Hangout Mastery for Small Business

 Hangout-Mastery-Ronnie-Bincer 

Ronnie Bincer was once again our guest on our Small Business WebTech Show and did a fantastic job of explaining applications of the Google Hangout technology for small businesses as well as giving a ton of how-to pro tips!

I have embedded my Google+ post recapping this event to retain the clickable time stamps which will take you directly to any part of the discussion you’d look to zero in on.  (Be sure to click on “Read more” to expand the post.)

  


 

Small Business and the Social Media Conundrum

Small sprout, small beginnings

Mention Social Media around a group of micro/small businesses and you will often get a lot of groans and rolling eyes.  “One more thing to do”… “I tried that, worthless”… “I just don’t get it…” just to name a few responses.  

Then there will be that one person who thinks social media is the greatest thing since sliced bread, (envy alert) and talks about how great it has been for their business.  For their particular business and personality type, it’s a natural fit.

But for many micro and small business people, social media is a bit of a conundrum. They often feel…

A. They don’t know what they should be doing. Which platforms? What should they post? How often?

B. They don’t have time in their already busy day.

C.  Overwhelmed as a result of A and B.

D.  All that social media stuff doesn’t work anyway.  They haven’t gotten any new customers from it.

E.  Don’t even bother with it, resulting from all of the above.

F.  Guilty that they’re not doing anything when everybody’s talking about how important social media is.

 

Those are a lot of concerns. 

I’m happy to say that there is a way forward.

In a recent Small Business WebTech discussion with Mark Traphagen of Stone Temple Consulting, he was quite reassuring that when it comes to social media and small business, even small steps can make a difference.

But first things first.  Or as Mark puts it, get your social media horses before the cart.

There are some things to be done that are good for social media, as well as beneficial for your business as a whole. It starts with some self reflection.  

1. Clearly articulate for you and your team members your business identity.  What you’re about, your values, what you do differently or better than anyone else (in marketing jargon, your Unique Value Proposition, or UVP), and why you do what you do.  All of this adds up to your Brand Identity.

2. Create content (your website, YouTube, podcasts,SlideShare, etc), driven by your brand identity that answers questions, provides helpful information or perspective, and is of value to people. When you start sharing on social media, this gives you something of substance to point to in your social media updates.

These two activities are not only good for social media but they’re good for your business in general – and not bad for search engines, either.  As tempting as it may be to skip them and just start “doing” social media, don’t.

But to address all those small business concerns mentioned earlier…

 

A.  Don’t know where to start.

Pick one network to begin.  My platform of choice is Google+ for lots of reasons, but for people who are already using and familiar with Facebook, it may be the easiest point of entry. Of course there’s also Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram…  Each one functions differently and attracts different types of people, so think where the prospective audience for your business is most likely to be hanging out.

You don’t have to post your own content every time you get on social media.  Commenting and resharing with a thoughtful introduction are important for developing a presence, building relationships, and building an audience.

When it comes to your own original content, for longer, more in depth pieces, once a month might be okay.  Shorter, more targeted updates could be once or twice a week.  As you develop more of a repository of posts, this will get easier. Whatever posting schedule you decide on, try to be as consistent as possible.

 

B. Don’t have time.

You don’t have to spend hours on social media.  30 minutes a day, most days of the week, is a good way to begin. Most everyone can carve out half an hour. Particularly if you understand that 30 minutes a day will get you a lot farther than 2 or 3 hours once a week.  If you can check in one other time during the day for a few minutes to respond to any comments, that’s even better.

What do you do when you are there? Being interested in others and engaging with them is critical.  Keep your goals in mind and keep it strategic so you don’t find yourself 3 hours later deep in a philosophical discussion on the merits of teaching babies sign language (unless that’s your business!).

Actually the greater danger is spending too much time on social media rather than too little, without really accomplishing what you set out to do.  It takes some discipline – set a timer if you need to –  and have a plan of what you want to accomplish during your 30 minutes.

 

C.  Feeling overwhelmed.

The overwhelm should be greatly reduced, if not eradicated, if you are on the 30 minutes a day plan.

 

D.  This social media stuff doesn’t work.

Usually this feeling comes from having the wrong expectations of what social media does and doesn’t do.

As Mark Traphagen explains, social media is not instant coffee.  It doesn’t produce instant results, be that gaining trust, acquiring new customers, or producing sales.

It’s a long term proposition.  Your efforts today will reap results somewhere down the road.  How long that takes is different for everyone.  It depends on the time you have available for content creation as well as social media itself, the type of business you have, and how quickly you are able to build an interested audience.

 

So why bother?

It is a great (did I mention free?) way to build (over time) trust in you and your company; relationships with people who can turn into referrers of your business; and increase your reach and brand awareness.

There is an indirect connection to a sale and the time you put into social media.  Here’s an example… Someone  might see a comment from you that they liked in a thread. Later they may see a reshare of a post of yours that piqued their interest. They may get interested enough to click through to the full post on your website.  Later a friend mentions they are following you, and now this person starts looking for your content.  When the need arises for your products and services, they just may give you a call.

Does that sound pretty iffy? There are no guarantees.  Just like when you plant a row of seeds, not all of them will germinate. But some of them will.

You don’t have any guarantees that your actions will create the results you’re after.  But if done correctly, you will attain these goals:

  • develop relationships
  • build a reputation as a trusted authority within your community
  • increase your brand awareness

I can say that with certainty from my own experience as someone who, until a year and a half ago had never been on any social media of any sort. It’s one of those “if I can do it, so can you” types of things.

Where all of this goes is not pre-determined, but all of these activities things are solid business choices.

 

F.  Feeling Guilty.

Don’t feel guilty, do get started.  As Mark says, “small steps consistently taken, will make a difference… the benefits will accrue”.

 

Mark’s 7 key small business takeaways

1. Your competitors have the same challenges and worries that you do and chances are they’re not doing anything about it. So if you just start doing a little, making your content helpful, targeted, and coming out of your heart and passion and business values, you’re already ahead of the game.

 

2. You don’t need everybody. You just need to find the small group of people that care about what you do. You start small and nurture that audience. Treat them like gods, serve them, and ask what more you can do for them. Make them feel special.  Some of them will begin to bring others into your audience.

 

3. Don’t give up. Half the battle is just showing up and being present.

 

4. Try different things.

 

5.Don’t get discouraged if at first you get little response. Learn from it.  Try a different approach.

 

6. Find someone you trust who will give you honest feedback on your content.

 

7. Remember that this is something that grows over time

 

Conclusion:

  • Small businesses can get results from social media, but you need to have the right expectations.  
  • It’s okay to take small steps.

We all know the phrase and truism, if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.

When it comes to small business and social media, an asterisk needs to be added.

*When it comes to social media and small business, a small step, done as well as you are able at the time, is better than doing nothing.

As Mark Traphagen advises, don’t compare yourself to big corporations with big budgets.  Honestly projecting your business identity in small steps, even if done imperfectly, is worth doing.  

And, truly, you’ll get better at it as you go along. 

So “Don’t rue the day of small beginnings.” It’s the perfect way for small businesses to get into social media.

 

 

Recommended Resources:

Mark Traphagen; “Is Your Social Media Marketing Cart Before Your Horse

Mark Traphagen, Small Business WebTech Show with John Moore and Marilyn Moore of RightStart Websites; “Getting the Horse Before the Cart: Social Media for Small Business”

Gina Fiedel, “What’s Your Why?” – for business identity help

 

introduction credit: John Moore

photo credit:Mehihe/pixabay

 

 

You’ve Got Mail! Email Marketing for Small Business

Email Marketing Webinar

 

Our topic for our February Small Business WebTech event was Email Marketing for Small Business. Guest Speaker, Stephan Hovnanian, did a terrific job of guiding us through the principles of email marketing, getting started, and just how to increase your open rate.

Following is the embedded Google+ timestamp post with a summary and “table of contents” to the show. Times are clickable on desktop; for all others use the slider under the video to get to the desired time.  Be sure to click on “Read more” to expand the post.

 

 

 

Getting the Horse Before the Cart: Social Media for Small Business

Get the Horse Before the Cart

 

John Moore and I welcomed social media expert Mark Traphagen, Senior Director of Online Marketing for Stone Temple Consulting, to our Small Business WebTech show to discuss how small businesses should be utilizing social media.  Mark emphasized the things that need to be taken into consideration before you get started on social media, as well as how best to approach your time there.

Following is my embedded Google Plus post which contains a timestamped summary and index of the show. Be sure to click on “Read more” to expand the post.




 

 

Why Empathy Is the Secret Sauce for Small Business

Empathy Quote Graphic

 

 Empathy is one of those altruistic characteristics that we deem universally desirable, but may not realize its importance in the business world.

Empathy is actually a critical component and one that small business can use to good advantage. The secret sauce, if you will. 

Taken at face value, “using” empathy sounds contrary to the meaning of the word… sharing or recognizing emotions experienced by another; i.e. walking in someone else’s shoes. It certainly seems seems less charitable if you’re “using” empathy for your own gain.  Let me explain.

  

Why is empathy so critical?

Small businesses have more direct contact with their customers and there are more opportunities for them to understand their pains, fears and needs.

Because of this, small business people can have a more natural empathy for their customers and feel more connected to them.  If you’re the owner of your business, even more so. Small businesses can use this powerful emotion to their advantage… and to their customers’ as well.

 

Empathy personalizes and humanizes your business.

When we hear the cry in business circles to “keep it real”, empathy is the most honest, connective human emotion there is. It is the foundation of what makes us social. It is integral to being seen as trustworthy. Why?  Because empathy can’t be faked.

 

Empathy is the prime mover.

In a locomotive, the prime mover refers to the engine which converts fuel into useful work; i.e. moving the train forward. http://goo.gl/LwfbcZ

Empathy fulfills a similar role in marketing.  It can be the prime mover to motivate a person to go from lead to customer; from inaction to action.

If the person feels that you understand them, that you “get them”, they lower their barriers and suspicions and that then becomes a point of trust and can be the tipping point of whether they decide to do business with you or not.

 

…the empathetic connection becomes real, it becomes human, it becomes beyond just features and benefits and moves somebody into action. ~ Mark Traphagen

 

 

Empathy puts you at eye-level with your customer.

If you relate to where your customer is, if you can say “I’ve been there and I’ve figured out how to move forward”, that immediately changes the relationship between you and your customers.  

In marketing terms, you now have “goal alignment”.  

What you want (to help your customer) is exactly the same as what they want (to find a solution to their problem).  Whether that problem is finding a product that will get the cat hair off their couch so their allergic son-in-law can come visit, or finding someone who can solve their payment gateway snafu, when businesses and their customers have their goals aligned, there are no longer any barriers.

 

[Empathy] is absolutely critical,… and this is where the magic happens of that human relationship where you realize the person behind the screen… is actually a human being and they’re trying to help you achieve the same thing you want to achieve. ~ David Amerland

 

 Advantage: Small Business

Being empathetic is a natural component of many, if not most, small businesses. Often small business owners start their business because they have an empathy for some problem or a have a product that fulfills a desire.

Empathy can be the secret sauce. The pixie dust. That something extra that makes good things happen.  

 

Empathy is the starting point.  

You use it to build on as you determine your business identity, your company values, your mission, and your all-important value proposition.  If you are a micro-business, you, as the owner and the face and voice of your business, will have an even easier time in letting your sincerity and passion shine through. 

If two websites appear to have the same degree of expertise and authority, the one that can convey honest empathy for a potential customer, is going to engender greater trust. The user experience is going to be more personal, more positive.

 

Empathy is really the first step toward being able to provide the most personalized experience to your users. ~ Jerod Morris

 

 

Use your empathy filter for creating content.

Empathy should be a filter through which you view all of your content, whether it’s for a web page, a blog post, or a comment on social media. Copyblogger’s Demian Farnsworth even suggests creating an empathy map to help you understand what your ideal audience and potential customers “really look like”.

Empathy can help determine how you and your business can serve your customers and your audience. What words and phrases will they relate to? What are the FAQs of your industry that you can answer from a perspective that combines your expertise with an appreciation of what it’s like to stand in your customer’s shoes.

 

That’s one of the first goals of any good website. Who is the audience, what is their ‘language’, what do they need, what problems can we solve for them? ~ Gina Fiedel

 

Small Business Takeaways: 

* Empathy is a powerful, humanizing emotion that can personalize your business. Although difficult to assess, it is a critical component.

* Consciously use your empathy filter as a guide for what you say and how you say it. Let it inform and “flavor” your business as a whole.

* Empathy is an important starting point. To turn it into a genuine small business advantage you need to incorporate it into your brand identity and content that is then voiced consistently online and off.

The customer experience is elevated by empathy because it changes the focus from being all about you to being all about them.

* Empathy allows your customers’ goals to be aligned with your own. There’s nothing better than a win-win.

  

Credit and thanks to:

Keeping It Real: Social Branding on the Semantic Web, Alex Riecke-Gonzales, Mark Traphagen, David Amerland, presented by SEO Wise,https://plus.google.com/events/ce4kkjsjtum89n2oob53kkuinic

The Most Important Lessons You Should Have Learned in 2014, Jerod Morris, The Lede, Copyblogger,http://www.copyblogger.com/lede-reflections-2014/ 

Master This Storytelling Technique to Create An Irresistible Content Series, Demian Farnworth, Copyblogger, http://www.copyblogger.com/master-storytelling

photo credit: canva

 

 

10 Reasons Why Small Business Owners Should Be Thankful This Year

Small Business Give Thanks

It’s the time of year when we reflect on our blessings and appreciate the goodness in our lives.

That goes for small business owners, too.

As I sat down to contemplate on all that’s right in the world of small business, it didn’t take me long to come up with 10 big reasons why small business people should be feeling good about the current state of affairs.  

Are there are a ton of challenges? Always.  But that’s for another time and another post.

So putting that aside for the moment, here are my top 10 reasons why small business owners should be thankful this year.  

Each item on my list also includes the name(s) of someone you should get to know (Google+ is the perfect place to find and engage with them) to learn more about each area.  If you’re already on Google+, these names are no doubt familiar to you.  That doesn’t diminish their importance. It validates and enhances it.

 

 1. Semantic Search

Semantic search refers to the fact that Google search is now able to understand conversational language, is contextual, and has come a long way toward understanding the intent behind a query.  It has dramatically changed the way business is done on the web.  Search is marketing and vice versa. It has also opened the door for small businesses.  Maybe not wide open but more than a crack. 

David Amerland’s profound business expertise is deep and far-ranging.  He will always be the man when it comes to semantic search.

 

2. Social Media 

Anyone can be active on social media and build a web presence for their business with no out of pocket cost.  Notice I didn’t say for “free”, because the cost of your time is always part of the equation.  Nevertheless, it does allow a degree of visibility (how much depends on the time invested and the strategic use of that time) that can be significant in your business.

Caveat:  As amazing a tool as social media is, it’s also a time sinkhole, so have a plan and stick to it.

Peg Fitzpatrick and Rebekah Radice are two of the most accomplished social media specialists. They have vast experience and spot-on advice for using the major social networks. 

 

3. Web Visibility 

Chasing search rankings is probably not your best option as a small business owner. Thankfully, making yourself visible on the web through your social interactions, your content, all your online activities and off, all pointing back to your website, can make people want to search for YOU.

Ammon Johns has a depth of experience in web visibility, including SEO.  Although he works with businesses of all sizes, he has a granular understanding of small business and tells it like it is.

 

4. Personalized Search 

Because the majority of people use personalized search, even if they don’t realize it, there is no longer a “first” page of Google any more.  That means for people you have connected with, particularly if you are active on Google+ and they have you circled, you will likely show up higher in their search results if their query is related to you and your business.

Mark Traphagen has many areas of expertise in the realm of online marketing.  Few people have as keen an understanding of personalized search as Mark.

 

5. Google+ Hangouts  Hangouts have revolutionized the ability of small businesses to connect face to face with prospective clients, current customers, colleagues, and business team members globally.  

And Hangouts on Air “broadcast for free” gives even the smallest business the potential to build and grow an audience which will accelerate building relationships along with your authority and trust.

Ronnie Bincer is widely known as the “hangout  helper” and has been a leading educator and facilitator in helping others utilize this technology.

 

6. Google+ 

Whether or not your audience is on Google+, it is a “must” network to be active on.  Why?  Besides the obvious answer that Google+ is Google (which, although obvious, is critical to remember), it is a tremendous platform for content discovery and  keeping up with current best practices in all aspects of marketing with some of the best minds in the field.  Not only that, where else can you engage with and ask questions of, those same thought leaders and actually get a response?  The spirit of helpfulness, support, and collaboration on G+ offers an incredible opportunity for small businesses to learn and grow.

Martin Shervington and Stephan Hovnanian know this platform inside and out and have developed successful strategies for businesses to make the most of it, as well as how to extend your reach beyond G+.

 

7. Relationships  

Relationships are traditionally what small businesses do best, and thankfully, are back in the forefront.  People want to do business with other people.  Unless you’re selling a commodity, the relationships and trust you build with others will gain you an audience of people who will think of you when the need arises for your products or services.

Wade Harman is your man for understanding the power of relationships and how they fit into your marketing plan.

 

8. E.A.T.  

Expertise. Authority. Trust.  This is Google’s stated focus…  what Google is looking for.  Among other things, this means quality outranks quantity.  This is good news for small businesses who don’t have the capacity to crank out a steady stream of top-notch content.  But if you know what you’re about and have a website that reflects that and provides a strong user experience, you’re in the running.

SEOs Rand Fishkin and Eric Enge are at the top of the food chain for their understanding and education of others on how to incorporate these principles into your business.

 

9. Work

It would be a disservice to say that all this is easy and simple.  The principles are easy to understand and the work can be undertaken by anyone willing to do it.  But work it is and lots of it.  So why should we be grateful for that?  Because if it truly was easy, everyone would be doing it, making it that much more difficult to stand out.

Equally important, it’s all this hard work that keeps others from gaming the system.

Marisa Goudy is one who understands the work/life balance.  She is equally passionate about her work and her family and manages to find time for both. Her content and her own example will shed light on how to go about achieving this.

 

10. Opportunity 

All of the above reasons are giving small businesses historic opportunities to be noticed and be found.  Is it a level playing field?  Absolutely not.   But there is the potential to be a player in your niche.

If you have a physical address and can take advantage of Google Local, this provides even more opportunities for your business, especially with the rise of voice search and Google Now. Assuming your site is mobile-friendly and with the help of some reviews, this is another opportunity to move the needle in your favor.

Mike Blumenthal is widely respected for his knowledge of Google Local and is a local search and web consultant. Linda Buquet is a Google My Business specialist and Google top contributor. Both are valuable resources in this area.

I can think of no one who is more positive and upbeat about small business opportunities than Gina Fiedel. She spends her time  encouraging and guiding other small business people down a path of creative possibilities.

 

So, as you gather round the table to give thanks this year, remember that we, as small business people, need to count our blessings, too. 

I’d love to hear what you would add to this list!

 

photo credit: Ray Miller/pixabay