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Getting Your Brand Network-Ready

September 19, 2012

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Whether you are headed to a mixer, trade show or other industry event, you need to make your time count.  Even if you are in the beginning stages of running your site or selling your wares, it is never too early to go out there and get the exposure you deserve.

Here is a short checklist of things to have on hand–

  • Business cards – though some people knock the pre-scored business cards that you can make at home, they serve the same purpose.  As long as you can use 3-4 lines to describe your brand or services offered and a way for people to reach you, then you have made a way for people to contact you
  • Elevator pitch – if you can tell people with confidence who you are and what you business is about in 30 seconds or less, then you can easily open many doors.  It may help to write it down or even record yourself saying this if you’re not much of a speaker or tend to get nervous when meeting new people.
  • Promotional Materials to Distribute – if you were not able to rent a booth or table, then you can still make the most of the event, even if you cannot conduct outright sales.  Make sure that what you have is functional, entertaining or informative.  If your funds are low, you can create an informative newsletter that contains your contact information and URL.  If you are a crafty person, look into your word processing or desktop publishing software for items such as bookmarks, postcards and other items with your logo and contact information.

Using the Right Communication

There are some common mistakes that new business owners tend to make when working these events.  Especially if they have invested in a booth or table, they are more likely to deliver a hard sales pitch to anyone that should look in their direction.

While there is nothing wrong with a strong sales technique, it won’t be effective if the following should happen –

  1. The customer is looking or moving away.  I’ve seen many people literally block someone just so that they can get their words across.  If these actions are evident to another person, do you think that this approach in inviting?  Maybe it means that the product or service is inferior and cannot sell itself so an aggressive sales pitch is necessary.  Don’t let this happen to you!
  2. Find out what the customer is looking for before making a suggestion.  Suggesting to customers outright what may work for them is not the best sales pitch. While you don’t want to spend too much time with small talk, use it to build up to finding out what their needs are.
  3. Walking up to a customer and forcing them to take something, without saying anything.  If things look slow, this is where you will have to work the room and create a level of engagement before simply handing them a business card or promotional item.  If they are in the middle of a conversation, wait until they are alone or ask if you can interrupt to give them a “special gift”.
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How NOT to Promote Your Site

September 17, 2012

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There may be no denying that what you have to offer the public is great.

Whether it is an online reminder service that is compatible with the latest in mobile technology, vegan bacon seasoning or something that will help organize your space that is also portable – not everyone cares.

Even if they need such a thing, the object of making target is proving relevancy. If you have articles online that stress how a person can de-clutter their lives and you use the keyword ‘organizer’ as anchor text that links to your line of home organizers, you are likely to get a sale. Or at least the viewer will bookmark you until payday, if your product is presented in a way that they can visualize how your product will help them (the right words).

However, using black hat techniques such as keyword stuffing will only gain a reprimand from major search engines. There are also a few other tactics that are either outdated or simply ineffective.

Using invisible text – this can be used to hide popular keywords that will be found in an engine search. By making the font colors the exact same color as the background, they are not visible to the viewer. The same goes for using extremely small text that may be used underneath an image or at the beginning of a blog post.

Using adult-themed keywords – if a site relates to dating or something similar, this is an individual call. However, if the dating site were to target intellectuals or other niche group, this could cause conflict. Another method is to use them in the Meta tags (which are also becoming a dinosaur as the Google algorithm gradually changes).

Using a free web site – many people today believe that they can be in the online business at no cost. Yes, a person can get a free website, shopping cart and even merchant space with no upfront costs. These are great choices for the hobbyist or person that wants to sell a few items. For the person looking to make some serious money, they need to make an investment.

There are many drawbacks to using a free site. Like anything else, they are not free. Many are loaded with advertisements and the nature of some of these ads can contradict that of the business. Paid domains and hosts are faster and more user-friendly as they may not have the patience to wait for all of the ad banners to load.

These can also be a hindrance when it comes to joining marketing campaigns. Some will outright tell applicants that they will not accept URLs that contain ‘BlogSpot’ or other free blog account. In some cases, converting over to a fully-owned domain costs less than $20 a year.

If you also keep in mind to stay true to your brand, then the traffic will come but not under false pretenses. When you think about all the different types of people that can use your services as well as how they are used, you can easily create several demographic groups to advertise to.

Finally, there is research involved when it comes to marketing, not just what a business owner may assume.  A good instance is those online services that promise to submit a site to several different search directories. In most cases, the directories may be brand new, irrelevant or just have a low page ranking. So it doesn’t matter if a site is submitted to 1000 of these. For one, they can submit to the main ones (Google, Yahoo and Bing) for free and target those related to their niche for stronger conversion numbers.

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Communicating Effectively with Content: Dealing with the Blocks and Bumps, Part III of III

September 14, 2012

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It’s been a long week.  You’ve put in hours getting your product ready for sale and possibly doing some offline marketing such as attending a mixer or other networking session.  And running a household may have been especially challenging at this time.  The weekend is here and now you’ve got online marketing duties to do.

You’ve procrastinated (for two or more weeks) and maybe the stats have changed – or maybe not but you’re too scared to take a look. 

The real truth is that you’re too tired or just don’t have anything to say.  It happens, right?  I mean really, you are NOT a machine that can be turned on and off.  So you let it slide with false hope that everything will be OK.  Losing money is not like losing one’s health, you see?

The above is what many new and veteran business owners tend to tell themselves – week after week- until three months have passed.  And then six.  One year and you pretty much have to start at the drawing board.

Why? Because marketing waits for no one.

Whether you need a vacation or have a family emergency, the process must continue in order to expect continuing sales.  If you need to take an extended break, then use the time to recharge.  Here are some ways to go about this.

Read books about your industry.  Note those unsung heroes and turn them into a blog post, try out new strategies or products that may have been inspired by something old. If you don’t have access to a library, try downloading whitepapers from experts in your industry or niche.  This can also generate leads either by association or you will find a new strategy to drive traffic.

Tighten your social media.  You can condense this by joining Hootsuite.  They have a free plan that lets you combine Twitter, Facebook and other social networks.  There are also software programs that let you design your own social media network.  You can customize features such as forums and other areas for your customers to communicate with one another. Over time, you can become the most popular vintage auto parts or peanut butter aficionado social network out there – or better, the only one!

Join forums related to your industry.  This doesn’t provide as many of the benefits as the first two mentioned.  However, you can lurk and get information about events and services that relate to your business.  The possible down side is that in order to promote, it would be in your best interest to ask the moderator or site owner if you can place link to your business.  Though many are set up for this and allow it in exchange for a back link or other marketing tool.  Others may be not or be slow in their response.  This is why setting up a profile on a social network is best.

Just remember that taking a break is common in the online business.  Only because products and services are for sale 24/7, it does not mean that we have to be awake during this time.

And taking a breather allows for better focus on business which will reflect in all of your online and offline communication.

 

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Communicating Effectively with Content: Be Your Own Simon Cowell, Part II of III

September 12, 2012

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Sometimes, the harshest critic is the best one.  When it comes to online marketing communication, every word must serve a purpose.  It can be the very thing that will drive your audience away.

If a person thinks in terms of search engine visibility, descriptive or informative, they can keep their sentences crisp and succinct.  Even you choose to add humor, it’s best to just land the joke and keep it moving.  Readers will leave a comment if they find it funny.  If not, don’t go back to the joke to re-tell it or remind people that you were only joking.

Keyword Stuff

Using keywords that pertain to your business is important.  By using keywords that will separate you from the competition will make it easier to be found on the first page or two.

By going back to the bakery in the previous chapter, Google Adwords recommends that ‘chocolate chip cookie’ will get a lot more hits than ’bacon cookie’ but since this companies’ cookies contain both ingredients, they can use both words as part of their keyword group.

When it comes to online marketing, this company may not want overuse terms like ‘cookie recipe’ which ranks very high.  Since they are in the business of selling the actual product instead of recipes, this could be misleading to the web user.

If using article marketing or blog posts as a way to generate traffic, it is best to stagger popular keywords as much as possible.  Using one or two in the first paragraph is recommended but adding to every paragraph is overkill.

Say It in as Few Words as Possible

Okay, time to put on a black tee and get your Brit accent going.  Or is it… time for you to put on your black t-shirt and speak in a British accent so that you will look and sound similar to a famous talent judge?

Many great blogs tend to go with the latter.  And despite their great content, their traffic numbers are low.  Though technical and scientific blogs are the obvious exception, wordiness can kill a brand easily.

Even in the case of a micro-niche, using short sentences are highly recommended (see Part I for the basic guide).

So once you’ve got your gear on, find ways to say it in fewer words.

Find New Words

You’ve probably seen conjunctions created as new slang or old colloquialisms that have been brought back from the graveyard and cause a slight ripple in pop culture.

While ’Aaaay’, ‘Kiss my grits’, ‘Fabulosity’, ‘That’s hot’ and many others hold a special place in the heart of those nostalgic, your catchphrase or preferred choice of words should be used sparingly.  Maybe once weekly in posts if not used for a particular campaign.

Though some cute phrases seem to never die as time passes, beware of when it comes time for retirement.

Making an Investment

If you’ve run out of words and not really up to hiring a contractor, then there are many writing tools you can buy or find online for your brand of marketing.  For a niche that involves food, getting a description list and thesaurus will help you to keep content fresh,

 

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Communicating Effectively with Content: Getting Started, Part I of III

September 10, 2012

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Say you have an eclectic bakery business that you want to build an online brand for.  Would you describe your bacon chocolate chip cookies as -?

a)      Great or yummy

b)      Exquisite

c)      A sweet, smoky delight that everyone should try at least once in their life

The first two may work as part of a tweet or summary excerpt.  However, when looking to get exposure through a blog post or other promotional material, you really want to take the reader there.  They can have yummy at the snack food section of their grocer.  What you have to offer is an indulgence that should only be shared with foodies like yourself.

Using words as visuals is a process that can take time to fully develop.  The great news is that there are many tools that will help with this whether a person is creating copy or a web summary that will get attention.

Summarize What You Really Have to Say

One common mistake that bloggers and others may make at some point is to start the first paragraph with a monologue about how they are feeling or other commentary.  When a blog post is found in an engine search, no one wants to see…

FREE STOCK INFORMATION WEBSITE

‘My wife lies to nag me.  Yesterday, it was the dog and now it’s something else.  Places where you can find free stock…’

TAX INFORMATION BLOG

‘Time away from the old battleaxe was simply incredible.  I wanted to call the clear blue waters home for the rest of my life but there’s the boss man, the other thorn on my side.  Here are some tax upda….’

Even if your current customer base can relate to having a spouse or a boss they may hate, if your business is about information, then you need to find a way to make your excerpts stand out from the competition.  Accomplish this by placing the most important information first.

Communicating with Your Audience

This is another area where some blogger could step up their game. Using jargon or terms that are not fitting of the demographic can cost readers.  The financial planner that works with clients that average $50,000 a year is going to have much different communication than the client base that makes more than six figures annually.  For one, the working-class group may want to hear terms broken down into everyday language and the more wealthy clients may just be interested in hearing about updates and new developments in the industry.

Getting the right words down can be an art form but one should be careful in using long sentences.  Studies show that web sentences that are 17 words or less have a greater chance of being read than one that is 29 words.  In technical and industry documents, this cannot always be helped.  However, the blog with light content or has the purpose to entertain may want to keep this is mind.

Also, short paragraphs that are made up of no more than three sentences are much better than long blocks of text.

Finally, if you add buttons, videos and other visuals on your site or blog, make sure that it does not overlap into text.  If you find that there is no medium between large and small (and the small is too small) images, try to adjust it manually.  By pasting the code, change the height and width (125×125 or 250×250 is best) and take for a test run before going live.

 

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Email Marketing: Making Target, Part III of III

September 7, 2012

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There is no shortcut for making target in your communications.  For instance, if you were a salesperson looking to sell wholesale dresses directly to stores, your approach in dealing with an upscale operation will be much different than a place that has clothing for less than $50.  By not following protocol (or decorum), this will not only result in a waste of time but money.

It’s the same with email marketing.  Treat each subscriber like gold and with respectful communication and you will not only get sales but referrals as well. When they sign on, ask if they want to receive communication with or without images.  This can make a huge difference as some servers will not make images visible.  You can also inquire as to how often they would like to receive emails (daily/weekly/monthly)

Once you have an area on your website that a potential subscriber can see, make sure that an opt-out option is included.  In other words, should they choose to no longer receive communication from you, they will be removed from your mailing list immediately.

If possible, you can include a comment option that may be helpful to you but do not follow with a number of messages about them leaving as they may just be retiring that particular email address and signing up under a new one.  (This is common as people leave jobs or change internet providers).

Building a Customer Base

So what if you want to step out and purchase an email list as a way to build traffic.  There are a few things wrong with this.

  1. Like the last sentence in the previous paragraph, email addresses may change often.
  2. There is no guarantee that there is even a genuine interest with those email owners.

As people will opt-out to receive emails, offers and other goodies from third-parties, there is no rule that says an email seller has to have a list that is tailored to your demographic.  While there are exceptions as there are some sellers that are reputable and update their lists often, this is something to take into consideration.

The best way to build a base is to create an interesting online brand as well as have products or services that are in demand.  If using methods like article marketing, social media or web directories, make sure that contact information is visible at all times.

Getting the Goods

With email marketing, the most effective ones are the ones that are sent based upon need.  By using a free program like Google Analytics or one through your host, you can separate your groups into three sections.

  • Those who buy often (Send these people the deep-discounted deals or an occasional freebie).
  • Those who have not purchased in a while (Thank them again for their purchase and make offers on similar products).
  • Those who have yet to purchase but visit your site often (Inform them as to what they may be missing out on and how their life can be improved with a certain product or service, which you will offer for half off until a specified date).

Should the last two not work, offer these groups a survey.  Those who complete it can receive a free item from your company as an incentive.

 

 

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Email Marketing: Getting Started, Part I of III

September 3, 2012

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One of the main things that new business owners tend to overlook is marketing.  In the virtual world, the concept is almost the same but easier and much less expensive than traditional methods.

Email marketing is one of the most effective marketing tools because of the quick response time (which can be less than 48 hours from launch).  This is much better than using a marketing service that takes the time to collect information, come up with a strategy and then waiting for weeks to see the true results.

So not only can email marketing cut out the middleman but it can allow a lot of flexibility in the promotion of the product or service that is being sold.

It also allows for targeting a particular demographic.  Say a business has a household product that may appeal to different age groups.  Though the next best step would be to determine how such product is used, this is not always the case.  If household product is used by young mothers as well as bachelors that have fewer than 2 children at home, the need may not be the same.  However, a business owner may find through their research that single fatherhood is a growing demographic.  So should they aim for the media that is aimed at young mothers where competition may be a little stiff?  Or take a big chance with the fathers using a popular male celebrity that happens to be a single father?

A big question for the business with a limited budget and without a team or outside personnel to help research this further, this could be a huge gamble instead of an investment.

With email marketing, different campaigns can be aimed at all target groups.  While the mothers may respond to a cute video ad that allows them to download a coupon is successful, a mobile campaign with the same coupon can be used for fathers with equal or better conversion.

Here are some other benefits of email marketing –

  1. Allows for cross-selling.
  2. Encourages customer feedback.
  3. Drives offline sales.

Communication is a key factor is having an effective email marketing strategy.  You may have noticed that most business have daily or weekly campaigns.  For the business that is finding their way, running ads either bi-weekly or monthly to start is a good idea in the beginning.  This will allow for seeing the conversion rate and tweaking weak areas.

When sending out emails, make sure these areas are covered before hitting ‘send’.

  1. Write an effective subject line.  Vague or abstract titles are sent to the trash bin.  By letting the customer know what the benefit is from go will most likely guarantee results.
  2. Offer an incentive.  This is not the place to rant but about what you have to offer that they will find beneficial.
  3. Create a sense of urgency.  By letting the customer know that there are limited supplies or that a discounted price will only last for a limited time, they will be more inclined to buy.

It also helps to customize messages by using their first name or mentioning past purchases.  This is where a good tracking system comes in handy as this saves a lot of time and money.

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Make Residuals While Building a Brand, Part III of III

August 31, 2012

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By now, you have gotten some ideas and hopefully are doing research into what methods of residual income are the most compatible with your brand as well as your budget.  These serve the dual purpose of bringing exposure and a little bit of “lazy” income so while it may be easy to register for a program; it would be in your better interest to read what is really involved first.

For example, there are online marketing companies that will match brands and enter a cross-promotion agreement.  Ads, landing pages, anchor text or all of the above are placed on a blog or website for a designated amount of time.  The purpose is to advertise to a new audience that may have use for the product or service.  While this seems simple enough, there are some marketing companies that will force a brand or blogger to accept any deals that pay.  Even if you need the money, this can be brand suicide.  Think about it, a large antique dolls campaign advertised on your vintage biker parts blog.  Now, there could be a connection as far as sales go but since visuals play a huge role in online marketing, why take the chance on losing new business?

Another factor to keep in mind in all of your transactions is that as of 2012, Google is king.  King of the search engines, king of content, king of the marketing campaigns – they are the leader of today.  So if you don’t have an account today, you may want to make this your first order of business.

  • Google Plus (+) can help you network with those in your area or industry.
  • Google Adsense will place relevant ads by your content, which you will be compensated for every click.
  • To get an effective Google Adwords campaign going takes a little knowledge in SEO or you can hire an experienced blogger to manage this.

Done right, it will pay off in exposure that your brand receives.  So get acquainted with Google as they are not some fly-by-night operation that will leave town (or the virtual world) when it comes time to collect on your payout.

As social media is steadily growing in popularity, there are many marketing and promotional campaigns for the person with many followers, or web traffic, can look into.  You can join some major campaign for popular brands.  Though some pay, there are others that may send over a free product, which is not a bad thing, especially if it’s a non-perishable item.

Once you get one method down, don’t be afraid to utilize others.  One mistake that online business owners tend to make is joining more programs than they can count and not benefiting from any of them.

Get an understanding of what is really involved before registering.  Like anything else, if it sounds too good to be true, this is most likely the case.  And if it doesn’t work (or pays very little) and you are following the directives, take time to learn more about search engine optimization, keyword density and HTML techniques.  Once you have this down, you should be able to maintain this with little thought and have a nice side income.

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Email Marketing: Getting Past the Rough Spots, Part II of III

August 31, 2012

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Running a virtual business is like running any other type of business.  You always have to be on top of things or you will lose money.  Though it’s common for new business owners to lose money in the first year, once weak spots are targeted, they can be reversed in little time.

Knowing how to measure what may be wrong is part of the bumps and bruises that come along from time to time.  Even those that are experienced and have made a nice profit still find themselves with challenges.

Not all business owners know how to use internet marketing and social media tools to their advantage.  Getting the basics down and applying personal experience is what makes a marketing plan successful though it can take some time to find the right tools.

The right communication is what will separate you from the novice e-commerce.  While there are chances for “do-over”, this is not something that you want to exhaust.

For example, say you signed up to receive updates on a product you saw advertised online.  One day, you open your email and read the subject line before opening.  Which of the two emails are you most likely to open from someone not named or has the first name of a business owner?

(a)    Hey…I’ve got a secret that you won’t believe.

(b)   Save up to 50% on [specified product] for the next 48 hours!

I’m sure you’ve received the first one in your spam mail at one point and trashed it right away, if you bothered to open it at all.  To me, it sounds creepy and may be a link to a computer virus.  Unless a business owner has a highly unusual name and that name is part of the business name, this is not recommended.  Finally, casual salutations are not the best way to go unless it’s part of the brand.

Now, by presenting an immediate benefit, there’s a much stronger chance on it being read.  Some companies, like Amazon, may refer to a product similar to your last purchase or something you may have browsed on their website.  Other e-merchants may use your first name in the subject line or in the body of the correspondence.

By separating your customers and prospects into groups based on past purchases or interests, this could drum up business.

What Do You Really Have to Say?

Email marketing is not limited to promoting a sale as it allows for very diverse content.  Some owners may create a short newsletter based on previous blog posts or excerpts from an e-book or whitepapers they may have for sale.  Another idea is to create handy tips or mention an industry event or matter.  And you can include a coupon or voucher that will allow them to save on their next purchase. Weekly or bi-weekly specials work best in this type of format.

This type of communication can also be used to gather information about your customers.  By using polls or asking survey questions, you can take this information and apply it to future products or marketing plans.

If you run out of ideas, you can create a content calendar and have every communication based on themes, such as the seasons or upcoming holidays.  Or hire a blogger for moments when you may experience writer’s block.

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Make Residuals While Building a Brand, Part II of III

August 29, 2012

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If you’re already into article marketing, chances are strong that you own the material that is published online.  Should your work be published on a place that owns the rights to your work, you may want to re-tool it by making it more keyword-rich, adding updated information or expanding the content.  As a safe measure, it may be best to employ all three methods so that you will not be flagged for plagiarism by the content company or anyone else.

The reason that ownership is so important is so that you can capitalize on your knowledge.  While you may have sent your works to numerous content companies that may or may not compensate, these will always be your babies to capitalize on.

If you have content, whether it is text, audio or video that you want to protect, visit the websites for the U.S. Copyright Office and Creative Commons.  These places can present options that will help to protect your mediums in both the online and offline worlds.  Although hiring an attorney can be expensive, you may want to look into small business development organizations in your area that offer workshops on intellectual property protection.  These are normally led by a legal expert, who can present some cost-effective ways to protect your brand from thieves.

Here are some ideas to create additional income –

Convert text to audio and/or video – With the use of Windows Movie Maker, free audio recording software called Audacity (that is downloadable) and basic publishing software, anyone can create unique mediums.  These can be used with a video sharing website that uses Google Adsense (pay per click/view) as a form of compensation or syndicate the audio on a revenue-generating site such as Podcast Alley, which offers many channels to choose from.

Publish an e-book – Should you choose to go this route, there is more to it than converting your office document drafts into PDF’s.  It’s recommended that you register the works as some e-publishing companies will offer something “free” in exchange for the rights to your work.  In order to get the most, you will want to oversee some things such as buying your ISBN barcodes (which is great if you have a series of books you want to publish), cover images and so on.  While this brings a great return, there is a bit of work involved.

Create a ‘zine – These don’t move like books for the simple facts that many people give these away either as a hobby or as a promotional tool.  However, there are ‘zine distros (or distributor or retailer) that will sell a hard copy of your newsletter or ‘zine for a small percentage of the final sale. These are a great way to build a cult following for those unique brands or products.  However, this should be a secondary or tertiary source of residual income.

Join an affiliate program – Some new online business owners have the need to join any program that will accept them.  If the product is something that may not be of interest to their demographic, this is a waste of time and web page space.  Even if the brand you seek requires that your site have a certain number of followers in order to join, it is best to wait things out.

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