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Cross-Channel Marketing: How the Nation’s Top Retailers Do It

December 31st, 2012 ::

By Rieva Lesonsky

Are you a brick-and-mortar retailer who also has a website to sell your products? Wouldn’t it be great if you could get more customers shopping at both your physical store and your website? You can. Just learn a lesson from what some of the nation’s most successful retailers are doing to market their products in multiple channels.

Internet Retailer recently examined the habits of some of the nation’s top retail chains and here are the most common tactics they found:

Promote in-store only discounts or deals on your website or via email marketing. For instance, you can email a coupon good only in your store (but include links to your website so customers can shop both ways).

Offer online ordering with in-store pickup. This appeals to customers who are in a rush to get the product or don’t want to pay for shipping. More retailers are offering shorter time frames for in-store pickup, such as Staples, which promises to have shoppers’ orders ready in two hours. If you make such a promise, be sure you have the manpower to fulfill it.

Offer online ordering and in-store payment. Some consumers still don’t feel comfortable using credit cards online or prefer to pay in person for other reasons. You can attract those users by enabling them to reserve a product online, then pick it up and pay in-store.

Do a subtle upsell. Apple, for instance, urges customers to shop online but then come into a store to pick up the product and get “personal assistance.” If your product, like Apple’s, is one where customers could benefit from additional assistance, this approach can get them to come in and spend more in-store than they might have online.

If you’re offering the pickup or pay-in-store option, make sure the area where customers go to pick up their products is merchandised attractively. For example, you could display items related to commonly ordered products (such as cords or accessories if you sell electronics) or impulse buys such as gift wrap or small-ticket items.

Make sure your website has multiple ways for users to find your physical store/s, such as a map and directions, address, and a phone number to contact you. Also make certain that information about days and hours you’re open is prominently displayed.

Increasingly, consumers expect a seamless experience that allows them to shop how and when they want, so make sure your website encourages shopping in any possible sales channel.

Image by Flickr user Jamison_Judd (Creative Commons)


Plan Now for a Great Company Holiday Party

November 2nd, 2012 ::

By Rieva Lesonsky

It’s November and although the holidays may seem far away, if you’re planning to have a holiday party for your small business, you’d better get moving on your plans. Hotels, restaurants and other party locations book up far in advance, so it’s not too soon to start thinking about this year’s holiday celebration. Here are some tips for keeping it festive while still under budget.

  1. Choose an off time. Booking your event on a weeknight or even during the day rather than a more popular time such as a Friday night can save you big bucks. You might even consider having a holiday luncheon and letting your employees take the rest of the afternoon off. You’ll save on menu items, drinks and venue rental costs.
  2. Host at home. If your company is small enough, your home is big enough and you feel comfortable enough with your employees, hosting your holiday party at your home is a great way to build bonds with your staff. It feels extra-special when they’re invited into your home, and you save money on venue rental to boot.
  3. Celebrate in the office. Depending on your staff and the “vibe” you want to create, having a party in the office can be just as much fun as going to an outside location—especially if you spend the money you’d normally spend on a venue bringing in better food, fun activities that your team will enjoy or otherwise creating a festive environment.
  4. Time it right. No rule says you have to have your holiday party in November or December. Consider hosting a New Year’s celebration in January instead—it starts 2013 off with a bang, saves you money and gives employees more time to spend on personal matters (like holiday shopping) during the already-busy holiday season. This can work especially well if, like many small businesses, the holidays are your busiest time of the year.
  5. Speech, speech! No holiday party is complete without the boss (that’s you) thanking the team for a great year. Personal recognition such as gift certificates, cash bonuses or actual gifts for each employee are always great, too. Top it off with a handwritten, personal card that tells each employee something you appreciate about them.

Whatever decisions you make about your company holiday party, “personal” is key to making the event fun, meaningful and memorable—so feel free to do things your way.

Image by Flickr user Mike_fleming (Creative Commons)

How to Source Products at a Trade Show

August 2nd, 2012 ::

By Karen Axelton

Is your retail or ecommerce business looking for hot new products to sell? One of the best places to scope out new products is at a trade show. Trade shows are where manufacturers and wholesalers show off their hot new products, and offer a great venue to comparison shop among different product lines you might want to carry.

Here are some tips for sourcing products at a trade show.

Start by checking out trade shows that might be good for your industry. You can find directories of trade shows around the world at TSNN.com and find industry-specific ones through your industry association. These days it’s easier than ever to scope out shows ahead of time by visiting their websites. You can see who the exhibitors will be and whether they’re worth your while.

Be prepared. Pre-register for the show so you don’t waste time the day of the event. Bring plenty of business cards, your business checkbook and/or credit cards, and a rolling suitcase or other method for carrying documents, samples or brochures you collect at the show.

Plan your attack. Look at the show layout online (or pick up a directory when you get there if the information is not available online). Determine key vendors you want to see.

At the booths, get all the information you can about the companies you’re interested in, including product catalogs, literature and samples. Talk to exhibitors and exchange business cards. It’s a good idea to have a list of questions to ask ahead of time so you don’t waste your (or the exhibitors’) valuable time.

Get a feel for trends. Don’t focus so closely on a few booths that you miss the big picture. Walk the whole show and notice what colors, products or materials stand out to you. For example, if you’re at a home décor show, maybe natural fibers and colors dominate this year. Take notes on what you see and use your smartphone to take photos, too.

Take breaks. Wear comfortable shoes and take breaks now and then to grab a drink or snack. While you’re resting, gather your thoughts, take notes and plan the rest of your day.

Place orders. You can often get good deals at trade shows, so if you see a product you’re interested in, place an order now. If you don’t want to pay right away, see if the vendor will let you place an order now for delivery in three or six months and still give you the “show price.”

Follow up. When you get back from the show, organize your data, go through the literature you gathered and follow up with companies you’re interested in while the show is still fresh in both of your minds.

Image by Flickr user calm a llama down (Creative Commons)

How to Run an Officeless Office

May 31st, 2012 ::

By Maria Valdez Haubrich

Unassigned workspace is a rapidly growing concept in which employees don’t have permanent offices, workstations or even desks, but simply come in to work and sit wherever space is available. Also called hoteling or nonterritorial space, the concept saves you on construction, office furnishings and square footage. Sounds good, but how does it work in real life? And would it work for your business?

The Wall Street Journal recently took a look at this trend and some of the challenges that can arise. With big companies like Pricewaterhouse Coopers, GlaxoSmithKline and American Express warming to the idea, unassigned workspace is clearly an idea whose time has come. Companies that participate in the trend generally cite substantial financial savings and other benefits. Here are some issues you’ll need to consider before you implement unassigned workspace in your business.

Noise: You’ll need to set some type of noise policy to keep employees from being constantly distracted. PWC has signs throughout the offices asking employees to use quiet voices and headphones, for example.

Storage: Some companies provide lockers for employees to leave their equipment overnight and store their jackets and other personal belongings during the day. When it comes to paper files, you’ll need to consider whether workspaces will have storage, whether employees will carry documents with them or whether you’ll “go paperless” (as most officeless companies try to do).

Reservations: Some companies allow employees to reserve spaces ahead of time. At others, it’s catch as catch can. If you have prime space such as areas close to windows, you’ll need to set some type of policy for who can use it.

Etiquette: To avoid arguments, set policies for basics such as leaving work areas free of food, crumbs and trash, and replacing any office supplies you use.

Collaboration: Employees in open offices tend to collaborate more, but this can create noise, so you may want to set aside enclosed conference rooms or common areas where workers can chat or hold meetings.

One interesting benefit GlaxoSmithKline found is that employees without offices interacted more informally, which cut down on email by 50 percent. Employees simply walked over and talked to each other instead of sending emails. At the same time, decision-making accelerated 25 percent, making the officeless office more efficient and more effective.

Image by Flickr user damo 1977 (Creative Commons)





PDF to Word: PDF to Microsoft Word Converter: Small Business Resource

May 15th, 2012 ::

PDF to Word

With all the documents flying back and forth among you, your clients and your staff, it’s easy to come across a PDF (or two) you need to edit—and quickly! PDF to Word can convert any PDF into an editable Word document in the format of your choice. You can control the layout, the images and the header, and even use the font of your choosing. Convert one file at a time or a whole batch. Plus, the conversion happens on your desktop and not on a third-party site, so you enjoy greater security. Download the free trial version to try it out.

Panda 3.4, SEO and Link Building: Keeping It Natural

April 11th, 2012 ::

By Andreea Cojocariu

Google released a new Panda update this week. Its quest to make search as user friendly and relevant as possible is pushing forward. This update only affects about 1.6 percent of search. However, it reminds us that Google is determined to make the lives of everyday Internet users as easy as possible. This has quite an impact on SEO.

SEO 101

The idea is to have a website that is geared toward your target audience. That’s pretty obvious.  However, SEOs understand that you can make your website user friendly, but also search engine friendly. Certain aspects of a website’s design aren’t always search engine friendly (i.e., use of too many images, Flash). The problem now is that it’s become easy to play the “SEO game.” If you do x, y, z, you’ll rank number one in searches. Google is saying no to that. And it’s up to online marketers, specifically SEOs, to keep up with Google and change accordingly.

The basic premise: Keep it natural. Give your target market what they want. And what they want is quality content–facts, research, unbiased reasons why your product or service is by far better than your competitions. You can do this with articles, press releases, blogs and market research.

SEO Crossfire

Keeping that in mind, Google’s Panda updates are making it harder for black hat SEO to rank well…as it should. Caught in the crossfire, however, are what we would consider good quality websites. I recently noticed drastic drops in backlinks for several of my clients. One went from having over 1K links to 6. At first, I thought it was a fluke. But then I checked other sites I was working on, 6 seemed to be the magic number. Now, it’s not 6 for every website out there, but the decrease is noticeable. To check your site for backlinks, enter  link:www.yourwebsite.com.

Links and Affiliates

Google has been evaluating links.  If your backlink is coming from a spammy site, it’s not going to get counted. This can be quite the problem for companies utilizing affiliate marketing. One of my clients in particular has a rather successful affiliate program. And recently, their back links have dropped.

To combat this, I’ve become rather particular when I approve potential affiliates. Here’s what I do:

  • Check title and meta descriptions of the homepage. I’m looking for keywords, specifically ones that match my products. If they are there, I approve them.
  • Make note of where links are located on the page. Ideally, you want content on top and then ads and links below the fold of the webpage.
  • Make note of the types of products and services. Someone affiliates just want to make money and will advertise anything. Make sure that their site matches your business profile.
  • Make note of excessive images and use of Flash. Search bots have a harder time crawling Flash and images, which means that these sites won’t get crawled nearly as frequently as others.

By the way, you don’t want to overdo SEO either.  Google is going to penalize sites with too much optimization. You want to keep your site as natural as possible.  If you have a good keyword list, it should be pretty intuitive. Creating quality content with your keywords should be easy for your copywriters whether you have someone in house or through an agency.  That being said, many of you won’t see too much of a dip in traffic or sales. But you may notice small things like decreased backlinks or small drops in ranking. If it’s been a while since you touched your website for SEO, you really could see a big dip. Either way, prepare yourself. Stay connected and ask your online marketer for advice on how to make your website both user friendly and search engine friendly.

Andreea Cojocariu, also known as the Smiling Marketress, is an online marketer in St. Louis, Missouri, specializing in SEO and social media. She has a knack for developing successful online marketing programs resulting in increased sales and ROI for small businesses. By keeping her eye on clients’ target market, she helps companies create both user friendly and search engine friendly content. Cojocariu has a B.A. in English, an MBA and is currently pursuing her Doctorate in Business Administration. Connect with her on Twitter (andreeac_t) or LinkedIn.


Employee Benefits Are Key to Landing–and Keeping–Employees

April 4th, 2012 ::

By Rieva Lesonsky

Are you using employee benefits as “bait” to lure, land and retain workers in your small business? After a few years in which employers downsized benefits to cut costs, Metlife’s 10th annual Study of Employee Benefits Trends found that more and more employers are realizing that benefits are more important then ever in attracting and keeping employees.

The workplace has changed dramatically since MetLife did its first such survey 10 years ago. Here’s some of what MetLife found about how generational shifts, the recession and changes in the healthcare outlook are affecting benefits.

Employees are less loyal. The percentage of employees who say they are “very loyal” to their employer hit a seven-year low, at just 42 percent. One-third of all workers in the survey said they would like to change jobs in 2012; however, among Gen Y employees, that number climbs to 50 percent.

Employers are more loyal. The tables have turned and with employer recognizing the economy is beginning to recover, the percentage of employers who feel “very loyal” to their employees has reached a seven-year high. As a result, 60 percent of employers in the survey realize that benefits are a key opportunity to retain workers.

Young workers are more risk-averse about retirement. While younger generations are typically portrayed as carefree, in reality, 81 percent of Gen Y employees favor conservative investments in their retirement portfolio, compared to just 76 percent of Baby Boomers. MetLife theorizes this is because Gen Y may be skeptical of Social Security’s continued existence.

Employees are willing to pay for benefits if necessary. According to the study, 62 percent of Gen Y and Gen X employees said they would rather pay more of the cost of their benefits if the alternative is giving them up altogether. Employers’ responses indicate that many of them will use this approach, especially when it relates to healthcare coverage.

Benefits keep employees happy. More than half of employees in the survey agree that benefits are an important tool keeping them satisfied with their current employer. Overall, 61 percent of employees who are “very satisfied” with their current benefits feel “very loyal” to their employer. In comparison, among employees who are “very dissatisfied” with their benefits, just 24 percent feel “very loyal” to their company.

How are you using employee benefits moving forward?

Image by Flickr user Travel Manitoba (Creative Commons)


There’s Still Time to Benefit From the Healthcare Tax Credit

March 27th, 2012 ::

By Maria Valdez Haubrich

With challenges in court and a Presidential election coming up, there’s lots of uncertainty as to how President Obama’s health care reform legislation, the Affordable Care Act, will actually shake out. But one thing is certain: If you provide health insurance for your workers, you may still be able to benefit from a health care tax deduction that was part of the new law.

The Internal Revenue Service is encouraging all small employers that provide their employees with health insurance coverage to claim the small business health care tax credit if they qualify.

To be eligible, the IRS says, a business must pay at least 50 percent of the cost of single (not family) health care coverage for each of its employees. The company must also have fewer than 25 full-time equivalent employees (FTEs), and those employees must have average wages of less than $50,000 a year.

The maximum credit is 35 percent for small business employers. As an example of the potential savings, if you pay $50,000 a year toward your employees’ health care coverage and you qualify for a 15 percent credit, you would save $7,500.

Even if your business didn’t owe tax during the year, you can carry the credit back or forward to other tax years. And since the amount of the health insurance premium payments is more than the total credit, you can still claim a business expense deduction for the premiums in excess of the credit—so you’re getting a credit and a deduction at the same time.

Even tax-exempt small charitable organizations may be able to benefit from the health-care tax credit. For more details, including a step-by-step guide for determining your eligibility, examples of typical tax savings under various scenarios, answers to frequently asked questions, a YouTube video and a webinar, visit the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit page on IRS.gov.

If you need more time to determine your eligibility for the credit, talk to your tax preparer about getting a tax filing extension. If you’ve already filed your 2011 taxes and find that you qualified for the credit, all is not lost: The IRS says you can still claim the credit by filing an amended return. In fact, you can file an amended return for 2010 as well: Eligible small employers can claim the credit for 2010 through 2013 and for two additional years beginning in 2014.

Image by Flickr user Truthout.org (Creative Commons)



Businesses Plan to Spend More on IT This Year

February 15th, 2012 ::

By Rieva Lesonsky

Is your small business getting ready to spend on IT in the next six months? If not, you may want to change your plans. The latest CDW IT Monitor survey found that IT decision-makers’ optimism—and plans to invest in their businesses’ IT—have reached their highest point since the survey began in late 2007.

Almost every sector in the survey was planning to spend on IT in the coming months, including state and federal governments, and small, midsize and large companies in the private sector. The biggest increases were in midsized businesses, with the percentage planning to spend on IT up 7 percent since the last Monitor in October, and in state and federal governments, with the percentage planning to spend up 11 and 10 percent, respectively, since October.

In addition, plans for increased spending were found in almost every industry, including healthcare, manufacturing, IT, professional services, retailing and manufacturing.

Overall, 80 percent of respondents plan to spend on new hardware, with small business hardware spending plans up by 9 percent since October—the largest jump among groups surveyed. An overall 82 percent of respondents plan to spend on new software, with small business IT departments again leading the pack—the percentage planning to spend on software was up 10 percent since October. (Tied with small businesses, local governments’ planned investment in software was up 10 percent, too.)

Midsized businesses and state governments were the most likely groups planning sizable investments in IT. And midsized businesses and federal governments were most likely to be hiring new IT staff. (Overall, projected IT hiring for the next six months is down from last October’s poll.)

What are IT decision-makers’ highest priorities in the next six months? Among those planning to spend on IT, networking (58 percent), security (57 percent), virtualization (56 percent) and cloud computing (47 percent) topped the list.

“The IT spending outlook has reached a significant milestone. More IT decision-makers are feeling optimistic about the prospects of their IT budgets increasing, and they are anticipating significant IT investments in the next six months, especially on the hardware and software fronts,” said Neal Campbell, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at CDW. “We believe that organizations will continue to look at technology investments as ways to boost efficiencies, increase productivity and gain new competitive advantages in 2012.”

What’s the upshot? Even if your business won’t be spending more on IT this year, chances are some of your key clients will—and that could spell opportunity for you.

Image by Flickr user Martin Terber (Creative Commons)


How to Keep Tabs on the Economic Measures That Matter to Your Small Business

August 31st, 2011 ::

By Rieva Lesonsky

These days, the economy is on a wild ride, and pundits and news outlets are all watching economic indicators with bated breath. But what economic indicators really matter to your small business, and how can you keep track of them yourself to make sure you don’t miss a trick? Here are 5 resources you can use to keep your pulse on the economy.

Consumer Confidence: When confidence is higher, consumers tend to spend more, so keeping track of this measure can help you know when to expect more business or, conversely, cut back on inventory and offer more discounts. One good source of consumer confidence measure is The Conference Board.

Employment Data: You’ll hear statistics about layoffs and job creation announced by all major news outlets, but you can also find monthly employment data online at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For many small businesses, an even more important measure is local employment data, which you can find at the BLS site as well.

Real Personal Consumption Expenditures: To learn whether consumers are spending and see trends in spending, you’ll want to check this indicator, released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Producer Price Index: Particularly important to manufacturers or those who purchase products for resale, this indicator tracks the cost of materials used in manufacturing. Following it will give you early warning if your costs for materials—or for products you buy from manufacturers—are likely to increase. Get the data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

U.S. Dollar Value: When the dollar declines in relation to other currencies, U.S. exports are likely to sell better; at the same time, prices in the U.S. will porbably rise since manufacturers will be paying more for anything they source outside the U.S. This information is also widely reported in daily news, but you can also get it from The U.S. Dollar Index Futures.

Image by Flickr user Horia Varlan (Creative Commons)