Saturday, November 29, 2014

How To Have A Successful Grand Opening

A successful grand opening evokes excitement and curiosity. While grand openings can sometimes be on the first day that a location accepts customers, we recommend that grand openings are held within a couple weeks of the business opening its doors. Here are some great grand opening ideas to make sure you nail this important first step.
What are the Goals of the Grand Opening?
Creating Awareness, Buzz, Memorable Experiences, and Relationship Building

Goal 1: Create Awareness (What You Do and Where You Are Located)

The success of the grand opening should not be measured by just event attendance. A successful grand opening makes your potential customers aware of your business, even if they don’t attend the actual event.

By promoting a “Grand Opening” event in your initial marketing push, your ads should be more effective than they would be without the mention of the grand opening. Essentially, a grand opening gives you a way of standing out from the barrage of ads that potential customers experience every day.

Let’s use the example of a nail salon. Which of the following sounds better to you?
“Come to the Grand Opening of Patricia’s Nail Salon! This Saturday we are having an amazing 30% off sale on all manicures.”


“Come to Patricia’s Nail Salon! This Saturday we are having an amazing 30% off sale on all manicures.”

The advertisement highlighting the grand opening makes the sale sound special and like a limited time opportunity. Even if they don’t come to the grand opening, the advertisement, which includes the grand opening, will create more awareness of the business.

This leads to an important related point: Grand openings should be advertised and promoted. Without marketing support, grand openings are doomed to fail. All the marketing material should clearly say when the grand opening is happening, the business name, what services or products are sold, and where the business is located.

Goal 2: Create Excitement

A grand opening needs to be exciting. Does your town really need another nail salon or pizza parlor? The town doesn’t need another nail salon, if the services, decor, or options are similar to what’s already available. However, we always want a higher quality nail salon or better tasting pizza pie.
The possibility that your service could be better than what’s already out there is what creates excitement. It’s important to communicate this in your marketing. “Try Us, We are Better Because…we have two hundred shades of nail polish from which to select.”

However, the grand opening should have something special that will want to make people visit your store or establishment that day, or feel that they are missing something special. While getting people to come is important, getting them to ask their friends if they went is equally as important.

These grand opening ideas can create excitement:

  • Giveaways: “Every client that comes in gets a gift basket including…”
  • Demonstrations and Classes: “Our expert nail technician will show you how to…”
  • Celebrities: “Our event will be hosted by the star of…”
  • Food: For businesses that target adults, wine and cheese is always a big draw. (Be careful though, free alcohol can attract the wrong crowd.)
It doesn’t hurt to ask your target customers what they would like. Come up with three ideas and see how your target customers would like each of them.

Goal 3: Create a Memorable Positive Experience

A grand opening is a chance to create a strong first impression. However, a poor grand opening can create a negative image of business. One area where it can easily go wrong is crowd management. It is important to have a realistic downside and upside estimate of a potential crowd.

Too small of a crowd and a grand opening can seem like a flop. A party with only a handful of people can create a depressing mood. You want to take measures to ensure that the grand opening appears to have a good crowd, even if you only get a few potential customers arriving. You should talk to friends and relatives, before hand, about coming to the event. Also, ask employees to help out and ask them to bring their friends to visit during the grand opening.

Too big of a crowd results in potential customers receiving poor service or being inconvenienced. To prevent a big crowd from being a problem, you should have plans for the following:
  • Alternative Parking: You can send people to park there if your main lot is full.
  • Too Many People in Your Store: You can host part of the event outside or create space by removing displays.
  • Running Out of Inventory, Food, Etc.


Let’s continue with the example of the nail salon.

The salon decides to offer a big discount and gift bag to everyone that gets a manicure during the grand opening. However, there are only four nail technicians and a big crowd of women waiting. Instead of having people wait, they could offer the discount to anyone that books an appointment for a future date and give them the gift bag.

Another area where a business can falter during a grand opening is staffing. Will you be staffed properly for the event and will the staff be properly trained?

For your event, you might want to consider adding extra staff, including a greeter to welcome people to your business, and an extra manager to handle anything out of the ordinary, such as coordinating entertainment or handing out gift bags. As the owner, it is easy to get caught up in managing details of the event. But it’s more important for you to make a personal connection with your community and customers.

Doing a practice walk-thru of the event with your staff is a good idea. Responsibilities for the event might be different than normal and it gives you a chance to clearly define what each person should be doing.

Goal 4: Building Relationships

So far, we have discussed the event from the perspective of creating a great experience for customers. However, potential customers are not the only people that should be there. You may want to invite local press, community leaders, and local business people closely aligned with your venue.

Who should you invite to the event for relationship building?

Local Business People
What businesses surround your location? If you are located in a strip mall, what are the other companies that have storefronts in the mall? You want to personally invite the other business owners and store managers to the event. If you’re successful in bringing more traffic to the area, everyone benefits. The reverse is also true. This is a great way to get the relationships off to a good start and ask them for help in promoting the grand opening.

Strategic Business People
Who can refer your store business? In the example of the nail salon, I would think that people often get their hair or makeup done on the same day that they go to a nail salon. If these business people see that you are an exciting new business, they may be more willing to provide referrals.

The Press
Of course you want your event to be covered in local news media.
Local Politicians
Having a politician attend is only sometimes a good idea. For example, having a very formally dressed man come to a nail salon grand opening and give a speech might not create the right mood. However, if you have a female mayor or local city council member, an invitation would be a good idea.

How Much Should You Spend on Marketing Your Grand Opening?

I haven’t found many good resources on how to set a budget for a grand opening. However, I have been a marketer for many years and the following guidelines are based on my general experience.
Think about dedicating 20% of your store’s first year marketing budget towards the grand opening, with a minimum of $6,000.

Why 20%?

  • Frequency and repetition will help your advertisements get noticed. You want to have a big enough budget that your target customers will be exposed to your ads multiple times in a short-period (two weeks) prior to the grand opening.
  • Your dollars should go farther when marketing a grand opening because of the content of the ads. The “newness” of the business and special offers related to the grand opening should increase the responsiveness of potential customers.


Why only 20%?

  • You don’t want to spend so much on your grand opening that it significantly reduces your ability to advertise during the rest of the year. There is also a very real chance that your advertisements might not be effective. Before you know what messaging and advertising mediums work, it is very risky to spend a big chunk of one’s annual advertising budget.


Why should $6,000 be the minimum committed to marketing the grand opening event?

  • For $4,500, your business should be able to buy some advertising in two places. For example, ads in the local newspaper and one radio station. This is very close to the minimum amount that you will be able to spend on advertising to get some degree of frequency or exposure for your ads. This would leave $1,500 for expenses related to the event itself.


What should you do if you do if you don’t have $6,000 for a grand opening?

There are great low cost ways to promote a grand opening, which focus more on bringing in a crowd to the actual event than creating long-term community awareness of the business.

Grand Opening Flyers ($50 to $150 in labor costs)

If your business is located near a destination with a high degree of pedestrian traffic, like the downtown areasof a city or a mall, you might want to consider having a couple people hand out flyers. If you go this route, you should keep in mind that people handing out flyers are going to be seen as representatives of your business. The person should be wearing a company “uniform” and look presentable. In the case of the nail salon, you might want to hire young women and give them a great manicure to show-off to potential customers.

Sign Spinning ($180 to $220; $60 for the sign and $40 per hour for the spinner)

If your business is located near a major traffic area (pedestrian or car), you might want to employ a sign spinner. The risk of hiring a sign spinner is that their acrobatics are the center of attention and not the business. AArrow Sign Spinners has been providing businesses, large (like Ford) and small, with sign spinners for over a decade across the United States.

Direct Mail Postcard Campaign ($735 for printing and sending 1,500 postcards, plus labor for addressing and stamping)

This approach is particularly useful if you expect your customers to come from a specific geographic area. You can use the phone book to find addresses or your local chamber of commerce might be able to help you get your hands on a good list. We recommend using 123Print for design and printing. Their account executives are very helpful and informative.

Balloons, Banners, and Signs (under $100)

You can make your business look festive and attract attention. Where should you buy grand opening signs? Golden Openings has a nice selection of promotional items.

Example of a Grand Opening Event Budget for Your Business

Total Grand Opening Budget:20% of Annual Marketing Budget

Marketing Budget:75% of Grand Opening Budget
Local Broadcast TV
Direct Mail (eg postcards)

Event Budget:
25% of Grand Opening Budget
Extra Staff (include security)
Extra Parking

When should you have your grand opening?

Tap Into Existing Behavioral Patterns

When do people normally shop for your company’s product or service? What day of the week? Is it during the day or night? Changing the natural behavior of people is very difficult. If women like to have their nails done on Saturday and Sunday mornings, then the grand opening of Patricia’s Nail Salon should be during those times. If you don’t know the behavioral patterns, scope out a competitor and see when they are busy.

Be Aware of the Broader World

Are there any big cultural events (sporting events, religious celebrations, or school holidays) that might impact people’s ability to come to a grand opening. Not only check the calendar but ask your neighbors about their plans on potential dates.

Be Open for at Least Two Weeks

When you first open your doors for new business, there is bound to be some problems. Being open for a couple weeks will give a business some time to discover and fix issues before a big crowd arrives.

The Day Of The Event

If you’re expecting a big crowd that might overflow onto the street, or if you plan to have a sign spinner, you should probably contact city hall or the police department to see if you are going to need any permits. You wouldn’t want your event to be shut-down just as the crowd is gathering.

The Arrival

Who will be greeting visitors? What options or information should you be providing visitors when they arrive?

The Visit

Do you expect everyone to arrive at once or sporadically? Will you be having a main event? If so, do you want to provide reasons for them to get to your store early or stay after the main event? If you are having lots of little events or activities, how are you going to let people know about them

The Departure

Are you giving visitors parting gifts (for example: free t-shirts, key chain, or a gift bag)? Are you going to try to get visitors to join your mailing list or become a Facebook fan before they leave

What You Should Do After Your Grand Opening

Send Thank You Emails

Send thank you notes to everyone that attended the event. In the thank you note, you might ask them to provide a review on Yelp or Google +.

Publicize the Event

Post about the event on Facebook and other social media outlets. If you have pictures and videos post them.

Work the Press

Hopefully, you got a reporter from your newspaper or popular local blogger to come. Make sure they have pictures to run for the article or post.

Should Companies that Serve Other Businesses (B2B) have Grand Openings?

If it’s important that your customers know your physical address (for example: a print shop, where customers come in to place orders and make pick-ups), a grand opening is a good idea. However, the focus of a grand opening for a B2B business should be focused more on putting on a great networking event than a party. For example, getting the mayor and the president of the local chamber of commerce involved is a good idea. Often times, B2B grand openings have a ribbon cutting ceremony. Many chambers of commerce provide members with ribbons and scissors for these events at no cost.

More Ideas for Marketing and Promoting Your Grand Opening

Visit TheStoreStarters: This website has dozens of article and ideas for grand openings, including using online advertising and social media.
The Store Starters and several other places, like, recommend having a photographer and videographer at the event. This will add to the “big” celebration mood and give you material to post on Facebook and your store’s website.

GrandOpeningHelp recommends involving a local charity in your event. For example, Patricia’s Nail Salon, which markets to women, might help raise money and make a donation to a charity trying to eliminate breast cancer. Oversize checks always make great visuals for the press.

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Friday, November 28, 2014

Why Shopping Small Matters

Small businesses should show off their uniqueness all year—but especially on Small Business Saturday. November 29 marks the fifth year for this successful event, and all signs indicate continued growth. Originally conceived as a marketing campaign by American Express, Small Business Saturday has evolved into a mainstream holiday shopping event that complements Black Friday, which earned its name because large retailer sales went from operating on negative earnings (red) throughout the year to positive earnings (black) in a single day, and Cyber Monday, an earnings coup for online retailers with sales topping $2 billion last year.
Small Business Saturday is still relatively young, so the numbers are smaller, but increasing consumer awareness contributes to larger crowds every year. And small businesses are paying attention and taking action. It’s a win-win. Showcase how shopping local and shopping small makes a difference, and reap the benefits for holiday sales.

So what’s the best way for a small business to capitalize on Small Business Saturday? First and foremost, remember what makes your business special. Each business is unique, just like the neighborhoods they serve, and this is the time to highlight what makes each one exceptional. While large retailers rely on conventional marketing and offerings, small businesses can tailor products and services to the needs of their local communities—even the needs of individuals—and that’s the experience you want to shout from the rooftops.

Small business owners who already have this strategy down pat can move on to more tactical issues. Some questions to consider:
  • What percentage increase did you see during last year’s event?
  • Are you prepared for even higher sales?
  • Do you need more inventory or temporary sales people?
  • Do you have a plan to engage and retain new customers?

Most of this advice applies every day, not just Small Business Saturday. The difference is that American Express invests marketing dollars and resources toward getting the word out and driving customers toward small businesses for this event, and not having a strategy will undoubtedly mean lost revenue. So, don’t miss out on the opportunity to join forces with businesses like your own to raise awareness about why spending dollars on Main Street matters.

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Thursday, November 27, 2014

4 Secrets to Enriching Your Revenue Cycle for 2015


Billing and collections are the lifeblood of a profitable medical practice – no surprise there. In fact, a Practice Profitability report from CareCloud and QuantiaMD finds physicians most often target billing and collections processes to improve operational performance.

But what’s the best route toward more efficient revenue cycle management? We’ll look at multiple options to improve your revenue cycle, including:

Adopt Modern Practice Management Software

Efficient practice management software can save money and simplify the claims process. For one, completing and submitting claims electronically eliminates paper and delivery costs. What’s more, practice management software that automatically populates key fields and reviews claims in advance for errors can lead to faster payment and fewer follow-up tasks for your staff.

Collect Copays On the Spot

According to Nancy White, Associate Director of the American Physical Therapy Association, the chance of collecting a copay from a patient drops almost 20% as soon as a patient walks out of your office. Not only that, but your staff must then spend valuable time and money sending patient reminders and follow-up bills.
Here’s a tip: Instead of asking whether they’d like to pay today, ask patients how they want to pay. By not presenting the option of delayed payment, patients are more likely to pay immediately — and less likely to leave you empty-handed in the moment.

Outsource Revenue Cycle Management

Outsourcing medical billing functions to a capable third party can allow you to ease pressure on your internal staff and improve financial results. Instead of tasking your staff with filing claims and following up with payers on denials, a vendor can handle the majority of the paperwork and hassles for these critical revenue cycle steps.
Many practices simply don’t have the time to pursue payment for denials or are so busy that they don’t submit claims in a timely fashion, leading to lost revenue. However, outsourcing can help you avoid sacrificing revenue or slowing down cash flow due to limited resources.
Before outsourcing, though, research multiple companies to find the best solution. Don’t put your revenue cycle management in the hands of a company that doesn’t offer full transparency, earn your trust, and secure your payments in a timely fashion.

Hire Experienced Billers

If you decide to keep your billing processes in-house, keep in mind the median expected salary of a medical billing clerk in the U.S. is $34,683. Therefore, hiring two or more billers could cost you about $70,000 or more per year – and that’s only one function of practice management.
Also, keep in mind that inexperienced billers and collectors may need closer supervision, especially with major industry changes like ICD-10 on the horizon. These employees require significant training, requiring considerable investments of time and money on your part. In addition,
inexperienced billers are more prone to errors, resulting in costly claim resubmissions and possible underpayments over time.
There’s also the risk of a disruption in cash flow down the road if you don’t have the right staff in place during the switch to ICD-10.
Remember that efficient billing and collections can mean the difference between profitability and financial losses. So consider all of your options until you find the right solution to run your revenue cycle at peak efficiency.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

What Great Customer Service is All About

The concept of “great customer service” has become an industry in and of itself. Nordstroms, Zappos, and Southwest Airlines have all built their brands on providing great customer service.
There are hundreds of books and thousands of blog posts written on the subject. And, there are even companies that will train your organization on how to provide the best customer experience.
But, at the end of the day, customer service is based on good ol’ common sense.
It’s about being helpful and nice to your customers. It’s about solving their problems when they are frustrated and offering support before they even realize they need it.

It’s treating people the way that you would like to be treated.

Unfortunately, we’ve all experienced horrible customer service. Each and every one of us has a story about a rude agent or an incredibly unhelpful store clerk.

It seems like nowadays great customer service is an an anomaly or a vague afterthought. That’s why when we do experience that rare moment of great customer service, it stands out in our minds.
Just the other day, my mom had a wonderful customer experience.

Here’s her customer experience story

“I left my purse on the floor of United Flight 1190 when I arrived in Sarasota traveling from Chicago.

I tried calling multiple people in multiple departments. With each phone call, I ended up in automated phone hell or spoke to a person who connected me back to automated phone hell.

Simultaneously, I filed a lost article report, and the next day the airline sent me an email saying my lost article was found!! Hurray!! The notice said, “Pick up your article at the Sarasota Airport and use this tracking number.” I went to the Sarasota airport (several times) and they had no idea where the lost article was and had never seen a notice like this.

I filed another lost article report. I explained that I had been told my purse was found but when I went to Sarasota airport, no one knew anything about it. I the received several more automated messages that said my article was still lost and I would be informed if it were found.

I flew back to Chicago on United Flight 1286 on October 11.

During the flight, I connected with Madrick, a friendly and helpful flight attendant.
Even though there was no reason for a flight attendant to help me with this problem or even know about the procedures, I decided to talk to Madrick.

I showed Madrick the email that stated my lost article had been found and told her what had happened since.

Immediately she sprung into action saying, “I’m going to get to the bottom of this.”

She was the first person from United who cared. Then Annie, another flight attendant entered the scene. After reviewing my messages from the airlines, Annie personally walked to Customer Service and explained the situation to them. She ended up standing in line with me for over 20 minutes.
Finally, we spoke to a Novadane Miller, the United Customer Service representative (and these people deal with complaints all day).

She went the extra mile and made several phone calls. We found out that, YES, my purse was at Chicago O’Hare and being held in the lost and found.

Hats off to these wonderful, kind and caring people. I so appreciate that there are folks like them to help forgetful people like me!

By the way, today I received another automated message from United saying that they are still looking for my lost article.”

The takeaway

You aren’t going to learn how to provide exceptional customer service through a manual.

When you help your customers solve a problem, they won’t forget you. In fact, they’ll become your biggest fans telling everyone they know about their interactions with you.

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Small Businesses Report Pre-Holiday Sales & Optimism Are Up

As another holiday shopping season approaches, a new Manta small business study reveals that 67 percent of 1,268 respondents are already experiencing steady or improved sales. Optimism shines brightly with 71 percent of small businesses feeling positive about upcoming holiday sales. Small business owners in the South are the most optimistic in the nation when it comes to holiday sales this year (75 percent). However, the increase in sales and optimism hasn’t impacted holiday hiring, as 82 percent of those surveyed will not be hiring seasonal employees this year, which is consistent with last year’s findings.

PayPal Set to Surpass Visa/MasterCard as Biggest Supporter of Small Businesses

As more small business owners adopt payment technologies to alleviate cash flow issues, survey respondents ranked Visa/MasterCard as the top payment brand most supportive of small business (29 percent). PayPal (23 percent) and Square (16 percent) ranked second and third respectively, with American Express ranking fourth (5 percent). PayPal and Square’s prominent rankings could indicate a shift toward mobile payment brands is underway in the small business community, as together they represent 39 percent, indicating one or both brands could displace Visa/MasterCard in the coming years. Some reasons driving this shift are convenience and simplicity.

“I use Square because of the ease of use—even when I don’t remember my attachment, I can take down credit card information and complete a payment. Square also helps keep me organized,” said Manta community member Bridgett S. Joe, owner of S. Charles PR in Houston Texas.

Meanwhile, big brands, such as Google, Amazon and Apple all have a long way to go to win the loyalty of small business owners. While Apple may be a consumer darling, only 1 percent of respondents feel Apple is supportive of small businesses; this is something that may change with its new Apple Pay offering.

Small Business Generosity Takes on the Grinch

The holiday season is traditionally a time for giving, and small business owners are extremely generous. Manta’s study revealed that 74 percent of respondents plan to give to charity this holiday season. Women are more philanthropic (86 percent) than men (80 percent). Millennials are the most philanthropic as 89 percent plan to give to charity, more than any other generation. And finally, the Midwest is the most philanthropic region of the U.S., where 79 percent of those surveyed plan to give back.

Holiday Business Gifts for Entrepreneurs That Will Keep on Giving

When asked what they’d most like to receive for their business for the holidays, Manta’s small business community identified five main categories of gifts. In order of popularity, they are: business equipment, money (loans or cash), more business/new clients, marketing and advertising and more/better employees. Across these categories, the top ten holiday wish list items for small businesses are:
  1. New computer
  2. Ad space/free advertising
  3. Access to a social media guru
  4. New clients or customers
  5. Money or a gift certificate that can be used for business purposes
  6. Branding advice
  7. An introduction to new employees
  8. Smartphone
  9. Tablet
  10. SEO advice

But not all the holiday wish list items were serious. A handful of Manta’s survey respondents were more creative with their requests and asked for things such as a mind-reading employee or a clone of themselves to get more work done.

“The latest Manta survey indicates small businesses are expecting increased sales for the upcoming holiday season,” said Manta CEO John Swanciger. “The resilient small business optimism we’ve seen the past few years is finally backed up by real growth prospects. This is great news for all of us since small business trends are indicative of the health of the economy as a whole.”


Holiday Tips and Strategies for Small Business

Manta understands that many small businesses rely on the holiday shopping rush to close their year on a high note. Here are a few tips that are easy to implement and can help increase holiday sales success:

Know Your Customer: Effective marketing begins with knowing and understanding your best customer. From merchandise to promotions, think about what will appeal to your target audience.
Deliver Great Customer Service: As a smaller shop, capitalize on great customer service. You have the ability to provide unique and tailored services for your customers unlike big businesses. Leverage your relationships with your loyal customers and amplify your customer service to draw in new ones.
Give and Grow: Giving back during the holidays not only spreads holiday cheer to others in need, but it can be good for your business, too. Your customers will appreciate that you give back, and a toy or coat drive at your store might be a great additional avenue to get your customers to engage with your business.

About the Manta 2014 Holiday Survey

Manta polled 1,268 small business owners between October 1, 2014 – October 7, 2014 via an online survey, who are members of and have claimed their Manta business profile. The margin of error is +/- 2.8 percentage points. For more on the Holiday Wellness Index, please contact manta (at) highwirepr (dot) com.

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Not All Fun and Games: Social Media Policies

At this point, it’s unthinkable that any small business would not have a social media presence. Heck, even the CIA opened a Twitter account. Done right, social media connects people to your business, building brand awareness and forging loyalty. But when social media efforts go awry, the consequences can run the gamut from mild—such as turning a business into a (however temporary) laughingstock—to extreme, like forcing it to shut down altogether because the damage done was so severe.
According to Laurie Hurley, CEO and founder of The Social Networking Navigator, a social media marketing agency, this is why every small business owner should create a cohesive social media policy, one that sets boundaries for who can do what and when.

“This can be different for every company or brand,” Hurley explained. “For example, an athletic brand may allow employees to post their weekend activities—wearing the company t-shirts or logos of course—to the company’s social media sites. However, a medical facility, such as a dentist’s office, should designate a team or manager that does all the posting due to privacy issues.”
Hurley believes it’s best to put specific people in charge of the company’s social media, making them responsible for what gets posted online (or, if the company uses an agency, have them handle all the posting). At the same time, small business owners also need to consider establishing guidelines and policies for what employees can post on their personal social media about the business even when not at work—a strategy more companies are taking, in an effort to maintain control over their reputation and image.

Think this sounds too extreme and intrusive? Worried that it will cause employees to revolt? Let’s consider just the two businesses Hurley mentioned; an athletic brand and a dentist’s office. What if an employee of an athletic-wear brand tweeted something derogatory about the company’s new ‘lame’ logo, or flamed a coworker on Facebook? What if he posted photos of his questionable off-work behavior (while wearing the company t-shirt, clearly seen) on Instagram? Or, what if the receptionist at the dental office complained about a patient on her social media? Even if she didn’t mention the patient’s name, the impression she’s creating is highly unprofessional, giving those who read her postings the idea that patients risk being ridiculed and talked about.

Consequently, establishing a comprehensive social media policy is just a best practice for almost any kind of small business. Although this policy—which can be wrapped up into a company’s cybersecurity policy—will vary depending on the type of business, broadly speaking it should at least:
  • State the policy’s purpose. For example, defining the appropriate behavior for employees as it pertains to use of the company’s social media, as well as their personal social media in relation to the business.
  • Define who is authorized to handle the company’s social media, the social media format deployed, what is appropriate to post on social media and/or the Internet, and the process for verifying appropriateness. It should also address the issue of employees’ use of personal social media/Internet with respect to the company. For example, some companies forbid employees to involve the business in controversial issues or post disparaging remarks about customers/clients or the company and its employees.
  • Establish who is responsible for responding to customer postings (e.g., complaints, comments and compliments), as well as defining how responses are handled, including timeframe for responding. This is especially critical in the case of complaints, which should be addressed respectfully and as immediately as possible. But in all cases, it’s an established best practice that customer feedback be quickly acknowledged.
“Setting boundaries and educating employees about those boundaries is important,” added Hurley. “It’s a good idea to think of this as reputation management. In this day and age, the online world never stops."

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Let's Talk Federal Regulations

Red tape can be a nightmare, right? But it may be scarier to see how regulations are made.
That’s my view after taking part in the SBE Council’s first Regulatory Accountability Day and visiting federal regulators and their staff. The group was led by Karen Kerrigan, President and CEO of the SBE Council, and included Brian Moran, Victoria Braden, Todd Flemming, and me. For two days, we visited the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Health and Human Services (HHS), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), among others.

Here is what I learned:
  • There are a lot of federal employees involved in the regulatory process.
  • All of those we met with seemed highly knowledgeable and hardworking.
  • The pace of regulatory process is slow, and depends in part on political winds.
  • The input from small business is genuinely valued.
  • Showing up matters. Regulators may not understand the impact of their proposed rules, and putting a face on the potential impact is critical.
  • Small business owners need to directly engage in this “shift in power”—from Congress to the regulatory agencies.

message to small business owners:
Stay abreast of regulatory developments that may impact your business. Note proposed regulations and the period during which you can submit comments. Submit your comments; the agencies proposing the regulations are required to read each and every one them and actually do so (there have been about 4 million comments submitted to the FCC regarding the net neutrality proposals and have read about 3 million to date). Make your comments constructive by specifying ways in which the proposed regulations can be improved, and how they directly impact your business.
One resource to keep up-to-date on regulatory matters is the SBA’s Office of Advocacy’s email communications, including its bimonthly eNewsletter. Subscribe here.
Find out more about the SBE Council’s regulatory visits here.

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Social Media at Your Speed

As essential as it is to success, relationship building and promoting awareness of your brand and business through social media can seem a frustrating, time-consuming and overwhelming endeavor for many small business owners, especially those just starting out. Even though you’re likely adept at your personal use of social media, like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, utilizing these formats for business purposes is an entirely different animal. But it’s not as daunting at it seems. By exercising restraint, resisting temptation and creating compelling content, you can get a handle on your social media outreach, increasing its effectiveness and impact.
The first step? Don’t assume you must have a presence on every form of social media. Instead, take a restrained approach, since not everyone is going to be your ideal customer or client, said Laurie Hurley, CEO and founder of The Social Networking Navigator, a social media marketing agency that provides services to individuals, entrepreneurs and small- to medium-sized businesses.

Rather than aiming far and wide and blasting out any old message, narrow it down, define your target audience and focus on what’s relevant to them, said Hurley. This knowledge will help you determine what social media they’re spending their time on, and honing your outreach and your communication. So think—where would you go if you were your customer and what would be important to you?
“For example, a retail store will probably have followers who live on Pinterest and Instagram and rarely look at LinkedIn,” Hurley explained. “So that store should have a huge presence there, mostly because of the visual aspects of those two mediums.” For other businesses, such as startups looking for strategic partners or freelancers, LinkedIn will likely make more sense than these formats or Facebook, she added.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, resist the temptation to use social media as a sales tool, cautioned Hurley. “Social media is meant to be social, to educate, inform and entertain. Start a conversation, engage your audience, but don’t sell.”

Instead, Hurley suggests that all social media efforts should lead back to your website. “This is usually the sales hub; where the landing pages are, the details of product and service offerings and the place where customers will buy.”

Drawing in your audience and hooking them through compelling content that encourages participation and exploration is the strategy to pursue. Some options Hurley mentioned that might work for your small business include:
  • Asking for opinions, taking a poll, or conducting a survey.
  • Posting images and giving your audience the opportunity to caption them.
  • Posting items, messages, and so on that reflect the personality and brand of your company.
  • Introducing your employees by providing a bit of information about them, so visitors feel a sense of connection.
  • Celebrating events important to your business, such as an anniversary or the launch of a new product, etc. Offer visitors something special in honor of the occasion.
  • Calling attention to any community activities or special events your business participates in. This gives folks a sense of your company’s values.

“Having the mindset that the more you give online, the more attractive you will become, is a good place to begin,” noted Hurley. “It’s not all about you; it’s about them, the audience. Solve their problems and predicaments. Actively listen and offer the best freebies you can. Being focused on serving others will result in people coming back for more and engaging with the brand, not to mention being loyal and buying when the time is right.”

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