Tag Archives: Small Business Solutions

New Year + New Ideas + Fresh Perspective = Blogtastic Results

This year I am starting a new blog post each week called BlogN2010. This will be a place where business owners can find tips, tricks and tasty tidbits that can help make your company blog fresh, profitable and a “must-read”. Stay turned for more blogtstic ideas!

Keeping fresh ideas pouring out of your blog posts is a challenge many blog writers face (myself included). Yes it’s a type of writers blog, but often times, it’s more than that. I constantly find myself asking:

What will people want to read?

What is timely and a topic on everyone’s mind?

Do people really care?

Bottom line, if you’re a small business and you need some fresh ideas for your up-coming blog post this year, here are a few things to consider before posting your masterpiece.

3 Business Blog Post Brainstorm Igniters:

1) Become Dear Abby-Offer Tips, Tricks and Tangibles

Let’s face it, you’re in business for a reason, you know something that people will pay for and need. So that means there are millions of things you can provide including tricks and tangible information that can help your readers. Providing educational tidbits is one of the easiest ways to bring what you know about your industry to light.

What’s more, not only can you provide valuable information, you can also provide advice. Take for instance the top three things your clients constantly ask your opinion about on a weekly basis. By taking those common questions, you can offer valuable advice that educates your customers and helps them better understand the importance of the services you provide.

2) Extra! Extra! Read All About It! – Bring fresh industry news to your readers.

Offering your readers insight on your industry’s new innovations, changes and newsworthy updates shows your readers that you’re on top of it. Trust me when I say your customers don’t have time to monitor your industry and their industry, so you must be the watchdog for them. Not only does it keep you in front of your clients, it also offers them a chance to discover additional products and services they may want to purchase from you. Plus, it’s easy to do. Find two or three industry blogs that you can follow and subscribe to their RSS feed. You can also go to Google Alerts, key in your industry and Google will email you news articles, industry topics and research on our designated profession.

3) Yes, pay attention to the person behind the curtain- let your clients walk in your shoes.

I used to work in television. I can’t tell you the many times people asked me to take them behind-the-scenes so they could see how we went about  putting a newscast together. For some reason, people love to see what it is other people do. Humans are curious and when you peel back the curtain to show what happens behind closed doors or even how your team works in the field, they seem to hold you in high regard. Now I am not saying that working at the TV station won me a ton of dates or anything, but what it did do was help people understand what I did on a daily basis and generated a ton of respect. Two things all business owners want! This is a great place to start your blog.

If you’re new to blogging and you’re looking for additional inspiration, check out The Writer’s Block by Jason Rekulak. It’s a handy little book that really jump-starts the brain. You can also keep a folder on your desktop and place interesting articles your run across in it. Keep your eyes open, blog topics are all around us!

Happy blogging-

Sarah @ Dog-Eared Pages

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Filed under Advertising, Business Development, Small Business Solutions, Writing

Why Do I Need a Marketing Plan?

Blog-photoDEPEarlier this week a business associate asked me a very important question that I have been asked many times.

“Why do I need a Marketing Plan?”

At first I wanted to say, ummm, that’s kind of like asking me, “Why do I need wheels on my car?” To me, a marketing plan is just something you must have to make your business successfully work. It’s like putting on your shoes to go outside or placing toothpaste on your toothbrush … it is just something you do to complete the end goal, right?

Here are my Top Three Reasons You Need a Marketing Plan in Place.

  1. Your Road Map To Success. You wouldn’t begin a road trip to an unknown destination without at least looking at a map. Right? So think of your marketing and advertising journey in the same light. When you begin to plan your marketing tactics for the upcoming year (HINT: now is the time to start doing so, DEP can help.), begin with your end goal first. As you think about that goal, define where you want to be financially, how many qualified leads you plan to bring in each month/week and how much you plan to spend for the year to meet these goals.
  2. Target the Right Market. If you feel you were a little short this year in achieving your goals, reevaluating your marketing tactics, approach and execution are all good places to start. Many times I find my client’s aren’t “speaking” to their target market in a way that captures their attention and prompts them to act. Even more frequently, I see business owners lacking the understanding of who their target market is, much less talking to them. Every year I encourage clients to reevaluate their target market. Ask yourself the following questions: What do most of my clients have in common (i.e. all doctors, like to spend time with their kids, in a certain age group, spend X amount of hours on the road each week)? Where do they go to learn more about the products/services I offer? What is the number one thing they keep telling me is a positive aspect about my business?
  3. Set benchmarks for success. Just like a professional athlete sets personal achievement goals for their workouts each week, as a business owner, you too should be measuring your success and even your failures on a weekly basis. When you begin crafting your marketing plan, think about what goals you wish to achieve each week. Do you want to sell 25 new widgets a week? How many potential clients should you meet with each week to meet your sales goals? Have you charted where your referrals are coming from? Are you seeking more referrals from these sources? Bottom line, look for measurable items you can add to your weekly schedule and at the end of the week measure off to see your progress. I notice that for many business owners, this can be an eye-opening practice. For instance, I found that in my own business, I at one point was spending 10 hours a week working on my blog. While as a writer having a blog is important, it’s ROI (Return on Investment) wasn’t near worth the time I was taking. Think about what those things are that are taking time away from securing your sale.

As you craft your marketing plan or work with someone like Dog-Eared Pages to craft a marketing plan, be sure you remember the reasons why having a plan in place is so important. You might be shocked how it can change the way you do business. For more ideas on crafting stellar marketing plans, check out the following links.

Crafting Your Marketing Plan-from How Magazine

How To Create a Marketing Plan-from Entrepreneur Magazine


Happy Planning!

Sarah @ Dog-Eared Pages

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Doggie Bags and Better Customer Service

IMG_0151As most of you know, I love dogs. Hence the name of my business. But I must admit, there are days, when “picking up” after my dog gets a bit, well, let’s just say, less than glamorous. There are times when you head out for a walk with the best intentions and remember you forgot “the bag” . Or the times when you go to pick it up Fido’s do-do there’s a huge hole in the bag … okay you get the point.

So what do doggie bags (not the ones you get a restaurants) have to do with business?

Here’s what  got me thinking.

Last week I was walking the dog and of course I was tidying up after him when a lady came running out of her house as if her hair was on fire. Instantly, I thought that something was wrong, put the dog in a sit and stepped down on his leash, finishing with the “Stay” command. She walked up to me, extended her hand and said “thanks”. I was perplexed. She continued with, “I see you and your dog walking in front of my house all the time and you always pick up after him. I just wanted you to know, I appreciate that you help to keep the neighborhood clean. Have a great day and oh by the way I’m Catherine.” We continued on for about 5 more minutes. As I walked away, I felt really good. Not only did I meet a neighbor I had never even seen, but she was making a big deal over something I thought was just a polite thing to do. I mean seriously, who wants to go out in the morning to get the paper without shoes and … squish!

I bring this up because I wonder as business professionals, how many times do we sincerely thank our customers?

Did you forget your doggie bag?

Not having a bag to scoop bites! Not showing your clients you appreciate them really bites! If you don’t express your gratitude to your clients, do you think they’ve noticed?

Tips for when you forget to say thanks:

  1. Throw a client appreciation party
  2. Offer to take them out to lunch, without any business talk
  3. Pass them some referrals that will help their business grow
  4. Get them tickets to one of their favorite events (i.e. sports, theater, concerts, etc.)
  5. Send them value-added thanks (forward white papers, case studies or articles that could help support or generate new ideas for their business)

Does your doggie bag have a hole?

Often we have great intentions on staying in touch with our customers. However we may find ourselves forgetting to touch base with the client as often as we used to in the beginning of the relationship. We may get ourselves into a real “mess” if our customer service approach has a hole in it.

How can we do better? I am looking into following up with clients after a large project to make sure the experience was a good one by conducting a survey through Survey Monkey. Each time I work on a piece with a client or if I have been working with a long-term client for at least 6 months, I want to send them a survery. It’s an easy way to show you care about their success. How do you get them to fill it out? I hear gift cards to coffee shops and a copy of a business book are all good ways to motivate. And who doesn’t like to get “stuff”. Here’s an article on how one small business owner handles “staying in touch”.

Do you pack extra bags?

It happens to each of us. We forget a birthday or we don’t remember to honor a business’ anniversary. Opps! So wouldn’t you save yourself a ton of embarrassment if you had some extra “doggie bags” ready to go in case of emergency?

If this sounds like you, Send Out Cards is a great way to safety yourself! My friend, Lori Carter is a representative for them and does an outstanding job presenting new and innovative ways to connect with your client base. Her company, Send Out Cards gives you the ability to mail a greeting card from your desktop and even attach a gift if you choose.

So the next time you “head out” on your journey, make sure you bring “the bag”. Clients appreciate a follow-up call. Often, they have a lot going on too and it’s nice to know someone is out there who cares.

To better client service!

Sarah @ dog-eared pages

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Shine Up Your Performance

stagephoto A few weeks ago, I went to a Kris Kristofferson concert. Yes, I know, he sings country music. Yes, I know I was by far one of the youngest members in the audience. Yes, I know he used to sing with Johnny Cash (super big points with me), Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and a host of others. And yes, I get it that it doesn’t make sense that someone my age would even know who he is, unless maybe I caught a movie he was in, like The Last days of Frank and Jesse James  with Johnny Cash,  one lazy Saturday afternoon on TBS. Trust me, I’ve had a million questions posed to me each time I mention the concert. It’s cool. Why? Because I get to share with each person things they don’t know about this amazing performer. For instance that Kris is a fantastic writer and a Rhodes scholar!

Kris onstage at the Uptown

Kris onstage at the Uptown

 

 

So what does this have to do with business? Well, as Kris stepped into the spotlight, taking center stage, it reminded me of how as business owners, each of us takes the stage everyday. Whether you have a command performance or people start throwing objects onto the stage is up to you. 

How To Avoid Incoming Objects When Presenting Yourself

1) Focus on the needs of others

I can’t tell you the numerous times I hear clients tell me that their vendors just don’t listen. Often, vendors hop on stage with the “do I have a deal for you” script, rarely listening for the objections or grumblings of their audience. Here’s some food for thought, listen, your clients are in the trenches daily and can impart valuable information. Learn how to listen effectively with these tips.

2) Make Sure You Have A Dress Rehearsal

As I continued to watch Kris that night, I noticed an issue that I totally understood on a personal level, stage fright. Each time Kris would come to the ending of a song, he would just cut off, not even really finish on an ending chord and immediately turn his back, quickly say thank you and grab a drink of his Gatorade. I understood and felt the uncomfortable feeling I used to get at my piano and flute recitals. One thing I have learned from a dear acting coach, Brian Cutler of the Commercial Actor’s Studio is “the only way to make the uncomfortable, comfortable is to do the uncomfortable.”  So if you have a presentation to do whether it’s for new business, a creative concept pitch or even presenting yourself at an interview, be prepared! Rehearse the words you plan to say, questions you plan to ask and direction you plan to take.

3) Practice Makes Perfect

This goes hand-in-hand with the whole rehearsal aspect. If you don’t practice for future performances, how can you get better? Learn what you want to say very well, so that when you take the stage you can easily say what needs to be said, without all the ums, ahs, and multiple uncomfortable pauses. See some ideas on how to practice presenting.

4) Don’t Take A Bow Before the Encore

The final thing I noticed about Kris that tied into business performances was that he had to be coaxed to do 2, that’s right 2 encores. He meekness, was adorable, but it was also a good lesson. I immediately felt at ease. He wasn’t on stage because he only wanted to make money, he just loved making music. I am sure money was important, but it wasn’t the only thing that made him take the stage. How many times as business owners, employees or as a partner do we push our agenda before we really understand what will benefit the people we’re supposed to be, um, …. listening to during each interaction? Meekness is an admirable quality, and when combined with intelligence, experience and determination can be an unstoppable force. Step back next time you’re interacting with a client, co-worker, boss or spouse … what might follow next could be the solution that fills a need.

Are you ready to take center stage? What’s holding you back? Do clients ask you for a repeat performance? How can you strengthen you current presentation skills?

Drop me a line, I’d love to hear more about your experience.

Happy Peak Performance-

Sarah @ Dog-Eared Pages

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Filed under Advertising, Business Development, Job seeking, New Business Pitches, Small Business Solutions

Animals & Farmers = Concise Writing?

I have to admit as a writer I read a lot.  Well, quite frankly I write a lot too. But one of the books I remember quite well from high school was George Orwell’s, Animal Farm: A Fairy Story. Sure it had talking animals and who doesn’t like that, but I never could quite put my finger on why I liked it so well, until now.

Seems like George made up some rules for himself and stuck to them. Here are few rules that everyone can use in their daily interactions that involve, yes it’s true, writing. Check out George Orwell’s Rules for Writers. (Found on the  Daily Obsessional blog)Orwell's-RulesAs a business owner, creative professional, financial services provider or whatever it is you do, what rules do you have?

I’d love to know. Share it with us as no matter what field you’re in, you can always learn something from others!

Happy Rule Setting or Breaking-

Sarah @ Dog-Eared Pages

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Time Is Money

Recently I started reading a book that has been out forever. How I missed it, I’ll never know. But a friend of mine, Shawn Kinkade, highly recommended it, so I ran out to the bookstore and settled down to read something that has really transformed the way I am doing business.

picture-6

If you’re looking for a way to help keep on task, break your day into bite-sizes pieces and actually manage your time effectively, Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracy is a must.

First of all, it’s a quick, easy read. So for all of you out there that “put things off”, like I don’t know … reading … this book shatters that excuse. What’s more, Tracy discusses key concepts in why many small business owners struggle to “Eat that Frong” as he calls it. Besides the fact that you wear tons of hats, being a business owner is tiring, so the thought of actually sitting down to organize your day sounds absurd to say the least. Trust me I was with you before I read the book.

What I have discovered is that it actually takes more time to put off those big tasks we wish to avoid. So I ask what is the Frog that you constantly avoid swallowing on a daily basis? Could it be by making yourself take a huge bit of that task, you actually could be clearing your schedule, head and workspace of something that could generate a much larger return?

Here’s the most important thing I learned in this book. Instead of keeping all the tasks, goals and ideas you have as an entrepreneur in your mind, generate a list on paper. No matter what it is, write it down. Often, I would find myself keeping everything in my mind and feeling overwhelmed. Once I started writing it down, not only did I feel invigorated that I had let go of all the tasks, but now I had a way to visually cross off things. What’s more, I discovered that 80% of my time was spend on things that only generated 5-20% of successful return for my company.

All this said, no matter what business you are in, no matter what title you hold, managing your time is a cost effective way to increase business productivity. Plus, you’ll have a chance to clear the slate, start something new and actually create a plan that makes “cents”.

Go out and read Eat That Frog. I must admit it’s already done wonders for me both personally and professionally.

Happy Frog Swallowing!

Sarah @ Dog-Eared Pages

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Have You Referred Anyone Lately?

picture-21This week is an important week for small business owners. Well, every week really is, but this week is Referral Week and as each of us knows, sharing valuable contacts with your business associates, clients and co-workers is a fantastic way to generate business for others. Through out this week, many small- to medium-sized businesses are sharing their contacts with others in hopes of stimulating the business sector in a unique and profitable way.  With that said, there are several people I would highly recommend and hope through out this week, I can share those contacts with many of you. 

Want to get started? Check out this link to Referral Week. It only takes one referral to help your clients change the face of their business. Are you game?

 

Happy Referring-

Sarah @Dog-Eared Pages

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Filed under Advertising, Business Development, Marketing, marketing in a down economy, Small Business Solutions, Uncategorized

Are People Talking About You?

People are talking about your business … let’s hope!

Actors posed as Romans-chatting.

Actors posed as Romans-chatting.

No matter what size of business you may own, work at or even aspire to own one day, you can make a huge impact on your brand by incorporating day-to-day stories about your business. By using customer testimonials (see my website), you can instantly bring not only validity to your business, but the ability to showcase how your products or services are helping current customers. 

A little aside …. One thing to remember before you ever use a testimonial is to get your client’s approval in writing. Make sure to ask their permission to use their words in your marketing materials. Keep their approval, whether it’s an email or a signed version of their testimonial in a marketing testimonial file just in case you need to verify at some point. 

How do you gather a quality batch of testimonials that work? Here’s a few prompts to get you started.

  • Think back to recent client conversations. Did they mention how great the product or service you offer worked? Have the recommended you to others? Are they working on another project with you? If you answer yes to any of these questions, then make a call and see if they’d be willing to write a 1-2 sentence blurb about working with you. 
  • Make some calls. Look at your client list. Pick up the phone, call a few of your top clients. Inquire if they would be willing to write a recommendation on your behalf. Bonus: If you’re already a LinkedIn user, it’s easy to capture client testimonials. Not only are you able to look up your client when you need their email address, but their recommendation is also listed on your LinkedIn page and their LinkedIn page further validating your professional working relationship.
  • Take your client’s words and make them work in your marketing efforts. Once you have collected several solid client testimonials, it’s time to make them work for you. Create real-world stories that incorporate your customer’s words, along with how you helped solve a problem for them or how your business helps their business run better.  You only need to create a 2-3 sentence paragraph that can easily be posted on your website, business collateral, sales materials, brochures, print ad pieces, blog page or often your clients can become good supporting material for a business magazine that might be writing a feature about your business.

So what are you waiting for? Your client’s words are out there, ready to help you brand your business. Get started today by picking up the phone and making their words work for you.

Happy Testimonial Hunting-

Sarah @ Dog-Eared Pages

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Don’t Let Your Message Get Lost In An Inbox

 

Subject line

 

 

 

Many business owners are looking for ways to promote their businesses without spending lots of money on marketing tactics. One thing you can do is utilize the tools you already have at your fingertips and incorporate them effectively to get the word out to your clients.

That’s why I highly recommend, email marketing. But before you begin, repeat after me … it’s the subject line is what matters most. According to Jupiter Research, 35 percent of email users open messages because of what’s contained in the subject line. Jupiter Research also mention’s that,  including the company name in the subject line can increase open rates by up to 32 percent to 60 percent over a subject line without branding. 

So what are some key things to remember when writing a marketing email to your clients and prospects?

  1. Keep your subject line short. Just like Twitter and it’s 140 character limit, email subject lines also follow a character limit for success. Limit your character count to no more than 40 characters. I know what you’re thinking, but don’t even question it. If you look in your inbox right now, my guess is subject lines that are longer than 40 characters, quickly get passed over.So get to counting those letters.  Which leads me to the next point.
  2. Make your subject line attention-grabbing, eye-popping and timely. We have all done it. Created an email with the subject line that was boring. Looking through current emails that are in my inbox, examples include: Hello, February e-news, Need Help? and of course my favorite of all time, Good Day. If you really want to catch your customer’s attention and get them to actually open your email, you need to communicate directly and call out their name in a crowd. A crowd of emails that is.  Personalization: Speak directly to the reader. (i.e. James, need a new accountant?, Carol, have you tried Toasty O’s yet?)  Curiosity: Create an reason to read further … open that email! (i.e. Laura, is a blue car right for you?, A Hippo is your perfect pet )  Urgency: Now is the time to open the email as tomorrow may be too late. (i.e. Just three days left to tango, John; Ads Due Tomorrow, Discounts Today, Jim)
  3. Watch Your Wording: Avoid words without meaning or words considered as spam. You don’t want the words you use to work against you when you write a subject line. It’s a proven fact that even if your subject line isn’t considered spam, using certain words can affect your open rate negatively.  Don’t use the following words according to MailChimp’s 2007 study documented on Email Stat Center:

Help , Percentage Off and Reminder

And when it comes to SPAM … the following words should be avoided:

Free!
50% off!
Click Here
Call now!
Subscribe
Earn $
Discount!
Eliminate Debt
Double your income
You’re a Winner!
Reverses Aging
“Hidden”
Information you requested
“Stop” or “Stops”
Lose Weight

Multi level Marketing
Million Dollars
Opportunity
Compare
Removes
Collect
Amazing
Cash Bonus
Promise You
Credit
Loans
Satisfaction Guaranteed
Serious Cash
Search Engine Listings

 

It makes sense to spend some time thinking through those 40 characters before you send out your next marketing email. It’s more than just words, bottom line you want your customer’s to open the email from you. Take a look at your past efforts and make a commitment to think through future wording. It can make an impact on you business. Make sure it’s a positive one.

Here’s to superb subject lines,

Sarah @ Dog-Eared Pages

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Upping Your Web Presence (Web Posting Edition #1)

 

Shawn Kincade Presentation Oct-08

Shawn Kincade Presentation Oct-08

 

Last week I had the opportunity to join a group of business professionals interested in upping their web presence. Some were small business owners, while others were dealing with the red tape of big corporations.

As I am a firm believer in constantly updating your toolset, I was intrigued by what the business coach, Shawn Kincade, owner of Aspire Business Development had to tell us about marketing your business online. 

 Many of the participants wanted to learn about blogging. Some didn’t know what a blog was, while others just wanted their site to be more user-friendly. I wanted to continue to learn more about the ever evolving web arena and sat back thinking I would pick up a few helpful tips. I was wrong, I picked up a ton!!

Whether you know it or not, the world of marketing has changed. It seems that to keep up on all that changes one would need to stay up 24 hours a day just to get the latest feed on social network trends or how to get Google to recognize your website with a high page rank.

So now I have decided on one thing, I need to go to presentations like this even more.  That’s why instead of trying to keep up to date on all that is Web 2.0 on my own, I will attend at least one internet training session each month on the subject. What’s that mean to you? Well you can learn more each month in my new “Web Postings”. Shawn’s presentation is the first of many to come!

Shawn’s presentation was just what I needed. He offered business strategies that are already working. Things like:

  •  Having your website discuss one, clear benefit – Ask yourself: What is does my customer want to solve help solve their problem/need? 
  • Making your site interactive – Forget tons of words (yes I know painful to most writer’s ears) but Shawn’s right. No reader wants to read a thesis paper on your home page! Offer links, video and photos. Think as if you’re still 5-you want a picture book instead of the dictionary to read. Right?
  • Promoting yourself consistently– If you have multiple messages about yourself out there, your readers could get easily confused. So, if on your blog you call yourself the Web Wizard that Contorts Delightful Web Wizardry then say that everywhere, yes even on your home page and your business cards. Remember it’s like Nike’s “Just do it.” It creates a brand. 

And, if you really feel like you need some extra business coaching, Shawn is outstanding! Plus he’s just a interesting person to talk with about business development. Two thumbs up! Oh and if you would like to attend one of his presentations, there’s a rumor that he’s putting another one together in soon. Contact Shawn for more information.

Happy Web 2.0ing-

Sarah @ Dog-Eared Pages

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