Archive for the ‘small business trends’ Category

Presentation gives tips on blogging for business

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

Was invited to Cleveland recently to do a presentation about blogging for businesses. It seems there’s still a lot of confusion about what a blog is supposed to be, although more small business owners and corporations are realizing a blog is great for SEO (search engine optimization) and that this form of communication can’t be considered a passing fad–it’s a solid trend. Once you decide you want to set one up, the challenges include picking what to write and figuring out how to write it. So I addressed some of those questions in my presentation.

Business blogs are all about using the power of the Internet to communicate with your customers and prospects in a non-commercial, personal way. Why would you want to do that? Because we are all inundated with information and commercial messages today. We have to find new ways to cut through the noise–a blog is a powerful one.

You can review the presentation slides by going to “5 Reasons Why Blogging Is Good for Your Business.” Check out the links to some interesting CEO blogs. Email me if you have questions or want to discuss how a blog might work for your business.

Sort through the small-biz-info jungle

Thursday, September 6th, 2007

The Internet has facilitated the growth of small businesses, and the owners of those businesses have the Internet to thank for the incredible amount of information and the seemingly limitless amount of help they can find about running those businesses.

 But it can feel pretty overwhelming at times. Too much. Where do you turn? How do you sort through it all? Fortunately, just as the newspapers became the editors of our information a couple of centuries ago–and some would argue began to abuse the privilege–now the Internet is home to some very bright people whose whole business is sifting through the wheat and chaff and providing you with solid, up-to-the-minute information on everything about your business.

One such source, always reliable and timely, is Small Business Trends Radio. It’s run by a woman who’s a lawyer and a former CEO of a small Internet division of Bell & Howell. Her radio show and her website are loaded with the best available help for your small business. And now they’ve introduced a compilation area.

Anita Campbell knows how to interview so you get each person’s best knowledge on a topic.  Take a walk through this wonderland of expert advice – the Small Biz Podcast 100.  Oh, yeah, and check out our podcast with Anita on the site, too – Blogs – Cutting through the Hype with Barbara Payne.

Blogging about personal technology?

Thursday, September 6th, 2007

Blogging on your business blog about your personal technology? Perfectly legitimate. People who care about your company will be fascinated to hear how its leaders use technology in their personal lives. Here’s a bit about the portable office…

Have you ever considered the possibilities of being able to operate your email, your documents and your computer from wherever you are, at any time of day or night, without being at your desk, or even at a public computer? This has been a goal of mine–mostly an elusive dream, though–for three years now.

  • Imagine being on a bus or in your car on a trip without having to lug your laptop.
  • Imagine being able to type memos (instead of scratching them on bits of paper) and email them to yourself (or at least have them already typed when you get back to your office).
  • Imagine not having to poke with your fingernails at some tiny keys to input your email messages, your ideas, or your meeting agendas or notes.
  • Imagine being able to get your social networking done wherever and whenever.

Happily, the dream may be getting closer to reality for me since I recently traded in my old 650 for the Treo 700p (with the Palm operating system). I am now renewing my efforts to use the Palm Universal Wireless Keyboard with my smart cell phone.

Taking a functioning portable keyboard with you can transform your work life. I tried for over 2 years to get the earlier version to function reliably and encountered continuing episodes of frustration as the keyboard would work for a while and then unaccountably stop. In addition, the companion program on the cell phone, Documents to Go, was completely unreliable. It, too, would work for a while and then just begin crashing the entire phone whenever I opened a document. After a lot of frustration and wasted time, I finally gave up.

The trend in business today–for both corporate executives and small business owners–is toward ever-more-portable workspaces. I’m banking that this new phone-and-keyboard combination will begin shining a light brightly–and most importantly, consistently–on my ability to work in any environment. Time will tell.

Secrets to making your customers happy – prioritize and outsource, including your blog

Monday, June 25th, 2007

Stephen Covey said it to great applause. That you’re most effective when you properly prioritize your time. And the way I remember it, his proposition seemed intellectual and complex…that big box divided into four sections with so much explanation for each! But the gist was, do important and urgent things first.

He’s right, of course. And all good things flow therefrom–including excellence in customer service. You’ll find several intriguing formulas in this new book for maximizing high personal effectiveness (note: not high efficiency, which just means doing more stuff), The 4-hour Work Week. Timothy Ferriss suggests if you truly want to become more effective, ONLY do the quadrant I stuff. And that means learning to delegate…and outsource.

Among other things, Ferriss says you must write your employees an email saying, “Keep the customers happy. If it is a problem that takes less than $100 [you pick the amount based on what your time is worth] to fix, use your judgment and fix it yourself.” Do you recall the times when a service person said something like, “Oh, I’m sorry, sir/madam, let me fix that for you right now”? Of course you do. Those are the golden customer service moments of our lives. You tell all our friends. You might even blog about it…

Assuming of course you’ve hired the right people–supervisors and employees with brains who care about the company and the customers–this alone should gain you a significant amount of time…time that you would have spent answering questions and giving permission. I love this quote, “It’s amazing how someone’s IQ seems to double when you give them responsibility and indicate that you trust them.” If it doesn’t work that way with somebody, hire someone with whom it does.

Great advice: Set yourself up as information-free as possible–a huge challenge in today’s multimedia-ed assaultive world. Do you read newspapers and/or watch television news? My long-time personal favorite–stop. You’ll gain that time every day. And you’ll discover that if there’s anything you should know, you’ll find it out anyway. Set up specific times when you’ll read your email and check your voice mail–let people know what those times are, and then stick to them.

He also suggests outsourcing parts of your life–and mentions a Smart Money article that talks about using an overseas resource for outsourced virtual assistance–Brickwork, based in Bangalore, India. I haven’t tried it yet, but this book gives a great case study.

The point is that your customers get better service when you’re not the bottleneck. And you can apply this principle to your blog authorship–hire an expert–if you follow certain mandates:

1. Make sure the person knows how to listen carefully to you–as much as possible it should be your voice out there.

2. Do a bit of painless market research. Ask your customers, vendors, colleagues, what they would like to hear/read in your blog. 

3. Develop an A-list of sources for your writer–sources you personally read and those your colleagues, vendors and customers read.

4. If yours is a complex industry or there are areas that require extreme care and/or privacy, work out a general list of topics and cautions so that the writer can research and create without consulting you every time.

5. Email your own thoughts for the blog as they occur to you. You’ll never remember to tell your writer unless you pass it on as soon as you think of it. 

There’s no more powerful online public relations tool than a blog that reflects your voice and gives readers valuable information. Since the presence of a business blog has also now become an accepted part of a solid search engine marketing strategy, there’s no reason not to get started. Questions? Want to start one now? Email me here.

What the heck is Web 2.0 and why should you care?

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

Every other headline these days features “Web 2.0″ and many of us just let our eyes glaze over.  Here’s another software thing I’m supposed to “get” (we might think) but I don’t have time!

Just think of it this way: when you see Web 2.0 they’re talking about helping your prospects and customers interact with you online. Which means blogs, wikis and stuff like that. Everyone reading this knows what a blog is. Many people read blogs but choose not to leave comments (interact)–professional/corporate blogs are generally more about giving information in a personal way. You’ll find that most blogs that get a lot of comments are one of two kinds: 1) a personal blog that plays on controversy to get comments from people who like to argue, or b) the blog of a very high-profile person where commenters can touch the fame and glory of that person by appearing on their blog.

If you are an executive with a famous company, your blog may get lots of comments. That’s great. But don’t be worried if your blog doesn’t get comments. As long as you are providing value to your readers–information, entertainment, encouragement, or whatever–your blog is being read and is building credibility and trust in your company. You can be sure of that.

Wikis are another form of interactivity. In this case, users are the co-creators of documents that all hold to be of interest. Say, for example, you want to invite your customers to help you shape the next product you will invest in producing. How valuable do you think it is to get direct input from them on exactly the features they like and the things they don’t like? Talk about cheap and on-target research!

But Web 2.0 is also about giving you better access to information/data/reports. When you collect subscribers to your blog, you’re building a database of names of people who REALLY CARE about what you do and what you say. That’s the kind of market research businesses have traditionally paid huge sums for. And you’re collecting it simply and painlessly over time. There is no more valuable marketing resource in the world than a database of people who have volunteered to hear more about your products and services.

So if you’re still on the fence about blogging for your business, get off. It’s a trend of the future for direct marketing.–both for large and small businesses. Questions? Call me. 773.292.3294 or 216.472.8502.

Small business: make room for the boom in entrepreneurs

Thursday, May 10th, 2007

Some people get paid to look into the crystal ball for business. At Intuit, the Quicken/Quickbooks accounting software people, they decided recently to collaborate with the nonprofit Institute for the Future by sponsoring a study on small business trends. Smart business! If you know where your customers are headed, you can be like the wolf in the Red Riding Hood story–get there early and be ready for them.

Predictions at the Institute this year focus on the changing face of small business. More young people, more baby boomers, women, women-as-moms, and emigrant and minority entrepreneurs are going to mean more large companies can outsource–increasingly to people working from home or small offices rather than to other countries.

Multicultural marketing must reflect the growing diversity of both business owners and customers–and that doesn’t mean just language, according to Steven Aldrich, vice president, Strategy & Innovation, Small Business Division at Intuit. It also means identifying “the right media, influencers and distribution channels. One size does not fit all. Businesses will need their marketing to reflect the unique cultures and needs of their audiences. …small business[es that] may have been…serving a local audience…are now thinking globally in terms of marketing outreach, such as broader exposure on the Web and multi-lingual marketing campaigns…may discover new multi-cultural markets they hadn’t thought of before.”

More entrepreneurs can mean good news on the “green” front.
 
“As more and more entrepreneurs begin businesses in their homes,” says Aldrich, “the commute to work is reduced to a quick walk across the hall to the home office. These types of shifts can positively impact the environment by reducing traffic congestion.” As more talented people begin working on their own, fresh, creative ideas on all fronts–including the environment–are likely to come from these sources. An example, says Aldrich, is the small business Act Now Productions now working with Wal-Mart to help them become a sustainable enterprise.

Any way you cut it, if you’re an entrepreneur–whether self-selected or reluctant–you’re the future of small business. Corporate America is willing to do business with you, so get your ducks in order. Now we need to marshall more resources to help entrepeneurs find the funding and the support they need to meet the ongoing challenges of growing into their futures.

Write in your corporate blog about how you will reach out to small businesess. If you’re a small business, write in your business blog about how you’re preparing to help solve some of corporate America’s thorny issues. I think what this comes down to is two main differences in how we operate: 1) we’re becoming more personal (small business owners are personally engaged in delivering customer service), and 2) we’re going back to the frontier mentality…not finding jobs, as such, but exercising more passion and creativity in finding ways to discover our strengths and use them to earn a living.

Here’s the INTUIT-sponsored report on the Future of Small Business.