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Business Embrace Wearable Technology

With the advent of smartwatches and Fitbits, wearable technology has jumped from the pages of science fiction novels into the real world. This versatile category of technology can be used in a vast number of ways, especially in the workplace.

Whether it’s monitoring employee safety, helping to boost productivity, or encouraging healthier lifestyles to reduce health care costs, wearables offer great promise for today’s workers. So, of course, businesses are clamoring to find ways to incorporate wearables into their daily operations.

Wearables are far from ubiquitous in the workplace just yet. While the technology has developed quickly, businesses remain hesitant to integrate them into their everyday operations.

“It really is very early in the game; we haven’t seen widespread adoption yet, but expect to see more,” said Kirstin Simonson, cyberlead for Travelers Global Technology. “People are struggling to determine what their [return on investment] is going to be.”

Many smaller businesses, in particular, opt to focus on stronger network security, the internet of things, and other technological advancements first, she said, so wearables may fall to the wayside. Still, the wearables industry is growing quickly. According to a report on wearables from the International Data Corp. (IDC), shipments of wearable devices are projected to increase to 101.9 million by the end of 2016, a 29 percent rate of growth over 2015. Moreover, IDC anticipates as many as 213.6 million units shipped by 2020.

“Unlike the smartphone, which consolidated multiple technologies into one device, the wearables market is a collection of disparate devices,” Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst for IDC Mobile Device Trackers, said. “Watches and bands are and always will be popular, but the market will clearly benefit from the emergence of additional form factors, like clothing and eyewear, that will deliver new capabilities and experiences.”

Here are just a few ways businesses are already using wearables, as well as what the future might hold for these devices.

One of the top reasons cited in favor of adopting wearable tech is its ability to streamline normal business operations and improve a company’s productivity. Whether it’s a pair of smart glasses that help guide a warehouse employee along the most efficient route or sensors that help employees more quickly reference needed information to complete a task, wearables allow businesses to improve efficiency in task management.

“Long gone are the days of … time wasted sifting through emails for info or searching out team members for communication,” Franklin Valadares, CTO and co-founder of Runrun.it, said. “Businesses have all of this information and communication through the wearable technology. Employees are able to alert their managers or teams when they have started or stopped [a task], attached files, etc., thus increasing the communication lines and overall productivity of business today.”

By monitoring employee activity or helping to guide workers through potentially dangerous tasks, wearables help empower employers and managers to prevent workplace accidents before they happen. Not only does that save the employee a world of hurt, but it also saves the company time and money.

“[Wearables can] help workers be safer, for example, either around chemicals, lifting something, or climbing towers,” Simonson said. “They’re able to monitor how your body is reacting to these conditions and determine whether or not you might need to do something differently.”

Many companies are offering employees fitness trackers, coupled with incentive programs, to encourage healthier lifestyles both in and out of the workplace. Healthier employees are often more productive and less frequently absent, and can save their employers on health care costs. Fitbit offers one such corporate wellness program to partner with companies trying to promote employee well-being.

“Everything starts with the data. Data not only provides key insights into an individual’s health and helps drive behavior changes that lead to better health outcomes, but, at a macro level, it can also provide much larger trends about population health,” Amy McDonough, vice president and general manager of Fitbit Group Health, said.   The advent of wearable devices has revolutionized our ability to collect and track health data on a much larger scale.”

Wearable tech is also changing how consumers interact with businesses. Businesses are exploring wearables in the form of targeted advertising and simplified payment services through the use of “near-field communication” (NFC) chips.

“I might walk into a store and the wearable device I have goes that step further to bring some kind of [augmented reality advertisement] into focus,” Simonson said, using an ad for bedsheets as an example.

With the addition of an NFC chip, which could be worn on a wristband or even embedded under the skin, customers can transmit data needed for payment, such as credit card info, directly to the store’s point-of-sale system.

“Consumers are excited about things that can make the world more engaging for them, and they’re more prone to early adoption than small businesses are,” Simonson said. “Those people are walking into these stores, so how will that drive businesses to adopt?”

Wearable tech is not without its drawbacks, however. As the market grows, many are troubled by the implications wearables hold for network security. Filip Chytry, a threat intelligence researcher for Avast! Software, said the security risks surrounding wearable devices are many, especially if their connection to a company’s network is improperly configured.

“Most wearables have a lack of encryption, so if it’s communicating with a cellphone or local network, it’s not using the strongest encryption possible; some are using none,” Chytry said. “It’s really easy to intercept the data.”

That means hackers could potentially infiltrate a business’s network and usurp sensitive documents or even audio and video recorded by smart glasses. The same goes for NFC chips, he said, because although they are designed to only communicate at a short distance, a savvy hacker can find ways around that and abscond with highly sensitive information.

As if those doomsday scenarios weren’t frightening enough, even those devices that are encrypted remain difficult to secure, according to Chytry.

“It’s really hard to update the software for most wearables,” he said. “Theoretically, you have a big variety of devices and each is different, so it’s really hard to protect the entire ecosystem.”

 So, what’s the solution? Chytry advised employers who want to embrace wearables to create BYOD (bring your own device) policies that only allow access in certain places for certain devices.

“For example, with the glasses … create a separate channel outside of the company network so nobody will have access to local servers and the local devices [if they are hacked]. Create separate policies and rules for each of the devices,” he said.

Simonson echoed Chytry’s concerns. Isolating wearable devices within separate parts of the network is imperative, she said.

“From a network perspective you need to make decisions about what the device needs to be connected to and what it doesn’t need to be connected to, and then separating one from the other,” Simonson said. “It’s not as simple as just hooking it up to internet. What does it need to talk to, why does it need to talk to that, how do you manage access? It’s the same conversation you need to have regarding anything else.”

If you can maintain proper control over your network, wearables have the power to dramatically change your business operations for the better. The technology continues to evolve and more businesses are adopting wearables, so learning to manage the risks today will give you a leg up on the competition tomorrow.

 

Mobile Marketing Solutions

Mobile marketing lets businesses get in front of customers on the devices they use the most: their smartphones and tablets. From text messages to push notifications, mobile check-ins, emails and even social media, mobile marketing can help you boost sales by sending coupons, special discounts, announcements and other promotions to highly targeted customers. By reaching out to customers on devices that they take everywhere they go, mobile marketing can work wonders on in-person walk-ins and online shoppers. To help you get started, here are 11 mobile marketing solutions for small business.

Yelp is more than just a reviews site and go-to app for finding local businesses and deciding where to eat. It’s also a great place to incentivize customers via the Yelp mobile app. For instance, a restaurant can offer free drinks or appetizers, and a medical clinic can offer special discounts on select treatments — all customers have to do is check-in from their phones. The Yelp app also makes it easier for customers to contact you using call-to-action buttons, such the ability to call your business, visit your website or place a mobile order with just one tap. Yelp also lets you create and publish local ads, making it easier for nearby customers to discover your business while searching for ones just like yours. For more information on how to use Yelp for business check out our primer,Yelp: A Small Business Guide.

The easiest way to reach customers on their mobile phones is by texting them. Mozeo aims to make texting customers a breeze with its easy to use dashboard and text messaging management system. To connect with your business and agree to receive communication, all customers have to do is text a keyword followed by a unique short code. For instance, Denny’s restaurants had customers text the word “Dennys” to 24587 to receive special deals, and Heineken used the word “USOPEN” to run a national text-2-win contest. In addition to deals and contests, Mozeo can also be used to send text notifications, reminders, verification codes and account alerts (such as when a password has been changed), as well as hold two-way conversations to provide customer support.

Another popular form of mobile marketing is using mobile devices to find out more information about a product simply by scanning a bar code or quick-response (QR) code. ScanLife’s Mobile Engagement Platform goes the extra mile by letting customers scan everything from UPC and QR codes to NFC, images, print ads and even actual objects. After scanning, customers are taken directly to websites, videos and other interactive sources. Such technology was once only available to large companies with generous marketing budgets, but ScanLife gives small businesses access to the same high-tech consumer mobile engagement solution on a small business budget.

Figuring out marketing budgets and gauging returns on investment (ROI) can be challenging for small businesses, particularly when it comes to mobile marketing. Convertro eliminates the guesswork by delivering key insights into mobile ad performance, allowing small business owners to make well-informed mobile marketing decisions. This platform can track all mobile elements on the path to purchase by creating customer profiles, no matter what devices they use to engage with your business. For example, if a prospective customer sees a mobile ad on his or her tablet, sees an ad for the same product on her smartphone two days later and then finally makes the purchase on his or her laptop, Convertro’s cross-device attribution technology accurately determines the impact of the mobile activities toward the final purchase. If small business owners have this information, they can make data-driven decisions on how to shift their ad spending toward the most efficient and profitable channels with the greatest ROI.

Sometimes, what small business owners need is a comprehensive mobile marketing solution. SUMOTEXT is a mobile relationship management platform that offers a wide range of mobile marketing solutions. These include mobile coupons, mobile loyalty programs, mobile wallets, mobile alerts and mobile giving (for donations). SUMOTEXT offers four flexible service options based on your business’s needs: self-service for do-it-yourself campaigns; managed services, including dedicated training, execution and support; hybrid services that combine an account manager and in-house execution; and API for advanced users.

Mobile marketing is all about sending texts and alerts at the right time and place. Thumbvista, a mobile marketing company that specializes in geofencing and location-based messaging, can help. After customers opt in to receive text messages, Thumbvista lets businesses collect specific demographic information and use it as filters to better target consumers — for instance, by gender, age and location. Then, Thumbvista’s geofencing technology lets users set up a “geofence” around the target perimeter — using buildings, blocks, miles and other locations — to trigger where, when and to which customers alerts and text messages should be sent. By letting small businesses tailor their mobile marketing campaigns, Thumbvista lets them create more effective and relevant messages while providing ultimate control over marketing spends and ROI.

The beauty of mobile marketing is that customers can also do the work for you. Foursquare, a mobile app that connects people to businesses, engages customers by allowing them to check in, recommend and create conversations about local businesses they visit. Categories include food and coffee, shopping, the arts, nightlife, outdoor activities and more. The app also connects to Facebook for an even wider net of potential and repeat customers. Foursquare has more than 45 million users and 1.5 million registered businesses.

Is email marketing part of your marketing strategy? With the majority of mobile users now checking their inboxes on smartphones and tablets, it’s more important than ever to make sure customers can view emails the way they were intended. Email marketing service MailChimp offers mobile-friendly email templates that make emails look good on any device. Users can choose from professionally designed templates or create their own. Spare customers from emails that aren’t formatted correctly for their device, and put the focus on your message instead.

Retirement Plans A Buyer’s Guide

It takes a lot of planning and preparation for employees to enjoy their retirement years.

While most people want to get to a point where they don’t have to trudge into work each day, if they aren’t financially prepared for that time, it may never come. While the burden might be on employees to make sure they have saved enough for retirement, many believe that employers should share that responsibility.

To help employees make sure they have enough money saved for their golden years, many businesses offer an employer-sponsored retirement plan.

“At its most basic level, it’s a savings vehicle that employers can choose to offer to their employees that allows those employees to save for their retirement on a tax advantage basis,” said Chris Augelli, vice president of product marketing and business development for ADP Retirement Services.

With employee retirement plans, workers set a percentage of their paycheck that they want to invest in the plan.

“It comes right out of the employee’s paycheck each and every time they are paid,” Augelli told Business News Daily. “It automatically comes out pretaxed and automatically gets invested into the plan.”

Linda Wolohan, a spokeswoman for the investment management firm Vanguard, said employee retirement plans can come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

“The type of plan can vary in features, and can vary in terms of whether the employer makes all the contributions to the plan, the employee makes all the contributions to the plan or whether it’s a joint effort,” Wolohan said.

Joint efforts occur when employers offer a matching contribution option. Meghan Murphy, a director at Fidelity Investments, said that in addition to the money the employees invest on their own, many businesses also offer a matching program, in which employers match a certain percentage of the employee’s contribution with their own contribution into the employee’s retirement account.

“A common match is 100 percent on the first 3 percent,” Murphy said. But if you go over that 3 percent, and contribute 5 percent, for example, the employer would just match the 3 percent in that type of match, she said.

With the uncertainty surrounding Social Security, employer-sponsored retirement plans have become much more important in recent years, Augelli said.

“People really need to be taking the onus for their own savings and personal retirement, and there is no better way to do that than to be an employer who is going to offer you one of these plans,” Augelli said.

 

Tips on How to Advertise Your Lawn Care Business

unduhan-8Tip

Hire a design agency to get the designs for your flyers, posters, advertisements, business cards, door hangers, etc., done to give them a professional look and feel.

A lawn care business requires you to undertake a number of different advertising strategies to reach out to your target market. While some of these can be easily afforded, there are a few which are expensive. However, consider the advertising expenditure as your investment which will help communicate about your business to your prospective customers. This is even more vital, if you are not an established business and are relatively new in the market. This calls for special efforts which will help get the attention of your target market. If you are thinking about maximizing your advertising to gain profit, the upcoming sections will guide you on how to advertise your lawn care business.

Advertise

Book advertising spaces in the local newspapers, magazines, community publications, church publications, etc. For a business like yours, this type of advertising will not go unnoticed. There are many people who have a large lawn, but have no time to mow or maintain it. Such people are always on the lookout for a good business. Hence, investing in this traditional medium of advertising can reap you a good profit.

Flyers

Get a printing vendor to print flyers for you at an affordable rate. Generally, you will have to pay lesser for a bulk print order. Mail these flyers to homeowners in residential areas with lawns. You can also distribute them at home improvement shops, malls, supermarkets, parking lots, etc. However, you may have to take their permission before handing out flyers at these outlets. Many believe that flyers are a waste of money; however, contrary to popular belief, they will help bring more and more profit for the business.

Posters

Put up posters at a number of places like community billboards, church boards, supermarkets, malls, hardware shops, etc. Let people see the poster and be compelled to call you. Ensure that the poster is designed in an attractive way and conveys the message in minimum words. Also, tell people about the various schemes you will offer through the poster.

Referrals

This is one business that can benefit through referrals. Just imagine, if you have 5 happy and satisfied customers and they recommend your services to 10 others, your business will expand rapidly. Getting a referral lends credibility to your service. Hence, ensure that your customers like your work and approach you for repeat services or recommend you to their family and friends.

Directories

First and foremost, get your business enlisted in the yellow pages and other directories. Yes, there are many people who are not Internet savvy, and depend on these directories to find services like yours. So, don’t underestimate the power of advertising in a hardbound directory. Similarly, there are many online directories where you can enlist your business.

Online Listing

Try to register your business on websites which enlist various services like Craigslist. This will help people, who will be searching for a lawn care business, to find your contact details. This will enable you to get maximum number of customers. Many such websites also show customer ratings and reviews. Hence, ensure that your service is such that you do not face criticism on these websites. Try to get yourself registered on the BBB website, as it will lend credibility to your business.

Trade Shows

Trade shows or home improvement fairs are the right platform to promote your lawn care business. If you cannot afford to get an entire stall, you can go for a smaller booth. It will give you an opportunity to interact with the prospective customers on a one-on-one basis and also lend you an opportunity to get service contracts signed at the venue. You can also hand out your marketing material along with a small branded gift.

Business Cards

Having professionally designed business cards is a must. You will have to hand them out to prospective customers whenever you get a chance. Try to hand over more than one card at a time so that the person can give them to others who need it.

Website

Get a decent website designed for your service. Try to show the before and after photos of the lawn once you have mowed it. Images can speak a lot more than words; hence, incorporating such photos will speak about your lawn caring capabilities. Try to include testimonials from your customers. If you can book lawn care orders online and process the payment, there’s nothing like it. Also, the website should rank when someone searches for specific keywords related to lawn care, so optimize your website for search engine use.

Vehicle Branding
You can use your business vehicle or truck to brand your logo. This can be costly, but it will serve the purpose of advertising as the vehicle will travel all over the city and people will read about your business.

Radio Ads

Sponsoring spots on local radio stations and adding a catchy jingle or two can make people remember you. This can help generate a good brand recall and recognition. Also, advertising on a local radio station will not cost much.
Discounts, Coupons, and Other Schemes

You have to come up with interesting discounts, free service, and other schemes to gain a competitive edge. Try to distribute discount coupons to people who will recommend your service to others. Keep introducing such innovative schemes to make profit.
Others
✦ Put up door hangers, advertising your business details.

✦ Network with allied businessmen to promote your business.

✦ Try to put yard signs in certain areas.

✦ Distribute branded merchandise like car magnets, refrigerator magnets, mugs, key chains, etc.

Whatever advertising and promotional investment you are making, ensure that you calculate the return on investment to know whether you are on the right track. In the end, make sure that every advertising strategy which you implement leaves the customers mighty impressed.

Tips Pokémon Go to Work for Your Small Business

By now, you’ve probably heard of the augmented-reality mobile game “Pokémon Go,” in which players move throughout the real world to hunt for and capture digital Pokémon. It might seem trivial or irrelevant to your business at first glance, but since the game is geographically based, there are a number of ways you can use it to attract local players to your location and, hopefully, convert them into paying customers.

There are two types of fixed locations in the game that are important to most of these strategies. The first are known as PokéStops, which are buildings or places of note around a city where players swing by to grab some extra Poké Balls and potions. Many of these stops are businesses, but even if yours isn’t one a PokéStop is still likely nearby.

The other type of fixture is called a “gym,” where players battle their Pokémon in a bid to gain control of the location for their team. Both of these locations regularly attract players multiple times a day and can be leveraged into generating more patronage for your business. After extensive, tireless weekend research into “Pokémon Go,” Business News Daily has worked out a few ways to capitalize on the craze.

One item that can be placed on PokéStops is called a “lure module.” Once activated, lure modules will attract wild Pokémon (and, more important, players) to that location. Consider buying a package of lure modules and advertising a night as “‘Pokémon Go’ Lure Party!” If your business is on or near a PokéStop, hosting a lure party could be a great way to bring players to your establishment. It’s a cheap and easy form of marketing; create a “Pokémon Go” account by downloading it for free from the Google Play or App stores, buy a package of lure modules with a few dollars of real-world cash, and then just set them up at your nearest PokéStop. Each lure is active for 30 minutes, so you can use them in succession to create a lure party that lasts as long as you’d like. Coupling a lure party with some special deals could be a great way to bring in some extra money.

Maybe your business is closer to a Pokémon Gym than a PokéStop. In that event, there’s another way you can incentivize players to come patronize your business. Advertise that you’ll be hosting a tournament in advance, perhaps even offering discounts to gym battle winners. Then, on game day, players who successfully become gym leaders (with proof of gamer ID) will be entitled to that discount. Not only is it a great way to harness those intense “Pokémon Go” rivalries for your business, but to hold gyms teams need multiple members to defend it. So, while you’re giving discounts to the gym leaders, their teammates will be there alongside them as well, most likely as full-paying customers.

Hosting a communitywide “Pokémon Go” hunt that starts and ends at your business’s doorstep is a strategy that’s not contingent on the proximity of gyms of PokéStops. All you have to do is advertise the date and time of your family-friendly Poké-hunt, wait for players to gather, and then depart together for a stroll around your neighborhood. Your staff might even join the hunters in branded shirts to make sure your business is visible through the entire event. Of course, as it is with any good Poké-hunt, there’s an after-party. Invite the hunters back to your establishment for some trainer talk and to compare their hauls. This is an especially effective tactic for restaurants.

You can even use “Pokémon Go” to increase your visibility on social media. Offer customers a few dollars off to take a screenshot of a Pokémon in your store or restaurant and then post it on social media with a tag to your business. While it might just be a few dollars off for them, it spreads your brand online. It also shows other nearby players how many rare and exotic Pokémon are crawling around your establishment, and it might encourage them to come visit and maybe spend a few dollars of their own.

The rumor mill is swirling with talk of future “Pokémon Go” updates that will allow trainers to trade Pokémon and items. If and when these updates come, these new features will open new doors for businesses to harness the immense appeal of this augmented-reality phenomenon. And if more AR games prove to be as popular as “Pokémon Go,” businesses might have an entirely new marketing strategy at their disposal; luckily, these strategies cost virtually nothing to employ.

 

Sales Boost Niche Products to Your Inventory

While retailers might think the most profitable sales strategy is to sell only the items that are most popular with consumers, new research finds that selling those that are not as in-demand can still pay off. The research shows that the more products a retailer offers online, the more revenue the retailer makes.

Junzhao Ma, the study’s authors and a lecturer in the marketing department at Australia’s Monash University, said overall customers end up spending more online because it’s easier to search for those items.

“Low-selling (niche) products are regularly pruned from the product line to reduce operational complexity and corresponding cost…but as shoppers grow more accustomed to the idea of searching for niche items online, carrying these niche products can not only yield additional revenue but also help retailers recruit and retain customers,” Ma wrote in the study.

For the study, Ma examined data from a large U.S. apparel retailer that offers both printed catalog and internet shopping. Specifically, he looked at the effect on the retailer’s main products, which are in high demand and offered in the catalogs, and the less-popular niche items that were available on the retailer’s website, but hard to find in its catalogs.

He discovered that online shoppers spent significantly more than catalog shoppers on both popular and low-demand products. Specifically, they spent 11 percent more per year on the popular items and 250 percent of the hard-to-find niche items.

“Our research suggests that the online sales of low-volume niche products can be an important source of revenue for the retailer,” Ma wrote.

The study,”Does Greater Online Assortment Pay? An Empirical Study Using Matched Online and Catalog Shoppers,” is scheduled to appear in the September issue of the Journal of Retailing.

 

Marketing on Social Media

images-5Social media makes video marketing accessible – and affordable – for every business. It’s one of the best ways to reach your customers where they already are: on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and other online networks. And since social media users love video, it’s one of the best ways to raise brand awareness and engage customers and clients.

These days, you don’t need any special equipment to shoot a great video ad — a smartphone and enthusiasm for your brand will suffice. If you’re not sure where to start, here’s a rundown of the top social media channels you can use to boost your brand with video.

YouTube is the biggest video-sharing platform on the planet, so it’s a great place to start marketing your business. After you sign up, you can create a customizable channel for your business, complete with colors, logos, slogans and more. Don’t be intimidated — setting up a YouTube channel is simple and takes just a few minutes.

Once your channel is ready, you can upload as many videos as you want. Viewers rate your videos and leave comments, which will raise the overall visibility of your videos among other YouTube users. Anyone can subscribe to your channel, so whenever you upload a new video, they’ll be automatically notified.

If you don’t think you have the chops to put together a high-quality video ad, check out YouTube Director, an app for the iPhone and iPad. The app walks you through the process of making a quality ad, and lets you add text overlays, music and scene transitions with a few taps.

Tips

  • Be consistent: Upload new videos regularly to encourage viewers to subscribe.
  • Include calls to action: Tell viewers directly to rate the video they’re watching, leave a comment or subscribe to your channel.
  • Interact: Respond to feedback quickly, and thank viewers who leave comments to encourage further interaction.
  • Share: Share links to your YouTube Channel, and embed your YouTube videos in posts on Facebook and Twitter to engage new viewers.

2. Facebook

Taking your video-marketing campaign to Facebook is a no-brainer, given the platform’s huge and devoted user base. Generally speaking, Facebook users love video — they’re much more likely to click and view a brief video clip than to read a text-based post.

To get started on Facebook, you’ll need to set up a page for your business, which is quick and easy. Pages can be fully customized to represent your business, with all the information that potential customers need to know. Users who “Like” your page will see your posts — including any uploaded videos — and those posts will appear automatically in their news feed. Even better, friends of those users might also see the same videos appear in their own feeds.

Tips

  • Keep it light: Facebook users log on to be entertained, so striving to keep your videos light, and even entertaining, is sure to boost engagement.
  • Get interactive: Watch for comments and questions that viewers leave under your videos, and respond to them quickly and professionally.
  • Monitor reactions: Facebook gives you the tools to see who likes and shares your videos. Watching to see which videos garner the most positive reactions will help you plan your next updates.
  • Broadcast live: Facebook lets you broadcast live video using a feature called Facebook Live. Check it out— it’s a great way to boost engagement and give clients and customers a more intimate look at your business.

Like Facebook, Twitter has a huge, diverse user base, and its regular users are extremely engaged with the platform. That’s why it should be a key part of any small business’s video-marketing strategy.Twitter isn’t just about short, text-based messages. The network also lets users embed videos directly into their tweets, which will then pop up in the feed of anyone who follows your business’s account. Videos can be up to 2 minutes and 20 seconds long — plenty of time to engage viewers with a short clip.

Tips

  • Be concise: Twitter has always been about keeping it brief. Users view their feeds sporadically, often for just a few seconds at a time, so stick to short, easily digestible clips.
  • Engage: One part of Twitter’s appeal is the ability it gives users to engage directly with the brands they care about. When users comment or share your videos, reward them with a response.
  • Be timely: Twitter users want to know what’s happening right now. Use your video clips to advertise special deals and ongoing sales, or to let followers see what’s happening with your business today.

4. Instagram

Unlike Facebook or Twitter, Instagram is a social network that’s dedicated solely to sharing photos and videos. For that reason, it might seem like a network where only highly visual businesses — such as those in food or fashion — can succeed. But with a little creativity, you can probably find a way to make the platform work for just about any brand.

Using Instagram is simple. After you create an account, you can upload images, photos and videos that run for 15 seconds or less. Users who follow your page will see those updates in their feed, where they can like or comment on them — and it’s really as simple as that.

Keeping your business’s Instagram account updated is easy, but the nature of the platform might make it a poor fit for your business. The network’s user base skews relatively young, which can be limiting. And if your business isn’t particularly visual, you might put your efforts elsewhere.

Tips

  • Show off: Sharing images of your business’s products or services can help you reel in new customers.
  • Post deals: Share images with coupon codes and other information about how to redeem special deals. That will encourage users to follow your account closely so they don’t miss out.
  • Go behind the scenes: A good way to generate interest is to show people how your product is made, or perhaps give them a glimpse of your office.

It may be the fastest-growing social media platform out there, but Snapchat is still a niche platform for small businesses. If you’re not familiar with Snapchat, here’s a quick primer. The app lets you upload short video clips — as well as images — and the content is sent directly to anyone who follows your account.

The trademark feature of Snapchat is that users can usually only view each video once before it disappears from their feed, but that restriction actually only applies to videos sent directly to individuals. Content uploaded to your account’s “story” can be viewed by your followers an unlimited number of times for 24 hours.

The ephemeral nature of Snapchat posts — as well as the fact that the app’s user base skews younger than any of the others on this list — means that many small businesses would be better off investing their resources elsewhere. But businesses that cater to young people would be wise to give it a chance.

Tips

  • Keep it casual: While other platforms encourage highly curated content, Snapchat posts can be simple and casual. If a post isn’t perfect, don’t fret — it will disappear soon anyway.
  • Make it fun: Clips of employees or customers having fun with your product will keep young Snapchat users engaged and coming back for more.
  • Go behind the scenes: Snapchat is the perfect platform for taking viewers behind the scenes of your business for a glimpse of how it’s run.

Periscope — the most popular live-streaming app for mobile devices — is a great way to connect with your customers on a personal level. The Twitter-owned service makes it easy for you to start broadcasting live video with just a few taps. Customers who follow your account will automatically receive an alert on their smartphone whenever you start a new broadcast, which makes it relatively simple for you to cultivate an audience.

Live streaming has some clear perks over other kinds of video marketing. Since live streams are happening in real time, they help humanize your brand. Instead of seeing a carefully crafted advertisement, viewers feel like they’re seeing a truly authentic, behind-the-scenes representation of your business.

Tips

  • Demonstrate: If you sell a physical product, Periscope is a great way to show how it works. Customers can tune in to a live demonstration, which can feel more trustworthy than a canned ad.
  • Get creative: Periscope can be great for showcasing your company’s offerings, no matter what you sell. For example, realtors can use the app to broadcast virtual open houses.
  • Interact: Live streaming isn’t a one-way street. Periscope lets you interact with customers and clients in real time, which is a great way to hold live Q&A sessions, webinars or tutorials.
  • Reward: Giving exclusive offers for people who tune in to your Periscope stream is a good way to hook viewers and boost your sales.

 

Local Marketing Tactics to Gain and Keep Customers

As a business owner, you want your company to succeed. Investing in marketing is vital to that success, but many small businesses can’t splurge on — or spare the time for — high-priced advertising campaigns.

A report by Brandmuscle, local marketing software company, found that nearly half of the 860 small businesses surveyed spend $5,000 or less on marketing each year, and one-third spend less than 10 percent of their time on marketing activities.

To make the most of your time and money, here are five effective local marketing tactics that are easy and affordable for your small business.

Business owners know that customers are searching for companies online, and yet many local businesses are reluctant to adopt digital methods, like social media, SEO and even a basic business website. The Brandmuscle survey found that business owners still find digital media to be complicated: While Facebook may be a successful platform, with an increased usage by businesses of 21 percent over the past few years, LinkedIn is primarily employed for personal, not business accounts, and Twitter is too confusing for business owners, survey results showed.

“Many small businesses are so overwhelmed by the number of choices and the level of effort required to maintain [digital marketing] programs that they do nothing,” said Clarke Smith, chief strategy officer of Brandmuscle. “We advise starting small. Talk to customers [and ask] how do they find you today? What types of information would be helpful to them? Are they price-driven? What social channels do they use?”

Aaron Boggs, president of RevLocal, a digital marketing agency, called for the use of search marketing, a type of online marketing that expands a company’s digital presence in search engines.

“Local businesses need to do more with less, and search marketing is no exception,” he said.

For businesses that are looking to generate new leads, offering potential customers a free product or service for their first visit is a surefire way to bring people into the store. Brian Mattingly, founder and CEO of marketing services and technology franchise Welcomemat Services, said that a no-strings-attached gift to kick off a customer relationship will create a sense of loyalty, but only when it’s with the right audience.

“Loyalty starts with targeting a consumer group that is not just looking for a deal but has a need for your business or service, and of course, they must live near the business,” Mattingly said. “The perfect example of the ‘right’ customer includes someone who recently moved into a new neighborhood or a couple that just became parents.”

Brick-and-mortar businesses have a unique opportunity to host special promotional events for their local communities. Chris Elliott, CEO of Beef ‘O’ Brady’s sports pub franchise, said that on the 20th of each month, his restaurants host a “customer appreciation day,” when guests can come in and redeem a scratch-off card for a chance to win free food.

Elliot said foot traffic increases 11 percent during customer appreciation days. He said he believes customers keep coming back because the owner of each restaurant personally hands them their scratch-off cards and thanks them for their patronage, thereby establishing a personal connection.

“The emotional engagement is the key,” Elliot said. “If you know the customers — if you know their families and their kids’ names, and engage with them on a personal level — you’re going to form a connection that is going to give you an edge and lead to a lifelong customer. That makes a huge difference. You have to have the same loyalty to your customers as you expect from them when you put a customer loyalty program in place. It has to work both ways, or else you’re going to miss the mark and won’t see the same level of return on the investment.”

Like the promotions described above, local events and sponsorships allow companies to give back while building personal relationships with their communities and customers. Of the integrated marketing campaigns that Brandmuscle looked at, 46 percent included community sponsorship and 44 percent included a local event. According to the survey, these sponsorships and events were among the most frequently used marketing tactics, with three of four respondents using these methods for their businesses.

The survey suggested that companies invest more of their marketing dollars in sponsorships and events to build up their brand presence.

When most people think of rebranding, they think of a big, time-consuming overhaul that requires a huge investment. But rebranding can be as simple as modernizing your logo, switching your slogan or even just updating your company website. Doing something just slightly different from your status quo will pique customers’ interest and make them want to learn more.

“The effects of a comprehensive, well-executed rebranding have shown tremendous benefit across the board,” said Dan Antonelli, CEO and creative director of advertising agency Graphic D-Signs. “Whether it’s creating a great experience with an intuitive and responsive website design or crafting a logo that makes customers crack a smile each time they see it, marketing needs to have emotion.”

Regardless of the tactics you choose, you should schedule a set time devoted to marketing activities, even if it’s only an hour a week, said Brandmuscle’s Smith.

 

Ways to Grow Your Business

Much like a plant, a business requires care, attention and the proper conditions in order to grow and flourish. You might think you have your growth formula all figured out, but if you’ve tried it and aren’t achieving the results you want, it might be time to take a different approach.

Entrepreneurs and business leaders shared their experiences with some overlooked, unconventional methods for growth, and offered advice for taking your business to the next level.

It seems counterintuitive, but sometimes the best way to make a sale is by not actually selling anything. Playing the long game — that is, offering no-strings-attached help and advice for the sake of building up a relationship — earns a potential client’s trust and makes that person more likely to come to you in the future, said Bart Mroz, founder and CEO of digital commerce consultancy.

“Become a trusted resource within your industry and community,” Mroz said. “A great way to do this is by actively engaging on relevant social media groups, blogs, forums, etc. During my free time, I like to participate in any conversation where I can provide insight and tips for the curious, but I make sure not to directly promote and sell my services. These aren’t your traditional customer acquisition channels, so they shouldn’t be approached as such.”

Mroz also noted that this approach lets you position yourself as an expert, and keeps you up-to-date with the latest industry trends, so you’ll know what your customers are looking for.

Most startups dream of huge growth in their early days. But taking it from 0 to 100 right away isn’t always the best way to grow. John Shapiro, director of product management in the small business group at Intuit, advised you to limit your growth at first, and hone in on a very small segment of your target market.

“Focus on a small microcosm, whether that’s a geography, industry vertical or something else,” Shapiro said. “You want to get to critical density, which is a lot easier to do if you reduce the ground you’re trying to cover. Think of Facebook’s growth strategy — they focused on one, then two, then four college campuses. They added campus by campus over time, and it was years before they opened up to all consumers.”

Highly focused and personalized service to your early customers will generate positive word-of-mouth branding very quickly, Shapiro said. This will help you build that solid base you need for greater growth in the future.

Retail today is all about omnichannel customer service and marketing: You have to be where your customers are and reach them through their preferred channels. The omnichannel mentality can even be applied to the locations in which you sell your products.

Many retailers who operate out of a physical store have expanded their operations to the web and sell products both online and in the store. Online-only businesses can benefit from this approach by expanding to a brick-and-mortar location, if they have the resources for it.

For example, online mattress retailer Leesa recently opened up a flagship store in New York City to showcase its products in a new and different way than they had been doing.

“It may seem unconventional and even counterintuitive, but often for e-commerce businesses, establishing a physical brick-and-mortar presence is one of the most cost-efficient ways to drive online leads and generate brand awareness,” said Matt Hayes, Leesa’s director of marketing. “Opening our Leesa Dream Gallery retail concept … allowed customers to try the Leesa mattress for themselves in a pressure-free environment.”

Similarly, Rahul Mewawalla, CEO of social and mobile referral platform Everfave, advised brick-and-mortar businesses to borrow tech-savvy digital methods from their e-commerce counterparts to increase growth.

“Businesses have to look ahead of the curve,” Mewawalla said. “We went from traditional advertising like TV [and] radio to internet-based marketing in the last 15 years, and the next 15 years will be focused on mobile and social-based approaches. To stand out and be more effective, businesses have to continuously look at new and novel ways to grow.”

Entrepreneurship is all about stepping outside your comfort zone, so the act of taking a risk may not seem all that unconventional. But the specific risk you take — whatever it is that seems like it’s too wild and “out there” for your business — could prove to be the spark that serves as a catalyst for growth.

Kerrie Hileman, owner of The White Magnolia bridal boutiques, said a reality TV star recently shopped in one of their stores for an upcoming segment of her show, complete with a camera crew. Hileman admitted that she was wary of being filmed and nervous about how the business might be portrayed on the show, but ended up having a very positive experience. As a result, the reality star featured The White Magnolia on her Instagram page and gave a huge boost for Hileman’s business.

“The group was absolutely amazing to work with,” she told Business News Daily. “We have noticed a huge jump in our Instagram following and have even had brides who came in to shop because they knew the reality star found her gown here. We are so happy we took the risk, and it’s paid off tenfold already.”

“Don’t be afraid,” Intuit’s Shapiro added. “If you want to grow your company unconventionally and successfully, you need to be comfortable taking the appropriate risks.”

 

Critical to Email Marketing Success

More and more businesses are seeing the value in making a good first impression with their email marketing efforts. New research from Campaigner, the email marketing brand of j2 Global Inc., found that nearly 40 percent of online retailers make sure the first email they send new subscribers is a “thank you for subscribing” message.

The quick introductory message appears to be paying off: Half of the businesses surveyed said 21 percent or more of new subscribers engage with such welcome emails, such as by opening the email, clicking thru to the website or forwarding it on to others.

Similarly to what happens with in-person interactions — when it takes just seconds to form a lasting impression — email marketing first impressions are also critical and time-sensitive, said EJ McGowan, general manager of Campaigner.

Marketers who quickly deliver engaging welcome emails to new subscribers will see greater success in conversions while also building brand reputation,” McGowan said in a statement.

The study found that most businesses don’t wait long to send out welcome emails: More than 60 percent of those surveyed said their new subscribers receive their first message from the brand within 24 hours of signing up.

As for the best time to send out a welcome email, most online businesses agree that the earlier, the better. The research showed that 35 percent of the businesses surveyed believe between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. is the ideal time to garner responses from new subscribers, while 25 percent think that between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. is best.

Businesses are using a variety of methods to entice customers to sign up for their emails. Fifty-five percent of those surveyed offer the latest news and content to their customers as incentives to subscribe, and 49 percent use standard promotions as an incentive.

Instead of just text, most businesses include pictures and videos as a way to grab recipients’ attention. Specifically, 87 percent of marketers include images in their welcome emails, and 26 percent include videos.

Despite knowing the value of welcome emails, 60 percent of the businesses surveyed think they could be doing more to make their welcome emails even more useful.

“Transactional messages such as welcome emails provide unique opportunities for companies to get in front of interested contacts,” McGowan said. “If marketers aren’t already using them, now is the time to start.”