Why Social Media is Beneficial for Small Business Owners: 5 Sites and The Best Ways to Use Them

Keeping up with the growing number of social media sites and trying to put your small businesses mark on the map can seem overwhelming. What platform does what?, How do I use each one?, and Aren’t they all the same? are most likely questions your business has asked when the word “social media marketing” comes up. By understanding the basics on how to best use social media, small businesses can immediately see and benefit from the value these platforms can bring. Lets dive into the top 5 social media sites your business needs to be active on to maintain a presence in the market.

Facebook  

Main Focus: Staying consumer engaged

Facebook hit the scene in 2004 and regardless of what some may think, it still dominates the market for small businesses to stay connected to the “people” who use and support business brands. Facebook for businesses should focus on creating content that keeps the conversation going with the dedicated followers and supporters of your business. When starting with Facebook focus on the following:

  • Use photos with questions. Create a post (preferably an image) and ask questions such as “What would be a good caption for this?”
  • Incorporate people who use your brand. When posting mention a customer who follows the page or “shout out” a person who recently commented.
  • Engage with questions. Keep the content focused on feedback from customers and keep them offering their perspectives.

Twitter

Main focus:  Offering perspective

Twitter is also a long standing platform with 317 Million active users each month. Twitter has become increasingly popular for brands and companies to offer their perspectives on hot topics or using “hashtags” pointing to relevant issues people are talking about on their platform. Twitter offers a short character count method to express a thought, stance, or comment on current events and news. When starting with Twitter focus on the following:

  • Use for news about your niche. Share news or other “stories” relevant to your niche that users can gain insight or information from.
  • Use polls and ask questions. Polling the audience is a great way to keep users engaged and offer opinions. Users will also share those polls with others growing your presence.
  • Ask for a “Re-Tweet” or just say “RT”. A Re-tweet is someone else sharing your “tweet” or “post” giving you credit and exposure.

Instagram

Main Focus: Inside scoop

Instagram was the first platform that simply asked users to post photos and small (if any) captions. Instagram has now expanded to a major source of website traffic referral and business exposure. By sharing photos of your business, companies should use Instagram as a “behind the scenes” look at their brand offering users a view they can’t get on other platforms. When starting with Instagram focus on the following:

  • Share content that is “about your brand.” Post photos of design sketches, a team meeting, or something funny that happened outside your office walls. This brings a “behind the scene look.”
  • Use interesting photos. Post images that look artsy or different to catch your customer’s’ eyes. Have fun with the ideas you can create.
  • Use bio and links to relevant offerings. Update the “bio” section often giving users a direct link and upcoming offering that they don’t want to miss out on.

Pinterest

Main Focus: Educating

Pinterest is a play on the word “Interest” with the idea of “pinning” something that you like and want to save for reading, trying, or even learning more about in the moment or down the road. Users create “boards” that they “pin” items to so people can easily find whatever strikes their fancy. Businesses can use Pinterest to educate their audience on a variety of related “niche” ideas. When starting with Pinterest focus on the following: 

  • Be an educator. Share relevant information and facts that people can learn ideas, tips, tricks, and other facts from simply looking at your boards.
  • Build on networks like yours. Add other contributors to your “board” to further expose your brand and use that exposure as a traffic source to your site.
  • Share inspirational posts. Inspiring other people is one of the most common reason to “pin,” and therefore doing the same can be helpful to your brand.

Google+

Main Focus: Location Location Location

Google+ is a way for businesses and customers to find each other, learn more about each other, and tell other people about each other. Small businesses who tap into Google+ can find ways to increase foot traffic to their storefront, offer visitors a place to share their thoughts, and also allows businesses to share relevant information about their brand to help promote and increase website rankings. Google+ for businesses is created after a business account on Google has been created. When starting with Google+ focus on the following:

  • Bring people to YOU. Google+ offers location services and direct links to your business platform or portfolio.
  • SEO. SEO or Search Engine Optimization is highly crucial to any website for any business. By joining and linking content on Google+, SEO gets a jumbo boost.
  • Use for networking with customers and influencers. Google calls these “circles” which allows you to categorize who are your customers and who are your business influencers. This helps businesses tailor the content to both groups maximizing relevancy on the platform.

As you have read above, there are many social media platforms out there for small businesses and brands. While some may think it’s simply enough to “share the same message” across all platforms, or that “one site fits all” is the stance to take, such is not the case. By understanding the differences between platforms, and the best ways to utilize each, businesses can offer users varied information and a push to follow and engage with your company in multiple ways. Starting out can be daunting, but after the first post, tweet, pin, circle or hashtag, small businesses will find the effort was worth the outcome.

 

Would SMS Communication Help Your Business: Top 5 Business Models That Would Benefit from Text Communication or Notifications

The growing expansion of utilizing SMS (Short Message Service) or most commonly referred to as “text messaging” has made its way into the market in a bigger way than telling a friend you’re running late, or notifying a loved one you made it home safely. SMS is now being used by the most popular businesses out there and has given consumers an even more hands-on way to stay in the loop. But is SMS right or even needed for every business? Let’s dive into the top 5 business models that may benefit from the use of SMS notifications in their communication plans.

Business Who Need to Verify a Person’s Identity

You’ve seen this if you have signed up for a Google email account or signed up for an account involving your identity. You sign up and are asked for a cell phone number to text a code to, which is entered on the account to verify you did in fact sign up, and are who you say you are. Well, if your business involved confirming any form of identity, or wants to safeguard personal information, creating an SMS notification/confirmation system may be right for you.

Business Who Need to Notify Customers of Any “Confirmations”

Does your business confirm reservations for dinner? Confirm a car will arrive in 5 minutes? Do you want to notify customers that their order has been placed and should expect a shipment soon? If any of these are a yes, then SMS services are a huge need. People have their phones everywhere they go, so sending a simple text saying “your table is ready” or a text confirming the order of a new slick gadget has made its way to the shipping dock will ensure a happy customer stays happy, simply because they were notified right when the information becomes known.

Businesses That Involve “Timing” of Anything

Movie starts in 5 minutes, plane will be a little late, or the shuttle that was supposed to be arriving now is not quite there. All of these scenarios require timing and with SMS, many businesses are tapping into the simple method of keeping customers in the loop. If your business has anything to do with timing of anything, from shipment to opening its doors, to notifying the next step of the process they are “good to go”, then SMS services could be a huge method to keep productivity high and clock watching low.

Businesses Offering Consumer Sales or Discounts

Ready to upgrade? Want to cash in on a limited time offer? Want a coupon for your next purchase? If your business has coupons or deals to share that can save customers money, text messaging is one way to approach this with consumers. Many businesses are using SMS notifications to alert its current customers of big sales, eligibility on cool new products, and upcoming deals that they can save for later use. If your business has any sort of deals to be mentioned, get the message out there with SMS.

Businesses Who Have a Consumer Demand

Last but certainly not to be dismissed is the idea that any business that has a customer demand for SMS should consider using text communication. Any business knows that if their customers want it, then one should consider it. If customers are asking or suggesting text communication, consider implementing into your service. Simple to use and powerful means of communication may be an easy solution to consider when looking at other means of staying engaged.

Using SMS or “text messaging” in some business models are more appropriate than others. Knowing the right places, methods, and setup are a whole other bag of tricks. If your business could possibly use SMS communication for reaching their customers and growing their brand, considering the use of such a service may be worth a look. By following the above business models or services that may benefit from SMS is the first place to start in implementing the modern day method for communication to the masses.

Increase Sales in 2017 with a Solid Marketing Plan

Every business owner hopes that the upcoming year will be more successful than the last; but instead of just  hoping, entrepreneurs can create plans to ensure those goals are met. New product launches, expansion and franchising are common way to increase sales, but they are risky and costly. However, implementing a new or improved marketing strategy can benefit a business at a lower cost, or can be budgeted for easily.

What are the Benefits of Marketing?

Blue Cow Creative lists several benefits of marketing, including promoting brand recognition, advertising your services or products to customers, selecting which clients to target, and allowing you to communicate with those individuals in a timely manner.

The bottom line is that a business can offer the most innovative product, or the most cost-effective service, but without marketing the offerings to their intended audience, no sales will follow.

What are the Most Effective Forms of Marketing?

There are a multitude of marketing strategies; there is the traditional, interruption marketing, which interrupts an individual’s day with a cold call, or a television program they are watching with a commercial. Another alternative is permission marketing, which only targets the individuals who give their consent to be contacted.

Research has proven time and time again that permission marketing is not only more cost-effective, as you are not spending funds to contact individuals who have no interest in your business, but is also more effective. It is much easier to close a sale with a person interested in what you have to say, than one who has to be persuaded. Below we list three different types of permission marketing:

Email Promotions 

Emails allow you to communicate with a targeted audience in order to announce new products, sales, special deals and events. There are several ways to ask customers and potential clients to sign up for your email promotions. If you have a physical store or office, you can ask visitors to add their contact information to your list. If you have a website, you can create pop-up advertisements asking people to opt-in to receiving email communication from you. To entice them to sign up, consider offering an exclusive discount or a an entry into a drawing.

Social Media

Social media is an effective marketing tool for any business. It is a form of permission marketing because people have to choose to follow or “like” your business page, and if they always have the option to stop receiving communication by deleting access to their profile.

There are a plethora of social media platforms to choose from; Facebook is the most popular one, allowing access to 1.79 billion monthly active users, but Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest are also beneficial to use to connect to your target audience.

Be strategic about what you post on social media; remember to be honest and ethical, yet make your posts and images eye-catching and creative in order to get noticed. The biggest advantage of social media is that other members can share your posts with their network, providing a form of free advertising.

Influencers

Influencers are individuals that can sway the purchasing decisions of others because of their expertise, authority, or knowledge in a certain area. There are fashion influencers, who curate outfits for their audience, beauty influencers who recommend makeup brands for specific skin needs, etc.

When considering ways to market your brand in 2017, research relevant influencers in your industry. You can contact these individuals through their personal blogs or social media platforms to ask them to recommend your product or service. The best part is that these people already have large fan bases, so your offering would be shared with a multitude of potential customers who want to hear what the influencer has to say. Keep in mind that as payment for their promotion, influencers may request payment in the form of free items or actual monetary compensation.

With the new year quickly approaching, set your marketing budget now so that you can pursue relevant strategies for permission marketing. Get your budget in order before the new year with our Business Budget Smart Sheet.

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Protecting Your Intellectual Property

Intellectual property (IP) is a creative work, such as a design, invention or manuscript, whose rights are owned by your company. Those rights are established through a legal mechanism, such as a trademark, copyright or patent. IP is valuable – sometimes the most valuable asset a company can hold.

Here are the three major ways to protect your IP:ip-blog-image

  • Patents: You apply for a patent at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Patents provide 20 years of protection from the filing date. You can apply for a:
    • Utility patent: Available to anyone who discovers or invents a new, useful process, mechanism, product, or composition of matter. You can also patent a significant improvement to any of these.
    • Design patent: Used for new designs of manufactured items
    • Plant patent: For use when you discover or breed a new, asexually reproducible variety of plant
  • Trademarks: Protect symbols, names, phrases, logos, artwork, colors and sounds used to distinguish your goods and services from others. Registration is not required, but is available. Trademarks remain in effect indefinitely.
  • Copyrights: Provide protection for original works of authorship, including musical, literary, dramatic, and artistic, whether published or unpublished. Copyrights automatically attach to original works, but you can also register them at the U.S. Copyright Office. Copyrights last from 70 to 120 years.

A startup company might, in its rush to get a product or service to market, not fully protect its IP. After all, it takes some time and money to register a patent. However, failure to protect IP can ultimately be very expensive and dangerous to a company. You have to worry about a partner, executive or employee stealing your IP, not to mention the threat of corporate spying. Here are some tips for protecting your IP:

  • Educate yourself and your team on the topic of IP. Learn the differences among trade secrets, patents, copyrights and trademarks. The time you spend up front understanding IP will pay big dividends later on.
  • If you have a novel idea, make sure it isn’t already patented. Do a Google search to see if it makes sense to spend your money on a protected idea.
  • Patent your valuable ideas, even if you don’t necessarily plan to develop them on your own. Someone else may want to buy a patent from you.
  • Use an expert attorney to file your patent. Always insist on a fixed fee.
  • Do not delay filing your patent application. It’s like taking a number at the deli counter – it holds your place in line. After initial submission, you have 12 months to augment your application and fill in any missing details. The approval process requires patience, since it takes up to five years. That’s why you often encounter the term “patent pending.”
  • Identify through an audit your non-patented IP, such as copyrights and trademarks, whether registered or unregistered.
  • You may need to file for international patents, because a U.S. patent won’t protect you from international competition.
  • Use non-disclosure agreements with all employees and consultants to prevent them from stealing your IP.

To research and file patents may cost you tens of thousands of dollars. A commercial loan from IOU Financial is an easy, fast and low-cost way to finance the protection of your IP. We can provide funds within 24 hours of approval, so contact us today.

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Turning Window Shoppers into Sales: 4 Simple Ways to Bring Outside Shoppers In

Window shopping for some is a pastime, and for others it’s a way to see what deals and sales are for the taking. Do not let a window shopper just glance in your store and move on! By simply following these four steps, you will ensure that the average window shopper will enter your store and become your customer in no time.

1. Post sale signs in the window

window-shopper-blogWindow shoppers first shop with their eyes, and they shop for deals. They look for signage signaling a sale, new items, and catchy tag lines that speak to their needs. Draw customers in by what you post in the windows. Post a current sale, a discount if you buy a qualified amount, or offer an in-store sale that can’t be beat.

Extra tip: Use bright colors that catch the eye. Certain colors evoke different emotions so find ones that translate to the sale you are holding!

2. Use “Act Now” terminology

Window shoppers see a lot of storefronts. So why would they stop at yours and come inside?…because you told them to! Don’t be shy about directing window shoppers to what you want them to buy. Post signs like: “Spend $$ get $$$ Now”, or “Don’t let this sale go by”, or “You need this look.” Using “act now” terminology will increase the foot traffic to your store. Nobody has read a sign that said “If you want to come inside we’d be OK with it,” and felt compelled to go inside, so don’t be afraid to tell people what to do!

Extra tip: Use some popular fonts and keep it simple to read from afar. Spending time on a fancy font will translate only to wasted signage.

3. Offer a free item

It’s no secret that shoppers like deals. Shoppers also like free stuff. So make it a win-win and offer a free item with any in-store purchase. The item can be simple or small, as long as it adds value to the shopping experience.  Offer the item for in-store purchases on that day only and increase the urgency and desire to obtain the deal before it expires.

Extra tip: Offer a deal “worth up to x amount of money” and steer clear from stating exactly what the free item is on the store signage. This draws in more customers seeing the dollar value being saved rather than an item they may not necessarily want or think they need.

4. Put your best foot forward

The first thing a window shopper sees is your storefront. Place your best items in the window around the signage offering a sale or free item. Selling clothes? Display the best outfit in front, closest to the door. Selling electronics? Feature the latest gadget right up front so customers see you have the latest in the industry. Don’t be shy about the best products and put those in the line sight of your next potential customer.

Extra tip: Put the best items closest to the door.This follows the natural walking patterns of customers and raises the desire to get in your door to get that stunning product they just saw.

Turning a window shopper into a customer can be done, and with some extra guidance and tips, any storefront with a good product can draw in a crowd. Following the four tips outlined above, increase the foot traffic in just a few moments. The art of turning a passerby into a sale happens when you provide a shopping solution only found in your store!

5 Ways Your Small Business Can Capitalize on Olympic Hype

If you haven’t noticed, its Olympic season in Rio. If you have noticed, you are armchair-clutching, edge-of-your-seat watching, and stand-on-your-feet rooting for your favorite athlete to win gold and set him or herself apart from the competition. If you also are a business owner, you may be able to capitalize on this hype and build a steady flow of business and sales while people have Olympic fever. In this post we will review five ways your business can capitalize on the Olympic hype and create engaging ways to bring in new customers.

 

  1. Offer Olympic-sized discounts based on medal counts.

Medal counts are one of the most talked about factors of the Olympics. How many one country has over the other, down to how many each individual has from each country, is highlighted and talked about.  Use this to your advantage. Offer a percentage off based on total medal counts for a specific athlete, a country, you name it! Update it each day and keep customers coming back as the medal count rises.

 

  1. Use creative, Olympic-themed marketing slogans.

There are so many story lines surrounding the Olympics that you can play off of to create interesting marketing material. Use intriguing taglines for your marketing efforts. Slogans like Bolt into Savings, Simone says “come on down,” or Take a final lap in our clearance sale, will give your business the Olympic sprit and turn a few heads at the same time. Who knows what storylines will develop, but if you stay active with the latest events, customers will take notice and remember your name even after the torch goes out.

 

  1. Offer products geared towards the Olympics.

You don’t need to run an athletic store or a gym to capitalize on offering products geared towards the Olympics. It is not just about the events, but the people, the countries represented, and the medals. If you sell clothes, offer discounts on sporting apparel featured in the events. If you sell food and drink products, offer products that athletes would use at a discounted rate. Do you offer travel services? Showcase a package fit for any Olympian (whether you are in Rio or not).

 

  1. Create an Olympic event or contest.

Businesses that interact with their customers often generate more sales and leads in the future. Why not showcase your business by creating an Olympic-themed event for your community? Offer gift cards for customers who compete in events, guess Olympic-based trivia questions correctly, or do their best Olympic impressions. With endless options and fun contests to be held, it is a win-win to offer such interactive business events.

 

  1. Share a funny company video–Olympic style.

There are a lot of couch watchers who think they could run as fast, jump as high, or spike a volleyball as hard as the athletes at the Olympics. Gather some co-workers and make a fun video of you attempting similar events featured in the Olympics to show how difficult it really is. Film your coworker running a 200-meter and display their time against the gold medal winner’s time. Film your company doing a relay race in the pool and compare your company record with the current record-holder’s results on the screen. Have fun with the fact that watching from the couch is much different. That will help customers get off their couch and head down to a fun, creative store like yours.

 

When it comes to generating business and buzz, staying current with the most relevant topics on consumers’ minds will help increase your exposure, sales, and leads for Olympic season and beyond. By capitalizing on the Olympic hype, your business can rise to gold and set yourself on pace for a record year. Enjoy the Olympics and have fun boosting your revenue at the same time.

How to Increase Customer Engagement with a Loyalty Program

A new customer is good for business, but it is repeat customers who make the business a success. Once a client has purchased your product, what strategies do you have in place to promote customer retention? One strategy to consider is a customer loyalty program to reward returning customers every time they make a purchase.

Many small business owners wonder if a loyalty program is worth the financial and time investment; however, it costs companies seven times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one. In fact, 51 percent of the top 100 retailers in the US have a type of customer loyalty program. The retailers who offered rewards programs earned two to three times as much annually as the retailers who didn’t have a loyalty program in place. Based on the research, loyalty programs are highly effective.

 

Types of Loyalty Programs

There are different ways to create a loyalty program, and the one that’s right for you depends on your specific industry.

 

Points System

A points system is the most common type of customer loyalty program. Credit card companies are famous for offering reward points to customers, but many other businesses do so as well, such as Bloomingdale’s, Walgreens, Gilt, Best Buy, and more. This is done by offering repeat customers points for money spent. The main caveat to this type of loyalty program is not to make the conversion difficult or hard to understand, which many companies inadvertently do, or place strict limits on point redemptions, such as blackout dates. A simple and efficient program would offer 1 point for every $1 spent.

It can be advantageous to offer points not just for purchases, but also to encourage customers to market your business. You can reward clients who share your site’s link, write a review on a social media site, bring in new customers or check into your business online.

 

Member Only Cards

Another way to promote customer retention is to utilize member only cards that give access to exclusive discounts and promotions. CVS offers a free ExtraCare card that tracks customers’ purchases to suggest items based on their shopping history, as well as offer store coupons and other membership rewards.

Customers need to provide contact information to receive a member only card, which allows the brand to communicate with them via coupons, announcements and sales, thereby actively encouraging customer retention.

A disadvantage is that some individuals may forget or lose their card or coupons, which is why many retailers have created apps for members. By setting up an account on a store’s app, customers can access exclusive coupons and promotions on their phone without having to keep track of a physical card.

 

Punch Cards

Punch cards are good options for businesses that offer inexpensive products or services that are needed often. A customer is rewarded with a free item or another perk after receiving all the punches on the card. Businesses that can benefit from punch cards are carwashes, hair salons, fast food restaurants, children’s indoor playgrounds, etc.

The problem with punch cards is that they are small and made out of paper, so they often get lost or damaged. Instead of giving out punch cards, consider keeping track of your customers’ purchases on your end by creating a digital punch card through a customer retention management (CRM) system. This software allows business owners to enter and track clients’ information and alert them about their transactions and points through text messages.

 

There are many ways business owners can increase customer retention with loyalty programs. However, setting up and advertising these rewards is a financial investment not many small business owners can afford. A small business loan from IOU Financial can help in purchasing the required software and other materials to increase sales with a loyalty program.

Get Your Small Business Found Online with Content Marketing

Remember when you launched your small business’ first website? It was probably an exciting day. Thoughts of new customers and an ever-increasing number of visitors had you patting yourself and your team on the back for a job well-done. Of course, it probably didn’t take long to realize that a website isn’t something that is launched and simply forgotten. Real effort must be put into earning credibility with search engines, attracting more traffic, engaging those visitors, and encouraging them to share your message with others. The constant race to rank higher in search engine results in order to be found by new customers can quickly consume a lot of time and attention. Constant changes to search engine optimization (SEO) protocol and site ranking algorithms can be hard to keep track of and make reaching those upper echelons of search results harder and harder to achieve.

 

Rest assured though, that if you treat your website like one of your top sales people, you’ll have less to worry about. The constantly changing world of SEO typically revolves around trying to weed out the imposters, and reward the authentic players.  One of the ways that search engines such as Google evaluates a website is whether it contains unique, original content that engages real visitors. By arming your website with new content on a regular basis like you might do for a sales team, you can demonstrate that you have a lot of knowledge and valuable information to share.

 

Now, we admit there is a lot more to increasing a website’s rankings and “findability,” including website code structure, metadata and tags, etc.  However, today we’re going to stick with covering a handful of content ideas that should be within reach for most small business owners.

Brush Up Your Writing

Written content, which can cover everything from blogging to forums, on your website can be used not only to attract new visitors, but engage them for longer periods of time once they arrive.  Ensuring that content is constantly refreshed, updated and innovative will make it easier to climb to the top of the proverbial SEO mountain. Making sure that your blog has new entries on a regular basis will alert search engines’ algorithms that your business is an active online participant and deserves the public’s attention. It is important to note that you should write content for your customers, not search engines!

The Power of Video

One area that is often overlooked when it comes to SEO-focused content is video. Embedding videos into your website can be a great way to not only engage your customers, but also trigger Google to recognize your site quicker. When posting videos, ensure that they are tagged with the correct keywords that are relevant to your business or what you’re selling. For example, if you own an online-based clothing store you wouldn’t want to title your video “Video 1”. Instead, a title such as “New Spring Dresses” will add valuable keywords to your video and improve search results, as well as show up in the new “Video” section of Google and Bing’s results page.

 

In addition to adding important keywords to your videos, you also want to make sure that the videos you use for your website are high-quality and viewer friendly.

Ensuring that your videos are quick to download and are visually inspiring will keep your audience‘s attention longer and show that your brand is savvy and invested in retaining your clients.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

The same rule of keeping things visually appealing also is important for the photography shown on your website. For online retailers, product photos are paramount to success. Regularly updating your product photos and landing page photos are important for customer engagement and search engine optimization.  With a plethora of free photo and video editing tools available, any company with any sized budget can look like a million bucks!

 

You work hard to make sure your products and services are high quality, so make sure your website and online presence reflects that! If you don’t have the time or money to invest in making improvements to your content, consider a loan from IOU Financial to get you the funds you need to get the job done. When done correctly, you will surely see the return in your online traffic and sales!

5 Examples of Incredibly Helpful Small Business Advisors

5 EXAMPLES OF INCREDIBLY HELPFUL SMALL BUSINESS ADVISORS

Ask nearly any successful business owner about whether they achieved their growth alone, and you’re likely to hear the same answer: they had some help and guidance along the way. As a small business owner, it doesn’t take long to realize that you can’t be an expert in every single facet of business: sales, HR, marketing, partnerships, finance, etc. Realizing this sooner than later can have a significant impact on your business. Seeking out the right advisors to fill your knowledge gaps can accelerate growth, reduce your stress, and help you solve problems you may be struggling with.

Strengthening the areas of your small business that you may not have experience with can be done through helpful consultation from an advisor. This can be done informally through friends and family or formally by paying a professional firm in a specific area. It’s a matter of finding the right people that can offer you expertise in your area of need, along with determining what is crucial to your business’ success. When thinking about who to collaborate with, consider these five types of advisors.

  1. Financial Advisor – Managing your company funds is not as simple as balancing your personal checkbook, but it is imperative to a successful business. In order to get the most out of your day-to-day cash flow while building for the future, it’s important to have a trusted financial advisor or accountant familiar with small businesses. Keeping thorough records, maintaining a regular budget, and planning accordingly for future opportunities or investments are all areas that a financial advisor will focus on in order to steer you towards success.
  2. Industry Expert – While you may know a lot about your specific industry, if you are the only one within your business you consider an “industry expert,” and you are not consistently engrossed in the latest topics, this could be a problem. Seeking out additional perspectives on important matters can be imperative for business development. Arming yourself with information from an industry expert, whether it’s a direct contact, knowledge from books or websites where they share information, or a peer group focused on your industry, you can gain additional insight you may not have originally considered. Knowledge equals power, so why not consult with those that have the most knowledge?
  3. Marketing/Branding Expert – Many small business owners achieve their early success from hard work and hustle, but to continue that growth, marketing and branding are crucial. Spreading the word about your company and clearly defining messaging that communicates what your company does is paramount for building a customer base. This is where a marketing/branding expert is especially helpful because there are many channels to consider, and nuances associated with each that could determine the difference between a positive or negative ROI on your business efforts.
  4. Another Entrepreneur – If you network with other entrepreneurs (if you don’t get started now!) you can get invaluable tips. In this case, it doesn’t matter if this person is in your industry or not. Another entrepreneur in a different industry can offer impartial insight and offer advice about struggles and opportunities that they have been through as a fellow small business owner. You never know what you can learn from listening to another business owner’s challenges and how they are overcoming them.
  5. Human Resources Professional – You might not think you’re ready for an HR expert yet, but as your business grows, it’s important to understand the ins and outs of human resources. When you are hiring, firing, handling payroll taxes and more, it’s imperative that you know the legalities for each area and the best ways to address specific circumstances. Just a few hours with an HR professional can give you the information you need to take care of these various areas in the best way possible, and most importantly, to avoid any legal situations that could negatively impact you and your business.

Running a business can sometimes feel lonely, but you should never feel like you need to stand alone. The key is to find the right people that can offer you exceptional advice to help bring your company to the next level.

Keep tabs on the IOU Financial blog for more advice for small business owners.

Marketing on a Small Budget

You might have the best product or service in the world, but unless people learn about it, your small business is not going to get very far. Marketing is essential for every business, but it doesn’t have to be too expensive. Here are some tips for getting your message out while keeping your cash at home:

  1. Do Your Own Market Research
    Make a list of what your customers want, the questions they ask, the problems they want solved, their gender and age, etc. This will help you target your marketing efforts by addressing their concerns directly.
  2. Clarify Your Message
    Don’t spend a lot on fancy brochures without first ensuring that your message is clear and concise. If a young person can’t understand your message, then it might need simplification. Clarity above all else!
  3. Public Relations on the Cheap
    Do things to get your business’ name out there, like volunteering your offerings at charity events, running a blog and inviting guest bloggers, commenting in other persons’ blogs, and attending networking or civic events.
  4. Hire a Small Marketing Agency
    Identify a promising small marketing agency and, at least at the beginning, follow their advice. They will understand you are on a tight budget — they probably are too — but nonetheless will have innovative ideas for you. If they don’t, try another one, but give the first one a little time to prove itself.
  5. Look for Free Marketing Advice
    Articles such as this one provide useful information for free. The library is another great resource, and many marketing agencies are willing to perform a free initial consultation.
  6. Promote Word-of-Mouth Advertising
    Nothing is more effective than WoM. Excite your customers by offering loyalty programs, contests and raffles, excellent service and solutions that work. Don’t be shy — ask your satisfied customers to help get the word out. Many people just want to be asked.
  7. Create Your Own Marketing Materials
    Desktop programs are so powerful today — all you need is a little time and practice to harness that power to produce your own collateral material. Brochures, flyers, logos, company designs, websites and business cards are all fairly easy to produce. Take your own photos and incorporate them into your materials. Later on, when business is booming, you can hire professional photographers and designers for a more polished look.
  8. Treat Your Vendors Well
    A happy vendor can help your business, but a disgruntled one can be poison. Make sure you pay your vendors on time! Even better, pay them in full in advance. Make them your friends, then ask them to endorse you and offer to reciprocate.
  9. Create Joint Marketing Efforts
    Suppose you own a bakery next door to an independent coffee shop, to which you supply yummy goodies. In turn, you steer your customers next door for a nice hot cup of Joe. Go a step further and take out joint ads that tout both of your places. It’s synergistic and will save you money. Adapt this example to your own circumstances.
  10. Exploit Your Website
    You can use various tools, often at no charge, to tell you how well your website is working. How many visitors do you get, and how many of them become customers? Attract new traffic by publishing useful, authoritative articles that will help rank your site high in search engine results. Use search engine optimization techniques throughout your website — you can read up on these or hire a person to help. Don’t forget to use all the social media tools, including Facebook, Twitter and Linked-In, to broaden your marketing efforts.

As you can see, there are plenty of low-cost ways to market your business. You may not see results right away, but persevere and you’ll probably be delighted with the ultimate outcome.

 

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