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The Social Storefront – How to Sell Your Products and Services on Facebook

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: March 11, 2013 Updated: March 11, 2013

Have you ever considered extending your small business storefront to Facebook?

According to The New York Times, small retailers are having more success than their larger counterparts when it comes to selling socially with Facebook storefronts proving to be a successful outlet for small businesses with less than $100,000 in revenue and fewer than 10 employees.

Yet Facebook storefronts present business owners with a number of challenges. For example, if you have a business page on Facebook, you do not own it; Facebook does, and as such, it is free to change the look, feel, security and functionality of your page when it sees fit. Furthermore, many consumers may be reticent about conducting financial transactions on social media.

If your small business is interested in exploring this new revenue stream, here are some tips to help you get started building your social storefront:

1. Build Your Facebook Storefront

Facebook storefronts are wholly independent of Facebook and are enabled by third party apps and services from companies such as Ecwid, BigCommerce’s SocialShop application and VendorShop Social. Alternatively, you can also have an app developer build you a custom storefront.  

These apps offer a number of social shopping features that you can add to your Facebook business page. Some are free, with options to upgrade for increased functionality, while others charge a low monthly subscription fee. (Note: The Facebook store provider market is an emerging one with new start-ups popping up regularly. Furthermore, established players are increasingly targeted for acquisition. So do your due diligence on this one. Look for providers with a good customer service track record and try not to get locked into time-bound contracts.)

Whichever app you choose, getting started is quite easy. Once your app is installed, you can add product listings; a welcome page to showcase certain products and promotions; a shopping cart; and a variety of payment options such as PayPal. Some apps also include tools to promote your storefront to your fans, via email, your blog or website. 

2. Personalize Your Storefront

Next, personalize your storefront to reflect your brand and appeal to the fans and customers you are hoping to engage with and sell to. Think about adding a human element to your banner image—this will help connect you with your potential buyers. To maximize your Facebook sales, look for ways to engage and connect—post tips that relate to your industry; share articles, images and blogs that might be of interest; and have a dialogue with your fans. Above all, inject some personality into your page—this is a huge differentiator for small businesses, so use it!

The New York Times also suggests pinning and tagging status updates and photos to attract fans and keep your page dynamic. For example, you could run a contest that encourages customers to tag your products in the photos they post on their Facebook page. In doing so, you’ll get free visibility on that person’s wall for all their friends and followers to see. You can also use the pin feature to highlight a product of the week or a special discount.

3. Be Social, Build a Community

Make your page an active one—treat it as you would your own bricks and mortar store. Meet and greet fans, and engage with them. Encourage them to post by asking open-ended questions in your status updates; comment on and like the interaction that follows.

You can also grow your community outside the confines of our own page. For example, follow business pages that relate to your products, industry or neighborhood and interact with folks on those pages (without being overly promotional). For example, if you own a retail store on Main Street, look around and find out who else is on Facebook—your local coffee shop, library, community newspaper? Give them a like (using your business page profile) and join in the conversation with other business owners and their customers. Your business will appear on their wall and help increase your visibility and likeability!

4. Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket

It’s unlikely that Facebook will ever be your only sales channel. So test the waters before you set up your store and ask your fans and customers if they’d be interested in buying from you via Facebook. Then, once you are up and running, don’t ignore your website or retail location. Small businesses are known to get as much as 15-30 percent of their sales from Facebook, but remember that not everyone is on Facebook, and not all are comfortable doing business there.

5. More Reading

For some real-world examples of how small businesses are using Facebook storefronts, check out this article from The New York Times: Small Retailers Open Up Storefronts on Facebook Pages.

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 Minimum Advertised Pricing Impacts Your Retail or Online Store’s Marketing Efforts

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: March 6, 2013 Updated: March 6, 2013

If you run an online or retail business, did you know that you might be prohibited from advertising a manufacturer’s products below a certain minimum price?

Minimum advertised pricing (MAP) policies are particularly critical to manufacturers who sell their products for online resale, given the ease at which consumers can now conduct online and mobile price comparisons. MAP policies are also established to help small businesses compete and sell on service and value, rather than entering into a price war with cost-cutting big box stores.

But how legally enforceable are these minimum advertised pricing policies and, as a small business owner, is there a way to get around them in your sales and marketing practices?

The Truth About Minimum Advertised Pricing

Minimum advertised pricing only relates to “advertised” pricing and is perfectly legal under U.S. antitrust statutes. So, essentially, you are limited to advertising MAP-protected products at a certain price, but you can sell these products at any price you choose (often guided by the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price or MSRP).

What Does this Mean for Online Businesses?

Under typical MAP agreements, online retailers can’t “display” any prices that fall below the MAP price. But which part of an online store actually represents advertising display space has caused quite a bit of controversy. For example, say a product is listed on a site for $10. Once a coupon code or other incentive is applied, the actual shopping cart price could come down to $8. Is that still considered “advertising” since a transaction technically hasn’t yet occurred, or is it a commitment to buy and outside the scope of a MAP agreement?

The difference between an advertised price and an actual price that you may be charged has come under scrutiny by U.S. Circuit Courts and FTC rulings, which tend to agree that an actual price displayed in a secure/encrypted shopping cart isn’t subject to MAP – because it’s technically not advertising space, but represents an actual storefront. So in an online world, an actual price may legally end up being a lot lower than the MAP-required advertised price.

In fact, manufacturers are often advised to focus their MAP policies on advertised prices in paid search ads, shopping comparison ads, and internet landing pages but not in shopping carts or other point of sale interfaces.

Look for Alternative Ways to Discount

While it’s not always advisable to lead with price in your marketing efforts, look for other ways to attract customers without breaking any MAP agreements. For example, many manufacturers are okay with your offering free shipping, coupon codes, or a “buy-one-get-one at a discount,” if MAP doesn’t protect that other item. Essentially, as long as the dollar value of the MAP-protected product isn’t reduced, then you are okay. Be careful with coupon codes. It’s safer to advertise the coupon—not the product that it can be applied against—so as not to imply that you are advertising the MAP item at a reduced price. Instead, be clear about what items are excluded from any coupon code promotion.

The Bottom Line

If you are unsure about how your online advertising and marketing practices may border on breaking any MAP agreement you have with a manufacturer, talk to them or consult a legal attorney. Manufacturers do monitor their dealers for potential violations and the law is constantly in flux on this one, so do your due diligence.

For more information about the legality of MAP policies, check out the Federal Trade Commission Guide to Antitrust Laws.

 

 

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

7 Quick Tips for Better Business Communications

By Tim Berry, Guest Blogger
Published: February 27, 2013

It used to be that most of the business world understood that simple, clear business writing was a powerful skill. We needed to communicate, explain and convince people in memos, proposals, plans and reports. Simple sentences worked better. Clear and concise worked better.

Maybe I care more about writing than the next person because I’ve spent so much of my career dealing with business plans: writing them for years, then getting them funded and, more recently, reading them. I read more than 100 business plans a year. They’re shorter than they used to be, for sure; but the qualities that make something readable—including good writing, spelling and grammar, are as important as ever.

But writing has been diluted, for sure, with the forward march of email, websites—and now Facebook and Twitter and text and rushed communications with two thumbs while trying not to bonk the other people sharing the sidewalk. So writing, spelling and grammar seem out of style; but still, some writing comes up all the time. The business plan is just the most obvious example. Beyond that:

  1. In email
  2. In blog posts
  3. In comments to blog posts
  4. In social media updates
  5. Plans, memos, reports
  6. In text or sms messages? I’m not sure about that one. What do you think? The obvious abbreviations are so tempting ... but does that have to spread into the rest of our writing. I forgive “idk” in a text but not in a memo (it stands for I don’t know). 

So here are some of my suggestions for minding the writing without ignoring that it’s relegated to many kinds of in-between and compromise contexts, like text and on smartphones. And with business plans too, of course.

  1. Use short simple sentences. Use periods more often to end sentences. Separate your points into shorter sentences.
  2. Get to the point fast. Put the headline first—then explain. People skim emails and memos. Don’t bury the main point in a dumpling-like mass of explanations.
  3. Stop using apostrophes to show plural. Apostrophes are for contraction (don’t) or possession (Ralph’s or Mary’s opinion). Stop putting an apostrophe every time you have a plural noun. It’s balls and bats, not ball’s and bat’s.
  4. Then and than have different meanings. Then is time and sequence, as in first we do this and then that. Than is comparison, like more than and less than.
  5. Simple words are better. Avoid jargon and buzzwords. Don’t incentivize people when you can motivate or encourage them instead. Use things; don’t utilize them. The phrase “outside the box” is inside the box. Are we really all engaging all the time?
  6. Although it does take an extra effort to hold down two fingers at once or add a keystroke to capitalize words, it looks better. Capitalize your words like you learned in second grade.
  7. Don’t write long emails with multiple topics and points. Make each email have its own topic and subject line. Your recipients will get your point faster and better than way.

While it’s apparently true that we live in a world of video, and books and print media are in a decline, technology has also put writing into almost every obscure corner and extra little piece of time in our lives. Not just for business plans. In all cases, let’s do it well.

About the Author:

Tim Berry
Tim Berry

Guest Blogger

Founder and Chairman of Palo Alto Software and bplans.com, on twitter as Timberry, blogging at timberry.bplans.com. His collected posts are at blog.timberry.com. Stanford MBA. Married 46 years, father of 5. Author of business plan software Business Plan Pro and www.liveplan.com and books including his latest, 'Lean Business Planning,' 2015, Motivational Press. Contents of that book are available for web browsing free at leanplan.com .

How to Break Through 5 Common Barriers to Small Business Growth

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: February 21, 2013

Trying to grow your business, but thwarted at every turn by problems within your own organization or by external factors such as broken supply chains?

For many businesses, the biggest obstacle to growth isn’t poor sales, financing or tough competition; it’s often the business itself!

So, if you find yourself operationally ill prepared to grow, what can you do about it? Here are some strategies that can help you break through some of the common barriers to growth that many small businesses experience.

1. Watch the indicators for growth

Before you embark on any growth strategy, step back and take a look at some key business indicators to help you decide whether you are actually ready for growth!

Are you successful in a current market and want to open a new location? Are you about to clinch a big sales deal? Is your sales pipeline full? Is product development success opening the door to new opportunities?

These are all important indicators that will drive growth and should be constantly monitored to ensure you are able to effectively prepare for that growth. Study your pipeline, conversion rates and market trends in dashboard form every day.

2. Keep one eye on your competition, but always think big picture

Underpinning any growth strategy should be a deep knowledge of where you stand against your competition. A simple SWOT analysis, reviewed quarterly, can help you determine where you fit in relation to your competitors and areas of opportunity to exploit your strengths and their weaknesses. Likewise, it will give you a good view of any threats to your growth and guide you towards developing a plan to fix or compensate for these.

Then take a look at your market – your potential customers. Do some market analysis to find out how your customers view your business and what they see in the competition that would make them buy from them instead of you.

Look for ways to differentiate yourself – how does your competition position itself in the marketplace relative to your business? How does your business/product/service contrast with theirs? Why would a customer buy from you and not them? The answers to these questions will help you see your strengths, exploit market opportunities, and execute a tactical plan to get ahead in areas that you don’t measure up to the competition.

3. Always be recruiting talent

Setting the stage for growth has to involve superstar employees. Even if you can’t afford to right now – keep looking for talent and bring them on part-time or on a contract or hourly basis. Another option that can help guide your growth is to work with an organization like SCORE. SCORE provides free business mentoring services and can partner you with someone with business management experience to help you steer your business on a path to growth. Whether you need help across the entire business, or are looking for help with functions such as business planning or marketing, SCORE can pair you with a mentor for free.

Get more tips in 6 Options for Staffing your Growing Business.

4. Constantly assess risk

If there’s one thing being a manager or business owner teaches us all, it’s that we must always anticipate and manage risk. Look ahead—what variables could occur that might compromise or damage your growth plans? These could be supply chain issues, hiring and training problems, competitive activity, cash flow, or patent infringements. Include these in your SWOT analysis and develop a plan to prevent or manage any issues.

5. The bottom line

If there’s a common thread here, it’s the importance of being prepared. This, of course, means having a plan. Never embark on a growth strategy without a plan. It doesn’t have to be encyclopedic, but it should contain the key elements discussed above.  Break your plan down into chunks – have one strategic plan that contains your market findings and helps inform where you are and where you want to be. Then assemble smaller plans. For example, have a day-to-day operations plan, a hiring plan and a marketing plan, each of which lay out the tactics for using your business resources to accomplish your strategy.

If you don’t have a business plan, check out SBA’s Build your Business Plan Tool. This step-by-step online tool guides you through the process of creating an actionable plan.

 

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

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