Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

How to Become a One Man PR Team

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

pr team

Over the years as an entrepreneur I have built a plethora of useful skills. I would imagine any entrepreneur ends up doing the same since we all wear 17 different hats at once. One of the byproducts of my years running a digital marketing and branding agency is I have become a one-man PR team without sending one “press kit.”

When I started my agency, I had zero experience in any form of marketing. I am a college drop out with a background in massage therapy. I personally have never valued formal education. But am a huge proponent of learning through real world experiences and asking others. Since day one of my agency, I knew I had some extra work ahead of me. All my competitors had degrees or years of experience, so I had to bet on my strengths.

They are simply my ability to win friends, hustle hard and learn fast.

I started every day by talking to someone who had more knowledge than I did, or researching a new topic. I didn’t know what any of the buzzwords meant or how to do them. I reached out to influencers and started building relationships. I would join mastermind groups, Skype group chats, Facebook groups, anyplace I could go and learn.

This lead me to the first step in being a one-man PR team.

Ask the Experts

I soon realized that I was never going to master all that there is to learn. I was determined not to be ignorant of any subject matter.

I met experts and found common interests. I became genuinely interested in the “expert’s” chosen field of mastery. This gave the person to whom I was speaking an opportunity to shine. Unbeknownst to me, it also helped me build relationships with experts and leaders. It did more than just put me in front of them. It helped me give.

Give, Give, Give

When interviewing leaders, sharing content, giving referrals and leads, I was invoking an ancient human law: the law of reciprocity. It states that as you give to someone else, they WANT to give back to you any way they can. This law allowed me to collect people and build my Rolodex. (What an outdated metaphor, but you get the gist.) I became friends with bloggers, advertisers, graphic designers, and every profession in between.

When your friends are “the best” it pushes you to be the best.

Push Yourself So Hard

Ever play a sport against a team that is just hugely better?

Imagine every day being able to play basketball against LeBron James. Would you get whopped every game? You bet ya! But would you become an awesome basketball player fast? You bet ya! This is pivotal in becoming a one-man PR firm, you must be “good” at all areas of marketing. Not an expert — but competent.

You will understand why in a minute.

Shoot for Big Goals

Playing big made me want to achieve big goals. For instance, I failed English in school for my writing abilities or lack thereof. Since then, I became determined to be a top writer and blogger. Let me ad this caveat. Always bet on your strengths. Writing might look like a weakness but in seventh grade I had an eleventh grade, 3rd-semester reading level and comprehension.

I am an articulate speaker, debater, and storyteller. I massively over indexed in my ability to relate to others and express myself. Writing is just another way to express myself and relate to others. Therefore it should be a strength. It just needed some work. I started writing as much as I could, with hard work and determination I got better. This excellent ability to write and my network of connections got me into Small Business Trends, with the article “How to Brain Hack Your Way to be a Success.”

Use Emerging Social Media

Want to be a one-man PR team? Get on the new social media like Meerkat, Periscope and Blab. The only person who is going to work full time on your business is you. A PR team will never care about your brand and your business as much as you. They are slow to change and don’t understand how to use new social media.

Periscope and Meerkat allow brands to create their own TV shows. You have the opportunity to broadcast to hundreds and thousands of people from around the world.

The entire time you are broadcasting, you get real feedback from your customers asking questions and creating brand engagement.

Engagement is everything in business.

New technologies such as Blab.im allow for 4-way communication with other users.

It is a cleaner version of Google Hang-Outs-on-Air. Platforms like blab allow you to connect more easily with influencers. Trying to connect with an influencer on Twitter is nearly impossible.

Smaller newer platforms like Blab have only 40 or 50 people in a room. This makes your chances of connecting much greater.

Embrace the change and try new platforms.

Continue to Seek and Push

What has this taught me? I know how to “pitch” if needed because I know what sites like to see and respectively, what they don’t appreciate. I have an extensive network of contacts in all those sites that I can call upon when I am ready for the next jump. Lastly becoming a one-man PR team doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years, and in my opinion the journey is 90 percent of the fun.

If everything in life came easy it would be boring. Remember that.

Overall, that is how I am becoming a one-man PR team. It’s simply about collecting people and contacts, giving lots of value, and pushing yourself to be the best. Who knows, maybe one day you will see me up on stage at a TED talks event.

Man with Megaphone Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “How to Become a One Man PR Team” was first published on Small Business Trends

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Will a New Algorithmic Timeline Change the Look of Twitter?

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

new twitter algorithm timeline

Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey moved quickly Saturday to quell fears that a supposed impending change to Twitter’s algorithm timeline will result in a change to the way tweets are displayed on the platform. Disputing a media report detailing the planned changes, Dorsey said that the stream of tweets on the social media site will stay live and in real time.

“Twitter is live,” he tweeted. “Twitter is real-time.” Here’s the tweet:

Twitter is live. Twitter is real-time. Twitter is about who & what you follo. And Twitter is here to stay! By becoming more Twitter-y.

— Jack (@jack) February 6, 2016

News and entertainment site BuzzFeed reported on Friday last week that Twitter was on the verge of introducing an algorithmic timeline as early as this week. The new Twitter algorithm timeline would reportedly reorder tweets, showing tweets that the site’s algorithm thinks people want to see as opposed to the current reverse chronological order that shows the latest tweets first.

The report caused a major uproar that made #RIPTwitter become a top trending topic on the popular microblogging platform.

Some disgruntled users even threatened to abandon the service if the change was implemented, with some expressing how upset they are by posting GIFs of Steve Carell’s character in “The Office” saying “NOOOOO” and another of a businessman jumping out a window in an episode of the popular cartoon series “The Simpsons.”

One user, Ana Vega, Tweeted on Saturday:

Dear Twitter, don’t try to be like Facebook, we don’t like facebook #RIPTwitter

— ana vega (@dearcalumthood) February 6, 2016

On Sunday, another user Peter Bish explained:

all we wanted was an edit tweet button. #RIPTwitter

— ??Pete Bish??? (@peterbishop17) February 7, 2016

Allan Walsh decided to take a more graphical approach, tweeting:

Twitter is reportedly changing timelines from chronological order to an algorithm of most popular. #RipTwitter pic.twitter.com/qwjwEsCSpk

— Allan Walsh (@walsha) February 6, 2016

The intensity of some #RIPTwitter tweets caused one Twitter employee to tweet:

Wow people on Twitter are mean

— Brandon Carpenter (@bhcarpenter) February 6, 2016

Twitter has been under immense pressure from Wall Street to boost its user base and become a more mainstream social media application. Besides struggling to attain advertising revenues equaling those of its larger Facebook rival, the company’s growth has slowed and its stock has slumped. But every time there’s even a hint of an update that might change how people connect with the site, users throw a tantrum. The most recent was in November when the company came under fire for removing Twitter Share Counts.

Twitter isn’t the only social networking site that has faced a backlash from its users. Facebook, for example, was hit with widespread criticism when it introduced news feed, but the company decided to stick with the change. It’s now one of the reasons why the site is so addictive.

Image: Twitter

This article, “Will a New Algorithmic Timeline Change the Look of Twitter?” was first published on Small Business Trends

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4 Fundamental Keys To Success For New Entrepreneurs

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

entrepreneurial keys to success

How many different articles have been written on being a successful entrepreneur?

Tons.

If you’re reading this post, you are probably an entrepreneur who is serious about starting and growing your business. You’re well aware of the fact that it’s not easy to start a business. You may even be just starting out and you’re still trying to figure this whole “entrepreneurship thing” out.

It’s not easy, is it? It can feel like you’re trying to assemble a jigsaw puzzle using pieces that have been scattered all around a huge room! Gathering these pieces and figuring out where they fit can be a challenge.

Figuring out where to get started can be an issue.

There are many things you will need to learn in the years to come as you grow your business. However, for the purposes of this post, the issue isn’t digesting every single little entrepreneurial lesson you can learn. The issue is learning some of the most important fundamentals to successful entrepreneurship.

When you read this post, consider how you might begin applying these principles in your own life. When you do this, you will see and understand how much easier it can be to build your business.

Perseverance

Perseverance is arguably the most important skill an entrepreneur can have. Without perseverance, no other skill or quality will matter.

Why?

Because perseverance will push you to keep moving forward no matter what challenges and obstacles you face. It’s absolutely crucial to your success.

Unfortunately, this quality is often neglected. People think it’s more important to possess smarts, experience and business acumen. Of course, these qualities are important. You have to have them in order to succeed. but the issue isn’t becoming a super entrepreneur. The issue is knowing how to push forward no matter what happens.

Here’s the thing: if you don’t know how to handle obstacles, all of your other skills won’t matter because you’re going to continually give up when things get rough. How many people have you heard of who have accomplished great things without going through numerous challenges?

Exactly.

When you learn how to persevere, you find that you are able to use your obstacles to propel you forward. You will see how tough you have become when you look back over the obstacles you have conquered. When you have grit, you experience greater success and more satisfaction.

Manage Your Cash Flow

You decided to become an entrepreneur, which means you want to build a thriving enterprise. Chances are, one of the main reasons you’re embarking on your entrepreneurial journey is because you want to create and build wealth.

However, when you’re building a business, it’s not only about making more money, it’s about building wealth by learning how to handle your cash flow. Makes sense, doesn’t it? After all, what’s the point of making a ton of money if you just end up losing it?

There are oodles of tips and strategies for learning how to build and manage wealth. You could spend hour upon hour studying this subject (and you probably will).

But one of the things you will need to understand is where you currently are in your quest for greater wealth. When you identify the stage you are in on your way to earning more, you will see what you need to do to get to the next level.

You don’t want to ignore this part. If you’re not great at understanding the financial part of running your business, it’s best to hire a professional who can give you the guidance you need.

Become A Better Influencer

Yes, I know this is my favorite subject. If you read most of my other pieces, you will find that I’m passionate about the subject of influence.

There’s a reason for that.

I consider influence to be important because most of your life as an entrepreneur will be spent trying to get others to do what you want. It’s a reality you must embrace in order to accomplish your objectives. When you realize how important influence is, it can help you overcome most obstacles that stand in the way of your success.

Simply put, you can’t succeed if you don’t know how to move others to action. While this is true in every profession, it’s especially critical if you’re an entrepreneur.

You will need to convince prospects to become paying customers. You have to know how to motivate your team by persuading them to buy into your vision. You need to become better at negotiations with other parties. You may also have to know how to get investors to fund your business.

Here’s the good news. Influence is not a quality that one is automatically born with. Many people believe the myth that you have to be a “natural salesperson” in order to be great at persuading others.

I agree that there are certain personality traits that lend themselves well to the art of sales. I’d even argue that there are people who have these traits without even knowing it.

However, the reality isn’t that you have to be born with the right personality to be great at influencing others. The reality is that influence is a skill that can be learned and mastered over time. What do you think will happen if you were to commit yourself to learning how to influence others?

When you take the time to train and hone the skills you need to become a better influencer, you will experience a much easier time getting others to do what you want. You will see how it enables you to have an incredible impact on those you interact with. You will be glad that you took the time to see how learning persuasion could benefit your business.

Don’t Do It Alone

One of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make is falling into the trap of doing everything themselves. They believe that the only way to achieve success is to wear themselves out by trying to wear as many hats as possible.

They want to do it all themselves. They try to do sales, marketing, finance, website design, procurement, IT, and many other functions.

Sounds pretty exhausting, doesn’t it? That’s because it is.

Nobody can wear all of these hats over a long period of time while staying sane.

This may work for right now, but eventually, you will need to rely on others to get the work done for you. The time will come when you have hire others who can wear these hats for you.

You need a team.

One of the key points to remember about building a team is that you need to hire people who are strong where you are weak. After all, you can’t be great at everything, can you?

We all have our strengths and weaknesses, don’t we? So the smart thing to do is to get people who are able to perform the tasks that you either dislike, or have trouble with.

Another thing that is important to remember is that you need to make sure the people you hire have the right attitude. Many hugely successful leaders will tell you that they prefer a great attitude over great skill.

Why?

Because you can help people develop their skills, but you can’t get someone to change a horrible attitude. Figure out the type of culture you want to build and bring on people who reflect the values of your culture. You will see how much stress relief you will experience because you were smart enough to have a great team supporting your efforts.

Conclusion

As an entrepreneur, you desperately want to succeed. You want to build an enterprise that makes an impact on your customers. This means that you also want to make sure you’re doing everything you can to set yourself up for success.

By implementing these keys, you will find that you will have a much more rewarding entrepreneurial experience. You will come to understand how awesome life can be when you’re building a wildly successful enterprise.

Old Key Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “4 Fundamental Keys To Success For New Entrepreneurs” was first published on Small Business Trends

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8 Ingredients for Awesome Promotional Gifts

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

promotional gifts

It’s no wonder that promotional gifts for clients are so popular. Promotional gifts are a $2.2 billion industry (PDF) according to the Promotional Products Association International.

Corporate gifts have the power to please clients and prospects by showing you’re thinking of them. Done well, they also make your business more memorable. They help convey what your brand stands for — be it playfulness, creativity, productivity or something else.

I have kept promotional gifts from vendors for years if they were unique. I love them.

Now, I’m not talking about your everyday swag gifts here. There’s certainly a place for simple swag — such as a coffee mug showing your product and a cute saying, or a reuseable tote bag with your brand logo on it. Swag is great for trade show giveaways. I’ve kept simple swag items that appeal to me, too.

But the promotional gifts that really make an impression on me are those that go beyond the standard branded promotional items.

I’ve received some great marketing gifts, and along the way I’ve noticed what makes them stand out. A marketing gift for clients to remember your company by can be distilled down to some concise pointers. When it comes to developing ideas for promotional gifts, consider these eight guidelines:

1. Create Something Unique

Yes, unique. After all, to remember a promotional gift, it has to be different. I am using a coffee mug from a vendor right now. It fits my hand well, it’s microwaveable and it’s the perfect size. I’m using a post-it note pad from another vendor. I certainly appreciate those items.

Yet, when I think of a promotional gift off of the top of my head, I don’t think of that cup or that post-it pad. Without looking, I can’t even remember the vendor’s name on the post-it pad.

When I think of memorable corporate gifts I’ve received, I think of more unique items.

One of the most memorable promotional gifts I ever received was from Mark Anderson of Andertoons. He created a customized Lego figure of himself at his cartoon drafting table (pictured). I was so impressed, I actually created a video of it, which I’ll show you in a moment. That’s how much it moved me. That’s the sort of uniqueness I am referring to.

promotional gifts

2. Make it Thicker than an Envelope

People get excited to open packages. When they see a package or box, anticipation builds. An element of surprise is built-in because they don’t know what to expect.

It’s much more exciting to receive a package, versus an email or a flat letter. (OK, maybe if the letter is telling you that you won the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes it can be more exciting than a package, but how often does that happen?)

There’s a place for a handwritten thank-you note or card — and you should send them. But those aren’t promotional gifts.

The point is, create a sense of anticipation when people receive your gift.

3. Give the Recipient Something to Do

As in, don’t get your customers a set of bookends. Nothing against bookends — they’re fine for the right situation.

But if you give clients and prospects something they can touch and assemble and use, it may stick in their memory better. Make the item interactive — something that just begs the recipient to touch it, assemble it or interact with it.

4. Make it Relevant

Does your promotional gift relate to your business? Can you weave a story around the item that conveys some meaning about your business?

The most memorable corporate gifts reinforce the business you are in. The item itself or something about it brings to mind your product or service or the benefits you provide.

5. Let it Be Creative and Classy

Need I say, don’t look cheap?

Look, no one in a small business wants to spend a lot of money on promotional gifts. We want the item to be inexpensive.

But cost and impression are two different things. The cost should be cheap in cost — but a great marketing gift should not look cheap or seem cheap or generic. It should seem classy. And creative.

Besides, many corporations have restrictions prohibiting their employees from accepting expensive gifts. Often the value limit is $25 or less. So that’s another reason to keep the cost of promotional items low, or the recipient may not be able to accept them.

6. Include Your Logo

No brainer here. It’s important to include your logo. Tastefully. Whatever your gift may be, your logo serves to remind people of your business.

7. Pick Something that Lasts

I enjoy getting flowers and food gifts as much as the next person. I’ve sent them as gifts, too. I am not going to say those don’t make fine client gifts. A beautiful potted plant or a cookie box can be a welcome gift.

But they are not the same thing as a memorable marketing gift that someone can keep nearby. The lasting nature of the item can be a reminder for years — long after that box of candy was gobbled up and forgotten.

8. Put in Special Effort

Finally, you don’t have to spend a ton of money — and probably don’t want to, as pointed out above. But if it is something you spent some effort to create, your promotional gift is more likely to stand out.

Going back to the example of the Andertoon’s Lego figure, it is clear that the giver spent a lot of time coming up with the concept and customizing it to represent his business. He spent less than $25 on each gift. In that case, it was more about the creativity and the investment of time, than about spending a lot of money. Recipients were left with no doubt that he put special effort into creating that gift.

Here’s the point. If this is the year to make a splash by giving a memorable marketing gift, follow these eight guidelines. By taking the time to develop something unique and memorable, you serve your business well and honor your loyal customers. You also impress sales prospects.

And you know what else? You and your team will have a great time exercising your creativity and launching a special project.

For inspiration and an example of one of the most creative promotional gifts I’ve ever received, check out this video.

OK Hand Gesture Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “8 Ingredients for Awesome Promotional Gifts” was first published on Small Business Trends

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Small Business Jobs Up in January, According to ADP Report

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

adp jobs report

Small businesses are hopeful about growth in 2016, and their optimism is driving them to hire more people.

According to a monthly Small Business Report by human resources management solutions provider ADP, in collaboration with Moody’s Analytics, small businesses with 1-49 employees created 79,000 jobs in January.

The study found very small enterprises with 1-19 employees hired 47,000 people while other small companies with 20-49 employees created 32,000 jobs. Goods producing and service providing sectors generated 8,000 and 71,000 jobs, respectively.

A closer look at the findings reveals very small businesses contributed the most to both the goods producing and service providing sectors’ growth, generating 7,000 jobs in the former and 41,000 jobs in the latter.

While the growth is quite impressive, it is not as strong as the numbers reported by ADP in January. Last month, the company had reported that small businesses created 95,000 jobs in December. It’s worth noting that very small businesses had contributed the most to the growth then as well.

What’s perhaps most interesting about the findings is that they come at a time when the stock market has taken a sharp nosedive and concerns about an impending economic slowdown are looming large. The growth can be attributed to steadily increasing consumer spending. Unlike the big businesses that have been severely impacted by the oil prices and slowdown in economies such as China, small firms have benefited from the growing consumer spend.

Steven Davis, an economics professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business told the Wall Street Journal that the recent job growth may reflect strength in regions or industries where small firms are relatively important.

In the present situation when big corporations — faced with growth challenges — are freezing their hiring plans, small businesses have the perfect opportunity to attract great talent. What businesses must realize is that top-performing employees look for more than just pay. They are focused on their career growth, so small businesses should offer opportunities to learn and grow on the job.

Training opportunities, flexible and open work environments and a clearly defined job role are some of the things that can help small firms attract the best employees, even in a competitive market.

Image: ADP

This article, “Small Business Jobs Up in January, According to ADP Report” was first published on Small Business Trends

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Spotlight: Smart Spark Provides Alternatives to Cigarettes

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

smart spark vape

The hazards of smoking cigarettes are well documented. But some people continue to do it because they don’t feel like there are any great alternatives out there.

That’s the attitude that Smart Spark Vape + Lounge is trying to eliminate.

Read more about the business’s offerings and its mission in this week’s Small Business Spotlight.

What the Business Does

Sells electronic cigarette accessories, advanced handheld portable vaporizers and a wide variety of e-liquids.

CEO and President Jeremy Kwaterski told Small Business Trends, “Our goal is to help people kick the habit of smoking in favor of a smart alternative.”

Business Niche

Mixing a fun atmosphere with knowledgeable staff.

Kwaterski says, “We are known for our knowledgeable staff and the wide selection of products available. Customers enter our shops knowing they will be receiving the most accurate information available in the vaping industry as well as the newest products, all while in a fun, relaxed atmosphere.”

smart spark vape

How the Business Got Started

To help people quit smoking.

Kwaterski explains, “I became interested in the e-Cig business in early 2014 when I found out my father, who had been a 2 to 3 pack a day smoker for over 50 years, had contracted stage-4 lung cancer. I immediately started looking for healthier ways to get him to stop smoking while still getting the nicotine he craved. Unfortunately, I was too late to offer him much help, and he passed away in early 2015. In his honor I have made a commitment to help as many people as possible kick the cigarette and chewing tobacco habit.”

Biggest Win

Being approved as an AEMSA (American E-Liquid Manufacturing Standard Association) member.

Kwaterski says, “This gives us the clear advantage over our competitors as FDA regulation is enacted over the vaping industry. We are the first vape lounge-franchise concept to control the production of our e-liquids in a “clean room” environment according to AEMSA standards. The FDA is recommending against unregulated mixing of e-liquids on site, so Smart Spark is pushing ahead of FDA recommendations and we are manufacturing our e-liquids in only the strictest standards.”

Biggest Risk

Building a new large location in Summerville, Georgia.

Kwaterski says, “We are undertaking a 80k build-out in Summerville to establish it as a world class, one-of-a-kind “Gaming, Vaping, Food and Drink” establishment. For us, we are imagining a Dave & Buster’s of vaping! We are keeping our fingers crossed that everything goes smoothly!”

How They’d Spend an Extra $100,000

Lobbying against Big Tobacco in Congress.

smart spark vape

Favorite Task

Handcrafting new e-juice flavors.

Kwaterski says, “It’s always exciting to craft new flavors and have customers try them out. One of our most popular flavors is called “Looney Toons,” it’s a blend of watermelon, honeydew, bubblegum and peppermint!”

Favorite Quote

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” –Winston Churchill

* * * * *

Find out more about the Small Biz Spotlight program.

Images: Smart Spark, Top Image: Smart Spark employee Corey Tibbs (left) assists a customer

This article, “Spotlight: Smart Spark Provides Alternatives to Cigarettes” was first published on Small Business Trends

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How a Lenient Return Policy Can Actually Boost Sales

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

lenient return policy boost sales

Did your retail store still deal with returns from the holiday shopping season? If so, you’re not alone. If you’re dreaming of higher sales and fewer returns in 2016, you might want to implement a more lenient return policy. That’s the surprising conclusion of a recent study by researchers at the University of Texas-Dallas.

With more than $280 million (PDF) in product returns across all U.S. retailers in 2014, and the number of returns increasing exponentially due to the rise of ecommerce, there’s growing interest in how return policies can affect a retailer’s bottom line. The study’s authors found that there are five basic elements of a return policy that retailers can adjust to get different results:

  1. Time — the length of time a customer has to make the return,
  2. Money — whether or not the customer receives full reimbursement for the product or only partial reimbursement,
  3. Effort — whether the customer has to have a receipt, bring in original packaging or fill out a form to get a return,
  4. Scope — whether the type of merchandise eligible for return is limited (such as “final sale” items that can’t be returned), and
  5. Exchange — whether customers receive money or store credit for returns.

Want to Limit the Number of Returns?

Limit the scope. Return policies that were lenient in scope were found to increase the number of returns. If customers know they can return even sale items, a sale price is more likely to sway them to buy. However, limiting scope did not help increase sales.

You can also limit returns by offering lenient timelines — that is, giving customers more time to return items. Counterintuitively, this actually led to lower returns. The study’s authors theorize that the longer customers have a product in their possession, the more they get attached to it and the less likely they are to return it. There’s also an inertia effect at work — without the urgency of having to make a decision in, say, two weeks, customers may let a product lie around until the return window has expired.

Want to Increase Sales?

Then try a lenient return policy that’s lenient in terms of both effort and money. (In other words, no receipt required and full money back). This increases sales because consumers who come back to your store for a return are more likely to buy something new. Knowing your return policy is generous, they’re also more likely to keep shopping with you because they’re confident they can always get their money back.

Returns cost you money, of course, so in developing your return policy, it’s important to decide what your overall goal is. Do you care more about limiting returns or increasing sales? You’ll need to run some numbers to determine which will benefit you more financially. You should also consider how “return-worthy” something is — can it be resold, or is its value essentially lost? This is why many retailers don’t accept returns on sale items that are typically slow movers or past-season products that are hard to sell in the first place.

Whatever type of return policy you implement, make sure it’s clearly stated at the point of purchase, or you could end up with angry customers. Place prominent signage near the point of sale; include the return policy on receipts and, if the item is not eligible for return (such as final sale products), have salespeople inform customers before they pay to make sure they’re okay with that.

Shopping Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “How a Lenient Return Policy Can Actually Boost Sales” was first published on Small Business Trends

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5 Ways to Optimize Your Business Instagram Account

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

optimize instagram

Instagram is a social network continually growing in popularity, so even companies that don’t have photo-driven initiatives and flashy products are getting involved. For many, this obviously means that creativity needs to be at an all time high, but a strategy can happen and it can help you reach your goals faster.

I recommend checking out this article to learn more about creating an Instagram business presence in general before really jumping into the SEO aspects of your strategy. However, once you have a smooth process for Instagram and you think you’ve finally done all you can do for your Instagram business account, the following tips to optimize Instagram will help take you to the next level.

How to Optimize Instagram

Do Keyword Research on Hashtags

This idea brings more traditional SEO techniques onto the network. While Instagram may not seem like a search engine, it does still have a search function, and the most popular search is actually hashtags, or what you can think of as keywords with a “#” in front. You want to utilize the hashtags that are getting the most search volume and that are relevant on your photos for maximum exposure.

The cool thing about hashtags as opposed to keywords is that you can add as many hashtags as you want right at the end of your post. No need to naturally squeeze them in or worry about keyword stuffing — simply listing the hashtags at the end of your post is completely accepted.

So how many hashtags should you use and how do you know which ones to use?

Unlike the Keyword Planner you have for Google, you won’t have one for Instagram. It is therefore up to you to determine which hashtags are relevant, but not over-used. You can do this by searching for your ideas and seeing who is using the hashtag you’re considering.

You can also check out the top 100 hashtags on Instagram through Websta to get some ideas and see what people are using most often. Below is a screenshot of what Websta looks like:

optimize instagram

The cool thing about Websta is you can filter by location. This means that you can see what people in your area are hashtagging, which is crucial if your business thrives on local marketing. You do this by clicking on one of the tabs you see in the above screenshot.

Also keep in mind that you can attempt to create your own, unique hashtag, but it’s usually big brands that see success with this. Still, if you run a contest for example and you ask people to use a specific hashtag to win, you could start carving out your own hashtag to get going in the future, which brings us to our next point.

Hold Contests for Prizes

This is a common social media tactic so it may be something you’ve already tried, but it’s worth mentioning again because some companies are not offering prizes on Instagram. Remember that prizes will go a long way on social media, so spend some money here and get those contests going. According to Neil Patel, he leveraged his giveaways to get more followers and “a single giveaway could score [him] a few thousand extra followers.”

There are of course a variety of ways to create a contest for social media, so when it comes to Instagram just remember why users like the app in the first place. Put a focus on images and hashtags to get the most engagement. For example, ask your customers to show off their photos of something similar using a hashtag you created. The best picture wins. Below is a great example from Travel Country:

optimize instagram

Partner With a Nonprofit or Charity

People like to support companies that are doing something for the community. Even if your business isn’t helping directly, you can help indirectly by giving some of your profits away to a nonprofit that is related to your industry, you could fundraise for a cause you care about, send employees on community service trips, and more. This is great for your business and your website in general, but it’s especially helpful on Instagram because images can be so powerful.

Wordstream offered a great example in their article about the lunch spot SweetGreen partnering with the nonprofit FoodCorps. Both SweetGreen and FoodCorps focus on health, so SweetGreen was able to create a partnership and use that to their advantage to get people engaged. Each business’s followers see the other link, so it’s a win-win. Below is the screenshot that the article included:

optimize instagram

It’s also worth noting that really any partnership could work if done right. Partner with a complimentary company and ask them to share your posts and vice versa. As long as you have the same audience but you aren’t competitors, it’s a great option.

Utilize Instagram’s Business Tools for Advertising

For many businesses, Instagram is all about connecting with the audience through stories, relevant photos, utilizing the right filters, and getting the images out to the right people, and then the next step is oftentimes paid advertising. While all of these things should come first, your next step needs to be utilizing Instagram’s features that were created specifically for businesses. These features allow you to see metrics on how certain posts are performing (sound familiar?), so they’re essentially the Insights option of this social platform, and they’re available to everyone. Some of this data includes impressions, engagement and shares, reach, insights, and more, all for your paid advertisements.

You can find these metrics by navigating to the Campaigns section of your account (as shown below). Below is a screenshot of what it may look like for a business:

optimize instagram

Instagram has three ad formats: Photo, Video, and Carousel. Visit here to learn more about advertising on Instagram specifically.

Buy an Instagram Account with Already Established Followers

This was an idea that came from Neil Patel’s KISSmetrics article, and while it’s last on our list for a reason, it can work for some businesses and it’s certainly unique and something you probably haven’t considered. The biggest problem with this approach is that this already established audience might be the completely wrong audience for your company, and for social media and just about everything online marketing, it’s always quality over quantity.

However, what KISSmetrics author of the piece Neil Patel found when he bought an account with 131,000 followers and then changed the name was that while he did lose quite a few followers (it dropped from 131,000 to 21,000 in a few weeks), that pace eventually started to slow down. Before you know it, he still had 20,000 followers and started growing his account. You want to find an account that has at least a somewhat similar audience — consider talking with a few bloggers in your industry about buying an account, for example — but after a while it could help give you that jumpstart you need to get people interested in the first place; thus helping your numbers grow. After all, even as a consumer, wouldn’t you be more inclined to follow a company with 20,000 followers than one that has just 20?

Extra: Remember Links Don’t Work on Instagram

You can put a link back to your website within your profile, but that’s it. Links in a caption or a comment will not work, so Instagram is definitely the place to increase visibility and improve the image of your brand — not to improve your SEO through link building or to promote Web content.

The Takeaway and Learning More

In the end, it’s really all about understanding your audience as well as understanding why Instagram works if you’re to properly optimize Instagram. If you can stay true to what Instagram is all about, then you should be good to go when it comes to SEO and improving your following.

Republished by permission. Original here.

Instagram Mobile Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “5 Ways to Optimize Your Business Instagram Account” was first published on Small Business Trends

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Have You Noticed How Google Beefed Up Its Webmaster Guidelines?

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

webmaster guidelines (1)

The changes to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines are not an everyday occurrence, so even the smallest tweak makes news.

However, this time around there are several updates businesses, site developers, SEO practitioners and others should take a look at. This latest update comes after Google revamped its Webmaster Home with a new look and three new features for the new portal, which include Webmaster troubleshooter, Popular Resources and Event Calendar.

The changes to the layout of the general Google Webmaster guidelines include the addition of three drop-down menus that explain how Google finds and understands your pages, as well as how visitors use your pages. Before you dismiss these changes, it is important to note the language Google has used to emphasize the need to follow the new guidelines.

While in the past Google has said, “Even if you choose not to implement any of these suggestions,” it has now replaced the wording with just, “We strongly encourage you to pay very close attention to the Google Webmaster Quality Guidelines.” This is a not-so-subtle hint you should be following the Webmaster Guidelines with strict adherence.

Barry Schwartz embedded the complete before and after guidelines on Search Engine Land.

The new guidelines direct website operators to:

Help Google Find Your Pages

  • Ensure that all pages on the site can be reached by a link from another findable page. The referring link should include either text or, for images, an alt attribute, that is relevant to the target page.
  • Provide a sitemap file with links that point to the important pages on your site. Also provide a page with a human-readable list of links to these pages (sometimes called a site index or site map page).
  • Limit the number of links on a page to a reasonable number (a few thousand at most).

Help Google Understand Your Pages

  • Create a useful, information-rich site, and write pages that clearly and accurately describe your content.
  • Design your site to have a clear conceptual page hierarchy.
  • Follow our recommended best practices for images, video, and structured data.
  • Make a reasonable effort to ensure that advertisement links on your pages do not affect search engine rankings.

Help Visitors Use Your Pages 

  • Try to use text instead of images to display important names, content, or links.
  • Ensure that all links go to live web pages. Use valid HTML.
  • Optimize your page loading times.
  • Design your site for all device types and sizes, including desktops, tablets, and smartphones.
  • Ensure that your site appears correctly in different browsers.
  • If possible, secure your site’s connections with HTTPS.

As always, Google ends any amendments to its guidelines with a warning, and this time is no different, “If your site violates one or more of these guidelines, then Google may take manual action against it. Once you have remedied the problem, you can submit your site for reconsideration.”

Following existing and new guidelines ensures your digital presence will be readily available on the largest browser in the world, and violating them can be a costly mistake.

Image: Google

This article, “Have You Noticed How Google Beefed Up Its Webmaster Guidelines?” was first published on Small Business Trends

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What the Latest Co-Working Spaces Offer Freelancers

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

freelancer co-working spaces

The amount of freelance and independent workers has increased drastically in recent years. And with that growing trend of non-traditional workers, co-working spaces have also experienced drastic growth.

If you haven’t checked out any co-working spaces recently, then you might think they’re just open spaces with desks and WiFi. But today’s co-working spaces offer a number of other features that freelancers could find helpful.

Here are some of the features you might find in today’s co-working spaces.

Freelancer Co-Working Spaces Now Include. . .

Connected Workspaces

You can consider a connected office a baseline for any co-working space. Most, if not all, of the spaces you’ll find should offer features like WiFi, printing, outlets and working spaces.

Private Conference Areas

While many co-working spaces offer simple desks or cubicles in a fairly open atmosphere, you may also find some that offer private offices or at least designated spaces that you can use for meetings or calls, such as conference rooms or phone booths. So if you need a space for meetings or more private work, you can look for a space that offers conference rooms or even office space that you can reserve or rent.

Accessible Parking

Parking should also be among the features that you look for in a co-working space. No matter what you need when you’re actually there, you need to have a convenient way to actually get there. Some co-working spaces have dedicated parking lots, or at least lots that you can pay to gain access to. Others might be conveniently located near public transportation.

Proximity to Restaurants and Other Businesses

Another convenience factor to consider is the space’s proximity to restaurants, shops and other business that you may need to visit on a regular basis. If you can run some errands, work related or otherwise, on your way to and from, or even on breaks from your workday, it can free up some precious time for you. Some co-working spaces have even built restaurants or shopping into their locations, such as Bespoke in San Francisco.

Collaboration Opportunities

Co-working isn’t just about having a place to work. One of the biggest benefits of co-working can sometimes be the access to other entrepreneurs who you could potentially bounce ideas off of or collaborate with. So if that’s something that’s important to you, look for a space with an open atmosphere, collaboration spaces and other professionals who you may be interested in working with.

Odeen Domingo, founding member of CO+HOOTS in Phoenix, said in an email to Small Business Trends, “People should find a space that has deliberately designed their location and their culture to create collaboration. People looking for a coworking space should find out what the culture and interaction is like among member companies and see if it’s a good fit for what they’re looking for. Are they looking for a space with companies of the same skill set or a slew of different industries (or both) to collaborate and learn from?”

Industry Focus

Some co-working spaces even focus on specific industries or types of entrepreneurs. For example, Geekdom in Houston is a co-working space that focuses specifically on technologists, developers and creative entrepreneurs. This could be helpful if you’re looking to collaborate with people in a particular industry or type of business.

Noise Policies

You may also want to look into the atmosphere of each co-working space, particularly when it comes to things like noise and distractions. You can ask if they have any quiet hours or noise policies. Or you could see if the space allows visitors so that you can get a feel for the environment.

Maria Alejandra Marquez, co-founder of TamboWorks in Miami, told Small Business Trends in an email, “If you are not experienced with working in a co-working space, you need to evaluate if you can adapt to work in open spaces, with noise and buzz, but also to follow some etiquette regarding how you take your calls or hold meetings. To be part of a community requires some balance between your own behavior and your tolerance.”

Virtual Offices

If you’re not necessarily looking for the entire co-working experience, but still want some of the features, you can look for a space that offers virtual office features. For instance, many of them offer mailboxes or phone lines that you can use to organize or make your business appear more professional, without paying for or committing to a full co-working experience.

Business Incubators

Many co-working spaces like Think Big Coworking in Kansas City, Missouri are connected to business incubators or startup accelerators so that you can get even more growth benefit.

Education Programs

If you don’t want to get into a full accelerator program, but still want some growth or learning opportunities, you might look for a co-working space that offers courses, workshops or other educational opportunities. Geekdom, for example, offers members access to courses and educational resources related to things like coding.

Charitable Programs

Community involvement and philanthropy can also help some co-working spaces stand out. CO+HOOTS, for example, has a foundation that focuses on educational initiatives.

Co-living

If you want an experience that’s truly all-inclusive, you can even look into spaces that include co-living along with co-working. Even WeWork, one of the biggest names in co-working, is working on a co-living space for those who want to live where they work.

Image: Co+Hoots

This article, “What the Latest Co-Working Spaces Offer Freelancers” was first published on Small Business Trends

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