Category Archives: Insightful Tips

5 fatal mistakes that hold back start-up business owners

The definition of a sale is when preparation and opportunity meet on the same day. In business, it helps to understand that customers are working to minimize risk when they enter into contracts with small businesses.  Some small business owners often loose opportunities because of bad habits and not recognizing that certain things must be in place before they start marketing their products and services.  These issues speak directly to trust and credibility for a business owner.

Here are the top five mistakes that hold back start-up entrepreneurs:

1) Not Appreciating Social Intelligence

This is the mistake that small business owners make the most.  Having proper social skills and being in tune with your surroundings will take you a long way in business.

Here are some examples of poor social intelligence:

  • Do you have a tendency to talk too much at networking events, or worse, share too much personal information? No one except the banquet manager cares about how hard it was to find a parking space. Keep your networking chat smart.
  • Are you dressed like someone that has an executive presence? Or, like you should be serving the meal at the event. Everyone should have signature colors and at least three killer outfits. Men, the tie color and the shoes are very important.
  • Do you have a strong elevator pitch or do people need to ask you questions to help you define what you do? Great elevator pitches hit on three key things: explain the type of business, explain the target customer and close with a question.
  • Do you appropriately follow-up new leads and contacts or are you a stalker?  Be smart with follow-up. You can send an email, personal note and make a phone call within three months of meeting a contact unless instructed otherwise. Calling every week will not bring opportunity to your business.

2) Have a Professional Business Website

It’s surprising to me how many business owners still do not have a website.  I can’t remember the last time I used a paper directory or phone book to find a vendor. Many people will perform an internet search before they ever call you, so if your customers can’t find you online, you are missing out on opportunities. Nowadays, pulling together a business website is much easier.  Have an idea of what you want, and if you plan on incorporating a blog I strongly suggest you start writing blog posts at least three months prior to the launch of your website, so that you do not get backed-up trying to develop content once your business starts rolling.

 

3) Make Sure Your Email Address is Branded With Your Company Name and That the Email Address Works

I love my gmail account too, but that’s not the one I use for customer contact. Your emails should come from a branded account that promotes your business.

4) Not Investing in Your Brand

Yes, all of you out there using business cards that you can get for free online are really hurting your business brand.  Invest in a professional logo and a two color business card. Do not hand out business cards that have it printed on the back that they were free.  That tells a prospective customer that you are not serious about your business.

5) Have a Real Phone Number for Your Business

Your small business should have a dedicated phone line with voicemail.  Do not use your cell phone as your main business line.  You’ll never to do business with a major corporation with that as your brand image.  Also, please do not use those answering machines that come with the phone. No matter what you do, the message will never sound professional.

Are there any other common mistakes that you think some small business owners make when starting out in business?

How to get people to join your Facebook fan page

With its new tagging ability, Facebook has made its site a whole lot more appealing for small business owners. Small business owners have the ability to seek out the people talking about them and users can get their voices heard, knowing businesses can check to see who has tagged them. But before either party can take advantage of Facebook’s new feature, you first have to get your customers to opt into the relationship. You have to give them a reason to friend your Facebook Fan page, and that’s not always easy.

I’ve written in the past about how to create a Facebook Fan page – how to set it up, what to put on it, how to make it look and feel like your brand. But how do you get people to actually want to join the page? How do you combat brand fatigue and take them from a passive observer to a full-blown brand evangelist?

You have to create an incentive.

Make People Feel Part Of Something

Think back to high school. You joined cliques for survival and to help you feel liked, respected, wanted, etc. You joined because you were made to feel like you were missing out if you weren’t part of the group. Social networking works the same way.

It’s very easy to be passive on Facebook. If you want someone to take that step and openly associate themselves with your brand, you need to make them feel like they’re missing out by NOT being part of your community. That they’ll be losing out on a common experience or missing the joke if they stay on the outside. You create that by making your community sound and feel 100x times larger than it actually is (unless you’re purposely trying to seem small and elite). You fake it until you make it. You make tagging part of your fans daily interaction with you. You make a game out of it so that you’re always showing up on their wall (with a link to your Fan page) and they’re always showing up on your page. Doing this helps spread your brand, it keeps you in people’s top of mind, and it makes them curious as to why they’re seeing you all over the place. I mean, how else do you get people to become fans of tarantulas?

Appeal To Core Members

Every group has a core bunch. The handful of folks who are responsible for change, for leading things, for getting everyone excited and spreading the company message. Reach out to these folks and get them involved in talking about your Fan page.

Create your promotional army by hand selecting the major players, sending the messages thanking them for their support, and then telling them that you need their help. Make them feel important and like they’re on the cutting edge of whatever you’re doing. Get them to always be talking about you and tagging you places. These types of action increase your trust, build your credibility and give you social proof. These types of connectors are usually the ones with very large social networks on sites like Twitter or Facebook. Ask them to use Facebook’s Suggest feature to “suggest” that their friends fan your page. When the request comes from them, it’s harder for others to decline and it just reinforces that “inside joke”.

Offer Exclusive Content

Facebook is much more intimate than the other social media sites. Users are less likely to invite strangers into their networks and are wary of brands. If you want their attention, you have to give them something of value for their efforts. Something exclusive that they can’t get from your Web site, Twitter account or anywhere else on the Web.

The most popular way of doing these seems to be through Facebook-specific coupons or special offers. Friday’s is offering free hamburgers, Victoria Secrets gave away free undies, Sears gave away coupons and gift cards, etc. Other brands give away exclusive content via video, photos, applications, advanced notice of events, or even just real interaction with other members. Figure out what your customers crave and then give it to them.

Make Your Fan Page Their Forum

No one wants to join a group where they have no voice. They want to interact with the brands they love and feel like they’re being listened to. Once of the best ways to get people to fan your page is to use it as a forum where you ask and listen to your customers’ advice. Let your members lead by turning your Fan page into a place where users can express themselves, to talk about what they don’t like, and things like they’d like to see you do in the future. If you have an upcoming campaign or product you’re working on create a Facebook focus group that encourages people to offer their input. If word gets out that your Facebook Fan page is where you go to crowdsource your ideas, people are going to want to be a part of that. Make your Fan page the place where your customers can go to get heard.

Facebook Fan pages have always been a valuable way to build a community and learn about your audience. However, now they’re also a great way to get your users to spread the word about your brand to their friends with the use of tags. Give them a reason to join your Fan page. Make it exciting and worth their time. And then encourage them to talk about you, to tag you and increase the eyeballs interacting with you online.

5 ways to brainstorm for success

Ideas are what allow you to turn a dream into reality.  But coming up with new ideas isn’t always the light bulb experience that others seem to have.  In order to stimulate your brain, you need to have tools ready to capture your ideas and turn them into action steps.  These five ways of brainstorming can be tapped at any time and can help with a number of different entrepreneur avenues.  Try one or try them all.

1. Paper and Pencil

The best ideas are often the ones that come to you when you don’t have a piece of paper ready.  Instead of feeling like the best idea possible just slipped from your mind, you need to have a ‘net’ in which to catch them.  Some ideas include:

  • A small pad of paper and pen – Bring this with you wherever you go.
  • Smart phone notes – Use a note-taking feature in your phone.

Whenever you have a new idea, write it down.  While this sounds simple, this will become a habit that will then become a book of ideas and brainstorming.  The next time you’re stuck on what to do next, all you need to do is to look at your notebook.

2. Mastermind Groups

If you aren’t already a part of a mastermind group, you need to find one and join.  This group will help you to check in with other people who understand your entrepreneur issues, but they can also listen to ideas, give you feedback, and then let you know what you can do next.  Though you won’t be able to spend the entire time in the group talking about your needs, this group is an invaluable resource.

3. Mobile Apps

Whether you have the latest iPhone or Android or a more simple model, there are applications that can allow you to create notes, outlines, or mindmaps.  Try out a few of these applications to see what works best for you.  Many of these can produce results that can then be sent to your email, so you can have your brainstorming in multiple formats, in multiple locations.  Your ideas will follow you everywhere and anywhere.

4. Digital Voice Recorder

Sometimes you might talk to yourself in the car or at home when thinking about a business issue or idea.  When your words move faster than a pen can, you will want to invest in a digital voice recorder.  Just turn it on as you talk, to collect your ideas and play them back later.  Or you can speak into a dictation software program to write down your ideas without picking up a pen.

5. Facebook and Twitter

Some people like to brainstorm on their social media accounts because you can receive instant and honest feedback.  The more you do this, the more people will look to help you and respond to your ideas.  Post an idea you’re toying with and see what others have to say.  You might be surprised at the angles others can find in your idea and the ways that you can improve your business as a result.

Brainstorming is something many people take for granted, but when you’re trying to develop or to grow your own business, you need to continue to think and to expand on your own great ideas.  And this means tracking your ideas, finding out where they will lead, and then using what you find in the process.

Please & no thank you

Recently I had the opportunity to post my thoughts on saying “No” nicely on Michelle Villalobos’ blog. It got me thinking about this subject. So many times entrepreneurs get themselves into sticky situations because they just felt uncomfortable saying no. It may be due to the politeness factor or the likability factor. Whichever it is, the truth is that being unable to say “no” can be detrimental to your business.

When it comes to the politeness factor, I believe it is misleading to think that saying “yes” is always the polite thing to do. Frankly, it isn’t–especially when someone has asked you to do something you don’t want to do, don’t have time to do, or that doesn’t fit with your business plan. That’s not polite; it’s silly.

No Thank You

If you think about it, you are really lying to the other person. You’ve said “yes” to something that you wanted to say “no” to. Can you think back to a time when this happened? Did you end up being upset with yourself, the other person, the task, the inconvenience? I know I have. The problem here is that you create a situation where you are operating under the wrong circumstances. Now you are getting in your own way. That’s not exactly conducive to growing your business, is it?

If we visit the likability factor for a minute, we quickly find that saying “yes” when we’d rather say “no” doesn’t work here, either. We want to be liked so we say “yes” – to everyone! But then we don’t like ourselves or our situation. We end up being stressed and unhappy. But we have no one to blame but ourselves — because we put ourselves in this position. I submit it doesn’t make people like us more. Once again, we are not really being truthful with them, and that’s not likable.

So, what do we do? Well, I believe in two things – clarity and honesty. These two things can keep us centered and moving down the right path for our business and our relationships.

  1. Clarity – having a very clear picture of where you are going and how you are going to get there. When you can see your destination clearly, you can develop the roadmap for getting there.
  2. Honesty – being honest with yourself and others will keep you on your path.

When we combine these two elements, we find that once we have clarity, it is easier to be honest. Now we can say “no” with a reason that isn’t “I just don’t want to do that.’”We can say, “I’m sorry but I can’t do that right now. I have a clear and specific path that I’m on with my business and I’ve promised myself that I won’t deviate from it.”

Now who could argue with that? It’s honest; it’s polite; it’s sincere. And I submit it shows real professionalism and direction. You may even find other people modeling that behavior! This process actually improves your likability. Now you’ve turned something that once felt like a negative into a positive. Nice job!

14 Tips From the Pubcon Experts About Landing Page Optimization

I recently had the good fortune to attend a session on landing page optimization atPubCon.com, the annual conference about search, social media, Internet marketing and website operation. I learned a lot, so I thought I’d share the 14 top takeaways from the session with Small Business Trends’ readers.

Landing Page Optimization

The experts who shared their knowledge at this session were Joanna Lord, Director of Customer Acquisition for SEO MozKate Morris, SEO Consultant; and Tim Ash, CEO ofSiteTuners.com. Here’s what each of them had to say.

There Are Tons of Tools to Help You—Use Them!

Joanna Lord’s presentation was focused on tools and programs you can use to discover which pages on your website and what types of content are converting well or poorly. I came away with lots of interesting tools I’m going to try.

1) Use Google Analytics to data mine. Google gives you so much information to uncover what parts of your site are working to convert customers and which are not. Everyone should start with this tool.

2) Use heat mapping. (In case you’re not familiar with this term, a “heat map” uses colors to show the areas of a Web page where users most frequently scan.) By seeing where users spend the most time, you can improve your click-through rates and conversions to products/services. Here are some heat mapping tools Joanna suggested trying: Clickheat (this is a free tool); Click Density; and Crazy Egg. Crazy Egg is Joanna’s favorite heat mapping tool. While some heat mapping tools update you on the most popular areas of your site every 24 hours, Crazy Egg provides hourly live reporting.

3. Do user surveys. When people leave your site, do you know why? No one likes a popup box on a website, but if you can get useful information by running a popup or exit survey for a week, a temporary decrease in conversions is worth it for the long-term health of your site. Here are some user testing tools Joanna likes: Assistly.com (free trial), UserTesting.com ($39), Keynote (free trial), Providesupport.com (free trial) and Zendesk (free trial). The tool SEO Moz uses is KISS Insights ($29/month). Joanna likes KISS Insights because it has great survey options, including surveys via popup boxes or upon user exit.

4. Test out new options. After you have surveyed your users, make changes and test their effectiveness. Tools Joanna recommends to test different landing pages: Unbounce.com, Google Website Optimizer and Optimizely.com.

Think Like a User

Kate Morris offered some great advice as well.

5. Know your product and always keep in mind user intent. What are users trying to do when they are on your site, and can they do it easily? Assess your site from the viewpoint of the user trying to accomplish a goal. Can they check out quickly? Can they navigate back to a prior page? How good is your search function?

6. Identify high-traffic pages that are not converting and make changes. If a page is getting lots of traffic, great! But if that traffic isn’t converting, not so great. Kate suggests using Google Analytics to pinpoint these pages. She used the example of one customer that had a high-traffic page with lots of white space on the right nav. She had them add a form, which helped increase conversions.

7. Look at “top landing pages” in Google Analytics and search for outliers. Are there pages on your site that are receiving zero visitors? Is your internal linking structure poor? Do you need more links to those deep pages?

Image—and Images—Matter

Tim Ash’s presentation was extremely visual. He showed a number of before and after pictures for sites and displayed heat maps for the old and new pages so we could see the comparison. I will mention a few of the sites that he has worked on, so you can check them out for yourself (unfortunately, you won’t be able to see the “before,” but hopefully the “afters” will inspire you!).

8. Create trust. Many sites don’t convert because they lack credibility and fail to establish trust with users. Consider displaying seals (Truste, McAfee, BBB, VeriSign and the like) as well as displaying the logos (he couldn’t stress enough the importance of images, not just the names) of large companies that you do business with.

9. Keep it simple. Don’t offer too many choices on the home page. Keep strong images of what you are selling on the site, but don’t clutter things up with unnecessary Flash (especially not fast scrolling Flash shows). Tim showed us the “before” look ofMosquitoCurtains.com (which was very scattered) compared to the new look. Cleaner and simpler is much easier for users.

10. Read Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini.

11. Adjust guarantees. Don’t offer 30-day guarantees; offer lifetime guarantees and watch your purchases increase. Lifetime guarantees make the user feel much safer.

12. Ask for the sale. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of asking for the close. Tim showed us the “before” for 1-800-Flowers. Their order form was so buried and blended in that users never clicked on it. After changing things up, the order form was much more prominent and got a ton more clicks.

13. Check out B.J. Fogg from Stanford Labs. B.J. helps organizations use technology and new media to influence people. Tim suggests reading through his papers and articles on customer interaction and usability.

14. Remember, you’ve only got an instant to make a good impression. Tim emphasized that customers make up their minds in a fraction of a second whether or not they want to interact with your site. Good, clean design is of paramount importance.

What tips and tactics have worked for your website in improving conversions and click-throughs? Share them in the Comments.

Warren Buffet – 6 of the best

Warren Edward Buffett, the 3rd richest man in the world, losing out to Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim Helu and Bill Gates may not be the richest but this man certainly has a lot of advice he can give to our young investors and young people about business. People call him the “Sage of Omaha”

  1. As a kid, Buffett would go door-to-door selling chewing gum and Coke. He would buy six bottles for a quarter, and then sell them for a nickel each. He made a trip to the NYSE (New York Stock Exchange) and he bought his first share at age 11 from a company called “Cities Service” and now he regrets that it’s too late!

 

His advice: Encourage young people to invest especially children. This is his advice for people who want to invest according to a recent interview by CNBC:

Some of his fundamental tenets for investing are:

  • Patience pays: buy ‘em and hold ‘em.
  • Invest in businesses you understand.
  • Look for businesses with “durable competitive advantage”.
  • Look for honest, able management.

 

  1. Buy at a reasonable price. At the age of 14, he bought a small farm with savings from delivering newspapers and he accumulated more money than he could wish for when he finished college. Some sources say about $90 000 in 2009 dollars.

 

His Advice: There are lots of things you can buy with a few savings. But it’s best to invest it in some form of business.

  1. You think with a net worth of $47 billion dollars, he would be living in the most expensive house in the world. He still lives in the same house he lived in over 50years ago. It’s a 3 bedroom house in Omaha. He said he has everything he needs in that house. It does not have a wall or fence.

 

In short, Warren is a frugal man and he is always a believer of getting what you NEED.

  1. To add on, he drives his own car and does not have a driver nor security around him. He never travels by private jet, although he owns NetJets, the world’s largest private company.

 

His advice: Always learn how to do things economically. As it was once said, “Buffett’s frugality is legendary. Sure, he built his wealth through shrewd investments, but he kept his wealth through thrift. Buffett is a reminder that frugality is not a dirty word.”

     5.  His company Berkshire Hathaway, owns 63 companies.

Warren writes only one letter to each CEO of the companies each year, giving them goals for the year. He never holds meetings or calls them on a regular basis.

His advice: Assign the right people to do the right jobs.

   6.   His advice to young people is this:

“Stay away from credit cards and bank loans and invest in yourself and remember that..”

  • Money doesn’t create man but it is the man who created the money
  • Live your life as simple as possible
  • Don’t do what others say – listen to them but do what you feel good doing.
  • Don’t follow brand names, just wear what you feel comfortable
  • Don’t waste your money on unnecessary things; rather spend it on things you really need.
  • After all, it’s your life so why allow others to rule your life?

 

Bill Gates, once the world’s richest man met him for the first time a couple of years ago. He did not think he had anything in common with Warren Buffet. So he had scheduled his meeting only half an hour. But when Bill Gates met him, the meeting lasted for 10 hours and he became a devotee of Warren Buffet.

Warren Buffet has certainly be an inspiration to many young and old alike. These are just some of the many lessons we can learn from him as an entrepreneur.