President Biden announced important changes to the PPP, including a two-week window for businesses with fewer than 20 employees.


Do You Copy?

By Rieva Lesonsky, Guest Blogger
Published: October 16, 2012


We learn in grade school that it’s not right to copy others, and even as adults we know copying is usually frowned upon. But when it comes to business marketing, there’s nothing wrong with being a copycat—in fact, it’s downright good business. Looking at how your competitors market themselves can teach you what to do (and what not to do) with your own marketing strategy. Here’s how to be a successful marketing copycat.

Start by determining your major competitors, and include both big companies and small ones. Pay attention to their marketing campaigns—including print, radio, TV or cable TV, outdoor advertising and online advertising. (You may want to put someone at your business in charge of gathering and maintaining this information, since it will be an ongoing job.) Create a database or record of where each competitor is advertising, ad size, frequency and any other information you think is important. 

Next, assess the actual ads themselves. Start from a consumer or customer standpoint. If you were looking for this product or service, what would you think of this ad? Be objective; if you can’t, enlist a friend or family member to look at or listen to the ads for you.

Then assess the ads from a business standpoint. What benefits and features do the ads highlight? Do they rely on special offers and discounts, or are they touting luxury or premium products? What types of customers are they targeting (Moms? Seniors? Teens? Businesspeople? Value shoppers)?

Don’t forget social media. It’s easy to keep tabs on what the competition is doing on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest—just follow or like your competitors, then regularly check out their posts and how customers respond. You’ll get a window into exactly how successful their marketing is and what customers like to see.

Once you’ve got all this information, you’ll need to do some serious thinking. Ask yourself (and brainstorm with your team):

·         What do I like and dislike about my competitors’ ads? If something in an ad bugs you, it probably bugs potential customers, too. Conversely, if something resonates with you, it’s likely to hit home with prospects as well.

·         What tactics could I copy or learn from? Of course, you shouldn’t directly copy your competitor—and if your ads are too similar, it could even cause confusion among customers. But you can do things like advertising in the same places your competitors are or promoting similar benefits in your ads. 

·         What can I do differently to make my business stand out? Is there a media outlet your customers care about that no competitors are advertising? For instance, if you’re targeting teens, maybe you could advertise on an Internet radio service like Spotify.

·         What weaknesses do I see that could create opportunity for my business? For example, if all the competitors in your community are promoting their low prices, you could take the opposite tack and promote your personalized service, premium products or other benefit that differentiates your company and makes what you offer worth a higher price. If no one else is advertising out-of-home, but your target consumers frequently use public transportation, there’s opportunity for you to advertise on bus stops or in or near subway stations.

Of course, marketing isn’t all about ads. If possible, visit your competitors’ stores or offices (or have a trusted friend or family member do so) to get a feel for how customers are treated and other elements such as signage, window décor and employee uniforms. Ask yourself the same questions about what you like and dislike as a customer, what’s missing from the marketing, and what opportunities you see.

Once you get the hang of copycat marketing, you’ll be able to apply it outside your immediate competitors. Start paying attention to ads you like (or don’t like) for companies in your industry, even if they’re not directly competitive with yours. Create an “inspiration folder” with ads that help you generate ideas. You’ll soon find that learning from others takes your marketing to new heights.

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 and visit 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

7 Tips for Dealing With Criticism of Your Business on Social Media

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: October 11, 2012 Updated: October 11, 2012

Not sure how to handle negative comments or criticism of your business on social media? Is the open nature of social media actually stopping you from jumping on board?

Receiving criticism is never easy; it can also damage your business reputation. However, feedback and criticism in an open and social forum also gives your business an opportunity to deflect negativity and even earn you respect – if you handle it right.   

Here are some steps you can take to manage criticism of your business, products, or even staff on social media and online review sites.

1. Get Listening

The first thing is making sure you hear what is being said about you by monitoring the social media sites where you have a presence. Check your Facebook page regularly, monitor your Twitter mentions and set up Google Alerts so you can track when your business is being mentioned online. You may also want to check your Yelp, Google+ Local, Trip Advisor and other listings for customer comments. Don’t forget industry, product or even local community forums. For example, does your neighborhood or home owner’s association have an online forum?  Folks may be reviewing local businesses there.

2. Should You Respond?

You may feel tempted to respond quickly to a negative comment or even delete it. But negative reviews aren’t always worth a response. Some posters may be negative just to get attention, or their comments are just so over the top and rude that responding to them will only draw attention to an issue that clearly is a one-off or that no one else is aware of. Sometimes it’s just best to ignore these posts.

3. Don’t Let Negative Comments Linger

Social media doesn’t wait for anyone. Fans have come to expect a timely response from brands they follow. By chiming in early you can quickly stop others from jumping in on the topic while demonstrating that you value opinion and feedback. 

Even if you don’t have an immediate answer, tell the commentator that you hear them, acknowledge their complaint, and promise to investigate further. “I’m sorry to hear this…” is a great softener and shows you care.

4. Always Acknowledge, Never Deny

Accept that the customer is always right and acknowledge it and investigate to get to the root cause of their feedback or criticism. Where did your business go wrong? Was it a simple misunderstanding or do you need to make changes internally? Avoiding feedback or criticism may come back to bite you.

5. How to Apologize

If you find that your business has been in the wrong or you’ve let your customers down, apologize sincerely. Acknowledge that you’ve investigated the complaint. State clearly that you regret the poor service that the customer has received (i.e. you know what a pain it is when things don’t go as expected), cite it as a lesson learned and let everyone know you will take steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Above all, avoid formal language. Take off your sales and marketing hat and be human. End your posts with your name, so the complainant knows who they’re dealing with. Be conversational: “I’m so sorry you had this experience. Let me look into it right away and get back to you – Todd,” instead of: “Your comment has been acknowledged. We will look into this matter further.” You might even own up to the fact that you’ve been experiencing some hiccups in one particular area – whether it’s a new product line, or shipping times – and that you want to hear more if consumers have further issues.

Consider offering to make things right. Ask the customer to email you so that you can either reimburse them or perhaps offer a discount on future purchases. Be sure to follow through on this, look out for the email and respond promptly.

6. Take the Conversation Offline

If you need more information or genuinely feel that this conversation would be better served offline, ask the complainant to contact you directly via email or phone. Make this the exception rather than the rule – and only do it after you’ve publicly acknowledged or apologized for any issues and restated your commitment to customer service. The goal here isn’t putting out the fire out by taking it offline but offering an open invite to continue the dialogue further and address the complainants’ specific concerns. It’s a strategy that works.

7. The Bottom Line

When your business reputation is on the line, demonstrating your commitment to customer satisfaction – and backing it up with action – is a must. Ironically, one unhappy customer converted back into a loyal fan of your business can be far more influential in the word-of-mouth driven world of social media than one happy customer ever can be! So go ahead, embrace comments negative or otherwise – you might just win some more fans!


About the Author:

Caron Beesley


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

PR 101 for Start-Ups – How to Get Visibility Without Bringing in the Pros

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: October 4, 2012 Updated: September 29, 2016

If you are in start-up mode and want to launch a new product, secure private funding or bring visibility to your company, then public relations is an essential tool for your box. But how do you get started if you have few resources? Here are some tips for things you can do on your own, without the help of a PR agency or expert, to get visibility for your business with potential customers or financiers.

Disclaimer - I don’t take credit for these tips. They come directly from professionals via this on-demand webinar: PR 101 for Start-Ups presented by Lisa Throckmorton, EVP, SpeakerBox Communications and Jonathon Perrelli, Managing Partner,  It’s well worth an hour of your time.  Here’s a quick summary:

Make Sure Your Product is Ready

It’s just common sense: before you engage in any communications push, make sure your product is ready. Online content has a long shelf life, so it’s important to make sure your product is tested, validated and up to snuff.

If you are not there yet and are planning on entering a hot market, such as high-tech, consider announcing a beta. This gives the media an opportunity to preview you and generate some buzz. Make it clear that your product is still in development and have realistic expectations about the kind of coverage you’ll get. Remember, you can’t control the media – they may not say what you want them to say, “so your product better not suck,” explains Jonathon Perrelli. “You need a good beta.”

Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Messaging

PR is no different than introducing yourself to someone at an event or trade show, so develop an elevator pitch that conveys quickly and distinctly who you are and why you matter. Equally important is tailoring that message to your audience – your pitch to an investor will be quite different than a pitch to media or potential customers.

Take a hard look at your website, too. Visitors need to quickly understand who you are. Think about progression from your home page or landing page; include content such as video, imagery and a demo to communicate your pitch. Add a “Press Room” where you can include contact info, FAQs, team bios, news coverage, etc. – reporters will be looking for this.

Have a Communications Plan

Do you know which media you are targeting and why? Where are they getting their information? Before you invest time and money in a communications program, set aside a couple of hours to map out a plan. What tactics should you consider? Bear in mind that different business models lend themselves to different PR approaches. For example, service-based businesses can benefit from demonstrating expertise, blogging, contributing articles, speaking at events, awards and so on. Product-centric companies get more from formal product launches, product reviews and sharing data sets.

Align Your Team

If one person isn’t on board with your plan then it can really sabotage your efforts, especially for small start-ups. Convince naysayers by focusing on the meat behind your plan: why you are doing this? What results do you expect?

Unless you have a stellar CEO who can talk to every aspect of your product and business, then you’ll need to line up more than one person to help tell your story. Identify your team’s experts and refine the message they’re going to tell. For example, a software developer will have completely different things to say than a CEO – and media will want to hear both.

Tell a Story

What qualifies as a good story? What gets coverage and why? Remember  – it’s not about you. “Think multi-dimensionally about story and storytelling – what works for one publication is not going to work for another,” explains Lisa Throckmorton. “It’s really important to understand the media outlets you’re approaching… their mission, and the audience it serves.” Follow the media that matter – read and subscribe to news feeds so that you have a sense for where you might fit and how to tailor your message. “The media is not going to cover you if they don’t think you’re right for their audience.

Be prepared to talk about what your competitors are doing – media is always going to consider them as they write about your product. If you can, use customer stories or validation (market research will do) to support your vision, and be prepared to discuss industry trends and how you are positioned.

Use Social Media

If no one is pushing your news, use social media to push it yourself. Choose wisely – you don’t have to use all social media channels. “Think of it in terms of layers,” explains Lisa Throckmorton. 

For example, your salespeople might be pushing you to use Facebook and LinkedIn to promote your events – that’s one layer. Your PR personnel might be focused on monitoring review sites to listen and respond to what people are saying – that’s another layer. As your business grows, add another layer (consider it the “Marketing Layer”), using such sites such as YouTube, Digg, Reddit, etc. to place content, improve SEO and drive traffic back to your website. At the top layer, tap your senior executives to write blogs and develop a Twitter profile to raise awareness and share their expertise.

“You don’t have to do it all,” explains Lisa Throckmorton, “think about it in increments and what the right choices are for your business.

Using Your Budget

So how do you stay within budget? Surprisingly, start-ups have a variety of options that grow as you grow. For example, if your business is in a pre-funding phase or bringing in less than $250k, spend money where it matters on things such as video and your product launch. Consider bringing in an intern to help you manage day-to-day tactics such as social media posts and monitoring. Tap your mentors if you can and use them as sounding boards, ask them to review your messaging.

As you approach the $1 million revenue mark, start spending money on freelancers and contractors. Once you cross over into growth mode, you can really look to hire multiple people or bring in agencies to help you manage your communications.

For more tips, check out the webinar PR 101 for Start-Ups for yourself.

About the Author:

Caron Beesley


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

6 Ways Your Small Business Can Get More From Webinars and Virtual Events

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: September 27, 2012

Technology moves fast these days. Sometimes it’s hard to keep pace with how it can help you be more successful in business – boosting productivity, saving money and improving collaboration.

This SBA guest blog from SmallBizTrends’ Anita Campbell, 4 Ways Technology Helps you Run Your Business, offers some useful tips and recommendations on how technology can help you redesign your business processes to be more efficient and save you money.

Many of the innovations Anita mentions are still rather new – tablet computers, cloud computing, and online software apps – but there is a technology that has been around for years that can still help deliver business success: the webinar!

Webinar or webcast technology has been around since the 90s and has become a staple in many business marketing toolkits, but the good old webinar can do lots more for your business. Here are some tips for getting more from your webinar platform and its more sophisticated cousin – the virtual event.

Use It As a Post-Sale Educational Tool

Marketers often use webinars to showcase products, educate sales prospects and generate leads. You can also use webinars as post-sale learning opportunities for existing customers – where folks can learn without leaving their desks. Have subject matter experts lead virtual learning webinars so that customers can learn about things such as industry trends, new innovations and overcoming topical challenges. Remember, though, it’s not a sales pitch.

Whether you use webinars to complement or even replace field seminars, they can help position your business as a genuinely helpful brand and establish you as the go-to expert in the field.

Use Webinars to Improve SEO

When it comes to driving traffic to your website, content is king, and archived webinars are a great way to improve your company’s search engine rankings. Whether it’s a product demo or an educational event, look for ways to broaden the visibility of your webinar content. Besides posting your archived webinars to your website, link back to them from social bookmarking sites like Digg, Reddit and StumbleUpon, and promote them on your own social media channels. Post the slide deck to social sharing sites like SlideShare or author STREAM.

Integrate Webinars with Marketing Automation Systems

If you already have or are considering investing in a marketing automation system such as Eloqua, HubSpot or Marketo, get more from your webinar activity by automating your email invites and tracking registrant information, reminders and more. Most platforms offer sophisticated querying to track leads from the source (email, newsletters, sales efforts, etc.) and get real-time registration and attendance metrics in your automation system for dashboard reporting.

Virtual Events

Webinar technology has blossomed in recent years to enable businesses to host virtual events that mimic the traditional tradeshow or conference experience, complete with online exhibit halls, auditoriums, virtual hosts, streaming webinars and more.

Virtual events can be used for a variety of purposes. Many larger businesses use them to complement traditional user conferences or seminars and extend the reach of the event to users across the country or even the globe.

Virtual environments can also replace in-person meetings with partners or customers. For example, you can offer new product briefings or reseller training through a virtual event. You can set up multiple tracks easily, and integrate live briefings and product demos.

Popular virtual event platforms include INXPO, ubivent and Intercall, among others. As with webinars, much of the content can be pre-recorded and archived for “always-on” viewing. A virtual event can really extend the conversation beyond the initial event, offering a place to go to look up product information, meet and chat with your experts.

Product Launches

Wondering how to get maximum visibility and impact for a new product launch? Use webcasting to create a hybrid event or even replace a live product launch event. Many webinar platforms and virtual environments let you integrate social media interaction and live Q&A to ensure maximum engagement.

Employee Training and Communication

Is your team virtual or scattered? Use webinars as part of your employee learning program or as a way to keep them informed of company developments.

How have you used webinars or virtual environments in your small business? Leave a comment below!

About the Author:

Caron Beesley


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

Traditional Marketing Still Rules

By Rieva Lesonsky, Guest Blogger
Published: September 18, 2012


Have you all but given up on publicizing your small business to newspapers, TV, magazines and radio, instead focusing all your efforts on social media marketing? You could be making a big mistake. A study done this summer showed that despite the prevalence of social media, blogs and websites, Americans still find traditional media the most trustworthy source of information. Here’s what you need to know to get publicity in traditional media.

1.      Find the right media outlets to target. Determine which magazines, newspapers, radio shows or TV programs attract the largest percentage of your target market. You can get this information by contacting the media outlet and asking for their media kit and/or speaking to someone who can provide the information. Pitching your business to the wrong media will doom your efforts from the start, while finding the right fit increases your chances of success.

2.      Identify contacts within these media outlets. Read the newspaper or magazine, listen to the radio show and watch the TV program to figure out which reporters have what “beats” (areas of focus). Determine which reporter will care most about your press release, whether that’s the business editor of the local newspaper or the New Products editor of your industry’s trade magazine. The more specifically you can target reporters and editors, the better. Develop a spreadsheet listing names, email addresses and phone numbers of key contacts you want to target.

3.      Develop newsworthy angles for your press releases. There are many topics that can work for a press release—a new product or service, a new location of your business, expansion into a new market, or an anniversary are just a few. The key is tying the news you’re promoting in to what the media outlet cares about. For instance, if your company sells a baby product that just won an award from an industry organization, you would focus on different angles of the story depending on the outlet you’re targeting. A press release for a parenting magazine would focus on why the product is so great for children and what features caused you to win the award. A press release for a trade magazine would focus on the business aspect of the story, such as how your company developed the product and how it has increased your sales. If you’re targeting a newspaper, you might send one release to the business editor and a different, more consumer-oriented release to the Lifestyle editor. Search online for free press release templates you can use.

4.      Follow up. Email is generally the preferred method of contact these days. Send an email along with your press release, then follow up a few days to a week later with another email and/or a phone call. Don’t be a pest (reporters are busy), but do be persistent and professional. Realize that it often takes several press releases for your business to make an impression on busy reporters, so don’t give up.

5.      Be ready. When a reporter calls or emails you, respond quickly. If you aren’t available, identify someone else at your business who can respond to PR inquiries. Journalists are busy (and on tight deadlines) so they will move on to someone else if you don’t get back to them. Be prepared and helpful; answer all their questions and offer to provide photos or send additional materials.

Maximize results. When you do get precious publicity, make the most of it! Order reprints of the article to frame for your business establishment; send copies to key clients or prospects or incorporate them into your sales materials; ask the media outlet if you can post a link to the interview on your website (or even embed the actual video or podcast); and generally let everyone know about the positive press you’ve received. Remember, traditional media carries a lot of weight—but only if your customers know about it.

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 and visit 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


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