Small Business Tips
May 20th, 2013
If you’re a small-business owner who’s looking to gain a digital-marketing advantage, you need to be spying on your competitors. Not in the sense of traditional espionage, which, admittedly, would probably be a lot more fun than the type of spying I advocate in this post.
To that end, “Key Factors to Effective Competitive Analysis as a Small Business,” courtesy of the website, Search Engine Watch, provides lots of helpful tips for learning about the methods businesses similar to yours are employing to increase their search rankings and turn clicks into conversions.
But even after learning all you can about your competitors’ behaviors, and then implementing a digital marketing strategy accordingly, sometimes your best efforts return disappointing results. Which is why it’s critical for every small business to be in position to take corrective action when a marketing plan goes awry.
But that’s sometimes easier said than done given the fact that even in today’s hyper-analytical world of marketing best practices, at times we face either incomplete or nonexistent data, which obviously adds to the challenge of developing a decisive course of corrective action.
So here’s another Search Engine Watch story, titled “How to Use a Military Concept to Manage SEO in a Data-Scarcity Reality,” which explains the OODA Loop concept.
In short, Observe, Orient, Decide and Act are the concept’s four components, which are then repeated once you’re provided new results based on the previous iteration.
Regarding the OODA Loop, the article states, “With limited data about the causes for loss of visits and leads, using this framework you can make educated decisions to advance your campaigns.”
So while today’s small businesses have unprecedented access to a treasure-trove of data that provides insight into the marketing decisions your competitors make, you need to have a plan in place for those times when your research yields incomplete or even missing data.
May 16th, 2013
Here’s a story from the Marketing Leadership Council regarding Vine, the latest headline-grabbing social media tool.
For those not in the know (which, until recently included yours truly), Vine is a mobile app that allows the recording of video clips no longer than six seconds. Each clip, also called a Vine, is automatically looped in perpetuity.
Vines are now appearing with increasing frequency via Twitter, Facebook, and as embedded content on web pages.
Honestly, I’m not quite sure what to make of this new technology. Will it prove to be yet another disruptive force in the ever-evolving world of content marketing?
At first glance I’m not sure how effective a six-second video loop can be at communicating a brand’s allure. But as you’ll read in the article linked to above, creative examples of the tool’s potential are becoming more and more common, including this Vine from major global brand, Bacardi.
Are you familiar with Vine? Do you think the tool can be used as an effective attention-grabber for your small business?
Also, if you’ve encountered a Vine you think demonstrates particularly strong creative execution, please provide a link in the comments section below.
May 8th, 2013
We’ve all heard the news stories about massive data breaches that result in personal information being stolen from tens, even hundreds of thousands of customer accounts. These days it seems such reports have become all too commonplace.
But unless you’ve been victimized personally by such a malicious infiltration, or you’re the CTO of a company that failed to adequately safeguard its customers’ private information, much of the media’s buzz regarding cyber security likely triggers little more than a “glad it’s not me” attitude.
However, while many of the companies that grace the news with such ignominious headlines can afford to overcome their mishaps in terms of both bottom-line damage and negative PR, small businesses could find themselves in dire straits as the result of insufficient data-protection policies and/or procedures.
As reported by Info Security Magazine, a study conducted by the Poneman Institute (an independent researcher of data protection and emerging data security technologies) shows the extent to which a single malicious breach impacts an organization’s balance sheet. Using data compiled in 2012 through the polling of 3,529 IT and IT security professionals in eight countries (the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, Brazil, Japan, Singapore, and the UAE), Poneman’s findings conclude that on average, a single malicious data breach cost each affected organization $840,000 in overall impact—a significant chunk of change for most small businesses.
What’s being done to address the ever-present threat of data infiltration? Cyber security technology provider McAfee is on the bleeding edge of the industry’s efforts to thwart not only the criminals who continuously pursue network security flaws, but also the company employees who unwittingly open the door to such malicious activities.
Security experts from McAfee and Xerox teamed-up to produce a timely and extremely informative webcast, “SMB Security Guide for Innovating in Today’s Ever-Changing Technology Ecosystem,” which is now available for online viewing by anyone who wants to ensure they’re doing everything they can to protect their own and/or their customers sensitive information.
As you know by now, whether you’re an IT professional with a large enterprise or the owner of a small business, data protection is something few can afford to ignore.
May 6th, 2013
In “What is a Modern Marketer (Part One)” I shared a bit about my experience as an outside sales rep with an office-communications technology company that hadn’t yet learned what it meant to be a “modern marketer.”
One of the key points I made in that piece was the importance of content marketing as part of any small-business’ modern marketing strategy.
The gist: When produced and implemented properly, video as a marketing channel has proven itself as a tremendous vehicle for qualified response generation.
At Xerox, we began developing video content for various social channels (primarily YouTube) several years ago. The Xerox corporate channel on YouTube features numerous videos produced to promote key areas of our multifaceted operation, and many of the videos have become extremely popular.
For those considering video as a marketing tool, the Content Marketing Institute article provides a very helpful breakdown of what the writer believes to be the most important steps to consider before diving head first into the actual production of your video project.
I encourage you to read the article and the reports to which it links. I’m sure every small business looking to gain a content marketing advantage through digitally distributed video content will find the information incredibly useful.
April 30th, 2013
In a PC Magazine review posted on April 29, the Phaser 6600/DN Color Printer received an editor rating of ‘Excellent’.
The reviewer cited the printer’s “Relatively high-quality output [and] ample paper handling for a small office or workgroup with heavy-duty printing needs” as cornerstones of the device’s overall excellence.
For small business owners who hope to control costs by producing more marketing communications material in-house, image quality is a paramount requirement. Whether you’re a Realtor who wants to create your own house-listing flyers or a florist who’s producing a Mother’s Day mailer, the photographs you include must accurately display the subject matter’s true visual qualities.
From the review: “Photos in my tests were above par, and just short of consistently true photo quality. More than half of the photos in our test suite were high enough quality so if you mounted them in a frame behind glass, they’d pass for the level of quality you’d expect from typical drugstore prints.”
Output quality is also critical for graphics and illustrations—any instance in which consistent accuracy is a must, such as your company logo.
As noted above, the reviewer also called attention to the Phaser 6600 Color Printer’s standard paper capacity, which at 550 sheets “lets you refill the drawer with an entire ream of paper even before it’s fully empty.”
Whether working at a frenetic small business or a busy workgroup within a larger company, we all know what a hassle it is when printing is interrupted by an empty paper tray.
If you’re in the market for an ultra productive color printing solution, I encourage you to read the complete PC Magazine review and then visit the Phaser 6600 product page on the Xerox website for more detailed information.
April 25th, 2013
What’s most interesting to me is this quote from Freelancer: “Outsourcing basic administration tasks is rapidly becoming the norm for western small business, as small to medium businesses increasingly become comfortable with accessing an online workforce. No longer the exclusive domain of large multinationals, small businesses and startups are increasingly adopting outsourcing as a way to get ahead of the competition, saving money on simple back-office tasks which can then be redirected to hiring more skilled labor or expanding operations.”
It’s a trend worth watching, for sure; especially because small businesses (defined by U.S. Small Business Administration as those with headcounts of fewer than 500) are responsible for employing half of all private-sector workers.
If the small businesses that have chosen to shift work to outsourced talent, and those resources are either self-employed or work for other small businesses, then I see this as a positive development.
It’s a topic that also touches on an earlier post I wrote regarding The Cloud’s increasing influence on the growing independent workforce.
What are your thoughts on this subject? Are you a freelancer, and if so, have you experienced an increase in the amount of work you do for small businesses?
April 24th, 2013
Sometime after college, when I finally decided it was time to get serious about this whole career thing, I took a job working for a company that designed, sold, and installed office communications systems. Such systems typically included computer data projectors, electric projection screens, and video conferencing and audio technologies.
It was the mid 90s, a point in time when we were in the midst of modern history’s most disruptive business-world shift: the rise of the Internet as a ubiquitous communications pipeline and virtual shopping mall.
As an outside sales rep, my timing was fortunate, initially. Many of my customers were emerging players in the online arena; either nascent Internet startups or technology developers whose products and/or services were integral to the successful implementation of e-commerce business plans.
Those were the early days of the dot-com bubble, and because so many of my customers were flush with cash and believed that by outfitting their conference rooms with the latest technologies they would portray themselves as truly bleeding-edge, much of my job was accomplished before the initial cold call.
In many instances simply demonstrating a product during a sales presentation was like bringing fire to the natives. Because the technologies I sold were so new, and so impressive to my prospects, I left many sales calls with a purchase order in hand.
The irony is that while the majority of my customers were using the Internet to help revolutionize commerce, my employer didn’t have its own website. And once the products I sold became widely available online, I was nothing more than a pawn to be manipulated by potential clients, using my onsite demonstrations as their opportunity to “kick the tires” on the latest technologies, only to then burn rubber straight to the web to find the lowest price.
What’s the point of sharing such an anecdote? Because in my tenure as a career professional, that experience marks the obvious point at which the methods that defined traditional marketers were becoming overrun by the changes that gave rise to what we now call the modern marketer.
Today, most businesses simply cannot stay afloat if they insist on adhering to the traditional marketer’s modus operandi of conducting outbound sales campaigns characterized by advertising and cold-calling prospects. That’s not to say those activities can’t or shouldn’t be components of an integrated marketing strategy; just that those same activities will almost always prove fruitless if they stand on their own.
Not so long ago it was the traditional marketer whose role was to provide the information that influenced buying behaviors, whereas today’s consumers have already sourced much of the pertinent information needed to make a purchase decision. So it is that most companies simply cannot succeed unless they recognize that today’s customers are savvier than ever.
My career path has led to where I once again find myself working for a company that sells stuff. And the “marketing” part of my title implies that I’m still in the business of helping sell our products and services.
But by typing this blog post is what I’m doing truly supportive of our ultimate goal in terms of measurable, bottom-line results? According to the tenets of the modern marketer, it absolutely is.
That’s because one of characteristics of a business that has successfully transformed itself into a modern marketer is the ability to deliver content potential customers find entertaining, insightful or helpful—or better yet, all of the above—regardless of whether the subject matter is in any way related to whatever it is your company’s selling.
Such content—be it a blog, a tweet or a Facebook post—is part of what’s known today as content marketing, which is integral to successfully positioning your company as an easily discovered thought leader. And thought leadership is key, because when the modern consumer searches for a product or service, it’s the thought leaders who are most likely to secure a sale because they provide the content that helps inform the purchase decision well before the customer actually buys anything.
It’s true for almost any product or service, with one obvious exception being commodity items bought from whoever offers the lowest price.
While the prototypical modern marketer encompasses many more facets than a well-executed content marketing strategy, it’s important to understand the critical role content plays in any successful company’s approach toward capturing and holding a potential customer’s attention.
In future blog posts I’ll discuss a few of the other key areas of understanding for aspiring modern marketers, some of which were touched upon in this article:
- Using technology to track marketing ROI;
- Integrating a well-conceived social media strategy;
- Recognizing the shift of power from the brand to the consumer;
- Demand generation and lead nurturing;
- The emergence of mobile marketing;
- Media fragmentation; and
- Advancements in data cleansing.
As always, thanks for reading.