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Six Tips to Help Your Small Business Thrive

As we conclude National Small Business Week, it’s important to head into the rest of the year strong. After all, more than half of Americans own or work for a small business, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. And if we don’t own a small business or work for one, it’s likely that someone close to us does.

With that in mind, Optimum Business, a high-speed broadband Internet service provider, is offering 12 tips—and not just tips but ‘proven tips’ to help small businesses thrive in 2011 and beyond. So without further ado, here are the first six tips, with my thoughts and reactions along the way.

1. Build a Team: Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, writes that having the “right people on the bus” is the single most important determinate of success for any business. Ask yourself, do you have the right team in place?

2. Be Optimistic: Optimism is the fuel that drives most entrepreneurs when all others would lose hope. In fact, a study among small business owners by Cablevision’s Optimum Business unit shows that over 75 percent of small businesses believe optimism plays a critical role in their on-going success.

3. Reward Hard Work: Once you’ve built a team, remind them regularly how much you value their contributions and to celebrate their accomplishments. It never hurts to use cash, but there are other incentives. Even a kind word will do.

4. Plan for the Future: It is hard to get anywhere if you don’t know where you want to go. Imagine where you want your business to be in two years, five years or even 20 years. Studies show that if you write down your goals, you are more likely to achieve them.

5. Don’t Sacrifice Quality for Value: Watching every penny like a hawk seems to be wired into the DNA of most entrepreneurs. But be careful not to cut costs at the sake of quality. Look for vendors who can deliver value, providing the quality you need at a rate that works too.

6. Be Accessible: For better or worse, we’ve moved into an era of 24/7 accessibility, in which customers have come to expect interaction on their schedule, not necessarily yours. While it is up to you to decide how accessible you want to be, technologies like e-mail and “find me” telephony give you lots of options.

Stay tuned on Monday for six more tips to help your small business thrive.
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Small Business Branding Online

With millions blogs, podcast feeds and new folks singing on to the Web every day, at least part of marketing’s present and future is online.

Internet-based media could overtake newspapers and radio as the prime information sources for consumers, especially with technologies like streaming radio and Internet Protocol Television that broadcasts videos online, according to Brendan Kownacki, an Interactive Media Specialist with Live Wire Media Relations, LLC, a public relations firm in Alexandria, Va.

“The power of the Internet has expanded beyond what many could have ever imagined and has opened limitless doors for most industries in the world, including media relations,” Kownacki says. “The ability to reach millions of people around the globe with a message in a matter of seconds has changed the face of the media, and public relations world along with it.”

Kownacki’s message: As you launch your branding effort, don’t forget the Internet–and be consistently. Doubtless, consistency is a critical part of branding communication. Consistent presentation of your brand, product or organization is no exception is always critical, she says, but when you begin to consider all the new ways to reach an audience today, and all the ways people are talking amongst themselves, you might miss out on the conversation.

The Internet is where many of your customers see your brand for the first time so it’s important that your image is projected professionally. Never  underestimate the power of a brand. It is your introduction to the consumer. It is important to have that consistent look throughout all advertising venues.
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What a Sign Company Can Teach You About Social Media

Looking for success in social media? Take a page out of the playbook of Signtronix, a 50-year-old manufacturer of signs for small businesses.

The signmaker reports a significant uptick in new business development—and stronger customer relations—by using Facebook and Twitter. Sure, many social media gurus make the promise of rising sales and word of mouth. But Signtronix has taken the social networking ball in its own hands and scored a slam dunk.

What can you learn from Signtronix’ success? Read on…

"Many companies have been scratching their heads thinking about Facebook, Twitter and other social media tools available to them and wondering what they can possibly achieve from them," says Tom Johnson, director of Marketing at Signtronix. "Almost every company either has jumped on or wants to jump on the social media bandwagon, but they don't have any specific goals for their efforts.”

Key one: Set specific goals around your social media campaign. Without clear objectives, you could waste a lot of time.

Signtronix set up its Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites with a single goal:
showing potential customers the power and beauty of its sign products and allowing customers a forum to talk about their experience with their new sign.

“In just the last four to six months we've received phenomenal customer feedback and hundreds of referrals just because people have forwarded our Facebook site to other business owner friends or family who need a new sign for their business,” Johnson says.

Key two: When you get feedback, respond to it. Signtronix has done a good job of listening to its customers and making updates based on what they want to see or know.

Indeed, the company’s social media campaigns have helped both on and offline. Facebook has provided important in-field support as well. Johnson reports a number of his sales reps calling to tell him they sold signs specifically because business owners saw their Facebook messages.

“One customer immediately pointed to a sign on our Facebook page and said, 'That one! I want one just like it' and ordered the sign right away,” Johnson says.

Key three: Make social media a part of your sales efforts. Be sure to refer customers to your Facebook fan page to check out new specials or to see photos, etc.

Beyond the sales lift, Signtronix’ Facebook and other social media campaigns have also spawned word of mouth, another promise of these sites. And not just word of mouth—but good word of mouth.

"The positive feedback provided on our Facebook page and via Twitter has been incredible,” Johnson says. “We've had such great comments about our signs and also our sales and customer service representatives.”

Getting the picture? It’s not always necessary for your small business to spend big bucks on a social media guru. There are some common sense strategies you can employ on your own.
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Small Business Branding With Color

Color is vital to branding and not just any color will do. The language of color is vast, with deep meanings that speak to the subconscious of consumers.

“The color needs to connect the product’s usage to its audience,” says Barry Ridge, CMG, Creative Director at Barry Ridge Graphic Design in Camarillo, California. “If you are marketing power tools to an adult male audience, and you product them in lavenders and pinks, you probably won’t sell many.”

Ridge continues the power tool analogy by pointing to major name brands. If you go to Home Depot today and walk down the power tools aisle, you will discover that all the major companies have claimed their own branding color. Milwaukee Tool is red. DeWalt is yellow. Black & Decker is deep blue-green. Any new entrant that tried to claim one of those colors would have a hard time because it is connected with a brand. In the self-storage industry, everyone is familiar with Public Storage’s orange doors.

Colors are key in branding because they have psychological impact on customers. Indeed, experts say certain colors can be used to communicate the theme of what you are promoting, be it the lowest price in town or higher quality or greater value. Understanding the deeper meaning of colors can help you choose the most appropriate combinations for your brand. Here’s a quick overview of the common color gamut.

Black: Black typically communicates authority and power. Black is a good choice for typefaces because it contrasts nicely against most light backgrounds and therefore can be read from long distances.

Red: Red is a color of high emotion. Studies show it stimulates shopping and appetite. That’s why red cars are known for their sex appeal. Of course, red is a “hot” color that also signifies low price and sales.

Blue: The opposite of red, blue is a “cool” color that communicates elegance and quality. It has a calming effect and also symbolizes freedom.

Green: This color is rarely used in retail settings except lawn and garden and food establishments. Green symbolizes health and nature

Yellow: Yellow is an attention-grabbling color, but experts warn this color should only be used as a background or accept color, in most cases, because it’s difficult to read yellow letters from a distance.

Purple: This color signifies royalty, luxury, wealth and is therefore in appropriate for most self-storage facilities that promote value and savings.

Brown: Brown, on the other hand, is a good choice for industrial applications because it is earthy and signifies reliability and genuineness. UPS has done well with its drab brown brand.

Keep in mind that different shades of these colors may produce altogether different meanings, so working with a graphic designer or branding expert who fully comprehends the language of color is vital in any branding effort. Ridge says there are no hard and fast rules for color combinations. Thy way the culture is now, he explains, you could put just about any color combination together and make it look good if you do it right and in the right proportions.

“Color has to connect with the audience, so you need to have some knowledge of how the audience will perceive the color,” Ridge concludes. “Just as you would use a good headline or catch phrase, you need to use colors that connect in people’s minds in a positive way. There’s a bit of a mystery to it. Color is an endless subject, but you can use it to beat your competition.”
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Groupon Competitor Launches Small Business Deals

Whether you’ve tried Groupon and didn’t like it or are just looking for a less costly expensive to the daily deals site, you might want to check out ShareItUp. The new coupons  aim directly at the heart of small businesses and it’s free.

Launched by PeopleString, the free social coupon platform for small businesses offers what the company calls ShareItup coupons. Although the name didn’t immediately turn my head in a market dominated by Groupon and Living Social—and even Facebook Deals—once I understood the concept the name made perfect sense.

"PeopleDeals now offers businesses the level of service they need to build their social marketing initiatives,” says Darin Myman, president and CEO of PeopleString. “Additionally, our service creates almost a micro group buying platform for businesses who have lower cost goods and services that would not lend themselves to the more traditional group buying platforms.”

See, ShareItUp coupons go up in value the more they are shared. Really, it’s a brilliant idea. Here’s how it works: People share coupons on social networks and applications such as Facebook and Twitter with a free PeopleDeals business account. That account lets any business set up a ShareItUp offer and have their offer or deal posted in the PeopleDeals deal listing. This is very unique in a crowded social coupon landscape, and may gain traction through Facebook in a hurry.

Businesses can also opt for an “ultimate” account that offers a  full service social-media marketing program for $199 a month. That includes managing a businesses’ ShareItUp offers, Facebook business page, Twitter following, and PeopleDeals business homepage, as well as building their local social media following. The company has more than 1,500 'Feet on the Street' ready to start selling PeopleDeals this week.

Check out the YouTube video on the new deals site:

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