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What Your Small Business Needs to Know About The Facebook Timeline

By smallbiztrends, Guest Blogger
Published: April 5, 2012

As of March 30, 2012 – like it or not – your Facebook page for your business changed.   If you had a custom Welcome tab, as many small businesses did -- one that said “Like our Page” or had a special offer -- it is no longer the first thing that people visiting your Facebook page will see.

Now you have something called the Facebook timeline.  People landing on your Facebook Page for the first time can see a large image at the top, plus other items below.  Visitors to your page can also go back in time through a sliding time scale, and see what was posted on your page at different times – a convenient feature for, say, telling the history of a company.

Some small businesses do not like the changes being forced on them, especially if they invested in creating a custom Welcome tab.  One study by Simply Measured found that fan engagement increases with the new Timeline pages.

Here are 7 things you need to know about the new format of Facebook pages:

  1. Choose an intriguing cover image – The big image that goes across the top of the Timeline is called a cover image.  It’s an odd size – long and not so high at 815 x 315 pixels – so you probably will have to crop a photograph to work.  Have your Web designer create an image or if you are talented, create your own timeline cover image.  For inspiration, check out these creative examples of small business cover images.
  1. Don’t violate the Facebook rules for cover images – Facebook has some specific rules about your cover image.  It is not allowed to have price, calls to action or contact information in it, among other things.  Read the rules.
  1. Use milestones to tell your company history and achievements – The new timeline is what it says it is – there’s a sliding timeline that users can use.  Smart companies are inserting information to tell the story of their businesses, from startup to the present time, along with other key achievements.  This might include the date you started your business; when you moved into your new office; and when you won that important award.  Click the Milestone icon in the update status box to add a milestone.
  1. Choose a good profile image – The profile photo is the square image 180x180 that appears to the lower left side of the big cover image.  Make sure it is optimized for that square size.  It could be your logo, or a special social media icon for your business that looks good in a square format.
  1. Pin important posts – Facebook allows you to “pin” posts at the top of the page, right below the cover image.  This is excellent if you want to highlight something special, such as a contest you are running. That way, as new items are posted, the pinned post stays at the top where it will be sure to be seen by visitors.
  1. Highlight posts – In addition to pinning a post, you can highlight a post.  This means that the post expands to the full width of the page, and increases the size of the update.  This is good to call attention to something more important.
  1. Use rich media – Photographs and videos get a lot of attention on Facebook.  If you’re not using these forms of content, make it a goal to start doing so.  Take photos of your team and your office.  Next time you attend a conference or trade show, be sure to take photos or videos.  If you create an infographic for your business, be sure to include it as an image.  Expand your horizons beyond simply text.

For more advice about how to leverage Facebook for your business, check out the free ebook “Tips for a Pain-free Transition” (PDF) from Munish Gandhi, CEO of  Hy.ly.

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.

7 Tips for Getting Your Marketing Message Right

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: March 22, 2012 Updated: September 15, 2016

How do you describe your business to the world? What words sum up your brand identity and what you have to offer? Are you clearly explaining your business value?

It takes a little time and thought to get your marketing message right, which is why so many small businesses fall back on their “About Us” page or product descriptions to describe what they do and for whom. The problem with this approach is that this message is always about the business itself, and not about those you are trying to connect with – your customers.

Getting your marketing, positioning, and brand statements right is an essential step to building your overall business identity.  In marketing circles, it’s called the “marketing platform,” and here are some tips to help you get it right.

1. Understand Your Target Market and Niche

If you want to connect, you have to know with whom you’re connecting. For this, you need to determine your niche. Ask yourself what you are selling and to whom. Are the benefits of dealing with your business clear and are they aligned with the needs of your target customers? Answering these questions will help you focus your messaging and play to your strengths in that niche. 

2. Think About Pain Points, Challenges, Needs and Desires

Every business, product, or service responds to a customer’s pain point: a need, a problem, a desire, or a challenge. How you address these “pain points” is critical to your messaging. For some businesses, like a plumber, for example, these needs seem obvious. For others, pain points may be a little harder to define. For example, an upscale seafood bar and restaurant in a suburban community may or may not be addressing a problem or pain point. But you can certainly weave a benefit statement around the fact that it’s helping residents enjoy a taste of big-city dining right on their doorsteps and meets an emotional need for good times close to home!

3. Tell People About your Product - Succinctly

Products are a key part of what you do, but they are not everything. Your product or service should only be a small part of your overall message.  Yes, it’s what you bring to your target audience, but you are offering more – customer service, agility, convenience, reliability, experience, etc. So consider all these issues in light of what they mean to your customer. What’s the “so what” factor? What benefit does it realize for them?

4. Add Proof Points

A proof point backs up what you have to say about your business. Think of it as a “don’t just take our word for it” statement. Proof points include customer quotes, success stories that you write, case studies, and references. They’re important because they show how your business has solved the problems of others. A few words or paragraphs can convey the customer’s challenge, the solution you delivered, and the results they gained.

This is a great exercise because it focuses you on the customer experience. Use these as stand-alone messages or incorporate the common themes you see into your messaging.

5. Figure out how you are Different

What makes you unique in your niche and to your target market? You’ve outlined your product and you know your customer, but how are you different from the competition? Try to tie those differences to perceived value – i.e. why should your customer care about what you do or provide?

6. Decide on a Messaging Platform

What you are aiming for is flexibility. You want to be able to slice and dice your messaging to suit your audience, your collateral, a promotion, or a sales pitch.

A common approach is to create 25-, 50-, and 100-word versions of your message. The shorter version can be used in advertising copy, elevator pitches, or sound bites in marketing materials. The longer versions give you more flexibility to add specific services, benefits, and value statements, backed up by proof points, about why customers should do business with you.

7. Use Your Messaging Consistently

Once you have your message developed, make sure everyone is singing from the same song sheet, from your sales people to your front desk and across your website and marketing pieces. The more your customers hear it, the more likely it will be to resonate and stick.

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

3 Steps for Social Media In Your Business Plan

By Tim Berry, Guest Blogger
Published: March 21, 2012 Updated: May 19, 2012

Think of social media as a tool for dealing with customers. Like any other tool, or channel, it’s not inherently good or bad for business; its value depends on what you do with it. The underlying problem is clear. It’s essentially the same problem you have with a toll-free number that nobody calls, or an ad that nobody sees. The tool is only as good as the use you make of it.

I believe in the business planning process as the secret to good management. That means you use a flexible business plan, reviewed and revised often, to manage strategy, objectives, measurements, performance, tasks, people, and basic numbers. And that’s as true with social media as with any other function in business.

Therefore, I’m recommending these three steps to manage your social media business activities using your business plan.  I’m thinking mainly of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+, but I hope these three steps will apply to any other social media effort or platform as well.

1. Set strategy.

Strategy starts with focus and includes goals. It can include short- and long-term goals.

Think about what you’re going to do with social media in a business sense. Set realistic business objectives. Are you going to generate leads, answer complaints, engage with customers, or something else? Will you be doing all of the above? How will this relate to other functions and tools, like the rest of the marketing plan or the rest of customer service? Try to stay focused and be specific.

In terms of format, it doesn’t matter. The simplest form of strategy is a collection of bullet points. It serves as a reminder of priorities and goals when things get busy and hard to manage.

2. Set specifics.

Strategy alone isn’t enough. You need to add specific concrete information including how you will measure progress, what progress you expect to see, who is responsible for what tasks, and how often you’re going to review and revise.

For example, if your strategy includes Twitter, you should define what you’re going to tweet, and who will do it, what tools they’ll be using (for example, HootSuite or CoTweet or TweetDeck), and what performance measurements are important. The measurement might be posts, updates, likes, followers, connections, leads, customer incidents handled, or even the very trendy Klout score, which measures influence.

Be sure you have specifics you can track. Ask yourself how you’ll know, next month, whether you are on plan or not.

3. Manage results.

Just exactly like the rest of your business plan, the social media portions need to be managed, followed up, tracked, discussed, and revised regularly.

Schedule monthly meetings in advance. Invite everybody involved. List what numbers you’re going to be tracking and make sure it’s clear who is responsible for what.

When the meetings take place, start by reviewing assumptions, then review goals and performance measurement, one by one. Where things are better than planned, somebody should get praise. Where things are worse than planned, somebody should be prepared to discuss what went wrong and how to correct it.

Final thought: Does this sound familiar? As if social media belongs in your business planning process like every other important function in the business? Good. That’s what I hoped you’d say. 

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 .

Search Engine Optimization (SEO): 10 Essential Things You Need to Know

By smallbiztrends, Guest Blogger
Published: July 22, 2011 Updated: April 12, 2013

Increasingly, we small businesses are coming face to face with the realities of the Web.  After all, customers expect to find our businesses online – for many businesses it is NOT optional.  Buyers are now researching purchases and service providers online before ever setting foot in a place of business.  And more and more types of transactions are being handled online or with a combination of online and telephone.

If you can’t be found online easily, your business could be losing money while your competitors – who’ve cracked the code for Web visibility – get farther ahead.  With so much at stake, you can’t just leave it to chance. That’s why search engine optimization is a required knowledge area for any small business today.

But search engine optimization, or SEO, is a huge field that gets more complex each passing month.  Where do you start?  Here are 10 quick tips for making incremental improvements in your Web presence: 

(1) Good Content:  Shoot for having good solid content on your site.  You’ve probably read this 100 times before, but that doesn’t make it any less important.  You see, the search engines need content to index, and content is also key to attracting visitors, encouraging them to share your pages on social sites, and encouraging them to link to your Web pages. Too many sites try to shortcut the process with thin content, or simply underestimate the time and effort it takes to create quality content.  They are missing out on an opportunity to differentiate their websites, engage visitors and improve search position.  Make sure you have a great “About” page, with your company’s story and team bios.  Create interesting videos showing the use of your products, testimonials from satisfied customers, and/or a quick tour of your headquarters. 

(2) One Domain Name:  Some small businesses and entrepreneurs make the mistake of creating multiple separate websites for projects, events, initiatives, interests, etc.  That isn’t the way to go.  You’re better off creating a separate, dedicated section on your site for the content to appear on, but still “under one roof.”  That’s because it’s easier to build brand recognition and authority for one domain, than for multiple domains.

(3) Text in Conjunction with Images, Videos and Audio:  If your homepage consists of a large photo and an “Enter Here” button or a video, the search engines have no text (content) to identify with.  To the engines, this is a blank page.  Make sure all of your site pages include text on them.  Add text beneath the image.  For videos, consider adding a transcript of the video on the same page, below the video player.  Same goes with audio.

(4) Links Pointing to Many Different Pages in Your Site:  You’ve probably heard it said that links are like votes for a Web page, in the eyes of search engines.  The more votes (links to your pages) the better.  Notice I said pages, not site.  Too many bloggers and small businesses make the mistake of seeking links just to the home page.  But your homepage may not be the most relevant place for all visitors.  If visitors are looking for something specific, why not point them directly to where they can find what they want, instead of letting them wander around aimlessly. 

(5) Keywords:  Keywords or key phrases are the words and/or phrases that a visitor searches on in search engines.  Use such words or phrases in your website to increase the chances that people will find your site when searching for same in a search engine.  Also use keywords when placing pay-per-click ads, to get your ads to show up when someone searches for such keywords. Put yourself in the shoes of your customers or audience.  Focus on the words and/or phrases they are likely to use, not industry lingo that your team uses internally.  If you’re not sure which keywords to target, start by inputting your industry keywords and/or phrases into Google’s Keyword Tool.  Don’t just look for popular keywords; look for ones with lesser competition, as it is typically easier to rank for those keywords and cheaper to buy ads for them.

(6) Links to Other Sites:  If another site has created a legitimate link to your site or blog, it’s perfectly acceptable to link back to that site.  But be careful.  Those emails that everyone receives “Link to us and we’ll link to you” – steer clear of those.  That type of “reciprocal linking” mostly is not useful – the sites wanting links are usually low quality sites with little traffic.  The subject of the sites is often completely unrelated to your business, so any traffic they drive is nontargeted or worthless. And in the future you may wake up to discover they have redirected the page you’ve linked to, to some undesirable page you don’t want to be associated with.  Not to mention… engaging in reciprocal linking schemes or “circles” could get you into trouble with Google. 

(7) Using Keywords In Article Titles/Page URLs:  This can really give your site a boost.  Make sure when you’re crafting titles for blog posts, for example, that you have keywords in mind.  I know that sometimes it’s much more tempting to create a headline that’s “catchy.”  But the catchy headline may not reap rewards in the search engines if the article’s title words are meaningless to a relative search.  Here’s an example:  “Hot New Offers!” versus “Embossed Leather Belts.”  A URL that reads “Hot New Offers” will not yield you the results that “Embossed Leather Belts” will.  Why?  Because there’s nothing relating to belts in your URL or title for Google to identify you with and cause them to display you in the search engine results.  On the other hand, using “Embossed Leather Belts” will work for you in several different ways.  “Embossed belts” and “leather belts” and “embossed leather” are keywords that will now all be working for you if contained in the article’s title and page URL.

(8) Three Targeted Keywords Per Page:  When creating content for your site, don’t just think of creating a long list of keywords and scattering them willy-nilly throughout your site, or repeating the same keywords on every page.  Instead, associate individual pages in your site, each with a shortlist of specific keywords.  A consensus among some SEO experts is that 3 targeted keywords per page yields a good result.  So, choose your keywords and/or keyword phrases wisely and intersperse them naturally through your text so that the content reads well – but no more than 3 keywords per page.

(9) Avoid Black Hat SEO Tactics:  Google considers certain tactics to be “black hat” tactics and they will quickly penalize you for them.  Let’s say you would like your site to rank highly for the search phrase “document storage.”  So you put the phrase “document storage” 50 times on a page. And you put the words in white font against a white background so that your visitors to the page do not see them.  But guess what?  The search engines will see that repetition of the keywords and recognize that you are trying to not only game the results by “stuffing” keywords, but hide it, too.  That’s a double no-no. The biggest challenge is knowing what is black hat versus what is legitimate.  Sometimes it’s easy to tell – such as my example above.  Clearly there was an attempt to hide the activity – that should tell you it’s wrong.  But other tactics are not so black and white (pun intended!). The best thing is to read up on what’s legitimate, and what’s not. Or, if you use an outside SEO provider, talk openly about this issue and let them know you are not interested in crossing the line.

(10) Education, education, education:  The better educated small business owners and Internet marketing managers are, the better equipped we are to position our sites to achieve real business results.  That means you and/or your staff, are going to have to invest some time, money and effort into learning enough about SEO to find your way around.  Obviously if you are going to try the do-it-yourself route with SEO, it will require a considerable ongoing investment in learning. Many of us won’t have that kind of time and will want to hire a firm to help us with SEO.  Even if you use an outside SEO provider, I think you will find that you will communicate better and work together better if you understand some basic elements of SEO.  Plus, you won’t have to pay your SEO team to educate you or your staff as much, and that will keep your costs down.  Read up on blogs; visit conferences; and attend webinars – you’ll be glad you did.

Online resources for learning SEO abound.  For starters, check out Google’s SEO Starter Guide (PDF), SEOBook's Guide to SEO for Bloggers, SEOmoz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO and for businesses needing to attract attention from their local communities, see Local Search Ranking Factors.   And if you’re looking for a more general guide to ease into, along with a workbook, explore Google’s own Guide to Getting Your Business Online.

Finally, I’d like to give a nod to Lisa Barone, a writer for my site, Small Business Trends, who has written several articles about SEO for small businesses that I’ve used as a guide for this piece (the articles are owned by me, so it’s OK for me to use them).

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.

Does Your Business Have a Marketing Plan?

By Rieva Lesonsky, Guest Blogger
Published: June 30, 2011 Updated: January 9, 2013

Marketing is crucial for small business owners. But all too often, we approach marketing in a haphazard fashion, adding a new element to our marketing mix “on the fly” without stopping to think about whether it makes sense for our overall business goals.

It’s great to keep your marketing fresh and up-to-date by marketing your business in new avenues. But if you don’t take the time to assess each part of your marketing mix and how it fits into the larger scheme of things, you could be wasting time and money—and not getting the results you desire. 

Creating a marketing plan for your business can help ensure that you’re maximizing each marketing dollar you spend and that your marketing message is truly getting across to your target customers. So how do you get started?

Think of your marketing plan as kind of a “business plan” for your marketing. In fact, if you are a startup, a marketing plan should be part of your overall business plan. If you’re beyond the startup stage, you still need a marketing plan to set the stage for your efforts throughout the year. 

Here are the essential elements your marketing plan should cover. 

The marketing message you want to convey. What image of your business are you trying to get across in your marketing efforts? In other words, what’s your business “brand”? Think about your product or service’s features and benefits. What makes your company unique and better than the rest? Craft a marketing message that sums up that point of differentiation in one sentence. Then, keep that message in mind when developing all of your marketing materials and strategies. 

Your target customers. Consider your target market. Information you need to know includes how big the target market is, its demographics and its buying habits. How much money do your target customers spend on products or services like yours? Finally, include the media your target customers use. Knowing which magazines, newspapers, websites, social media sites and other media outlets your target market uses will help you determine where to most effectively market your business. 

Specific marketing methods. Once you know where your target customers are and have an idea how to reach them, your marketing plan should specify which marketing methods you will use. For example, you might want to use any or all of the below: 

  • Your website
  • Online advertising 
  • Email newsletters
  • Social media such as Twitter or LinkedIn 
  • Public relations
  • Direct mail such as postcards or letters
  • Advertising (print, radio, cable, out-of-home)
  • Marketing materials (business cards, flyers or brochures)

When, where and how much. Break your methods down further to detail where you will use each marketing method (that is, the specific website/newspaper/media outlet you will use), how frequently you will use it (monthly, weekly, daily during a certain time period), and how much that will cost (both per instance and in total). Be sure you consider one-time costs, such as developing a business website or getting business cards printed, in addition to the ongoing costs of placing ads.

Goals for your marketing. It’s critical to measure the results of your marketing methods so you know what’s working and what isn’t. However, in order to measure results, you need to know what results you want. For instance, if you’re placing a Facebook ad, your goal might be to get 100 new “likes” in one month. If you’re running an ad in your email newsletter, your goal might be to get 5 percent of the readers to click through and 2 percent of those to actually purchase.  

Create goals that you think are reasonable based on past experience, information about your industry and norms for the specific marketing tool you’re using. Track your results and make changes to your marketing plan accordingly. If you see that one method is generating more actual sales than others, focus on the method that’s getting results and put more of your marketing budget there.

A marketing plan is traditionally created for a 12-month period so you can forecast your marketing costs for the year and plan in advance how you will market during peak seasons, such as the holidays. But be sure to review your plan quarterly to make changes as needed and ascertain if you’re heading in the right direction.

A marketing plan is a tool not just for you, but for everyone in your company who’s involved with marketing. Get your team involved in creating the plan and reviewing the results. Working together on a marketing plan will give everyone a sense of ownership in the sales process, which always leads to better results.

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

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