of client accounts. Here are nine of our top tips for cultivating customer loyalty and retaining clients, from asking for feedback to apologizing like a pro.

Keep in touch regularly.

Sometimes no news is good news, especially when it comes to customer support. If people aren’t reaching out, then everything is probably working as planned. However, you shouldn’t depend on customers to keep the conversation going, and it’s a good idea to reach out on a regular basis to keep them updated on your product or service and see how they’re doing. Even if they don’t need anything from you at the moment, a personal email from a sales rep will let them know you’re thinking of them.

Celebrate milestones together.

Speaking of checking in, milestones are a great chance to do this naturally. If you work with individual clients, birthdays are a popular time to reach out (often with a discount or other reward) to make them feel special. However, if your clients are all B2B, celebrating a different milestone such as your six-month or one-year anniversary of working together is more appropriate. If you track the data, it can be really fun to pull together some highlights—i.e., projects completed, minutes logged, etc.—to see how far you’ve come together.

Say thank you.

Sometimes you don’t need a specific milestone to reach out and say “thank you.” It can be as simple as a quick email, or if you really want to get fancy, you can go with a handwritten card. End-of-year appreciation gifts around the winter holidays are also a tradition in client-based businesses, but you’ll want to do some advanced planning and flex your creative muscles to make sure that your gifts don’t get lost in the shuffle. Branded promotional products will ensure that your clients know exactly which gifts came from you.

Highlight loyal customers.

Not all “thank yous” have to be cards or promotional gifts. If you have some customers who are really jazzed about your product or service, leverage their enthusiasm and ask if they would be willing to write or film a testimonial for your website. These testimonials are also great fodder for email campaigns to current customers and leads so you can showcase what’s possible with your product using real-world examples.

Put personalization to use.

The more time you spend with your clients, the more you’ll get to know them, and you should be leveraging that knowledge. If you use a marketing automation system, technology will collect that data for you, but it’s also good to remember customer preferences from your personal meetings and phone calls with them. Use this information to guide the content you send them. If your client is interested in increasing brand awareness, focus your attention on that rather than (say) launching a new product.

Reward them for referrals.

Word of mouth is one of the most popular marketing tools in your arsenal, so you should absolutely be incentivizing customers to use it. Offering a discount or some other type of perk in exchange for a referral (or X amount of referrals) will get you more leads and give your customers a fantastic motivation to spread the word. Even better is a loyalty system that rewards both customers and new leads. For example, if you refer someone and they sign up for a trial, you get $20 off and so do they.

Ask for feedback and implement it.

Your customers work closely with your products or service, and they pay you for it, so they’re in the best position to tell you what they want and what they’re willing to pay for. However, very few people will proactively reach out to offer ideas for new features, so you’ll need to get the ball rolling and solicit feedback from them. Many customers will be flattered that you value their opinion, but just asking isn’t enough. You need to follow through and implement the best suggestions to show that you take them seriously.

Respond quickly to support tickets.

Nothing is more frustrating than sitting on hold or having to send three emails to customer service before getting a response. When a customer reaches out for help, try to respond as promptly as possible, even if it’s just to pass them off to the right person. If you can’t solve their problem directly, try to keep an eye on the ticket and make sure it doesn’t languish in the queue. When you’re going to be out of the office or unable to respond quickly, make sure that your OOO message has alternative contacts that customers can reach out to in case of an emergency.

Apologize when you make a mistake.

No one is perfect and each sales rep is bound to make mistakes sometimes. When you goof, own up to it and apologize to your clients. Tell them you’re sorry and explain what steps you and/or your company are taking to fix it. If necessary, review the complaint or error with your customer to figure out what went wrong where. While you may think that mistakes and apologies will drive customers away, if you do it correctly you can actually diffuse their frustration and build customer loyalty in the process.

Building close relationships with your customers takes time and effort, but it’s so worth it in the end. Not only are they likely to spend far more money with you, a good working relationship makes business much more pleasant and even enjoyable. Start building loyal customer relationships today with these nine strategies.

Guest Post: About the Author

Lee Becknell serves as the Senior Digital Marketing Manager for Pinnacle Promotions. Lee oversees digital marketing from the Atlanta, GA headquarters. She has been with Pinnacle for over six years. Lee enjoys spending time with her husband, son and golden retriever, running and taking naps.