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5 Ways to Make the Most of Marketing With Business Cards

By Rieva Lesonsky, Guest Blogger
Published: January 16, 2013 Updated: January 20, 2016

Business cards? Didn't those go out with the dinosaurs? Actually, no. In fact, according to an Ipsos poll conducted last fall, business cards are still one of the most effective marketing methods available to small business owners. Surprisingly, 60 percent of the small business owners surveyed say they currently give out more business cards than they did five years ago.

How can you make your business cards even more effective?

1.      Make them memorable. Use design to make your card stand out from the pack. You can design your own business cards using templates at a host of websites. However, for not much more money, you can enlist a graphic designer to create a template for you. Ask around for a local designer or visit Elance.com, 99Designs.com or Odesk.com to find graphic designers.

2.      Focus on function. Don’t get carried away in your desire to make a card stand out. I still remember a metal business card someone gave me back in the 1980s. Why? Because I tossed it in my purse and one of the sharp corners tore a hole in the lining. Business cards in odd shapes, sizes or materials are often touted as a way to be memorable, but in reality, these cards often get tossed since they may be bulky or don’t fit into card-holders or files easily. Good-quality card stock and good design will make your cards stand out without resorting to gimmicks.

3.      Keep it simple. The purpose of a business card is to get someone to contact you, so focus on the information they’ll need to do so. While in the past you may have wanted to include your business name, address, fax number, etc., today business cards allow for a lot more customization. Depending on how you want to be contacted, you may simply want to have your name and title, your business name, your email address, your URL and your cell number on the front of the card. (That’s assuming, of course, that when they go to your URL they can find all the other information, like address, landline phone number and fax.) Are you a Twitter maniac? Then put your Twitter handle on there, too. If you want to include lots of other information, you can put it on the back.

4.      Share them. You’ve got your cards; now give them out—everywhere. The average U.S. small business owner distributes 40 business cards a month, the Ipsos survey found. And three in 10 say they “always” give out their cards when they meet someone new in either a business or personal setting. Carry plenty of cards with you at all times. Whether you’re in the gym locker room, in line at the movies or at a cocktail party, you never know where you’ll meet a prospect or potential partner.

You can also:

·         Include cards in correspondence

·         Include them with invoices or bills

·         Include them in packaging when you ship a product

·         Give someone two cards: one for them to keep and one for them to pass on as a referral. (Ask first. Don’t just assume they’re willing to pass your cards out for you.)

·         Put cards in public places where your clients are likely to visit or ask if you can leave them at other (noncompeting) businesses

5.      Organize them. The cards you collect are as important as the ones you give out—75 percent of small business owners keep contacts’ cards at their desks for easy reference. While I myself still have a Rolodex, you can speed things up by using tools such as the Neat Desk Scanner to scan business card information or import it into your digital contact list quickly and easily.

About the Author:

Rieva Lesonsky
Rieva Lesonsky

Guest Blogger

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and President of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Follow Rieva at Twitter.com/Rieva and visit SmallBizDaily.com to sign up for her free TrendCast reports. She's been covering small business and entrepreneurial issues for more than 30 years, is the author of several books about entrepreneurship and was the editorial director of Entrepreneur magazine for over two decades

How to Craft a Social Media Policy for Your Small Business

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: January 16, 2013 Updated: September 12, 2016

If your business interacts with consumers via email or on the web, then it’s likely that you have an online privacy policy that governs how you collect, use and store consumer information. But do you have policies or guidelines that govern how your business uses social media to engage and interact with your followers?

Social media opens up new avenues for communication and engagement with consumers, but it also brings with it an element of risk. For example, perhaps your employees have access to social media at work, or are posting on behalf of your business. How can you be sure they aren’t releasing confidential company information, slamming the competition, or breaking copyright by posting images or user-generated content without permission?

Blogging also falls under the social media umbrella and is one of the Internet’s biggest sources of copyright abuse. Blogging is also subject to certain product endorsement laws that you should be aware of.

Crafting a social media policy or code of conduct can help protect your business and your employees.  Here are some considerations you should bear in mind, plus some policies developed by other businesses that can help you craft yours.

Start With Your Employees

Do you allow employees to access social media in the workplace? The choice is yours, although the law does provide some guidance on just what you can restrict employees from doing. For example, last year the National Labor Relations Board ruled against employers who fired workers for complaining on social media sites about their workplace conditions during non-work hours, stating that these cases “…interfere with the rights of employees under the National Labor Relations Act, such as the right to discuss wages and working conditions with co-workers.”

It’s hard to avoid employees gaining access to social media in the workplace; smart phones or tablets provide anywhere access. However, it’s a good practice to develop a clear policy about which instances warrant access to social media during work hours and for work purposes, and if you intend to discipline employees who abuse your code of conduct.

If you choose to permit access to social media, be sure your social media policy guidelines outline your expectations with regard to sharing company confidential or proprietary information such as photos, videos, or documents.

Laws are changing constantly, so it’s a good idea to work with lawyer to ensure you are complying with federal, state and local laws as they pertain to social media and employment law.

If You’re Not Sharing Your Own Content – Be Warned

Social channels (including blogs, social networking sites, and image sharing sites), are a potential minefield for intellectual property abuse. So it’s critical that your policy clearly details what can and can’t be shared online by employees who post on the company’s behalf. For example, if a Facebook moderator wants to use a wholesaler’s image of a product to help promote your newest line, be sure to get written permission from the wholesaler first, unless permission was previously granted.

Endorsements Must Be Disclosed

Many companies reach out to other bloggers or social media page owners to solicit reviews, mentions or endorsements. If you offer cash, freebies or any other form of compensation for this favor, then the Federal Trade Commission requires that the “endorser” clearly state in their post that the review or mention was in exchange for a fee or other compensation. 

Likewise, if you ask employees to promote your product or service on their social networks or blog, they must disclose their affiliation with your business.

What Should Your Social Media Policy Look Like?

Your social media policy doesn’t need to look like a legal document; it should simply outline how your business and its employees will represent itself in a virtual social world.

Such policies often include rules on when and how employees will be using social media, plus tips for adopting a social media voice and reminders to respect customer service policies and intellectual property. Some also set forth expectations for courteous and respectful engagement from social media followers themselves (a good defense should you ever need to remove offensive posts).

Many businesses have implemented social media policies and guidelines targeted at employees only. While these don’t have to be published in the public domain, if your policy addresses points of consumer concern, then you should consider posting it on your website and social networks.

Here are a few useful examples that you can refer to as you craft your company’s social media policy:

  • Walmart – Breaks down engagement guidelines by social media network, such as Twitter and Facebook, while separately addressing corporate concerns such as intellectual property or employee disgruntlement.
  • Best Buy – Offers clear do’s and don’ts for company employees engaged in social media
  • Environmental Protection Agency – A good example of more formal employee-centric social media guidelines

Related Articles

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

How to File and Provide W-2s, W-3s, & 1099 Forms – Plus Important Updates for the 2013 Reporting Season

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: January 14, 2013 Updated: January 14, 2013

It’s that time of year again—W-2, W-3 and 1099 reporting season.

The Affordable Care Act has changed things a little this year in terms of the information you must provide your employees on their W2s. Read on for an update and a refresher of other reporting obligations and how to file the right forms.

Reporting Employee Wages and Taxes – What’s New on Form W-2

If you paid an employee any amount in wages in 2012, you must issue an annual W-2 form to report the wages, income tax, and FICA tax withholding, along with certain other employment-related payments. You should provide this information to both your employees and the Social Security Administration (SSA).

*New for the 2012 Tax Year* – As a result of the Affordable Care Act, businesses that provide health insurance to their employees are required to report the cost of coverage on employee W-2s. However, in order to allow businesses to update their payroll systems to support this requirement, most small employers are exempt from this requirement for the year 2012.  The criteria are as follows:

  • If you filed fewer than 250 W-2 forms in 2011, you are not required to report the cost of coverage on 2012 forms (filed with the SSA in early 2013). You do have the option of doing so, if you wish.
  • If you filed more than 250 W-2s, you will be required to comply with the new reporting requirements starting with the 2012 Form W-2.

If you are required or choose to report, the amount you report should include both the employee and employer contribution to the healthcare premium so your employees have a view of the true cost of this benefit. 

Read more on this topic from the IRS: Employer-Provided Health Coverage Informational Reporting Requirements: Questions and Answers.

How to File Form W-2 and W-3 With the Social Security Administration

As an employer, you must file Form W-2 and W-3 with the SSA by February 28, 2013. If you file electronically, the deadline is April 1, 2013. Here’s how to file:

  1. Electronic Filing – If you have less than 20 employees, you can file your W-2s online and print copies for employees. You’ll also need to file Form W-3 form at the same time showing total earnings and taxes withheld for all your employees. To avoid errors, you can verify names and SSNs online to ensure your records align with SSAs.
  2. Paper Filing – Follow these instructions for filing a paper W-2.

Provide Your Employees with W-2 Forms

In addition to filing Form W-2 and W-3 with the SSA, you’ll need to give your employees a copy of their W-2s with a postmarked data of January 31 or earlier. If you filed your W-2s online, these employee forms can be printed out automatically or you can download paper versions from IRS.gov.

Ask your employees to check that all the information on the form is correct. Any errors can be corrected using Form W-2c and Form W-3c.

For forms and updates about W-2 filing requirements, check out this W-2 Wage and Tax Statement Guide on IRS.gov.

Report Payments Made to Independent Contractors on Form 1099

If you used the services of an independent contractor in 2012 (i.e. non-employees), you’ll need to report compensation of $600 or more to the IRS on form 1099-MISC (downloadable here) and provide a copy to independent contractors by January 31, 2013.

Got Questions?

Always consult a knowledgeable tax advisor in matters of business taxation, as errors and mistakes can result in costly penalties.

 

 

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

Why Your Business Needs to Get a DUNs Number

By Marco Carbajo, Guest Blogger
Published: January 10, 2013

Did you know that a DUNS number is the most widely used number for identifying companies in the United States?

Did you also know that suppliers and creditors alike pull a Dun and Bradstreet (D&B) credit check on your business when you apply for credit?

Part of establishing a creditworthy company includes establishing positive credit ratings with major business credit reporting agencies such as D&B. If you are serious about establishing credit for your business, then the first thing to do is get listed in D&B’s database and set up your company’s credit file.

When you apply for a DUNs Number with D&B, the Data Universal Numbering System issues a nine-digit number that is unique to your company. This DUNs number is used to create your business credit file, similar to how your social security number is used to identify your personal credit reports.

To obtain your DUNs number, first enter your legal business name, city, and state in the search box on the D&B website and click on the search tab. This will verify if your company is already listed with D&B and has been issued a DUNS number.

You’ll see a list of possible matches, but click on the tab only if you believe there is a match to your company name. Doing so requires that you verify specific information about your business.

Once you gain authorization, D&B provides you access to your files via iUpdate, where you can review, update, correct and add company information. If your company does not show up in the search results, then most likely you do not have a DUNs Number.

The next step is to apply for one.

It is important to note that once you apply for a DUNS Number at no charge, your file will be created. But it will be considered an incomplete file (marketing file) if you have no trade references reporting. If this is the case, you can either add trade references to your file by enrolling in a monitoring program or you can apply for credit and wait for a supplier to report your company’s payment activity.

Remember, once you obtain your DUNS Number, the next step is to start establishing business credit by adding positive trade references to your file. This only happens when you start making purchases with creditors that report payment activity.

With more than 500,000 suppliers in the U.S. and less than 6,000 that actually report to the business, credit agencies don’t get caught up in the mistake of applying for credit with non-reporting creditors when your chief aim is to build your company’s credit file.

Ultimately, a creditworthy profile will help creditors, lenders and suppliers assess the creditworthiness of your company when you apply for credit.

About the Author:

Marco Carbajo
Marco Carbajo

Guest Blogger

Marco Carbajo is a business credit expert, author, speaker, and founder of the Business Credit Insiders Circle. He is a business credit blogger for Dun and Bradstreet Credibility Corp, the SBA.gov Community, About.com and All Business.com. His articles and blog; Business Credit Blogger.com, have been featured in 'Fox Small Business','American Express Small Business', 'Business Week', 'The Washington Post', 'The New York Times', 'The San Francisco Tribune',‘Alltop’, and ‘Entrepreneur Connect’.

4 Ways to Safeguard and Protect Your Small Business Data

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: January 10, 2013

Are you doing enough to safeguard and protect your small business data?

Small businesses are widely adopting data back-up practices to ensure data is retrievable should a disaster occur, but gaps remain. According to a July 2012 study by accounting software company Sage, the bulk of small businesses are backing up key data such as financial information, but most businesses back up that data on-site only. Furthermore, the study found that only 38 percent of surveyed small businesses have a formal emergency or disaster preparedness plan.

Given the brutal impact of Superstorm Sandy and other disasters that affect small businesses on a regular basis, these are worrying statistics.

Backing up on-site may not be sufficient to protect small businesses from natural disasters – particularly if the business is located in an area prone to earthquakes, hurricanes, fires or flooding – or more common crises, such as theft or hardware malfunction,” said Connie Certusi, executive vice president and general manager of Sage Small Business Solutions, in a company press release.

The development of a preparedness plan that includes solutions for protecting critical information, such us backing up off-site, could be the difference between getting a business on its way to recovery and worrying about its survival.”

So what’s the best way to make sure your small business data is secure and available at all times? Here are four tips:

1. Automate Your Back-Ups and Build in Redundancy

Whether you’re a freelancer or a 50-person firm, an automated back-up system is a must. Many of us know the value of backing up to a local hard drive (you can buy one that will store terabytes of data for under $100) or server.  But you should also consider backing up to a third party or off-site service. If your business property (along with your back-up device) is destroyed in a disaster, you’ll have the peace of mind of knowing that your data is retrievable.

Cloud back-ups are increasingly popular, whereby companies such as DropBox, Symantec and Carbonite will securely replicate, back up and store your data in the cloud (basically a shared computer hosted by a third party on the Internet). Cloud services are particularly beneficial for small business owners who may not have an in-house IT team to help them manage and administer server back-ups.

To help you determine the best approach for your business, read this blog: Finding the Best Backup Option for Your Small Business Data.

2. Consider Server Virtualization

According to a survey by CDW, 25 percent of small businesses have virtualized at least some of their servers, with improved data protection cited as a direct benefit. But what is server virtualization? Server virtualization allows you to take one physical server machine and run several virtual server environments (for example, your email, database, and web servers) on it. Essentially, one server performs the work of many. Along with cost benefits, virtualization also makes disaster recovery easier.   Read more about the ins and outs of server virtualization in this Server Virtualization Guide for Small Business on Small Business Computing.com.

3. Run a Full Service Security Suite

Safeguarding data is about more than backing it up. Intrusion attempts, computer viruses and malware all can compromise business data and threaten your systems.

Consider installing a hardware firewall. Most firewall systems protect your software, but by the time most firewalls are activated, the threat is already inside your network. But a secure appliance-based firewall between the Internet and your business data will block intruders and threats before they enter your network.

Anti-virus and spam filters represent another security layer that protects incoming and outgoing data. Use content filters; they protect local computers from malware threats by blocking entry to potentially harmful websites.

4. Have a Big Picture Disaster Preparedness Plan

Approximately 40-60 percent of small businesses never reopen their doors after a disaster (source).  While the value of our business data is incalculable, protecting your business and your employees by ensuring you are prepared for the eventuality of a natural or man-made disaster is equally critical. Create a plan of action to lessen the impact of disasters, and a disaster recovery plan to ensure you are up and ready for business sooner.

Check out SBA’s guides, tools and templates to help you prepare and improve your chances of recovering quickly should the worst happen – Small Business Emergency Preparedness Guide. You can also visit the SBA Learning Center for online courses, webinars and other tips to help you with your disaster planning.

Related Blogs

 

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

SBA Learning Center

How to Write a Business Plan

Interested in starting a business plan? Developing and maintaing your business plan is like your roadmap to entrepreneurial success. After you watch this short video that describes how to write a business plan, get started with our step-by-step guide here at www.sba.gov/business-plan.

Setting 10% Goals for Success

By smallbiztrends, Guest Blogger
Published: January 8, 2013

Funny, isn’t it, how the grass tends to look greener from the other side. It’s the same in business as well as in personal affairs.

If I look around, I can spot five companies in five minutes that “seem” to be doing better than mine. They appear to have accomplished more, in less time, and seem to be doing better than my company.

The fact is, that may or may not be true. Often things just LOOK greener.

But there is one good thing that tends to come out of “grass-is-greener” musing: it inspires me to set goals to improve my business.

One technique that we have used with great success is setting 10% goals. Think of it this way if you’re a football fan: instead of going for a touchdown pass on every play (and failing miserably because there’s no way you can make a touchdown every time), you instead go for a series of first downs. If you are successful at those smaller first down attempts, they add up to many yards over a series of plays. When you’ve advance the ball 70 yards down field, THEN you attempt the touchdown pass.

By attempting first downs, your chances of positioning the team to make a touchdown are much better. Compare that strategy to always attempting 70-yard passes that have a high chance of failing and stopping your advance cold in one, two or three plays.

Translated to business, the idea is to set a goal to improve something by 10% ONLY. Don’t attempt to improve something by 50% or 100% in one fell swoop—it probably will be too big to bite off and chew. By being overly ambitious, you just set up yourself, your team and your company for failure.

A 10% improvement is often doable. A small improvement such as 10% each month over the prior month can add up to more than 200% improvement in a year’s time. And because you are attempting something unintimidating and achievable, you and your team feel successful each month because you’re able to meet your goal and continue your progress.

Here are some ideas for 10% goals you can set in your business to improve sales or profitability:

  • Increase sales prospecting calls per rep by 10%
  • Improve throughput by 10% through adopting new software or a new app
  • Improve your quote-to-close sales cycle by 10%
  • Increase renewals of existing customers by 10%
  • Cut company travel expenses by 10%
  • Decrease utility expenses by 10%
  • Increase your newsletter subscribers by 10% by offering free downloads and other incentives
  • Cut server expenses 10% by moving to cloud computing
  • Increase leads captured off your website by 10%
  • Reduce the time for collecting outstanding receivables by 10%
  • Increase traffic to your website by increasing the number of social media shares/posts you make by 10%
  • Develop a new product line that grows 10% per month
  • If you have credit card balances outstanding, cut interest expense by paying down your balances by at least 10%

The list goes on — the above examples are just designed to get you started. Think especially about how to use technology to achieve goals. Technology is your friend in this kind of goal setting. Accounting software, for instance, helps you run reports to compare one period against another. Dashboards in online apps that measure your performance using the app can also help you measure progress. Even a good Excel spreadsheet can help save hours of time to measure progress, and demonstrate how much the team has achieved each period.

As with all goals, they must be specific as to time and other details, and measurable. So whether your goal is to make an improvement of 10% weekly, monthly or quarterly—the point is to set a specific time frame. Then find a way measure progress over that period.

Finally, don’t get hung up on the number 10. Ten percent is really a metaphor for a goal being doable. If 10% is overly ambitious in the context of your business or a particular area, then make it 5% or 3% or even 1%. The point is to set goals that are achievable in a short time frame. Keep building on those goals consistently each period until they add up to big gains at the end of the year.

About the Author:

smallbiztrends
Anita Campbell

Guest Blogger

My name is Anita Campbell. I run online communities and information websites reaching over 6 million small business owners, stakeholders and entrepreneurs annually, including Small Business Trends, a daily publication about small business issues, and BizSugar.com, a small business social media site.

Calendar or Fiscal? Which Tax Year is Right for your Small Business?

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: January 7, 2013 Updated: September 19, 2016

Did you start a business last year? No? Are you planning to start one this year? Did you know you can choose the tax year you intend to operate under?  Choose well, because there are pros and cons for either method. 

A tax year is an accounting period for which you must report your taxable income and business expenses, and the law requires you to operate according to a consistent tax year. The most common is the most obvious: the calendar year. However, businesses can also report based on a fiscal tax year and a short tax year.

Here are some tips for choosing the right period for your small business.

1. Calendar Tax Year

This is a simple and intuitive method adopted by many small business owners, requiring you to track and report income and expenses to the IRS much like individual tax payers do: on an annual basis from January 1 to December 31.

Whether you should use this method is typically determined by how your business is legally structured. For example, if you are a sole proprietor, there is no separation of your business and personal taxes, so a calendar year method is typically required. Likewise, business partnerships or limited liability companies (LLCs) also will generally use the same tax year most business owner(s). S corporations and personal service corporations will also use a calendar year in most cases.

  • Generally, anyone can adopt the calendar year. However, if any of the following apply, the IRS requires you to adopt the calendar year:
  • You keep no books or records
  • You have no annual accounting period
  • Your present tax year does not qualify as a fiscal year
  • You are required to use a calendar year by a provision of the Internal Revenue Code or the Income Tax Regulations

Read more about the tax implications of your business structure.

2. Fiscal Tax Year

Many corporations and larger firms operate on a fiscal tax year basis – a period of 12 consecutive months ending on the last day of any month that isn’t December. For small businesses that might not have the accounting expertise on-hand to keep everything reconciled, a calendar tax year is easier to manage. But there are exceptions where it may make sense to consider a fiscal year. For example, if you operate a seasonal business, reporting income by calendar year could split your season and give a distorted view of income and expenses.

Likewise, if your business shows most of its expenses in one year and income in another, it may be worth looking into a fiscal tax year so that both periods are included in the same 12-month set.

3. Short Tax Year

Technically, a short tax year (less than 12 months) is not an annual accounting period; instead, it applies to businesses that didn’t exist for the entire tax year or those that changed their tax year period during the year.

If you started your business any time during the tax year, you still need to file a tax return for the time you were in existence. Requirements for filing the return and calculating tax owed are generally the same as the requirements for a return for a full tax year (12 months) ending on the last day of the short tax year.

Can You Change a Tax Year?

Once you’ve adopted a tax year, you may need to get IRS approval to change it. Typically, businesses that change their legal structure may wish to shift from a calendar year to a fiscal year method. In these cases, you will need to file Form 1128, Application to Adopt, Change, or Retain a Tax Year.

Read more from the IRS about Tax Years.

Additional Resources

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

Don’t Be a Social Media Marketing Skeptic – Learn Where and How to Start

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: January 3, 2013 Updated: September 23, 2016

There’s no doubt that social media marketing is a proven and established platform for connecting with customers, building a community and generating business. Yet, despite the evidence of its effectiveness as a marketing tool, surveys and studies say few small businesses are making active use of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn to promote products and services.

A report by eMarketer found that just 24 percent of small businesses have integrated social media in a structured way in their businesses. The report also references findings from Constant Contact that only 49 percent of small businesses consider social media marketing effective.

Why the skepticism? Here are a few reasons and excuses I’ve heard:

  • “I don’t know where to start”
  • “I’m too busy”
  • “I don’t know which social media site is right for my business”
  • “I tried it but it didn’t work”
  • “I’m struggling to build engagement”
  • “I don’t have enough updates to keep my site looking active”

Knowing where to start is perhaps the number one obstacle holding many small business owners back. Knowing what to do when you get there is next. For example, should you use social media to generate leads? For branding? Customer service? Marketing? 

There are numerous blogs on the SBA.gov Community offering tips for getting started in social media marketing. One consistent piece of advice runs through them all: find out where your customers are, start small, and, as you learn, grow out from there.

How?

Last year, I wrote a blog called: How to "Pull Your Head Out of the Sand" and Use Social Media in Your Small Business where I summarized some of the great recommendations from a social media panel at the 2012 National Small Business Week Conference in Washington, D.C. The panel featured experts from Twitter, Constant Contact, Yelp, Google and others. Here’s a summary of their recommendations, a great baseline for getting started:

  • Which Platform is the Right One? Erica Ayotte, social media manager with Constant Contact, recommends businesses start with one channel to test and nurture it. Then try to diversify: “Spend a little time each week exploring new platforms and figure out if they might be for you.” GrowBizMedia’s Rieva Lesonsky recommends: “...find out where your customers can be found, go there first, and then spread out from there… if you run a restaurant, yes, you probably should be on Twitter, but you should really be on Yelp first.”
  • How do You Find the Right People to Engage With? Use search tools to identify and follow people who are influencers in your industry. For example, if you are in the restaurant business, identify food bloggers in your region, give them a follow, and slowly you’ll start to build and grow your followers and influence. The panel also stressed connecting your social media activity to your loyal email subscriber list. Send them an email to let them know about your social media presence and generate new follows from those who are already engaged.
  • What’s the Best Way to Engage with Followers? This is the one area that takes time. Start with interesting information. Google’s Jeff Aguero recommends starting with quality content – something you do really well – then amplify it with social media. Web chats, contests and surveys are great ways to engage, but the panel cautioned small business owners to resist this form of heavy interaction until their new social efforts have had time to grow. “Once you’ve established awareness and trust, then look to step up your approach,” suggested Constant Contact’s Ayotte. “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of progress,” she explained. “It can take some time to figure out what content is going to resonate with an audience… Try something new if no one responds to your Facebook posts.  It’s OK.  Tweak your posts until you find your sweet spot.”

Don’t Forget to Integrate Your Email and Social Media Marketing

Email is still the preferred method of communication among consumers, and Constant Contact predicts that in 2013 it will remain their preferred marketing channel as well. Email is also a key element in driving social media success, “…using both together to support one another can boost a campaign and bring greater collective benefits, as opposed to using just one or the other,” advises Constant Contact.

Learn from the Experts

There are myriad webinars, ebooks, blogs and other tools that can help you learn the tricks of the trade. Small business organizations like SCORE, Small Business Development Centers, and others also offer advice and seminars on this topic (use this interactive map to find resources in your area).

Here’s a selection of SBA blogs that can also help with key areas of your social media strategy:

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

What Will 2013 Look Like For Franchising?

By FranchiseKing, Guest Blogger
Published: January 3, 2013 Updated: July 5, 2016

Will great things finally start to happen in franchising in 2013?

Should you become the owner of a franchise business in 2013?

What are some of the trends in franchising?

Let’s dig in...                                         

 

Employment

Jobs aren’t what they used to be. The days of working for the same company for 30 years are over. A lot of today’s corporate employees move from job to job. And it’s usually not their fault. Divisions close down. Companies restructure. As Guy Kawasaki* says, “Shitake happens.”

A lot of people I talk to are sick of getting downsized*, right-sized and just plain outsized. They want to have some semblance of control back in their professional lives. That’s one reason that a lot of downsized workers look into franchise ownership.

The effects of the recession still linger; some of those who’ve lost their jobs aren’t even in the job market anymore. They’ve essentially opted out*.

The sheer amount of people that have opted out of job-seeking could be a boon to franchising, which has not seen a lot of growth the last couple of years.*

 

Opportunities

If you’ve opted out of the job market, you’re probably open to other ideas...like owning your own business. If so, franchise ownership may be worth a look.

Just make sure that you’re right for the franchise business model. Make sure that you’re 100% on-board with following rules. Make sure that your family is on board with this idea of yours, too. It’s important to have their support.

 

Is Now The Time?

There are three very positive things happening for today’s future franchise owners.

1.      Small business loan rates have been very reasonable.

2.      Franchisors are aggressively discounting some of their fees

3.      Commercial space (depending on your area) is readily available

If you feel that you have what it takes to become the owner of a franchise, and you can leverage those three things, 2013 may be your year.

Just don’t forget to do a great job on your due diligence. Because if you don’t do a thorough job with your research, and don’t use the plethora of small business resources that are readily available these days, 2013 may not be your year.

In other words, take your time. And don’t do it alone.

 

Franchise Trends

If you’re going to look into franchise ownership in 2013, it wouldn’t hurt to start noticing and learning about the current business and franchise trends.

One of the biggest trends taking place—and it’s affecting everything we do—is mobile communications and technology.

According to one study*, 47% of consumers confirm they use their smartphone to search for local information such as a local store they want to visit. Forty-six percent of consumers look up prices on a store’s mobile site and 42% check inventory prior to shopping in the store.

If you’re thinking of becoming the owner of a franchise that requires a physical location, you really need to keep an eye on the latest trends in mobile technology and mobile marketing, like these*.

Interestingly enough, most of the top franchise trends for 2013 involve franchise opportunities that do require a commercial space. Again, pay attention to what’s happening in the world of mobile technology.

2013 could shape up to be a great year to become a franchise business owner.

There’s good commercial space available. Small business loan rates are decent. Some franchisors are aggressively reducing up-front costs. Fantastic business tools and resources are easily accessible.

You just have to use them.

*Non-US Government links

About the Author:

FranchiseKing
Joel Libava

Guest Blogger

The Franchise King®, Joel Libava, is the author of Become a Franchise Owner! and recently launched Franchise Business University.

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