Tag Archives: small business

Life is Yours to Waste

20 under 40 headshot - 2013It seems about once a year, a great video shows up in my inbox and challenges me to STOP and take a moment to make sure my juevos are intact.

This video, called “This is Water” narrated by David Foster Wallace, reminded me that we all have a choice with how we perceive the world around us. The only variable is whether we have the guts to make the choice to be happy.

As a serial entrepreneur, I have learned a lot about myself and people in general over the years. The first thing I tell someone who’s interested in starting a business is DON’T! If that doesn’t deter them, I ask them WHY they want to start a business. The answers astound me sometimes.

“I want to open a sandwich shop,” a good friend said. My reply: “If you’re great at making sandwiches, then make sandwiches for your friends and family on a nice Saturday afternoon – don’t open a sandwich shop!” Owning a successful sandwich shop has VERY LITTLE to do with whether you make good sandwiches. You have to find a location, negotiate a lease, borrow money for equipment, hire and train staff (or work 18 hours per day), advertise, buy produce, deal with spoiled produce, deal with the health department, get a point of sale system…and you haven’t made a single sandwich yet!

There’s nothing wrong with working for someone else – some people get paid to taste ice cream all day! If in second grade someone asked what they wanted to be when they grow up, and the answer was “ice cream taster,” everyone would have laughed. Who got the last laugh?

My brother said it best to me, “Alex, the difference between you and most people is your capacity for pain.” It took me a minute to appreciate this compliment (at least I think it was a compliment), but he’s right. I thrive on multitasking, I love to build things. I enjoy putting ‘systems’ in place to grow a business. I not only LIKE the pain of running a business, I REQUIRE it to be happy. I know this about myself, and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Life is YOURS TO WASTE. Yes, you have a choice – and that choice should be based on what will give you joy in life, not on being afraid.

I’ve screwed up many times in my life, more than I care to admit, but even during those tough times, I took comfort in the fact that I tried my best and gave it hell. No regrets. I challenge you to do the same.

Top 5 Reasons to Choose a Business

20 under 40 headshot - 2013I’ve been a business owner my whole life. I owned one of the first web development firms in San Luis Obispo. I started what later became the second largest virtual tour company in the country. I sold that to what is now the second largest newspaper group in the country, and got a chance to try my hand at the newspaper business.

I grew an IT company from 15 employees to 40 in less than 2 years. And I’ve provided consulting to countless business owners over the years. Bottom line: I’ve seen a lot. People often ask me what key factors I look at when considering my involvement in a business, so here they are:

1) Risk vs. reward

What do I get for my sweat equity? Can I turn a little money – and a lot of hard work – into more money?

2) What’s the income potential?

Can this make me the kind of returns I want?

3) Recurring income

Do I have to fight for income each month, or do I build up recurring income the longer I work at it?

4) Am I excited to be a part of it?

I love technology, I love helping business owners. I want an excuse to NEED the new iPhone.

5) Freedom with my time

Do I have to open my doors each day at the same time? Can I take a vacation without the business falling apart?

How Mobile Marketing Can Help Your Business

You may have seen the statistics – one study claims that more than 80% of small businesses that invest in mobile marketing see increased business as a result – but how can you go about capturing some of those gains yourself?

Small Business Computing recently looked at a few companies that are engaged in mobile marketing to find out.

Ron’s Auto Repair Center of Ames, Iowa, uses Yodle, a service that helps small businesses with mobile-optimized websites, listings on Google, Yahoo and Bing maps, and paid-search services across multiple desktop and mobile outlets. The service doesn’t require much sophistication to use. Using a unique tracking number, Ron’s Auto Repair can tell where calls come from and see how many of them are a direct result of online and mobile marketing spending. The service has so far been worth about $9,000 in new sales a month, the business estimates.

Rok Bistro of Sunnyvale, Calif., uses FanMinder to send out marketing messages to all channels, including Twitter, email, texts and Facebook. Mobile coupons have turned out to be a good marketing tool for Rok Bistro. The coupons, which are trackable through FanMinder, allow the restaurant to see how many people click on the offer and redeem it at the restaurant. When a customer shows the server a coupon on his or her mobile device, the server simply clicks a button to redeem it.  In the restaurant, customers can also scan QR codes or send a text message to get an immediate discount and sign up for the Rok Bistro mailing list.

At a minimum, all businesses should have a mobile-optimized website, and make your website mobile-friendly by placing your location and contact information in a prominent place. Clarity, simplicity and speed matter most for mobile users, so make sure it’s clear what you do and how you can help customers. And monitor mentions of your business on Yelp and other sites that can influence consumers.

Adapted from Small Business Mobile Marketing Strategies That Work by Vangie Beal at Small Business Computing. Follow Small Business Computing on Twitter.

Mobile Is the Gateway to Small-Business Owners, SMBs

In March 2012, marketing agency Cargo and Inc. Magazine found the majority (52%) of US small-business owners felt companies did not market to them effectively. Along similar lines, 45% said companies made little effort to understand their business and 43% said B2B marketers did not understand their individual needs as small-business owners.

Attitudes of US Small-Business Owners Toward Companies/Brands Trying to Market to Them, March 2012 (% of respondents)

Part of the problem may be that the small-business audience is widely diverse. It comprises business and service owners in industries across consulting, retail, food service, agriculture, technology and more. And even at the industry level, small-business owners’ needs are highly individualized and easily reprioritized as owners juggle their marketing, operations, sales and financial responsibilities.

“When you look at the core needs and challenges that [small] business owners are facing, they’re time-starved, and they’re not the type of people sitting in a building behind a computer all day,” said American Express OPEN’s Scott Roen, vice president of digital marketing and innovation, in an April 2012 interview with eMarketer. “They’re out front, working with their customers and employees, so they’re inherently mobile in nature.”

Small-business owners’ proclivity for mobile devices such as laptops and smartphones could prove valuable for B2B marketers looking to connect with this audience. Inc. Magazine and Cargo found the vast majority (91%) of US small-business owners placed importance on wireless communications and smartphones for their business—a likely indicator of their vital daily use. Tablets were also important to 64% of respondents.

Technology that Is Important to Their Business According to US Small-Business Owners, March 2012 (% of respondents)

The importance of these devices for US small-business owners coincides with SMBs’ adoption of smartphones and tablets. In April 2012, Spiceworks, an online SMB IT solution provider and professional community, found that 96% of SMB IT professionals worldwide said their company purchased smartphones for their employees. Sixty-six percent said the same of tablets.

Mobile Devices that IT Professionals at SMBs Worldwide Say Their Companies Purchase for Employees, April 2012 (% of respondents)

Marketers looking to reach small-business owners on these mobile devices might consider starting with first adapting their mobile web presence for Apple OS-based devices: The vast majority of tablets purchased for employees were iPads (79%), followed by Android devices (39%). In addition, 64% said they bought the iPhone/iOS for employees, followed in popularity by Android smartphones (56%) and BlackBerrys (41%).

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How to Kick Start Your SMS Marketing Program: A Guide for Small-to-Mid-Sized Businesses

So you’ve got a healthy business, a good marketing plan, and you’re pretty sure you know which half is working. But you can’t shake that nagging voice in the back of your head: “I’m not doing SMS…”

SMS, or text messages, are typically read within 3 minutes of receipt, vs. 48 hours for emails.

Well the voice has a point. SMS is sometimes overlooked, but it remains one of the most powerful marketing techniques: just about every phone can accept text messages, and 90% of text messages are read within 3 minutes! (SinglePoint) Furthermore, US mobile customers prefer offers via text message to those via mobile Web, apps, and voice mail. (DMA UK)

SMS marketing doesn’t have to be difficult…so don’t get discouraged! Here are five steps to help you begin using SMS in your marketing today:

1. What do you want to accomplish? If you run a business, you probably want to drive sales (duh!). But consider that SMS is a much more personal medium than email or even social media to some extent. Think about how you can use the opportunity to grow long-term relationships, and harness the power of SMS beyond a one-off promotion or bulk alert.

2. Get a short code. A short code is a five or six digit number from which you can deliver messages, and consumers can message you back. There are two basic types: dedicated and shared. Dedicated codes are great for maintaining the most control over your brand messaging, but they are costly, so shared codes are often a good bet for small- to mid-sized businesses.

3. Build your opt-in list. SMS marketing is a fantastic tool for driving repeat business, so start by inviting your Facebook fans, Twitter followers, or in-store patrons to text a keyword to your short code to begin receiving offers and alerts. Get off on the right foot by offering an incentive to sign up. Remember, you can’t send anyone a text until they’ve opted in, and you must always give them an easy way to opt out. Check out the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA)’s best practices for more information.

4. Make it personal. These days, even friends have to be careful about mass texting for risk of appearing impersonal, and the same is true for marketers. While you still want to respect your audience’s anonymity, the content should be customized. For example, ask about a customer’s favorite dish or product in the sign-up form, then send a related offer.

5. Optimize. As with any marketing program, it’s important to test and compare. Are you sending most of your texts during the week? Try sending on the weekend and see how this affects response rates. Are some offers being redeemed more often than others? Move the underperformers out and test some new ones.

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Are Daily Deals Upping the Ante?

Daily deal juggernauts Groupon and LivingSocial have received some harsh criticism in the past year from angry business owners who have had nearly fatal experiences running daily deals, as well as from critics who feel the services do not promote loyalty among customers.

The daily deal scene blew up a couple years ago, with hundreds of Groupon imitators flooding the market. However, 1/3 of all daily deal sites shut down operations in 2011, finding that they simply don’t stand a chance amongst the sea of established competitors.

In response to the scoffs and sneers they have received, Groupon and LivingSocial have rolled out new programs to help establish loyalty and ensure customer retention.

Last October, Groupon launched Groupon Rewards to offer incentives for businesses’ most loyal subscribers. Now, the company is offering Groupon VIP to consumers in select markets—a paid loyalty program that gives shoppers a sneak peek at exclusive deals and the ability to request a refund for unused vouchers for $30 a month.

Similarly, Groupon’s rival LivingSocial also introduced Plus last November, where users pay $20 a month to receive access to closed deals. LivingSocial disclosed that it had a $558 million net loss in 2011, which could be a reason why it’s testing out the waters with a paid loyalty service.

The good news for these daily deal operators is that the numbers are looking up. According to a report from ForeSee, 44 percent of consumers who use daily deals return to the merchants that provide the offers and 47 percent plan to do so in the future.

The report suggests that daily deals may be on their way to becoming a service that brings in new business and inspires repeat business.

However, the question regarding the practicality of these paid loyalty programs is this:

If Groupon and LivingSocial save its best deals for its most loyal and paying customers, will that diminish the value of the “regular” deals? Is that a viable business strategy?

What do you think?

[Article first published as Are Daily Deals Upping the Ante? on Technorati].

The Lowdown on SMB Marketing


If you own a small business, you might be feeling a little overwhelmed by all the new emerging ways to connect to customers and promote the growth of your business. You may be wondering how you can leverage the power of mobile, social and online marketing to be successful.

I recently came across an infographic about small business marketing and discovered some facts:


27%     of small businesses have a current SEO plan

52%     plan to increase their SEO budget

40%     of marketers are using mobile marketing tactics

63%     of small businesses think social media is a good way to increase loyalty

27%     plan to increase their investment in social media


If your small business is looking to revamp its marketing strategy, consider the following suggestions:

Get Mobilized

In addition to optimizing your business’ website for mobile, there are several other marketing tools you can employ to make sure you reach those consumers who are always on-the-go.

With the economy still in recovery-mode, consumers are still searching for those deep discounts. Use mobile marketing to target those shoppers who are looking for affordable deals by sending coupons and loyalty rewards directly to their mobile devices, or creating a mobile call-to-action through a QR code. Mobile marketing has proven to promote loyalty among customers and encourage repeat visits, plus, what better way to reach consumers than on a device they’re carrying around with them all the time?

Be Socially Active

Social media can facilitate communication between businesses and their customers or clientele, but businesses need to be aware that simply creating a presence on social media sites is not enough. Businesses must be active on these sites, engaging with customers to get feedback, posting content that holds value for customers, and creating an identity for your brand that will make others want to engage with you.

Businesses should also be aware of social media analytic tools such as Google Alerts to find out what people are saying about your business and then join the conversation.



Another important element in a marketing plan is implementing an SEO plan. Looking for the elements that will get you to the top of a search is very important for a business’ online presence. A big part of SEO is being conscious of keywords—adding keywords to the hidden meta data (the code of information on the backend of your website that helps search engines recognize data) includes the keyword field, page titles, descriptions, site maps, and heading tags.

Links are also very important to a company’s online presence. If you have reputable websites link to your content, you’ll have good SEO. Adding a blog or posting videos, podcasts and other types of content are some other easy ways to optimize your business’ site for search.

New marketing tools don’t have to seem so foreign. Check out this infographic below that shows how small businesses are allocating their marketing budgets and using these tools to grow.

102,000 Cupcakes! Small Bakery Burned by Groupon

A British bakery owner loses at least $19,500 after creating a Groupon offer and being swamped with thousands of orders.

LONDON — A bakery owner was forced to make 102,000 cupcakes after being swamped by customers taking up her cut-price Groupon offer, according to reports Tuesday.

Rachel Brown offered a 75 percent discount on 12 cupcakes, which normally cost $40 (£26), the BBC reported.

However, Brown under-estimated the popularity of the deal and was unable to cope when 8,500 people signed up for the $10 (£6.50) bargain.

Brown’s Need a Cake bakery, which employs eight staff in Reading, U.K., had to bring in temporary workers through an employment agency to fulfil the orders, at a cost of $19,500 (£12,500) — wiping out her profits for the year.

She also lost between $2.90 (£2.50) and $4.70 (£3) on each batch she sold, the BBC reported.

“Without doubt, it was my worst ever business decision,” she told the BBC. “We had thousands of orders pouring in that really we hadn’t expected to have. A much larger company would have difficulty coping.”

Chicago-based Groupon sells Internet coupons for everything from spa treatments to cosmetic surgery.

Firms sign up in the hope of getting new repeat customers out of the initial deal or selling additional goods to shoppers during their first visit.

Groupon went public earlier this month at $20 a share, valuing the business at $13 billion.

Brown, who has run the business for 25 years, was quoted in the Daily Telegraph saying: “We take pride in making cakes of exceptional quality but I had to bring in agency staff on top of my usual staff, who had nowhere near the same skills. I was very worried about standards dropping and hated the thought of letting anybody down.

“My poor staff were having to slog away at all hours — one of them even came in at 3 a.m. because she couldn’t sleep for worry,” she told the newspaper. “We are still working to make up the lost money and will not be doing this again.”

Heather Dickinson, international communications director for Groupon, told the BBC there was no limit to the number of vouchers that could be sold.

“We approach each business with a tailored, individual approach based on the prior history of similar deals,” she said, adding the company had been in “constant contact” with Need a Cake.

She later told msnbc.com: “We work very closely with small businesses, but ultimately, they know their businesses best and what they’re able to handle.”

She added: “Need a Cake wanted to run a national deal with us, but we advised them to feature in a few cities so they wouldn’t overextend themselves.”

Original article

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