Simplify Your Content Marketing Strategy with a One-Page Plan

The recent Content Marketing Institute release, a B2C content marketing report, took the attention of all content marketers. It’s an important annual study because it helps shed light on various aspects of content marketing that we’d otherwise be blind to.

B2C marketers with a documented strategy were found to be more effective than those without one in every aspect of content marketing. But yet, only 39% of marketers have a documented content marketing strategy.

Why do you need a one-page strategy?

We’ve already established that having a documented content strategy is far better than the alternative. For people that don’t have a written content marketing strategy, having a simple one is a great place to begin.

On the other hand, if you do have a detailed strategy but are having a hard time with it, simplifying it is going to help you figure out where the weaknesses are and possibly seal them.

A one-page content marketing strategy is advantageous regardless of the size or stage your business is in, because it helps in the following concrete ways:

  • It helps clear up holes in your overall business plan.
  • Content producers can all be sure of what exactly is expected of them.
  • It gives the business a more focused vision.

For smaller business, it might end up being all you need. Most times content strategies end up being too convoluted and ineffective.

Pinpoint the organization’s needs and goals

The first step in creating a simple content marketing strategy is to find out what the organization aims to achieve in that year. Since almost every company’s ultimate goal is growth, they share almost the same objectives. This should be outlined in documents like internal memos. They should help you outline:

  • The profit target
  • Revenue target
  • How growth is to be achieved

With all this data, the next step is to figure out what role content marketing is supposed to play in helping the company achieve those three goals. Don’t forget to have a way to measure the kind of impact content marketing will have had on the company’s end goals at the end of the year.

What to include in your one-page strategy

Having been used to writing five pages of more worth of details for your strategy, how do you know what to include and what to leave out? The following are the most important aspects it will normally boil down to:

Goals

Business goals are the most critical achievements your business should reach in the near fiscal year or over a 5-year period or so.

Examples of goals that could be outlined in your content marketing strategy include:

  • Increase market share of your product from XX% to XY%.
  • Grow percentage of sales from new products

Objectives

There is understandable confusion among marketers when it comes to differentiating between goals and objectives of a business. Goals are the general guidelines that are going to direct you over the long term and reflect the mission statement and vision of the company.

Objectives are meant to define how the goals are to be achieved – think of them as measured steps towards achieving your final goal. These should optimally have a measurable impact, should be specific and, preferably, have a completion date.

For instance:

  • Increase revenue by XX% over the next 12 months.

Strategy

This part of the document should detail how exactly you plan on achieving your goals and objectives. What qualitative impact will content marketing have on the business over the course of the next year? For example:

  • Increase awareness of the new product by launching an ad campaign.
  • Create a better customer service experience by retraining company representatives.
  • Increasing brand engagement by launching a social media campaign.

Metrics

This section should detail how you are going to measure what the content marketing strategy has achieved in the course of a year or so. These should directly reflect on the goals, objectives and strategies the business has put in place for itself.

It’s important to note that all details included in this section should be concrete and measurable. For example:

  • Awareness of the new product was increased by XX%.
  • Customer satisfaction rating improved from XX% to XX%
  • Sales revenue jumped from XX% to XY%.

Other useful details to have at hand

Once all of this is said and done, there are a few more factors you might have to consider when it comes to a content marketing strategy. A one-page strategy is a great rough guide for how the business should achieve its goals, but you may end up leaving out some finer details that are required to get to the end result.

These include:

The type of content to produce

There are several different kinds of content that can be used to reach the eventual end goals.

  • Blog posts: Blog posts are an excellent way to increase search engine presence and make your business discoverable on the internet.
  • Case studies: Case studies usually coincide with testimonials and are an excellent way to let potential customers know how your customers feel.
  • Videos: Videos have risen to the top of the content marketing world because they are one of the most engaging forms of content that can be produced. According to the data presented by HubSpot, videos are 40 times more likely to get ahead on social media than other kinds of content. Granted, it needs a larger amount of investment, but it has a proportionately higher ROI.

If you want to outsource your content to an expert, find the best essay writing service through essay review and domywriting reviews online. It will help you focus on your core areas and get you better results with the help of professional online writing experts.

To sum up

A Content Management System (CMS) is a program that helps to manage all the content you create and could have a lot of bearing on how your content appears and what kind of analytics you can harvest from your visitors.

Some of the most popular CMSs out there include WordPress, Contentful and HubSpot. Your business strategy might include new ways you can use and implement a new CMS or how you can leverage the power of the old one to your advantage.

Guest Post: About the Author

Lilian Chifley is a digital marketing expert working mainly with online writing services. Her current assignments are with Assignment Masters, Dissertation writing service and Custom writing services. 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.

How Small Business Can Use Technology to Serve Their Customers Better

Without doubt, the service component of your small business can greatly influence your overall success. That’s obvious if you are a service-oriented company, but it’s just as true if you sell goods. Technology is a key asset you can employ to improve your customer service. The question is, how well do you deploy technological solutions to meet your operational challenges and improve customer service? In this article, we’ll give you several tips for upping your capabilities and responsiveness using tech solutions. Use these to build loyalty and help improve your customers’ experiences.

  1. Social media:

    You often think of social media as a part of your marketing strategy. But it can also serve to help improve your customer service. Use social media to elicit opinions from customers about what you could do to improve your business, and carefully evaluate the (non-crank) suggestions. You can also post customer satisfaction surveys and announce special sales on Facebook and other social media platforms.

  2. Ticket system:

    Add a ticket system to your website’s help desk for handling customer issues. Assign a ticket number to each customer inquiry / complaint that you can use to track progress toward and achievement of a solution. The system should use email and/or instant messaging to keep customers updated on their issues and provide a way to receive feedback.

  3. Online appointments:

    Consider using an online system to schedule and manage appointments if this is appropriate for your business. You can use this kind of system to help manage the personnel who will be guided by the schedule.

  4. Mobile office:

    Your business may require you or your employees to be out in the field. You can establish a mobile office and netword with the right choice of portable computers, reliable internet connections, filesharing capabilities, and time-saving solutions such as bar-code readers. You can use systems that support and track any service people you deploy to customer locations.

  5. Website:

    Add functionality to your website that offers value to current and potential customers. This might be some kind of calculator that helps customers figure out how much to order, or perhaps a series of videos that instruct customers about the products and services you offer.

  6. Extend reach of brick and mortar store:

    If you run a small storefront, explore how much of your business you can export to the online environment. Maybe you haven’t yet considered selling your products online, or if you do, haven’t had good success. A new or better system might be just the answer for creating new income streams online.

  7. Email:

    How effectively are you leveraging your database of customer email addresses. There are marketing systems available that create and deliver email to customers based on their previous purchases. For example, you might offer special discounts to your most loyal customers or announce special programs available only through invitation.

  8. Service kiosks:

    One way to improve customer service is to offer self-service kiosks in your store and elsewhere. These can be geared to helping customers with various tasks, such as inquiring about previous orders, establishing new accounts, and even making purchases. They also can provide valuable information regarding the technical aspects of your products and services, perhaps leading customers through a series of questions to better understand which of your offerings would be right for them.

  9. Improve warehouse operations.

    If your business involves warehouse storage and shipping, make sure you are using the latest high-tech solutions to manages customer shipments. Customers will appreciate the shorter time to receive deliveries, and you’ll waste less time keeping tracking of your inventory.

Conclusion

Many technological solutions are not expensive, but some might be. For those that are, consider a short-term loan from IOU Financial. We’ll help you afford the latest tech solutions through our fast, no-hassle loans with convenient payback options. Stay competitive! Leverage the power of technology to keep your customers happy and in a buying mood.

6 Ways to Make Your Customers Trust Your Brand

Trust between the customer and brand isn’t always so evident. People are wary of who they give their money to now more than ever. We can read into this too much, but the matter of the fact is that the market is too large and people just aren’t sure who to trust. In a day and age when scams are very frequent, it’s only natural to do thorough research before you spend money on anything.

That being said, it’s your job as a business to extend a hand to your customers and show them why they should trust you. It may seem like a very abstract concept, but building trust between you and your target audience doesn’t have to give you a headache. Just like with everything else, you’ll need a game plan. In this case, you’ll have six to choose from.

1. Have a voice

Without a voice, your brand is just a name. Soon enough, people will forget all about it. Coming up with a brand voice makes you more memorable, more human, and more trustworthy. It can be hard finding your voice, but if you ask yourself one simple question, you’ll be there in no time. That question is: what do I stand for?

In other words, figure out what you care for most. Whether it’s the environment, family values, or anything in between, make sure it’s a consistent part of your voice. The message you’re trying to send should be evident and easy to understand. Be direct, but don’t be pushy. It’s important for your customers to know where you stand but try not to push your agenda onto them.

Also, make sure that your message matches your actions. Consistently saying how you care about the environment and then not actually going green or doing anything to help the environmental crisis just makes you a hypocrite. People want to see you act on your ideals as well as hear them.

2. Be transparent

Though you may not think what goes on in the office is any of the public’s business, some of it actually needs to be. The more transparent and open you are about how you run business, the better you’ll resonate with your users. People don’t like businesses who keep everything behind closed doors and who refuse to share any of the information the public might want to know.

It’s pretty simple, those who are reluctant to share anything with the public probably have something to hide. You could be the most honest business in the world, but people are simply not going to believe you unless they have evidence for it. No one just takes anyone’s word for anything anymore.

With the facts out in the open, you’ll have nothing to worry about and people will have no reason to talk. Even if someone starts saying untrue things about your business, there will be outright solid evidence to show them they’re wrong. In any case, people will have no reason to distrust you when you’re completely open with them.

3. Build relationships with customers

By building relationships, you’re building trust. You can do this on a more personal level by taking an interest in your existing customers and showing them that you care. Whether it’s remembering their birthdays or sending an email for the holidays, you’re bound to win them over with the attention you’re giving them.

When they come into the office, always be kind and interested in whatever they have to say. People like being listened to, so extend your hand, ask them how their day is going, and you’ll already be making an impact. Little tokens of affection are also very nice ways to nurture customer relationships.

Just think of Christmas, for example. This is the time of year when everyone’s thinking of someone else. You can send all your customers season’s greeting cards to thank them for their business. This is bound to impress them and make them trust you even more. Don’t be afraid to splurge on gift baskets for your most valued customers or whenever you make a new business deal. Giving even the smallest gift makes a person feel appreciated and loved.  This is a gateway to trust.

4. Own your mistakes

You’re not a robot, of course, you’re going to make mistakes from time to time. Regardless of how big or small that mistake is, you have to own it. Most companies try to sweep it under the rug, bury it, and completely forget about it. This just makes it seem like you’re ashamed of the mistake you made and leaves room for others to dig up dirt about you.

Owning your mistakes and making an effort to publically fix them makes you way more responsible and trustworthy. By doing so, you admit that you aren’t perfect and show your customers your humane side. A public apology may be a nice touch, but it shouldn’t be the only thing you have to offer for your mistakes. Instead, come up with a plan of action to fix what’s broken.

This plan should also be public and you should let people in on your progress from time to time. This will let them know that you’re still actively working on fixing your mistake and that the plan and public apology weren’t just a sham. People respect those who can tell when they’re wrong and who actively try to make amends. They’re going to forgive you much more easily if you show them you’re growing and changing.

5. Work on Authenticity

Being authentic may be the safest bet you have that your customers will take to your brand. With so many similar products on the market, people like seeing something completely original and unique. Whether it’s the design and patterns you use, the way your product works, or the product itself- it should be something they tie only to you.

The trouble here is that customers won’t be the only ones who notice your authenticity. Competitors may want to get a piece of the action, which may lead them to copy your products. If you believe that someone is selling knock-off or has copied any part of your product or process, you should contact experts like Actuate IP. This way, you’ll be able to protect your authenticity and show your customers that it’s not your product which doesn’t work the way you promised.

If you just let people get away with things like these, it makes you seem rather unprofessional and untrustworthy. Your audience rarely knows the difference between the knock-offs and the original, leaving them to think it’s you who lacks quality and originality.

To have grounds to take legal action against someone copying you, make sure that you’ve protected your product with copyright. Everything from the making process to the specific parts of your product should be protected. Also, make sure that you’ve protected the idea you’ve had for the product. This way, you have plenty of evidence that the idea, manufacturing process, and product were all yours to begin with.

If we look at the other side of the mirror, it’s also important not to copy anyone around you. Using your competitors for inspiration and coming up with something yourself is fine, but copying anything off them is a huge no. Not only will this be bad for business, but it also shows your customers that you’re someone not to be trusted. Integrity and trust don’t go without each other.

6. Always reply

Lastly, you should always reply to your users. Whether it’s emails, social media accounts, or any other platform, their comments and messages should not go unanswered. The main benefit of technology is that it has made communication much easier. In business, this means that you don’t have an excuse not to listen to your users anymore. People want to be heard and listened to.

Post relevant content to engage your users and you’ll see how many more comments and messages you’ll be getting. Ask them questions, be funny, and encourage their interactions by replying. Not only does this bridge the gap between the firm and the customer, but it also makes you seem more down to earth.

Companies usually seem way out of our reach, thus making them less human. You become something abstract instead of something they can relate to. By communicating, you show people that you’re just as human as they are. This makes it much easier for them to trust you and guarantees an increase in sales.

Conclusion

Loyalty comes hand in hand with trust. This means that, by building trust, you’re building business relationships that will last a lifetime. To grow and expand your firm, you’ll need to attract as many new customers as you can, but you’ll also have to retain them. Trust is the healthiest glue that can tie you and your target audience together, so don’t be afraid to use it excessively.

huge no. Not only will this be bad for business, but it also shows your customers that you’re someone not to be trusted. Integrity and trust don’t go without each other.

Guest Post: About the Author

Nick is a blogger and a marketing expert currently engaged on projects for Media Gurus, an Australian business, and marketing resource. He is an aspiring street artist and does Audio/Video editing as a hobby.

How to Better Manage Your Online Reputation

The first page of Google results can be dangerous territory. Many web searchers never look beyond the first page when reviewing results from an inquiry. That has profound implications for your business’ reputation, because any negatives that appear on Page One will be seen by the widest audience. Even if the next two pages sing your praises, most folks never see them. So, managing your reputation on social media starts with positive entries on the first page of Google search results.

Reputation Management Firms

Reputation management outfits claim to help clients improve their reputations by suppressing negative information that shows up in response to Google searches. This means pushing unwanted results off of Page One, replacing them with favorable information. Some of these firms charge $5,000 a year and up. However, some are geared to more modest budgets, with services starting for as little as $80. It’s not our purpose to review these sites or pass on their efficacy. However, its hard to understand how the same outcomes can cover such a wide cost range.

Do It Yourself

If you are a hands-on business owner who doesn’t want to rely on a reputation management firm for results, there are plenty of things you can do yourself. These measures might not cause negative information to disappear, but they do offer you the opportunity to present a positive image to the online audience. Here are five things you can do yourself:

1.     Inquire Upon Your Company

Enter a Google search of your business name to see what come up. Also check the image results. You can set up a Google alert when any new content about your company appears. Now you know what you are dealing with and some idea of how much effort it will take to manage your reputation.

2.     Purchase Your Domain(s)

You can buy domain names for as little as $12 each. Some experts advocate you snatch up a bunch of domains, but others maintain that it’s best to buy one domain and use it to establish a good reputation. So if your business is called, say, Chocolate Beagles, you’d want to start with chocolatebeagles.com, and then perhaps get the .net version. You can branch out to chocolatebeaglesonline.com, mychocolatebeagles.com, etc. However, we recommend you start with just one domain and build it up so that it will appear on Page One for a related Google inquiry. If you feel your business name is seriously compromised, consider changing the name and starting fresh.

3.     Load Up the Content

The common phrase is that “content is king.” What this really means is that Google will reward websites that provide authoritative information. You can do this using WordPress, About.me, Tumblr, and website builders like Wix and SquareSpace. Start with general information about yourself and your company, including a discussion of your products and services. But the key is to regularly add blogs and guest articles discussing your industry and related topics in a fair, honest way. Write frequently with authority and Google should reward you. If writing isn’t your thing, hire an expert freelancer.

4.     Use SEO

SEO stands for search engine optimization. This is a collection of techniques that helps Google find, recognize and evaluate your website. These are not difficult to learn and employ, but if you don’t feel up to the task, you can use a webmaster to take care of it for you. With good SEO, you can build your brand with positive information.

5.     Scrub the Internet

Remove items on your own accounts that are causing you problems. This includes Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. You can privatize your posts and limit old posts through appropriate use of privacy settings.

Conclusion

Whether you do it yourself or pay a firm, it’s important to manage your business’ online reputation. It might not be possible to eradicate all negative information, but you can try to crowd it out with positive content that Google ranks highly. In the worst case scenario, you might want to rename your business.

Mid-Year Check-in With Your 2019 Goals

By the time July rolls around, you probably have experienced some surprises — good and bad — that have left your annual business plan in need of update. This is not surprising, as no one has yet figured out how to precisely predict the future. As a business owner, you’ve learned (or are learning) how to be flexible and roll with the punches. But that doesn’t mean it’s OK to throw up your hands and leave the future up for grabs. No, it means updating your annual plan with a mid-year check-in. Consider the following steps:

  1. Review each of the first six months.

    Start with your monthly financials. How did monthly gross revenues stack up against predictions? Did you sell the mix of products and/or services in the quantities you anticipated? Did you execute your marketing and sales plans? Can you discern any surprising trends? For instance, did you detect some seasonality in your sales volume?

  2. Understand what drove revenue.

    After the review of the monthly data, you can focus on the first half as a whole. What you want to understand is what sales drove revenue. It can be any combination of products, services or programs. The goal is to assign revenue to the items that earned it. Did you take on new clients, or a larger or more diverse customer base? From this review, you can sharpen your focus on what worked and what didn’t. This can mean revising sales forecasts for the second half or changing your offering mix. Perhaps you need to revisit your pricing strategy or marketing plan.

  3. Review your operations.

    Did everything run precisely, like a Swiss watch, or were there holes in your operations (more like Swiss cheese). Perhaps you didn’t maintain an optimum inventory? If so, why not? What factors contributed to overstocking or stockouts? Did purchases match expectations, or were you caught flat-footed by price hikes for merchandise, raw materials, supplies, travel, or new recruits? Very importantly, did cash flow problems prevent you from taking advantages of unexpected opportunities, such as a volume discounts on some of your inputs? Did you have to liquidate some slow-moving inventory at wholesale prices (or lower)? These are all symptoms of a cash flow shortfall, which can hurt your growth prospects.

  4. Identify Solutions:

    You want to keep on doing the things that worked well and identify ways to fix problem areas. Both will be evident when you compare your mid-year forecast with actuals. Areas that require attention include marketing effectiveness, product/service mix, relationships with suppliers and vendors, inventory management and cash operations. You also might need to review your workforce to see if you are getting the performance you require.

  5. Rework the Year-End Plan:

    This might include revising budgets, hiring new personnel, exploring new markets and evaluating return on marketing investment. Your goal is to reduce the forecast error in the second half of the year compared to the first half.

  6. Review Growth Plan:

    Some businesses lose money because they are too small relative to demand. That’s a growth opportunity which you should pursue, before someone else capitalizes on it. If you need to finance a growth cycle, get a business loan from a provider like IOU Financial. We’ll work with you to help you grow, making borrowing affordable and convenient.

The output of your mid-year review is a revised year-end forecast for sales revenues and costs. Over time, your forecasts should get better. At the very least, you want your errors to be equally likely on the plus and minus sides. Finally, your business might just be gosh-darn difficult to forecast. If so, your best bet is to have contingency funding available quickly so that you can respond from a position of strength.

How to Manage Your Seasonal Business

Seasonality represents a complex challenge to business owners. To succeed, you must develop smart practices and skills that will allow you to weather the slow periods throughout the year. For one thing, you’ll have to deal with demand dips and supply problems. It’s impossible to be 100% prepared for every contingency, but these seven tips will help you strengthen your seasonal business.

1.    Understand Your Cycles

If you are just starting a business, you might experience an initial period or rapid growth. Sometimes, it can be easy to confuse rapid expansion with a normal seasonal fluctuation that you are catching as it waxes. This might mistakenly lead you to conclude that the current demand will continue indefinitely. Instead, you should research seasonal sales data for your industry and location over the last three years or so. You can check with industry sources and competitors who’ve been around for a while.

2.    Increase Your Planning Skills

You should be planning ahead for at least six months in advance. Understand terms like the off season(complete lulls) and the shoulder season (slow periods). Stash away money during the strong periods to get the business through the quiet months. Also, pare down cash-absorbing items like staffing and inventory during the off season. Use your quiet time to prepare for the next busy season.

3.    Expand Income Streams

The classic example is a pool company. During the summer, it sells or builds backyard pools. Then when winter rolls around, it switches to selling pool tables. That’s pretty clever. Perhaps you can think of countercyclical products and services you might offer during the off season. Say, ice cream in the summer and hot drinks in the winter. Just don’t lose sight of your primary business.

4.    Advertise When Competitors Are Quiet

Maybe your competitors go quiet during the off season. That’s your cue to offer promotions and advertising campaigns that build awareness and attract new customers. Time it to coincide with the last few weeks of the quiet period. Customers will be more ready to buy if you prime the pump at the right time.

5.    Maintain Visibility

The off period is a great time to boost your profile. Perhaps you can sponsor a charitable event, run a raffle or perform some civic duty that garners favorable press. Use your social media accounts throughout the year and use them wisely. That means, giving customers and prospects a reason to pay attention. Perhaps it’s a handy eBook with incredibly useful information, or access to select promotions. Your goal is to convert the occasional customer into a repeat one.

6.    Be Upfront About Layoffs

In some cases, seasonal layoffs are inevitable. However, you can soften the blow by being upfront about it and offering furloughed employees something of value to get them through the quiet time. For instance, you might offer to continue their employee health insurance for the few months they are not there. Keep your staff informed about things that affect them, such as minimum wage laws and new regulations.

7.    Work with an Enlightened Funding Partner

Establish a relationship with a business lender who understands the seasonal nature of your company. You might plan to borrow during the off season to fund capital investments that are best made when business is slow. You can use loan proceeds to even out your cash flows, perhaps allowing you to purchase inventory when its cheap.

IOU Financial makes it easy to obtain small business loans of up to $500,000 with flexible terms, such as daily or weekly payments, no upfront costs, fixed loan payments and affordable rates. We make business lending simplified, so include us in your annual planning. We are standing by to help!

10 Trade Show Marketing Tips for Small Businesses

Been thinking about setting up shop at an expo or special event? Since trade shows are proven to help boost brand awareness, increase sales and enhance product knowledge, there’s no reason why your small business shouldn’t consider attending one. Get your promotional banners and book that well-positioned trade show spot. Be ready to assemble a sales dream team, grab some flashy swag and print up those can’t-miss marketing materials, because we’re headed to the trade show!

Get to Know the Event Before You Go

First things first: do some recon. Seriously though, the best trade shows and industry events will publish numbers pertaining to attendance, attendee demographics, competitors and other important items that you can use to create a highly effective trade show strategy. Focus on finding ways to draw in your ideal customer through buyer personas, and market to your target consumer.

Invest in a Custom Display Kit

If it’s your first time exhibiting at a major trade show, make sure you show up with a professional display. Small businesses typically can’t afford huge, custom-built rigs. These displays cost money to design, conceive and build, and also to transport to the event. Instead, invest in an all-inclusive trade show display that comes with backdrops, banners, tablecloths and other essentials. These bundles basically allow you to turn any space into a pro-level trade show display.

Write a Special Sales Script

Remember how we discussed marketing to your core consumer? Make sure that you tweak your typical sales script or pitch so that it very closely aligns with your target attendee. For example, if you’re hoping to get your product in front of C-suite execs or other decision-makers at a given show, then focus on positioning your product or service as a high-value investment that will bring big returns. If your goal is consumer-focused, make it more of an emotional experience.

Where Possible, Make it Interactive

In a world where we demo, interact and do business in a primarily digital setting, the trade show is a unique opportunity to get real face time with consumers and other innovators within your industry. Don’t miss out on this important component! Try your best to make your booth interactive and engaging by allowing attendees to touch, feel and play with your product. Videos, prototypes, virtual reality setups and mock-up environments can help people visualize products and experiences in a real, meaningful way without a massive spend on your behalf.

Send out a Digital Blast Beforehand

Before you set up at any event, especially a large trade show or convention, make sure to send out a digital marketing blast through email. Let everyone in your circle of clients, customers and partners know where you’ll be exhibiting (list the exact booth number, if possible). Even if your booth is flooded with existing fans or customers, count it as a win! Crowds beget crowds, and if event-goers see that your booth is happening, they’ll stop by, too.

Provide Sneak Peeks to Hype the Crowd

We probably don’t have to tell you that good trade show giveaways can earn you massive points in the exhibitor market. Of course, they’re great for drawing people into your booth and capturing the attention of attendees, but they’re also an amazing way to hype up your display before the event even begins. Tease your swag with sneak peeks a week or so beforehand.

Develop Incentives and Advertise Them

In the same vein, you can use your swag items to help you achieve specific event marketing goals. Maybe you decided to exhibit in order to develop leads, to build brand awareness or to grow your social media numbers. Whatever you want to do, your freebies can help. For example, you might offer a small giveaway to anyone who signs up for your email list or “likes” your page on social media.

Make Something “Share-Worthy”

These days, it isn’t enough for your audience to like and share content related to your business. They also have to create it themselves in what’s known as user-generated content (UGC).One of the best ways you can encourage them to do this is by having a totally unique photo opportunity in the midst of your booth. Think: a large, life-sized prop of some sort or a funny face cutout board with your logo and branding on it. Don’t forget the hashtags!

Draw Attention with Games and Chill Spots

If you’re setting up shop at a trade show that’s primarily business-to-business, remember that most attendees will be on the clock when they’re wandering through the aisles. Thus, anything you can do to provide them with a fun break in the day—which they have probably spent in exhausting meetings, presentations and networking events—will be welcome. Set up a place for attendees to relax, charge their phone or play some games (with prizes, of course) to help them take a much-needed rest as they ink deals.

Host an Event or Presentation

The exhibiting portion is only part of the equation when it comes to trade shows. You can, and should, develop a full-scale trade show plan by adding sponsored events and demonstrations to your schedule. Host thoughtful industry-related panels and question and answer sessions or keep it casual by inviting leaders in your field to mingle at a happy hour or luncheon hosted by your company.

Catering to the Right Crowd — 

 There’s no one-size-fits-all formula to marketing your trade show presence, but you should bank on the things that work. Effective event marketing includes creating an eye-catching display, handing out high-value freebies and building up hype around your exhibit. If you spend a bit of time beforehand conceptualizing a strategy that plays to your target attendee, you can bet that your exhibit fees will bring a pretty impressive return on investment.

Guest Post: About the Author

Leslie Pierce is the VP of Marketing for Half Price Banners. She has a demonstrated history of working in the wholesale industry and has been with her company for over 10 years. She is skilled in luxury goods, sales, retail, store management, and sales operations.

6 of the Best Sales Negotiation Skills for Business Success

Sales negotiation skills are key to business success. Business owners continually encounter situations, ranging from trivial to complex, that require negotiations.

Expert sales negotiation traininghelps business owners achieve optimal results. In this training, sales course content is infused with negotiation skills development. Six sales skills for business owners to improve their sales outcomes include:

The Courage to Walk Away

Skilled business owners avoid going into discussions without options. A businessperson entering discussions should have a Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA).

A BATNA is what you walk away with if you can’t reach an agreement. Understanding your BATNA gives you the confidence to reject unprofitable or low-profit deals and only make informed concessions for win-win outcomes. Confidence grows when you have a favorable fallback position and are not desperate for a deal.

In addition to coming prepared by having your BATNA, knowing your buyers’ and suppliers’ BATNAs can inform your negotiation strategy.

Effective Listening Skills

Negotiations can be highly pressured. Business owners might be itching to get their points across. However, holding the floor in discussions can lead to not paying attention to what others are saying. The dominating speaker is too busy thinking of their next point.

Just waiting for your chance to speak instead of truly listening is also considered disrespectful to others at the table. When you don’t listen, you can also miss chances to create and claim value.

When you pay close attention, you are likely to uncover details that could enrich the deal and improve the relationship. Listening is so crucial that top business negotiators write out their best questions before meetings. Questions give you control of the meeting, allowing you to steer discussions.

Documentation Skills

Sales negotiation training teaches students to put discussions and agreements in writing. It’s possible to agree to something and later forget details of the agreement.

Additionally, it’s almost inevitable to come across a dishonest person in business. Documenting terms makes it more difficult for someone to later use deceptive tactics to challenge agreements.

Other times, clients or suppliers may forget committing to an agreement. When you have agreements in writing and all participants retain a copy, the contract acts as a reminder for smooth operations and timely deliveries.

Effective Communication Skills

In business negotiations, there’s little room for miscommunication or communication breakdowns. As Lee Iacocca once said, “You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across, your ideas won’t get you anywhere.” Similarly, if you can’t communicative effectively in business, your negotiation efforts may not amount to much.

Effective communication is key in simplifying complex information, resolving conflicts, and persuasion. Negotiation seminars often train sales professionals to hone their communication skills through role play. Strong communication skills need practice to form positive habits like being engaging and responsive.

Fortunately, communication skills can be honed. To improve your effectiveness in negotiations, you can:

  • Take time to thoroughly research and prepare before the meeting.
  • Consider enrolling in expert negotiation training.
  • Engage in negotiation simulations to rehearse and improve.
  • Conduct debriefing sessions to analyze your performance.

Problem-Solving Skills

Businesses make profits out of solving other people’s problems.

The same steps a businessperson takes to solve problems can be used to reach agreements. Problem-solving steps you can take to reach agreements include:

  • Clearly defining the problem.
  • Pursuing alternative opportunities for solving the problem.
  • Questioning the cause of the problem.
  • Identifying multiple possible solutions to the problem.
  • Prioritizing potential solutions.
  • Deciding on an acceptable solution.
  • Assigning tasks for implementing the solution.
  • Setting measures to track progress on the problem and solution.

Empathy

Empathy helps a businessperson understand others’ problems and create appropriate solutions. When you’re empathetic, you’re positioned to understand the feelings and attitudes of others, even if your own feelings differ.

Empathy forges mutual respect and develops trust. In persuasion, empathy can encourage positive social behavior. This increases the chances of creating win-win solutions. Expert sales negotiation training can:

  • Equip people to identify their own and other people’s emotions.
  • Train people to identify emotion by reading body language, tone, and non-verbal cues.
  • Train business owners to employ skillful probing without sounding interrogative.
  • Practice active listening to understand rather than interrupt.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of others’ concerns without judgment.

Sales Negotiation Skills Summary

By training in and nurturing these six key skills, business owners can create favorable outcomes. After all, business is ultimately about exchanging value for profits. If you fail at negotiations, you are more likely to fail in business. If you employ these six skills to succeed at negotiations, your business is positioned to grow consistently.

Guest Post: About the Author

Specialists in the corporate business negotiation market, The Negotiation Experts offer instructive advice on their site via articles, Q&A’s, book reviews, case studies, and negotiating definitions.

4 Traits You Need in an Employee for Top Notch Content Creation

Content creators are extremely valuable because they are the link that connects your business to your target audience. Content is anything that can be used to describe your company, such as text, website content, email marketing, blogs, press releases, videos and images. This helps people understand what your company is all about, learn about your products and services, initiatives, beliefs, etc.

When you have made the decision to bring on a content creator, your first thought should be what type of person would be a good fit for this position. Content is subjective, and, as such, there’s really no “test” you can give to a prospective candidate that you can give to a bookkeeper or a computer engineer, for example. However, there are certain traits that top notch content creators possess; looking for a person with these traits will help you make a smarter hiring decision.

Teamwork

Content is typically a team effort, and the most relevant and engaging content usually involves cross collaboration between different departments. As such, the best content creator will have teamwork abilities so that they can work with marketing, advertising, PR, accounting and sales to get the most comprehensive vision of the company and the goals that the content should set out to achieve. 

This type of individual should be able to ask the right questions and actively listen to the answers. They should respect the fact that various people may have competing ideas or objectives, and work together to come up with a similar direction. Finally, they should be open to making changes to the content based on feedback from others.

Creativity

Content truly relies on creativity and being open-minded and innovative in order to construct a memorable customer experience. It’s advantageous to review the portfolio of any employee you are considering hiring to view their past projects and gauge how creative they are.

Ask about the person’s creative process, and what they use as inspiration for their work. What do they do if they have writer’s block? How do they make sure their work is unique and distinct from the competition?

The answers to these questions will give you more insight about the candidate’s preferred working style and if they would be a good fit for your team.

Communication Skills

Excellent communication skills are a must when it comes to content creation, and include oral, written and interpersonal abilities. Creativity is only one step of the puzzle, but being able to express those ideas to the right audience, formulate thoughts and create a finished product is the most important step.

This is a great topic to ask about when you are checking the employee’s references, as communication skills can easily be judged by former colleagues and employers. Ask about how the person got along with others, how they resolved conflict and how well they were able to evaluate the knowledge and receptiveness of the target audience when creating content.

Drive

There is a lot that goes into creating the best content, such as:

  • Researching the latest trends in the industry
  • Keeping up with the competition
  • Interviewing experts
  • Finding the best images
  • Learning the needs of the customer
  • Understanding audience preferences
  • Experimenting to see what works better

These qualities are truly up to the individual to learn and implement, and, as such, the right candidate should be driven, self-motivated and results-oriented. You want the person who makes it their mission to create top notch content, and will stop at nothing to get there.

The most experienced and qualified content creators do not come cheap, and you will have to make a competitive offer to bring them on your team. However, don’t let this stop you from hiring the right employee, as they will surely bring a great return on your investment. Instead, consider getting a small business loan to offset this cost. Contact IOU Financial today to learn about our easy and safe process to get you funded in as little as 48 hours.

4 Things Small Businesses Must Include in Their Budgets

Budgeting is to business as oxygen is to life: Without it, you die. The reason budgeting is vital to the health of a small business is that it is your GPS device for telling you where you are supposed to go and where you are actually heading. You use the budget to track business expenses, cash on hand, revenue needed and received, and other items to know whether your business is succeeding. The differences between your projected and actual budget numbers are your early warning system when things start to go wrong — or your confirmation that you are on the right track. Those differences are also a call to address problems by changing what you are doing.

Bottom line, your budget tells you how much money you have, how much you must earn and how much money you will have to spend. Importantly, it also tells you how much you might need to borrow to plug any cash shortfalls and to finance your growth. To know these things, you should include in your budget the items listed below.

Required Budget Items

Your budget might have dozens of line items, but they can all be organized into four groups of items that every budget must track: Sales, costs, profits and cash flows.

Sales and Other Revenues

These figures are the foundation of your budget. You can’t spend money unless you make it, and you don’t want to overestimate how much you’ll make by donning rose-colored glasses. Your estimates should be conservative but realistic — if they turn out to be too conservative, well, that’s a good thing. On the other hand, bloated estimates could leave your business floating belly up.

Estimating your revenues is hardest if you are just starting up your business, because you don’t have any prior-year data. That’s why you did extensive research by talking to other owners in your same field, undertaking market research, and relying on your knowledge from previous jobs.

Be sure to include, if appropriate, estimates for sales allowances and returns, which you subtract from gross sales to calculate net sales.

Total Costs and Expenses

To make money, you must spend money– those are your costs and expenses. You should categorize your costs by type:

  1. Fixed costs: These are costs that remain the same independent of your sales numbers. They include rent, insurance, property taxes, leased furniture and so forth. While these costs are called fixed, they are not carved in granite. “Fixed” just means that it will take a while (up to a year and maybe longer) to change these costs.
  2. Variable costs: These are costs that vary directly with sales volume. They include the costs of merchandise, raw materials, labor, utilities, freight, inventory and alike.
  3. Semi-variable costs: These are costs that can slowly vary with the volume of business. For instance, they include the costs of salaries, marketing, communications and various elements of overhead.

Profits

Profits, or net income, are revenues minus all expenses. Ultimately, your business won’t succeed unless it can generate profits. Your budget should include estimated  interest and income tax expenses when projecting profits. If your budget tells you that it will take years before you might begin making profits, you should re-evaluate your business model and see if you can operate until the profits begin rolling in.

Projected Cash Flows

Lack of profits can slowly poison your business. Lack of cash can stab it in the heart. Your cash flows revolve around collections and disbursements. The timing of both will reveal whether your cash inflows and outflows align. To some extent, you can try to accelerate collections and delay disbursements when revenues fall short or unexpected expenses arise. Your budget will indicate when you might have to inject more cash into your business, either by contributing additional capital or taking out a loan. If the latter is required, contact us at IOU Financial for a quick working capital loan on easy terms and convenient daily repayments.

Budget Templates

You don’t have to build your budget from scratch. We recommend our Business Budget Smart Sheet, which will help you analyze your spending patterns, streamline areas of overspending, gauge the cash flow impact of fixed and variable costs, and much more.