Top Marketing Tips for the Small Business Owner

As an entrepreneur it’s no doubt that you are constantly searching for effective but economical marketing tools to find new customers and generate sales. Below are a number of excellent, cost-effective tips that should help you to do just that. Enjoy.

  1. Include an offer in your advertising. The more attractive you can make it the better, and give your customers an easy way to take action and acquire that offer.
  2. Have a more economically priced version available. If you sell one or two products that are relatively high-priced, you should have a “stripped down” version of them available for customers who may want them but not want to pay full price.
  3. Have a premium version of your product. Just as you will have customers looking to get something “cheaper”, occasionally you will also have customers who wish to get “the best”. Offering a premium product, possibly a combination of products or services that you offer, can boost your average sale and revenues.
  4. Consider using unusual or unconventional methods for marketing. This differs with the type of business that you have, the area that you serve and the type of offers that you are able to make. Thinking “outside the box”, while it might sound cliché, can sometimes generate a lot more sales because people aren’t used to seeing your advertising in a different way.
  5. Reduce the size of your ads. Most business owners believe that they need to increase the size of their ads in order to generate more sales but, in some cases, the opposite may just be true. Sometimes a shorter version of your advertisement will get a better response.
  6. Partner with some other small businesses on your advertising. If you can find businesses that don’t compete with yours and advertise your products together, you’ll get your advertising at less cost and possibly get a lot more sales too. Cross promotion like this, if done well, can oftentimes deliver an excellent ROI.
  7. Offer a really special deal to your already existing customers. You already should know that selling to an existing customer is easier, and cheaper, then selling to a new customer. Why not take advantage of this fact by offering your existing customers an amazing deal on a service or product that they have already purchased and might need again? You can do the same with new products or services that you might be offering, giving them the opportunity to get them “first” before you offer them to the general public.

And there you go! Seven excellent marketing tips that, hopefully, will help you to increase the amount of new customers contacting you, and the amount of new sales your company generates.

Just remember that even if one tactic doesn’t work particularly well, or doesn’t work well the first time, you shouldn’t give up on it completely.  Sometimes it takes a few views in order for a new customer to actually “see” your advertising and respond to it.

Why Marketers Love Big Data and Where to Start

Google just launched what it is calling The Consumer Barometer used for providing insight about customer behavior online and offline. The data provided in this tool comes from the Consumer Barometer study and the Enumeration study. It was designed to provide businesses with big data results about how often customer’s research and purchase certain products and services online in addition to consumer behavior trends. Guess what? Marketers are going to love this tool!

Website Magazine recently cited that more data has been created in the last 30 years than the last 5000. We’re living in a world where the amount of data available is exploding exponentially, and it’s not slowing down. If you’re in marketing, you and your staff need to be able to easily and effectively analyze large sets of data in ways that allow for insight. These insights need to provide enhancement to the personal user experience on your website while boosting the profitability and success of your company. Welcome to “Big Data.”

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Big data is not only difficult to acquire, but it’s difficult to use correctly. When the stars align though, it can boost a company’s ROI by as much as 20% according to this business insider article sourced from McKinsey & Company. Big data means different things to different people and different industries. A pretty comprehensive look at the topic of big data can be found here, where the term is not defined by the size of a dataset explicitly, but rather the plain fact that traditional database architecture and software is inadequate to store and analyze the volume of data. If you’ve got more data than your traditional system can handle, you’ve got big data. As the meaning of the term morphs with its more widespread adoption, big data has come to refer to the task of taking an enormous dataset and applying it to solve a business problem. Here we will focus on what big data means to marketing professionals and 4 reasons they love it!

Big Reason #1: Big data allows marketing teams to gain deep insight into the backgrounds of prospects or customers by providing comprehensive datasets about consumers and mining them for patterns in the information. This is different than taking a random sample and extrapolating; it’s looking at ALL of the data and finding real patterns.

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Big Reason #2: Big data lets your brand speak to the omni-channel consumer and cater to them. By segmenting consumers and creating user profiles then feeding user profile data back into big datasets, your brand can create personalized experiences across multiple brand touch points and channels. Essentially you can achieve marketing agility and personalized marketing experiences per user. An extremely detailed webinar about how to turn big data into personalized marketing experiences can be found here.

Big Reason #3: Big data lends perspective on your entire operation. If you have standardized measurements across multiple consumer channels, you’ll gain a comprehensive understanding of these channels and how your consumers interact with them, how many customers you have, how the data changes over time, purchasing trends and more.

Big Reason #4: Improvement! If you know what your customers want combined with an overall vision of your brand’s marketing channels, you can identify and improve performance in areas that need it.

Stepping up to Bat with Big Data

Consumers should be able to expect the same from your brand no matter where they interact with it; at the same time personalized 1:1 brand experiences are the only way to increase conversions. The goal is to create uniform branded experiences, personalized to a particular user, across all brand touch points. Big data allows you to do this. The more you understand about big data the more you are going to be able to use it to your advantage.

Marketers, let’s get started.  Identify brand touch points and divide them into buckets such as onsite real estate (website, mobile website, mobile app), offsite real estate (social media, search engines, banner ads, emails, in-app ads, native ads) and offline (any point of sale that is not included in the digisphere).

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Decide on what you want to measure and approach companies who leverage big data in these areas already and gain access to their wealth of consumer resources and gain insight into your own customer base. There are a lot of companies that have successfully created new revenue streams by selling their large sets of data to major industry players. If you don’t have any data beyond your Google Analytics, looking at the standardized datapoints of big data companies will provide you with clues on where to start. Additional reading about big data and customer experience analytics is highly recommended before getting started.

Once you have identified and categorized all your brand’s measurable touch points and you have standardized the parameters you wish to measure, you’re in a pretty good place to set up a data layer and create the architecture to house and manipulate it. Your data layer will be an intelligent collection of data from all your touch points, combined with a relevant dataset, organized by standardized categories. Think aggregate, manipulate and innovate. The actual way in which you funnel and fuse all these different types of data into a centralized database and then make use of it is the tricky part, despite having a clear idea of what you want to measure and where. If you’re at this stage, contact a company that specializes in enterprise-level data engineering such as Ensighten or Fractal Analytics. The point of collecting data points from all these sources is to be able to use them. Marketers are used to doing this by hand, but as a recent Forbes article points out, we are going to have to start collaborating with machines to decode terrabytes of data and build competitive brand messages.

Let the Data Speak for Itself

Chromogram of 1.2 billion pieces of Wikipedia editing data

Chromogram of 1.2 billion pieces of Wikipedia editing data

For many marketing professionals the unfamiliarity of this area will mean that they are largely experimenting with big datasets: their creation, visualization and manipulation. Once you have a large dataset up and running, who knows what the data will say and what your experiments will uncover about your consumers? Sophisticated sets of data should help you to innovate and create new business models, products or services. Overall your experiments should discover customer insights that allow you to improve brand performance.

Want to be a More Productive Entrepreneur?

There’s no doubt that entrepreneurs are some of the busiest people around but, with so much to do, it’s easy for them to become distracted with tasks that aren’t exactly important. If that happens to you, what you might need are a number of daily routines or habits that will keep you focused on the more important tasks at hand. The 5 Tips below are sure to help. Enjoy.

  • It’s extremely important that you establish a daily routine. Without it, even the best entrepreneur will have trouble getting anything accomplished. Frankly, even the “average” person has a hard time juggling their personal and professional lives and, without a routine to help, your typical entrepreneur is going to have much more difficult time getting anything done.
  • Without going into detail, suffice to say that exercise and meditation are proven to be vital to any entrepreneurs success. Any type of activity that can help you to leave your stress behind and “clear your mind” is good and should be done regularly. If you don’t believe us, believe this; the CEOs of Pepsi, Xerox, Apple, Starwood Hotels and many other major corporations all start their days with exercise.
  • Take time during your day to check on the progress of any important tasks or goals that you have. Frankly, it’s easy to become so focused on a specific task that you neglect others that need to be finalized. Taking a few minutes to stop and check on your other goals are tasks will help you to not only prioritize your time but also make sure that you don’t neglect something important. This also goes for making phone calls to people important to your business, including peers and clients, as well as quickly checking your email.
  • According to a study by the Harvard Business School, the most successful people make spending time with their family and friends a priority. Not only has this been shown to help a person stay grounded, it can also remind you exactly why you’re putting in all that effort and stress to begin with.
  • Finally there’s one of the best; planning your next day at night. Just like your mom used to put out your clothes and make your lunch the night before school, you should prepare yourself for the next day the night before it comes. Studies have shown that if you arrange a number of tasks before you go to bed, the chance of accomplishing those tasks is much higher.

We hope that these 5 Tips have been helpful and possibly opened your eyes to something that you can do to be a more productive entrepreneur yourself.

Turning the Worm Poop into Big Bucks

It’s the age-old tale of an entrepreneur taking something that everyone else has completely overlooked and turning it into a multimillion dollar business. In this case the entrepreneur is Tom Szacky and the business is TerraCycle.

The idea, and it’s a grand one, that Szacky had was to eliminate all of the world’s waste and, considering that he’s grown that idea into a multimillion dollar global enterprise, it doesn’t seem as idealistic and far flung as it used to be.

“When you look at the global garbage problem, it’s important to realize every object we buy will one day become waste,” says entrepreneur Szacky. “That’s where we end up with this monumental issue: 5 billion tons of waste a year.”

What his company does is collect materials that people throw in the garbage daily and turn them into consumer products like shopping bags, office supplies, packing materials, toys and plastic bins.

Szacky likes to say that “If you can use garbage as a raw material then that’s not really garbage at all.”

A Hungarian who emigrated to the US with his family when he was still a child, Szacky came up with a super effective garden fertilizer using earthworms or, more specifically, earthworm poop.

The boys decided to drop out of Princeton and focus on their idea full-time but, because money for packaging was tight, they began to use old soda bottles that they had collected from recycling bins to bottle their product.

“We realized that the No. 1 seller of fertilizer in this country was Walmart (WMT). So we just started aggressively calling Walmart,” Szacky says.

Still, without a factory or a bottling system at hand, the boys decided to turn to the local school system in order to get all the used soda bottles they needed. Their plan worked and, with over 100,000 containers that were hand bottled and labeled by Szacky at his friends, they not only created an excellent plant food but also the world’s first product made from, and packaged entirely with, waste products.

Although they did get a little bit of help from some smaller investors and a number of business contests that they won, most of the funding that they were offered Szacky turned down so that he could do things “his way”. That paid off when Home Depot came calling and, now more than 10 years later, Terracycle is earning over $20 million in annual revenues.

The company’s “Bottle Brigade” program, allowing schools and communities in over 26 countries around the world to send in their recyclables for cash, has been a particularly big hit.

It also proves that the best entrepreneurs can turn (worm)  poop into gold.

How to Make Time for Your Side Business

Do you dream of the day that you can quit your day job and go full time into building your own business? The fact is that most businesses take quite a bit of time to actually become profitable so, before actually quitting your day job, it’s best to start building your side business on the side.

It’s a bit more work and it does divide your focus, obviously, but it’s one of the best ways to make sure that you’re truly committed to your new site business or if it was just a “passing fancy”. Below are a number of ways that you can get your side business going before completely quitting your day job. Enjoy.

First you should come up with a realistic estimate of how many hours per week you can set aside for your new business. More hours don’t always lead to better results, so it’s best that you arrive at a reasonable amount of time and stick to it consistently.

If you’re a writer and can work on your side business from home on your computer, you will obviously need less time than if you’re going to bake and sell cakes or teach a yoga class. These things need to be taken into consideration when it comes to setting aside the proper amount of time per week.

Strategically planning your days so that you don’t have to miss out on things like sleep, family obligations and exercise is also very important. Delegating some tasks and automating others in order to give yourself more time is a great idea and, if you make a personal to-do list, you might see things that you can skip entirely.

Speaking of delegating, there’s no reason to go it alone in your new site business if you don’t have to. If you lack expertise in a number of areas that are important to your new business, recruiting partners to help you is your best bet. Once you make the jump from side business to full-time business, these people will already be in place and ready to help you make it an even bigger success.

Setting a target for how much money your company will need to generate on a consistent basis before you give up your steady paycheck is a definite necessity. Knowing how much you’ll need to charge per customer, and how much per order you’ll need in order to make enough money to do this, are also critical questions to be answered.

Simply put, the more time that you have to prepare your “side business” while you still have regular paychecks coming in, the better prepared you will be when you finally “cut the cord” and leave your full-time, weekly paychecks behind. This could buy you the time you need to make sure that your side business can actually be turned into a full-time, viable business that supports you and your family.

Small Advertising Budget? Pay-Per-Click is the Answer

Your average small business, especially if it’s young, doesn’t have a lot of cash on hand for a marketing budget. With pay per click or PPC however, they can still run a successful, highly measured advertising program that delivers an excellent ROI.

The first thing to do before starting any new PPC campaign is simply to figure out exactly what one customer is worth to your business and, more importantly, how much you’re willing to spend to get that customer. Knowing, for example, that each customer is worth approximately $100, and that you are willing to spend $50 to get them, is vitally important.

Of course there’s no business on earth that can convert every lead into a customer, and so you’ll need to use a formula based on conversion rate to determine exactly how much you can actually afford to pay for leads.  Using the example above, you would pay $5. per lead if you converted 1 in 10 of them into a paying customer.

Here are another few reasons why PPC for small businesses is an excellent idea.

First, using PPC to target visitors at every stage of the buying funnel is possible if you focus on keywords that your potential customers use when they are getting ready to purchase. By adding geography, language and time you get an excellent way to pinpoint qualified customers.

With PPC you want to avoid broad matching so that you don’t pay for unqualified clicks that drain your budget. In order to get a higher relevance you should start with a broad match and, since PPC is an auction format, your price will be driven by demand/value.

Remember that there’s actually no direct correlation between the budget you have and the results you’ll get. For example, tripling your PPC budget won’t necessarily mean that you triple the volume of quality leads you’re going to get.

Another great feature that comes with PPC is the ability to test many messages. Testing content and combinations of words and messages is a great way to find out if the keywords you’re using, and their relevance to your ad copy and landing pages, is increasing leads and sales.

For example, you might find that rearranging the copy you have in the headline, or changing the description line to a customer quote, can increase your CTR.

PPC also allows you to test lots of markets using their collaboration tool because it’s used in 165 countries and eight different languages. Keep in mind that it’s a good idea to have native language speakers review your content and not rely on Google translate to do it.

Lastly, especially when your funds are tight and every single lead counts, don’t rely on your opinion to make decisions but data instead. In almost all situations numbers will trump any opinion or emotion that you might have. Any PPC campaigns that you have that are performing you should ramped up and those that aren’t should be turned off.

At the end of the day a carefully planned, highly detailed PPC campaign used in conjunction with a metrics program can generate excellent results without the need to spend a huge amount of money.

Author and businessman Jack Welch put it best when he said “An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.”

10 Tips for Hiring Excellent People

As an entrepreneur it’s definitely okay for you to obsess over hiring employees because, for small businesses especially, one bad hire can squash an entire team’s productivity quite quickly.

Below are 10 Tips for hiring excellent people that have been gleaned from successful small business owners around the country. All of these business owners stress that hiring an employee that “organically fits” into their corporate structure and are passionate about their brand is truly more important than the credentials that they bring with them, and that personality is also a big factor.  Enjoy.

  1. The best people to hire are those that are passionate about your products and truly believe in the mission that you have set out for your business. Even if their credentials might not be exactly what you’re looking for, their passion will in most cases allow them to quickly make up for those deficits.
  2. Nearly all successful small business owners will tell you that integrity is more important than experience. Being able to trust your employees is a key factor to your long-term success.
  3. Most agree that hiring someone with serving experience that they learned in a restaurant is an excellent trait as anyone who has been able to successfully work in the food service industry really knows how to get things done quickly and efficiently.
  4. Nearly anyone can be taught a technical skill. For successful small business owners, a person’s personality and demeanor is usually more important as these two traits usually can’t be changed.
  5. Taking a potential candidate out to lunch or dinner before offering them a position in your company is an excellent idea that adds a new dimension to the interview process and can give a lot more details on whether or not a person will fit into an organization.
  6. Most small business owners agree that hiring someone with a lot of enthusiasm for life, tons of energy and a positive attitude is an excellent idea.
  7. One brilliant suggestion is to provide an assignment to a potential new hire during their interview. The way they handle the assignment and follow it through to its conclusion can be a real eye-opener and give you a lot of information into how they will perform.
  8. All successful business owners agree that it’s better to wait for the right person than to compromise on your hiring standards. If you don’t feel that a person is right for the position, keep searching until you find one that is.
  9. Finding someone who volunteers or gives back to their community in some way is usually a sign of a person who cares and will thus care about your business as well.
  10. Trying to avoid hiring someone out of “sympathy” as, in many cases, this will only come back and shoot you in the foot at a later time.

And there you have them! 10 excellent Tips that, if you’re an entrepreneur getting ready to start a new business, or you’ve already started and need help expanding, should help you to find the best people to accomplish the tasks ahead.

 

Why Team Building Exercises are So Important to the Success of your Small Business

As a small business owner with a small group of employees you may not give much thought to teambuilding exercises but the fact is that, if your people know each other well and care about each other a lot, the success level of your business can be increased exponentially.

The fact is that the people who work for you will, over time, become your extended family. Being part of a family, as you no doubt already know, can be a very rewarding experience but can also be very challenging and at times a bit frustrating too.

Have you ever noticed however that, if you go on vacation as a family, relationships after that vacation are usually much better and bonds between family members much stronger.  Sharing an experience together does that for a family end, for a group of employees, can do the same.

While we’re not suggesting that you take your employees to Tahiti on vacation (although if your business is really doing well and you can afford it, it might be a consideration) there are certainly plenty of activities that you and your employees can do as a group that will help them to bond and increase everyone’s affinity for each other greatly.

For example, enrolling your team in a softball or bowling league and competing against other small businesses is a great way to bond as well as have a lot of fun.

Taking the entire group out to lunch or dinner is also a fantastic idea. The Italians call this “breaking bread” and the fact is that eating good food is a positive experience that, when shared, can create long-lasting bonds between your employees and yourself.

In many industries there are conventions, expositions and other events that could certainly be attended by you and your entire group of employees. You’d be amazed how many people that work for you don’t really have an idea about the intricacies of your industry. One or two days at an organized industry event can help them to learn a lot about what is your company actually does, as well as get to know their fellow employees at the same time.

Something much simpler and easy to do, as well as being relatively inexpensive, would be to order out for food for the entire group and, while everyone is eating together, have a “BS” session and listen to the comments and feedback that everyone brings to the table. This is not only a great way to get to know your employees but also to hear about any problems, situations or frustrations that they are facing.

At the end of the day the fact is that, as a business owner, you’re sort of like the “proud papa” of the business and your employees are your “children”. You need to keep them in line, reward them when necessary and scold them when necessary as well.

Just like a family you also need to spend time with them doing something fun, interesting or different outside of work. If you do, you’ll find that the rewards are definitely worth the investment.

5 Top Apps for Entrepreneurs

If you’re busy entrepreneur you already have your hands full with a million different things that need to be done. Luckily today you have a world of different apps that can be used on your smartphone and tablet to make those tasks a bit simpler and easier to finish. Below are 5 of the Top Apps that no entrepreneur should be without. The best part is that all 5 of them are absolutely free! Enjoy.

Evernote. This wonderful app lets you synchronize (or “sync”) notes and share them between your smart phone, your desktop, your laptop and your tablet devices. It also lets you share files, scan things like business cards and even save notes using audio. One other nice little feature about EverNote is that you can browse online stories and either bookmark them or save clips of them to read later.

Dropbox. Millions of people absolutely love Dropbox because it lets them store photographs, documents and videos “in the cloud” and then access them from anywhere using any device that they like. One of the best reasons to get Dropbox is also that, if you happen to lose your phone or tablet (and they’re synced with your Dropbox account) you can still get them later and they will be safely waiting for you.

CloudMagic. Amazingly, Apple and A Google still haven’t mastered the ability to let users scan all of the mail that they’ve ever received to look for a note, or any other bit of specific information. Cloud Magic use the user this incredibly thorough  search functionality, supports multiple accounts, can scan messages and also suggest specific content. For entrepreneurs overwhelmed by email, it’s a great little app.

MobileDay. If you take a lot of conference calls but you’re also on the road quite a bit, Mobile Day is a definite must for your app collection. With it you can scan your calendar and import all information from any conference that you’re going to attend and, when it’s time to make the call, you can join simply and easily with just 1 click.

 

Even better, if you would like to arrange your own conference call you simply tell Mobile Day who to invite and it will send those people the details as well as set up the conference call via its own service.

Producteev.  As a busy entrepreneur delegating tasks is something you need to master quickly. With Producteev you can track any ongoing tasks that your team might have, track their progress as well, set due dates and milestones and even use its filter program to see the tasks already assigned to a specific employee. For those entrepreneurs that are great at delegating, Producteev is a definite help.

There are more great apps out there for entrepreneurs, to be sure, so don’t limit yourself to these 5. However, these are a great place to start and will help any busy entrepreneur to get a lot more done every day.

With food prices rising sharply, Chipotle gets sent to increase their prices as well

When it comes to increasing food prices, consumers aren’t the only ones feeling the pinch.  Chipotle, one of the fastest-growing restaurant chains in the United States, is feeling the pain of food price increases as well and is set to pass along some of those increased costs to their customers, something they haven’t done in nearly 3 years.

On the company’s most recent earnings call, their chief financial officer, Jack Hartung, said that the price hike is likely to be “somewhere in the mid-single digits.”

Those increases will begin rolling out this quarter with their new menus and, by the third quarter of 2014, Chipotle will be installing new pricing boards with the increased prices reflected.

One of the reasons for the increase is due to the drop in margins that Chipotle had in his last report, nearly 40 points and blamed mostly on the fact that beef, avocados and cheese had all gone up in price.

Chipotle reported that their food costs rose to nearly 35% of their revenues in the first quarter of 2014 due to the jump in price of all three of those main ingredients and Hartung said that “beef prices are expected to continue to move higher as it remains tight.”

To make things worse, steak costs for the burrito chain are at an all-time high and their food costs could rise as high as 36% in April, further eating into their profits nationwide.

After their first quarter earnings report was released the chain’s shares initially gained but, after their conference call, quickly turned negative. Despite poor weather throughout most of the United States, sales jumped nearly 14% at comparable restaurants around the country.

Chipotle’s net income rose 8.5% however, to $83.1 million or $2.64 a share. Their overall revenue jumped nearly 25% to $904.2 million, up from 726.8 million during the same time period last year.

The chain expects to open just under 200 restaurants in 2014 and, excluding any price increases, also expects to generate a high single-digit comps sale increase.

It’s obvious that Chipotle is doing well and will continue to do so in the future. That being said, increasing food prices affect them just as much as they affect the average American family and, due to those increases, their prices have been forced to go up. This hasn’t affected the quality of their service or food however and, hopefully, won’t negatively affect it in the future either.