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Wednesday, 10 October 2012 15:11
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More than likely you have heard talk about “social media” and wondered what all the fuss is about and more importantly how can it help your business.

“Social media” is a term used to denote a set of tools that when executed correctly help in the building of personal and business relationships and networks – which when you think about it is what a good sales person does constantly – build their network.

Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Ning, YouTube, blogs – the list goes on. They are all social media tools that can help you with increasing your brand exposure.

You may have noticed on some business web sites promotion of their social media channels such as Twitter, LinkedIn and FaceBook and wondered what the benefit was to the business. The benefit in these channels lies in the fact that they help form and grow communities that are built up around the business. The communities by their nature help promote the business through discussion and sharing content with their friends and workmates. This is an extremely powerful benefit! The community is promoting your business for free to their own networks, which you may never have been able to reach (or if you did only as an outsider to be distrusted).

A company blog is a powerful social media channel and one that I would recommend you first look at first as the concept of “blog posts” is similar to posting articles on your business web site.

Using our own business blog as an example you can see how we benefit within marketing, customer support and sales.

We have created a business blog that our staff can contribute posts to such as industry news, software updates, business social events, customer support FAQ’s. However the most important topic for our readers is the research findings on email marketing. A blog is an ideal tool to transmit the research data to the public in a way that is easy categorised, searched, read and archived.

Comments are encouraged on the blog, which we monitor and respond to. This shows that we as a business are interested in what customers and prospects have to say.

Another benefit of providing a blog is that prospects who are not yet ready to engage us in a sales cycle can subscribe to the blogs RSS feed or subscribe to our newsletter. They can now keep track of what we are doing without having to directly contact to us. When they are ready to engage us in a sales cycle they already know how we operate, our skill set and what we represent.

The end result of this effort is the creation of a community of loyal followers who believe in what we do and feel respected by us.

Stop for one moment and think about the previous sentence for it highlights one of the positive results of using social media tools. We have now created a community of followers who know that we care about what they have to say. They talk – we listen and respond. It is not hard to imagine that given the chance they will mention us in their conversations and hopefully go out of their way to recommend us.

We have now moved to third party endorsement which is the most powerful form of marketing you can get.

So by using a blog we have provided a communications channel between our customers and prospects that not only reveals a more human side to our business but also allows people to directly communicate with us.

Reality Check with Social Media Tools

The key point to remember as a business owner when looking at social media tools is to not assume that having a blog, a Facebook page or a Twitter account is going to be the best thing for your business.

You need to first identify how your customers and prospects want to deal with you. For example approved authors who are normally the staff control a blog’s topic and frequency. Once a blog post is published only then can the public respond but only respond within the context of the post. A forum environment allows the public to start a topic of their choice thus giving control to the public not the business.

In summary

Social media tools help greatly in forming a community of customers and prospects that think highly of your business because the tools allow for more direct and transparent access to your business.

Will this take effort on your part? Absolutely! But we have found the rewards to exceed the effort involved. Mobilize Mail has been rewarded with:

  1. Great feedback about our product and willing free testers for the latest releases of our software,
  2. Increased business referrals that have dramatically increased our pipeline of opportunities.
  3. An increase of traffic to our web site from search results that include discussion about our business in the social media networks and not forgetting our blog posts.

But remember you first need to understand how your customers and prospects want to communicate with you. Only then should you select the social media tools that provide the environment they want.

You will constantly need to review the effectiveness of the tools you have implemented. You may need to remove some of the current ones and replace with other tools.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012 12:26
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‘Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning’ – Winston Churchill

Planning is crucial, even more so if you’re running your own business. Preparing a realistic, working business plan can be the difference between you getting your hands on the required capital needed for your start-up, or your business closing up shop a few months or years down the line. As Churchill alluded to, planning can spare you a lot of unnecessary worry and grief.

It’s a process that’s all too often neglected though, or thrown together haphazardly, as a brief glance at the likes of The Apprentice will illustrate. Different entrepreneurial minds and differing businesses dispute about the scale of their importance, some arguing that they’re restricting and can prove a hindrance.

To a degree it’s debatable and ultimately it’s up to your discretion as a business owner, but to the majority of banks you’ll need to show a detailed business plan to get your hands on any of their finance. Even more so given their increased unwillingness to lend.

To my mind I can’t see anything but value in a business plan. It can help provide greater vision; the establishing of goals and regular benchmarking providing managers and employees alike with a greater understanding of where they are and where they need to be.

Simultaneously a realistic plan can help to create momentum within a business, the meeting or excelling of various targets acting as a motivational tool.

Furthermore, they can help further growth and expansion, illustrating what works, where the opportunities are and what the future may hold.

Constructing a business plan can be time-consuming, but it’s a process that should pay dividends if done correctly. At the most basic level, a business plan will be comprised of the following components:

A description of the business

Your plan will need to provide an overview of your business, including its vision, aims, and how it plans to achieve them. The acronym SMART is useful to when drawing up aims and objectives, the respective letters standing for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound, all of these being qualities your goals will need to have.

An outline of the existing market details and their significance

Shaped by your market research, within the business plan you’ll need to provide details on the size of the market, as well as an overview of the potential competitors. Anything significant your market research shows should really be included, this helping to gain the confidence of investors and help shape your future marketing decisions.

Operational details

The length and detail of this section will depend heavily upon the nature of your business. If you plan on producing your own products you’ll have to outline how and where the product will be produced and the scale that you plan on producing. Information on the proposed number of employees will also need to be included as part of the operational information, so that potential investors can cast a wry eye over plans and either scale back or even scale up your ambitions.

Financial information

Probably the most important section of the business plan to an investors or lenders eyes is all the financial data. Information on things like a capital equipment and supply list will need to be provided amongst accounting staples such as predicted or existing balance sheets, income statements and cash flow forecasts. Once you’re up and running, Online Accountancy can make the process of checking this data easier, as construction of such information can be made at the click of a button.

You may plan to go ahead without a business plan. If so, good luck. You’ll be following the logic of unintentional comic Karl Pilkington, who once remarked ‘You get nothing done by planning’. Needless to say, he’s star of a TV show called ‘An Idiot Abroad…’

Wednesday, 10 October 2012 11:20
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“Outbound Marketing” – the older and less-effective way

Most businesses today still have the old “Outbound Marketing” strategy that disrupts or imposes on people in order to get a marketing message across…

It uses tools such as telemarketing, unsolicited (opt-out) emails, unsolicited postal mail and adverts in printed media.

It’s all about pushing your wares in-front of the customer even when they’re not interested.

As we know, we’ve all found ways to ignore the disruption or used tools to block or dispose of it such as CallerID, spam filters, email cleaning filters, and the trusty rubbish bin. Marketers have really shot themselves in the foot by over-disrupting people and are now considered an annoyance to be ignored.

Instead of attempting (and these days failing) to disrupt people, why not encourage a relationship between you and your customers & prospects where they talk about their needs and interests and you listen (and respond)…

The new and effective way of connecting with customers – ‘inbound marketing’

Trust is getting more important for building business, and this usually relies on effective relationship-building.

“Inbound marketing” is about building a relationship with your customers and prospects with the intention of establishing open and transparent communication. The key thing here is that you as a business actually listen, tune into customers where they’re at, and respond.

People are now expecting more transparent and mutual ‘partnering’ relationships with businesses. Inbound Marketing helps in forming that relationship such as blogs, forums, chat, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Once you establish relationships with growing trust, you build a platform for acquiring customers and ongoing sales.

But how can you use inbound marketing?

You first need to understand the profiles of your customers and prospects before looking at the tools. Find out where your customers and prospects hangout – Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, forums etc…

Then watch and listen but don’t participate just yet.

Like the new kid in the schoolyard you are working out how the group members communicate with each other, how they treat new members, how they deal with people trying to ‘con’ their way into the group.

Once you have an understanding of how they interact with each other pick your time to enter into the group by participating in an existing conversation. Give your view or opinion respectively and if you can help find an answer to a question raised within the discussion. What you are doing is showing your willingness to add value to the group.

On no account enter into a discussion or start a discussion with a sales pitch. This is the fastest and most effective way of being ignored and not trusted within the group. Your mission here is to add value to the group and show your knowledge and skill.

Only then will people trust you and this will take time and effort on your part. However the rewards are worth the effort as you have in fact alerted the group to your knowledge and skill in a non-disruptive way which is what people are receptive to now.

I also recommend that you start a blog if you have not done so already focusing on your skill and knowledge (which should be related in-part to your business products and services). A blog is a fantastic environment for promoting your skill and knowledge and allowing for a community to form via post commenting. Your blog also attracts search engines which in turn point people to your site via search results.

When appropriate also point the group to your blog posts as part of the current topic but only if its providing value to the discussion. This also drives traffic back to your blog.

All this effort is to build trust and brand awareness with your prospects so when they do need a product or service that you offer you will of course be their first port-of-call.

Do you think your business can benefit from inbound marketing or is too much effort?

Wednesday, 10 October 2012 10:18
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Several reports show that entrepreneurs are gaining ground when it comes to the funding they need to run and grow their business.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012 09:09
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Wayne Burgan has made the word “Passion” an acronym for your business success. Wayne’s break down of the word “Passion” is below. I agree with what he has written and encourage you to apply his acronym below to your own business. I have added in my own thoughts to each of the letters.

P is for “Purpose”

Your whole reason for being in business can be thought of as your purpose. Are you in business for the fame, fortune or helping people? Whatever it is your purpose is what keeps you getting up each morning even when all your effort seems to produce no results currently.

A is for “Attitude”

Michael Gerber (the author of The E-Myth) has a saying: ‘The fish stinks from the head down’. Your own attitude to your business reflects on everything from the way you treat you staff (which dictates how they treat your business) through to how you treat your customers and suppliers. Remember: Positive attitude equals positive results.

S is for “Service”

Provide outstanding service and your existing customers will talk about you to their own business associates. Nothing is more powerful in marketing than third party endorsement.

S is for “Sow”

Have you ever heard the term “you reap what you sow”? As the business owner you always need to keep learning and implementing what you have learned to your business. Never think for a second that you can rest on your current successes as failure always appears to the person who thinks that there business needs no more improvement.

I is for “Incentive”

Keep the incentives flowing to help fuel your passion. Your incentives could be financial but also the benefit you give to your staff and customers.

O is for “Ownership”

The success and failure of your business is up to you. You have no one else to blame for any mistakes you made. Own-up to all mistakes you make and then move forward. Staff and customers always have great respect for business owners who take responsibility for their actions.

N is for ‘”Never Give Up”

I cannot count how many books I have read on successful entrepreneurs who never gave up on their dreams and ultimately succeeded where others gave up. If you truly believe in what you are doing then your belief will help shape your future success.

Blog post inspired from the book “Secrets of Small Business Owners Exposed” – click here for more info on this excellent book.

WAYNE BURGAN (Cashflow Manager)
Creator of the book-keeping software, Cashflow Manager, Wayne has served on the Public Practice Committee, the South Australian Small Business Committee, and the Small Business Centre of Excellence for CPA Australia.

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