Find the Missing Link in Your Social Media Strategy

By: Robbin Block, Blockbeta Marketing

An effective social media strategy depends on finding the right sites to reach your audience. Beyond the major social networks, which attract a large, generalized audience, there are plenty of niche sites which will help you build exposure and website traffic.

Benefits of Niche Sites

  • More targeted: Relevance trumps size
  • Buyers, not browsers: Leads to more qualified, convertible traffic
  • Big fish, smaller pond: Less clutter and noise, more chance to get noticed
  • More meaningful sharing and engagement

Be Where They Are

The point of using social media for business is to get in front of potential customers, which means you want to be where they are hanging out. Whether you choose major or niche sites, define your audience using the following and then match it to the sites that meet your criteria:

Geography: Neighborhood, city, regional, national, international.

Interest: Consider the site’s focus: i.e., design, games, business, etc. Drill down as much as possible to match your target audience.

Demographic: Easily identifiable stuff about participants, like age, income, education. For data about social sites, start your research at PEWInternet.org. For small sites, you may have to find out from the site itself. Look for advertising information in the footer (just for info, not to advertise).

Activity: What people do at the site, i.e., simply commenting vs. watching videos. Think about the kind of content that fits with what your business is about, i.e., if you have a visual business, Instagram and Pinterest may be a good fit.

Affinity: What participants have in common, i.e., people planning a wedding or those that like to invent things with Legos.

Many people participate in both major and niche sites, so select a balance of each. If you choose a major, join subgroups that match your audience, ie., a food related business in Seattle could join the Seattle Foodies group on Facebook.

Where to Find Niche Sites

The more sites seek to create interactivity and engagement, the more they’re likely to offer social opportunities to participate in. Start with the associations and groups your audience belongs to (ask them), then look for social opportunities in the following places:

  • Search Google like a customer looking for a product like yours and see what social sites come up.
  • Industry Associations
  • Online Publications
  • Social site directories
  • Check competitors’ sites for their social badges
  • Look at your own referral traffic data
  • Vendors sometimes have their own social networks too
  • Search Google for “niche social sites” + your area of interest
  • Go local (websites, blogs, publications, etc. in your geographic area)

Don’t Spread Yourself Too Thin

Once you’ve narrowed down your list of niche sites, finding the best match you can, prioritize them by highest amount of traffic. Then, start using them and track the referral traffic to your site, using something like Google Analytics to see if all that effort is paying off.

Learn more about social media marketing.

Robbin is presenting “Slay the Social Media Dragon” at this year’s Bizfair.

Your Fortune Is In The Follow Up

By: Debbie Page

We’ve all heard the phrase, “Your fortune is in the follow up,” which is then immediately followed by,

“Yeah but I don’t want to be sales-y.” Brace yourself friends, I need to tell you something straight and it might sting.

Get over yourself.

One of my great business colleagues says, “Sales is an act of love,” and if you are passionate about what you do and know that it provides great value to your ideal client then it is your obligation to follow up.

Research shows that 80% of sales are made after the 5th follow up. How many times do you follow up? Once? Twice? You are losing money if you do not have a documented and repeatable system to follow up 5 times or more, with people who have expressed interest in your products/services.

You also need to have more in your follow up than, “Are you ready to buy?” This is where the documented follow up system fits in.

Here are 5 steps to include in your sales follow up process:

  1. It’s totally appropriate to make your first follow up about checking in to see if the prospect has any questions or is ready to move ahead.
  2. The second time you follow up reference what they mention they need to attend to before they start working with you.
  3. The third time share something they might find valuable as it relates to their business, an article a blog post (written by you is fine or by someone else)  or a tool that you think they or their clients might find useful.
  4. The fourth time, send them a handwritten note with a $5 coffee card inside and a note that says, “I know you have been working hard, take a break today – coffee is on me.
  5. The fifth time call them. Yes, I said call them. No need to schedule an appointment. Just pick up the phone and give them a ring. “Hi Jack, Liz Lemon here. I was just thinking of you and ratings season and wanted to wish you the best. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help you get that Emmy this year.”

Any of this seem sales-y? Not at all.

Keeping yourself top of mind will keep you in line when your ideal customer is ready to invest with you.

Create a documented sales follow up system and plan that you and everyone on your team follows EVERY time a prospect enters into conversation with you. Having a documented plan that is executed can increase your revenue by 50% or more.

What would an additional 50% in revenue do for you and your business? 

Learn more marketing tips from Debbie at Biz Fair on September 30.

3 Ways the Public Library Helps Entrepreneurs

By: The Seattle Public Library

Whether you are exploring a new business idea or are trying to grow an existing small business, your public library can be an important ally in helping you create a viable plan. The Seattle Public Library (SPL), King County Library System (KCLS), and Pierce County Library System (PCLS) offer access to an extensive selection of free resources for entrepreneurs at any stage.

Here are three great ways you can take advantage of your public library:

1: Conduct Market and Industry Research

Business databases accessible through your library’s website can help you locate valuable research and data that is not available on the open web. With your library card, you can access these tools 24/7 without having to visit the library. You’ll find:

Information about other companies:
Enhanced business directories will help you identify competitors, prospects, suppliers or partners, and they are searchable by type of business and geography. These directories also include detailed information for private companies that can be difficult to find elsewhere, like estimates on revenue and number of employees. Look for: ReferenceUSA (SPL, KCLS) and Mergent Intellect (PCLS, KCLS)

Information about consumers:
Demographics databases are useful for choosing a business location, locating target customers, and sizing your market. These tools go beyond basic census data and dive deeper into consumer spending and psychographics. Look for: DemographicsNow (SPL, PCLS) and Social Explorer (KCLS)

Information about your industry:
Industry reports available through business databases will include your industry’s trends, opportunities, challenges, regional highlights, financial benchmarks, and more. Look for: ABI/Inform Trade and Industry (SPL, KCLS) and Business Source Complete (PCLS)

2: Build Your Technology and Business Skills

Web classes:
Brush up on business and tech skills with online courses you can take at home, at any time, and on your own schedule. Classes range from beginner to advanced level, and include a wide range of courses like social media marketing and Microsoft Access. Look for: lynda.com (SPL, PCLS, KCLS), Microsoft Imagine Academy (all libraries)

Books & eBooks:
Library collections include up-to-date guides on starting a business, writing a business plan, marketing, business tech skills, and more – available in print or as eBooks. Look for: Safari Tech Books (SPL) for its vast collection of up-to-date tech and business eBooks that are always available.

Library events:
Attend free library workshops and events to get expert advice and ask your own questions on topics like marketing, operations, funding, opening a food business, and more. Meet representatives of local agencies at library-hosted open houses. Check your library’s calendar to find out what’s happening soon!

3: Get Research Help

Locating the best business resources for your needs and then learning how to use them can be time consuming and frustrating. Librarians are available to make this process a little less painful! All libraries can help in person, over the phone, and by email; Seattle Public Library also offers one-on-one business research appointments.

Find The Seattle Public Library and Pierce County Library System at the Biz Fair to learn more!

5 Tips to Ensure Your Business Gets Paid

 

By: The Export-Import Bank of the United States

According to a U.S. Bank study, “roughly 82 percent of small businesses actually fail due to inefficient management of cash flow.”  One of the catalysts for inefficient cash flow is outstanding invoices, which continues to be a major pain point for small businesses that try to remain financially healthy. Costs associated with late payments—such as interest costs or legal fees—must be avoided, and when domestic business turns into foreign business, collecting payment can be much harder, so we’ve identified some tips below to ensure your business gets paid going forward.

1. Develop a Systematic Payment process

It’s critical to set up an easy-to-use payment process system to allow your customers to receive automatic notifications, emails and alerts. For example, if a due date is coming soon, an email can be sent out automatically to the buyer or an alert can be sent to the exporter notifying them to call the buyer. Calling has served as a great customer service technique because it allows the exporter to establish a more personal relationship with the buyer.

2. Incentivize customers

As you start to build a relationship with your foreign buyer, it may be wise to incentivize a customer to pay earlier than the due date by providing a small discount on the total invoice price.

 3. Communicate with your company

An exporter’s credit management process needs to be understood by everyone in the organization because there may be times when other internal departments play a part in collecting the payment. For example, an exporter’s sales group may communicate with the client more than the finance department, so being able to communicate, educate and enforce the payment process from all departments may help the exporter collect final payment.

 4. Document, document, document!

Make sure there is an efficient document management system when collecting invoices (especially the signed invoices) and other payment conditions/notices. Each invoice must clearly state terms and conditions, but before sending out an invoice, have a lawyer review the initial invoice template with stated terms and conditions (and if modifications need to be made, have it reviewed every time for consistency).

5. Research, research, research!

Finding out information about a foreign buyer may be difficult, therefore, leveraging your relationship with the U.S. Department of Commerce local offices or your local trade association may help when doing your research on whether or not the potential foreing buyer is in financial good standing. Local credit bureaus or local Chambers of Commerce groups may also be avialable to provide information on foreign buyers and they also may have industry background data on payment tendencies (such as average days sales outstanding). Finally, visiting the foreign buyer in their home country may give an exporter a better idea of whom they are doing business with and helps to establish better relations.

EXIM Bank offers export credit insurance, which helps the exporter mitigate the risk of foreign buyers not able to pay. With export credit insurance, EXIM Bank will cover up to 95 percent of the invoice and, in addition, will vet potential buyers to ensure they are in good financial standing. For more information on export credit insurance, click on this link to set up a free consultation with an EXIM Bank specialist in your local area!

Join John Brislin from the Seattle Regional EXIM Bank at the “How to find customers outside the U.S.” seminar to learn more about how to get paid at Biz Fair on September 30.

10 Things Savvy Online Marketers Do To Get Web Traffic

 By: Anita Campbell, SBA Guest Blogger

Today there are 1.2 billion websites — or one website for every seven people in the world! That’s a lot of competition. If you want to get traffic to your website, you’re going to have to take the right steps.

Take a look at the following 10 things savvy online marketers do to get web traffic.

Improve Website Speed

Sites that load painfully slow will cause visitors to bounce away. Slow loading sites can be penalized by search engines, too.  Tip:  Use one of the free testing tools to test your site’s speed.  Google offers one, but there are others including Webpage Test and Pingdom. Use test data and insights to identify improvements, and then talk with your website developer.

Attach a Blog to Your Website

Having a blog gives you a place to add content to your website — content that attracts traffic. According to Hubspot, businesses with blogs tend to get 3 to 4 times the traffic as those without. Tip: Keep blog content relevant — and informative — but not a sales pitch. Ask yourself, is this topic relevant to why a customer might choose to do business with a company like mine?

Use Proper Keywords

Keywords are search phrases that visitors use to find web pages when hunting in search engines.  Include relevant keywords in your pages and blog posts, used in a natural way, and over time you’ll be more likely to attract traffic from search engines.  Tip:  Choose keywords as specific as possible to your type of business, product, service or industry. That way you’ll attract visitors that are really interested in what you have to offer.

Share all Your Content on Social Media  

Share all of your blog content, whitepapers, videos and more on social media. Social media is no time to be overly modest. Tip: Don’t go overboard. For example, don’t share the same blog post ten times a day on Twitter — that’s spamming not sharing. And don’t forget to be a good social media citizen by commenting on and liking others’ updates and sharing their content.

Seek Guest Blogging Opportunities

Write original engaging and informative content. Then approach sites in your industry and request to publish it. This exposes your business to a new audience. Tip: Approach guest blog posts as an opportunity to provide information to readers, not as a free ad. You’ll have more credibility.

Publish an Email Newsletter

Regular newsletters can be a great way to drive traffic. Include blog post snippets in your newsletter along with links back to full content on your site. Tip: Put a “subscribe” box on just about every page of your website. Also, when your newsletter comes out each month, alert your social media followers to encourage them to subscribe.

Participate in Social Groups

Become an active member of groups on sites like LinkedIn and Facebook. Regularly comment  or answer questions. Tip: Know the rules before you post links back to your site or blog.  Some groups do not allow links.

Use a Call-To-Action on Posts

A call-to-action can be used at the end of blog posts to encourage people to click on other content in your site. The more relevant content a visitor sees, the more likely he or she will visit again. Tip: A blog post is a great way to promote longer form content such as ebooks and whitepapers.

Make Optimum Use of Headlines

Half the battle today in getting visitors is the headline. You have to grab a reader’s attention to get the click through.  Tip:  Don’t let the headline of your content be an afterthought. Titles of blog posts, videos and social updates are so important that I actually created my own title generator tool.

Pump up Your Local Listings

If you operate a business with a brick and mortar location, then being listed in local directories is crucial. Bing Places for Business, Google My Business, Apple Maps, yellow pages sites, and Facebook Places / local are just some of the places to make sure your business appears. Tip: Check to see if you’re listed using free checkers at places like AdviceLocal, Synup or Moz Local.

Finally, remember that getting web traffic is a marathon, not a sprint. Be in it for the long haul.

Tips for Success in Choosing a Business Structure

By: Stacey Romberg, Attorney at Law. www.staceyromberg.com

Choosing a business structure can be a daunting task! I recommend that entrepreneurs, in making their selection, analyze the following four factors:

Evaluate Your Risk

Does your business idea involve some risk of liability? If so, in what sense? And how much risk? For example, do you want to lead rock climbing excursions? Or to provide a more common example, suppose you want to operate a cross training gym? The risks involved in these types of businesses are clear – the participants may be injured. On another note, suppose you are a wedding photographer? You could be on the hook if the photos don’t turn out well and the bride and groom become angry and litigious. Generally speaking, if your business involves a great deal of potential risk, a business entity such as a corporation or a limited liability company (LLC) may prove helpful in shielding you from individual liability.

Evaluate Your Business Relationships

Breaking up is hard to do! Most couples, when they get married, incorrectly assume that their relationship will last forever so no prenuptial agreement is necessary. Similarly, many business owners assume they will always be able to work together well so there’s no need to spend money on legal fees to develop a corporate Shareholders Agreement or LLC Operating Agreement. These agreements govern the relationship between business owners, and can spell out what will happen if business owners are deadlocked or how a business owner may exit out of the business. A breakup of a business relationship can resemble the dissolution of a marriage, with all the accompanying drama, stress, and expense. If you are going into business with another person, enter into that relationship with caution and a solid legal agreement in place.

Confer with Your Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

Be sure, as you consider what business structure to form, to consult with your CPA about the tax implications of the various business structures. It’s important that you understand all the financial facts regarding your potential tax liabilities before making a decision.

Confer with Your Business Attorney

A business attorney should form any business entity other than a sole proprietorship. If your business is not formed properly, you may be disappointed to discover that, in the event of litigation, the business entity fails to shield you from personal liability because the structural documents are insufficient, inappropriate, or not being consistently followed.

Stacey L. Romberg, Attorney at Law. www.staceyromberg.com This post is for informational purposes and does not contain or convey legal advice. The information herein should not be used or relied upon in regard to any particular facts or circumstances without first consulting with an attorney.

Small Business Bookkeeping

By: Jim McClaflin, Director at Washington State Society of Enrolled Agents (WSSEA)

What we see in the tax business are small businesses that are running a profitable business but their bookkeeping processes don’t hold up under an IRS audit. When you have difficulties proving your income and expenses to the IRS you then have to in essence recreate the business’ books properly. This is expensive for the owner(s) as this type of bookkeeping comes at a premium cost. Audits are normally done years after the tax return is filed and it is difficult to remember all the details of your business transactions, which could result in unallowed deductions or additions to business income.

Here are a couple of common stumbling areas for small business bookkeeping that we frequently see:

  • Combining personal and business accounts. There is nothing illegal about doing this, but it greatly complicates an audit and brings your personal accounts into the audit process. If you sell a personal car on Craigslist and that income goes into your personal account which is included in the audit, then you have to prove that the sale of your personal car was not business income. In an audit the IRS will go through every single deposit and you have to show that it was not business income. Personal expenses paid out of your business account can be identified as an owner’s draw, however an excessive amount of personal expenses will cause the auditor to question if some of the business expenses are in fact personal in nature and not deductible. For LLCs and Corporations this starts to breakdown the legal distinction between the person and the company.
  • Not keeping invoices or receipts. Several businesses use their credit card statements that show where the purchase was made as their method of proof of a business expense. This is not a fool proof plan. In a Washington State audit if you have made a purchase over the internet the credit card statement will not show if you paid sales tax. In an audit if you can’t prove via an invoice that you paid the sales tax, then you will be required to pay use tax (the same rate as sales tax). Since I run a tax business a purchase from Staples would logically be a business expense and accepted in an audit, however a purchase from Lowes would be questioned and I’d likely need to show an receipt proving that what I purchased was needed for the business. The best plan it to scan in all your receipts and write any notes about the purchase on the receipt or invoice.
  • Not using a professional bookkeeper.  Bookkeeping seems pretty easy to do, until it isn’t. A professional bookkeeper is a cost effective method of keeping your business records straight. At the very least have a professional set up your books and show you how to make the entries correctly. Going back to fix the books is incredibly frustrating and time consuming for a business owner. A professional will also bring other accounting/tax knowledge to your team besides just the books themselves.

Learn more at: http://wssea.org

Buyer Beware: 6 Things to Ask the Seller for When Buying a Business

By: Rose Gundersen, Small Business Liaison with WA State Department of Labor & Industries

Did you know when you buy an existing business — or a part of one — you assume the workers’ compensation claim liabilities of that business? It’s true. The new business owner inherits the claim responsibilities and their impact on premium rates.

How to protect yourself
To uncover potential hidden future expenses and risks, ask the seller to disclose the following 6 items before you buy a business. (This information isn’t usually included in financial documents and L&I can only disclose it to the current business owner, not to a potential buyer.)

1. Injury and Cost Profile: This 1-page report covers a 5-year history of workers’ compensation and injury data for the business, including:

  • Premiums which may include savings from a Claim-Free Discount or higher rates due to time-loss or disability claims.
  • Total number of claims per year.
  • Experience factor (over 1.0 means higher rates).
  • Claims-Free Discount history.
  • Top 5 types of injuries specific to the industry and the injury types incurred by the business.

2. Injury Report: This report shows the claim expenses incurred by the business without revealing identifiable information such as the injured worker’s name or the claim number. Claim expense categories include medical, time-loss, partial permanent disability, pension, and more.

3. Estimated Future Rate Projection: This predicts the business’s future experience factor and premium expenses, assuming that the business data remains unchanged.

4. Safety and Health Consultation Report: The business’s workplace safety culture is an intangible asset or risk that you’ll inherit as a buyer. Scheduling a no-cost, risk-free L&I safety consultation will help you assess this culture and evaluate whether it is an asset or a risk. The consultation includes a walk-through visit to the worksite to look for workplace hazards and an evaluation of the Accident Prevention Program. The business can’t be fined as a result of the consultation. Correcting serious hazards, however, is required with no financial penalties.

5. Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) Log Records: Businesses with 11 or more employees may be required to record workplace injuries and illnesses on an OSHA 300 log (OSHA.gov).Reviewing these logs will inform you of hazards and the effectiveness of workplace health and safety programs. (The business must keep these reports on site for 5 years.)

6. Risk Management Consultation: This free consultation provides a review of the business’s injury history and a step-by-step plan with best practices to help control costs. If you plan to proceed with the purchase after learning the injury history and safety culture, a risk management consultation is an excellent mitigation step.

Partial business purchases
Even if you purchase only a part of a business, you can inherit the seller’s workers’ compensation liabilities. For example, if you bought a customer list, inventory or other partial assets and employees working in those reported risk classifications were injured on the job, you could potentially assume the claim liability.

Example of potential impact
To better understand workers’ compensation rates, remember that:

  1. The risk class reflects the overall loss history of each industry.
  2. The experience factor reflects the loss history of the business.
  3. A claim affects a business’s experience factor for 3 years, but your rate won’t be affected for 2-3 years after the injury date.
  4. An experience factor above 1.0 means more claim liability than average for that industry. An experience factor below 1.0 means less claim liability than average for that industry.

Assuming 10 full-time employees working 480 hours per quarter, here is an example of how various experience factors could affect the annual premium you’ll pay.

Table showing how a business's experience factor affects workers' compensation premium rates. Row 1: Telephone clerks with a risk class base rate of $.1569/hour will cost $3,012 at a 1.0 experience factor, $2,711 at a 0.9 experience factor, and $6,025 at a 2.0 experience factor. Row 2: Roofing work with a risk class base rate of $7.6753/hour will cost $147,366 at a 1.0 experience factor, $132,629 at a 0.9 experience factor, and $294,732 at a 2.0 experience factor.

More resources
If you’d like to learn more about ways to protect yourself and manage premium costs for your business, visit www.Lni.wa.gov/ControlMyCosts or our Help for Small Business web page.

Cyber Security

By: Kate Hoy, Washington PTAC Business Analyst

The buzzword of the year! Cybersecurity! What is it and what does it mean to you, the small business owner?

The formal definition of cyber security is “ ….the body of technologies, processes and practices designed to protect networks, computers, programs and data from attack, damage or unauthorized access” . The word cybersecurity is defined my Webster’s as “ measures taken to protect a computer or computer system (as on the Internet) against unauthorized access or attack.” So when you develop a cyber security plan, you are reassuring those outside your organization that their information is safe and secure when they interact with you via the internet.

Examples of who might be interested in your cyber security plan include suppliers, customers, government agencies, banks and other third parties.

Standards are being created and pushed out on a daily basis in an effort to provide small business owners a simple roadmap to creating their security plan. The reality is your plan will ultimately be based on your particular situation.   When thinking of your cyber security plan, it might help to think of what you did when you developed a security plan for your brick and mortar location.  You assessed the situation, identified weaknesses, put proper safeguards in place, and arranged a method of monitoring the situation over time.

This will be a similar process for developing your cyber security plan. You will look at your record keeping processes, make sure your funds are safe and secure, and develop a plan to follow when security is breached.

Many large customers as well as government agencies will require you have a plan in place prior to doing business with them.  Government agencies will require you have a written plan in place by the end of 2017 in order to sell to them.  These requirements have made cyber security the hot topic of the day as well as a high priority for many small business owners.

Start your plan by assessing your situation and documenting your procedures. This will go a long way in making those that do business with you via the internet feel safer and more secure about continuing their business relationship!

Questions on the governments requirements? Contact your local PTAC office or visit www.washingtonptac.org