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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Maximizing Sales Through Mother’s Day Marketing

Maximizing Sales Through Mother’s Day Marketing

Mother’s Day. When our favorite female caregivers are treated to overpriced buffets, new loofas, homemade cards, spa treatments, and if you’re lucky (nay strategic), a token of affection and appreciation from your store or ecommerce business.

In 2015, Mother’s Day sales were estimated at $21.2 billion – ranking right up there in the retail record books with December holiday shopping. With 2016 sales expected to increase, business owners can’t afford to gloss over the effects that Mother’s Day shopping has on your bottom line.

The National Retail Federation estimates that consumers will spend an average of $173 on their loved ones this year. Purchasing everything from flowers to cell phones, retailers are well positioned to take advantage of this mid-year spending spree. With the right marketing, communication, and outreach, you can entice the Mother’s Day market and boost your revenue.

 

3 Tips for Maximizing Your Mother’s Day Sales

Relate to Moms Everywhere

You can’t turn around without bouquets and doilies dotting Mother’s Day marketing.  But, Hallmark cards aside, you don’t need to be a florist or sell some uber warm and fuzzy product to appeal to this market. Take a look at your inventory and decide how it could interest, benefit, and/or entertain mom. That’s what you want to market around. That’s what you need to communicate. The gift-giver (your buyer) is going to want to purchase an item for mom that she’s going to love – all you need to do is to make sure they know why she’s going to love it.

Mom’s Gone Viral

You may have already received that awkward friend request, or have seen a post from back in the day when you’re wearing an unsightly trend from yesteryear indicating one thing…mom’s on social media.  But, before you lament the loss of your sounding board a safe distance from mom, know that social media can be a powerful marketing tool for Mother’s Day campaigns. From advertising to remarketing, your small business can target both the buyer and mom with appealing messages that stay at the forefront of the minds. Your markets are already online – a quick glance at an ad and one click later they’re at an ecommerce site filled with goodies for mom. You’re minutes away from a shopping cart full of Mother’s Day revenue.

Mother’s Day Sales (increase sales)

Half off. Two for one. Coupons, coupons, coupons. And those enticing little percent signs that translate into major scores for shoppers that balk at paying full price. Bargain hunters are everywhere. Your business can capitalize on a shopper’s love of a good deal with added incentives leading up to Mother’s Day. You won’t notice the slight hit to your profit margin per transaction if you’re doubling your sales from last year.  Make sure all discounts and promotions are front and center and so good they can’t possibly pass it up. Make them an offer they can’t refuse.

 

At IOU Financial we aim to support our clients by providing helpful tips and tricks that increase revenue. Visit our blog for more additional small business resources and tools, or learn how a small business loan from IOU Financial can boost your brand.

Tips for Getting the Most from Your Small Business Marketing Budget

Getting the Most from Your Small Business Marketing Budget

Small and medium-size businesses don’t have the luxury of million-dollar marketing budgets that large corporations do. We know you’ve seen plenty “marketing on a budget” articles around the internet, so we wanted to take a slightly more strategic approach, providing some perspectives on “intelligently investing in your marketing.” You can find various strategies to spend a minimal amount to market your products or services, but will that generate maximum exposure? In this article, we cover three major areas for you to consider spending some of your small business marketing budget and strategies to help ensure your investments pay off.

 

Scale Operations With Marketing Technology

While finding free marketing platforms might seem like a cost-effective tactic at first, using paid marketing technology can provide greater efficiency, create less frustration, generate better data for reporting, and overall, provide better results when it comes to getting the word out about your small business. Platforms to consider are:

  • Marketing Automation – This is usually a marketing platform that consolidates all of your marketing efforts. Instead of having dozens of accounts for blogging, SEO, social media, emails, landing pages, etc. You can access and control all of them from one place. This allows you to evaluate and compare the performance of marketing campaigns, check the effectiveness of call-to-actions across different platforms, and automate multiple channels with the click of one button. Where to start?  HubSpot or Marketo.
  • Keyword Management – If you are doing any online advertising, understanding your keyword strategy is crucial to making the most of your advertising budget. While you can use Google’s Keyword Planner to check your keyword rankings, a platform like Wordstream will analyze your current keywords and makes improvement recommendations. This platform helps both newbies and professional marketers start and manage their AdWords accounts, promising to convert 60% more leads, while lowering marketing costs by 10%.
  • Social Media Management –  With the ability to manage all accounts from one dashboard, schedule future posts, engage with clients, and analyze social media campaigns, these tools can save you valuable time to spend on other things. The extra analytics and reporting provided can also help you make informed decisions about your social media marketing. Hootsuite is a great platform to consider for this service. Over 10 million subscribers are using this solution to integrate all of their social media accounts into one.

 

Invest in Social Media

While posting content on social media is always free, investing in these platforms can offer a bigger pay-off through increased exposure to your target market. Consider spending marketing money in the following areas to maximize your brand’s exposure on social media:

  • Social Media Advertising – Facebook, the biggest player in social media, has over 1.4 billion users worldwide; you can pay to create customized ads to target your specific audience by defining specific demographics such as the user’s age, location, interests, etc. The best part is that you can indicate what your maximum budget is, and Facebook will stop the campaign once you hit that number. Additionally, users can find directions to your business, a link to download your app, and even shop right from the Facebook ad.
  • Paying for Content and Photos – One of the best ways to generate traffic to your business’ website is by creating unique and informative content. However, not all small business owners are professional writers, which is why it can pay big dividends to hire an expert to create articles, infographics, and website content. Additionally, platforms like Pinterest and Instagram rely almost exclusively on images, so great photos can have a big influence over how many people choose to click on your link or not.
  • Hiring a PR Consultant – Hiring a professional PR consultant can really help your brand get the exposure it needs. A PR firm can develop a clever marketing campaign, find writers for you, and offer helpful advice on what cost-effective channels to reach your particular audience, helping you save money by avoiding spending it in ineffective areas. In many cases, PR professionals can help connect your organization with influential people (writers, magazine editors, bloggers, etc.) that can provide access to their own audience.

 

Spend Smarter on Traditional Advertising

Although there are many innovative ad strategies, that’s no reason to completely ditch traditional advertising! Of course, you’ll want to use it in a smarter way. While new businesses may still be discovering who their client base will consist of, those that have been operating for a few years have a better idea. Small to medium-size business owners that are interested in maximizing their return on any tactic, use tracking methods to measure their performance. When it comes to TV and radio, planning ahead to correlate sales with ad campaigns is important.

While a television commercial can be expensive, investing in a TV ad in a specific market where you know it will reach your target audience can greatly increase your sales. As well, paying for radio commercials during specific times of the year (Christmas, back to school, etc.) when your sales typically spike on stations that target a specific audience (parents, younger women, etc.) can be lucrative.

 

The success of any business is greatly affected by its marketing strategy. Looking for ways to fund that big marketing idea? Contact IOU Financial and put a small business loan to work. Our quick application and pre-approval process can fund a business loan up to $150,000 within a matter of days.

 

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3 Tips on Social Media Presence for Your Small Business

3 Tips to Build a Stronger Social Media Presence for Your Small Business

While in the initial phases of starting your small business you may have created a Facebook or Twitter page without giving it much thought. Now that your company is operating smoothly, you may be looking to expand, and a stronger social media presence could be just the place to start. Social media plays a huge role in your SEO, customer service and outreach, competitive advantage and more.

Here are three important tips for kicking your social media presence up a notch:

  1. Be consistent – Consistency, in both the frequency of your posts and positioning of your content, is key when talking about anything on social media. Why? Social media is time sensitive, and consistently having content is how you build your brand, allow customers to see what you have to offer, and let  potential customers get to know you better. By posting consistently, you will be staying top of mind for customers and giving them special insight into your day-to-day business.  A good way to help yourself stay consistent is to write down a short plan that includes how often you plan to post and what kinds of content or offers are the best fit for your page. Updating this plan each quarter helps ensure your content remains fresh in the eyes of your audience.
  2. Engage with your audience – It’s imperative that your content is not only consistent, but engaging. Give thought to who your followers are and what topics are relevant to them so your content is more likely to be clicked on and shared. You can inform them of a helpful product or service, ask a question that entices them to start a conversation, or provide a quote that will strike a chord. Make sure each post provides a way for your audience to take action, whether that is clicking on a link back to your website or leaving a comment. And when people comment and engage with you, don’t be shy—reply to direct messages, comment back, and like their posts. It’s important to remember that social media is a two-way street.
  3. Don’t neglect reporting – Take time each week to check the built-in reports each platform has to offer. Almost every dashboard can tell you who you are reaching when, and whether or not they are clicking on and engaging with your content. Use this data to improve your content and adapt to your audience. For example, if you see that a peak in engagement typically occurs after 7pm, that’s the time to post your most important content. Maybe you notice that a new demographic has started following you, providing you with an opportunity to start offering targeted specials. Reporting can even help you track how often your competitors post and how engaging their posts are.

The power of social media for your small business should never be underestimated. Once you have committed to consistency, engaging content, and reporting on your performance, be sure to continually adapt your strategy based on the results you are seeing.

For more social media insight, check back with the IOU Financial blog. Happy posting!

Social Media – Which to Choose?

So many platforms – so little time!

Let’s see. There’s only 24 hours a day and 7 days a week to get everything done that you need to do on a weekly basis for your business. And that’s right, you don’t only need to work, you also need to eat, sleep and that’s right … have some fun! But how about social media? You know it’s important. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest … and that’s only a partial list of the social media platforms out there!  How on earth could you have time to post on all of these platforms?

So where do you start, or what platform do you choose for your business? It’s important to remember that it is better to handle a few platforms well, rather than cover a bunch of them poorly. Here is a snapshot of each.

Facebook – Facebook is best for the type of business that is “consumer” based, as that is who your followers will primarily be. But many consumers are also business people, so Facebook, due to its popularity is always a good idea. Also Facebook is very good for “local” businesses like restaurants, because you will have local consumers following you.

Twitter – Twitter similarly is important to be on due to its popularity. “Tweet” has become a household name and this platform works well for all types of businesses.

LinkedIn – LinkedIn is a good source for all things business related. It’s a more professional environment where people go to discuss topics related to their job or industry. Good for business to business information, and showing that you are an expert or “influencer” in your field.

Instagram – If your business is a “visual” business such as fashion, you need to be on Instagram. This is a great way to advertise daily store promotions to generate a following.

Pinterest – Similar to Instagram – Pinterest is all about the “visuals.” You can add your own pins of your content.  Show examples of how people can be using your product in their daily life.  This is a platform where you want customers to feel inspired about what you offer.  Make your “pins” something worth saving for them to go back to.

YouTube – If you have videos to share to complement your brand go for it with YouTube. It’s a way to add real personality to your company.  This is also a great platform for internal training purposes.  Adjust the settings of any video to control who is meant to see it.

With all platforms, you want to post regularly. But the key is to post not only links that promote your brand, but content that your followers will find valuable. And always remember it’s not only important to post but to respond and communicate as well. So choose those platforms that you feel are most valuable to you and your brand, and give those social media channels the attention they require and deserve.

 

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Should You Start a Blog for Your Business?

In a word, Yes!

Most every business has a website, but many sites suffer from stagnant content. This limits readership and gives no incentive for consumers to revisit a site. Without return visits, you generally have to make the sale the first time a consumer comes to your site. A blog can give you additional bites at the apple — more opportunities to convert interested readers into prospects and then customers.

Blogs and SEO

Search engines reward fresh, authoritative content. A blog can therefore boost your visibility on search engines, but only if you meet these requirements:

  1. The content must be unique. This means no cutting and pasting. Search engines don’t give you credit for plagiarism, and may even downgrade you for it. The irony is that the search engines are only evaluating wording, not concepts. That means your blog ideas don’t have to be unique, only their expression. You can combine your own individual experience and viewpoint with material from other sites as long as you paraphrase — put it into your own words.
  2. The content should be authoritative. You are an expert at whatever you’re selling, and your blog should reflect this. Sure, you could write unique blogs about what you had for lunch, and you may even attract some readers, but you won’t attract prospects or improve your search engine results — unless your business is food-related! You benefit when your blog attracts folks who want their questions answered — they are natural leads for your product or service. Great content provides useful, accurate information without a lot of marketing copy. Authoritative blogs collect links from other websites and forums, a great way to boost your own search results and to become a thought leader in your industry.
  3. The blog should be well written. Nothing undercuts your efforts like poor grammar and punctuation, misspellings and awkward sentences. Search engines are pretty sophisticated and will downgrade you for mangling the English language. You may know a lot about your business, but no one will take you seriously if your content isn’t up to professional standards. If that’s a problem, hire a freelance writer or editor to help you churn out blogs that won’t make readers cringe.
  4. Blog frequently. Several short blogs a week (400 to 600 words each) are more valuable than the occasional long piece. Cast a wider net by varying you subject matter within your general topic area. Search engines reward fresh content, so keep them happy by generating at least one blog a week. Don’t be afraid to use guest bloggers or ghost bloggers, as long as you maintain editorial control over the final product.

Benefits Accrue

Beyond SEO, consider these other ways your business benefits from blogging:

  • Shape your company’s voice by discussing current developments in your industry. You might also want to weigh in on current political, legislative and ethical issues that affect your business. Give your business an interesting personality that attracts readers.
  • Get good ideas and feedback that can help your business. Blog comments can be very useful to you and your readers, especially if you learn something that you can apply to the way you operate your business. Always curate your comments and never print spammy, off-topic or self-serving material.
  • Blogs are good long-term marketing investments that can attract prospects for years to come, and at minimal cost. Exploit blog analytics to gain insights into your audience and use this information to help set the contours of your blog material.

This last point is really important — blogging is cheap. All you need is a few hours a week of your own time or the very modest cost of hiring professional bloggers. In either case, blogging is about the most cost-effective way to boost sales, so get inspired and start writing!

 

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Are you taking advantage of all Google has to offer?

The term “google it” has replaced the phrase “search for it” on the internet. Don’t you agree?  Google is typically the place people go to when it’s time to search for something. But what about your business? Will people find it on google?  Are you listed on google business, and if so do you have your business information listed correctly so your customer can find you? Let’s take a look at the details and the 3 reasons why you want to makes sure you are listed on Google Business.

  1. One of the most important aspects of business is being listed in such a way that your clients can find you. With Google My Business you are able to list the proper information regarding your business so the search field in google, along with the maps feature and google+ will all work properly in pulling up your company information.
  2. You can’t run a business without customers! Google Business has a focus on this critical aspect of business. There is a follow button that your customers can press which helps them stay up-to-date on company news, updates and specials. Google Business also allows your customers to post ratings and reviews (hopefully outstanding ones!) and allows you to respond to the feedback as well.
  3. Google My Business provides a one-stop location to help your business glow, and when it comes to business management, ease is critical. There is a dashboard feature that lets you manage all of google information in one place. And with the Google My Business app you can take these features wherever you go. .

It’s clear that Google My Business can only help you in various aspects of your business. But maybe you still have some questions about the features, the cost (there is none!), etc.  Go and take a glance at the Google My Business FAQs to see what you think, and then move ahead to bring a new level of management and interaction with your customers to your business.

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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To Yelp or Not to Yelp? That is the Question!

You may be on Yelp already. You may have heard about Yelp but aren’t on there yet. Or maybe you’ve never heard of Yelp! So let’s go over a little background just in case you need to know.

In 2004, Yelp was founded in an effort to help people find local businesses.  In the  4thquarter of 2014, Yelp had an average of approximately 135 million monthly visitors. Now that’s progress! There have been over 71 million local reviews published on Yelp. So it’s clear to see that people are on Yelp, promoting their services, writing reviews, and looking for the best businesses out there.

Yelp is a way to get the word out on your business. As mentioned there are millions of monthly visitors. When you strategize properly by doing a thorough, informative company description, coupled with pictures (if pictures add value to your service) you will be, more or less, getting free advertising, as it is free to set up a Yelp account.  It should be noted there are paid advertisements you can take part in, but that is entirely up to you.

As mentioned, Yelp is a site for company promotion and company reviews. This can be good but can also be viewed as negative. Sure, when those sparkling reviews come in, fantastic!  You can use those for promotional purposes. But like any business, there may be the occasional (hopefully just occasional) bad review.  This is what the social media world is all about – people having an opportunity to state their opinion. If you receive a negative review, you respond calmly, incorporate changes if need be and move on. If you decide to join Yelp you want to consider this.

All in all, Yelp can be a great source of promotion to showcase your company, along with potentially excellent reviews by satisfied customers. And that can certainly help you build your business.  One tip – if you have a great review on Yelp you can link back to the review on your other social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

So the choice of yours – which way will you go – to Yelp or not to Yelp? That is the question!

 

10 Social Media Marketing Mistakes to Avoid

IOU Financial:

These 10 mistakes are easy to avoid as long as you know you are making them! Read through to improve your social media strategy.

Originally posted on The Writing Set:

Increase Your Following By Avoiding These BlundersUnbelievable power in the current business climate is held by social media advertising. It’s not merely a platform that hosts conversations for old acquaintances, family, and friends – it has become our central hub of advice for personal and professional use. Most folks possess an overall notion how social media works; however, few have an all-inclusive understanding of the kind of mistakes that may be made.

Check out these 10 tips to get a much better handle on your social media efforts, maintain that crowd you’ve worked so difficult to assemble, and steer clear of these blunders that are common!

10 Mistakes to Avoid

1. Failing to Post

Posting irregularly or once or two times a week generally is not enough to remain on the minds of your audience so that you’ll be their primary source in their time of need.

2. Putting…

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