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Kate Hyland Mercer was proud to be voted ICFNE's Business Coach of the Year

Business Concepts, Inc. congratulates President Kate Hyland Mercer on her achievement!

Empowered, which features one of Kate's articles, was named #5 on New York Best Sellers List!

Save Your Business From Telemarketers

I recently moved to a new house and bought a new cable, internet and phone bundle. It ended up being cheaper to get all three than only cable and internet so we thought, what the heck, let’s plug a home phone in. What’s the harm in giving people an extra way to get in touch with us?

phone-81677_640The answer became immediately obvious. Before we had given out the number to anyone we started getting telemarketing calls. Oh right, that’s why there’s no need for a home phone.

For businesses, being reachable by phone is an absolute necessity. Having someone available to answer that phone can be difficult. Especially if they are always fielding calls from telemarketers and automated messages.

If you are looking to save your business the time and money of dealing with unwanted calls here are a few tips:

  • Register your phone with the national Do Not Call Registry at donotcall.gov
  • Be careful what websites you give your work number to.
  • Sign up for Nomorobo. This is a free service that reduced the number of automatic phone calls you receive from robots.
  • Block specific numbers. Check with your phone provider to see if your phone has a feature that lets you block unwanted calls when you receive them.
  • Ask callers to put you on their do not call list. Legitimate organizations will honor your request. But, be wary of automated messages with instructions to press a key to opt-out. In some cases this may increase the frequency of the calls.

Do you have any other tips for avoiding a barrage of telemarketers and unwanted calls? Add them in the comments below!

4 Ways Bookkeeping Software Can Help Your Business

All business owners know about bookkeeping and how important it is for their business. Bookkeeping involves keeping record of all financial transactions so that the accounting and financial knowledge of the business can be kept up to date and correct. As every business owner knows, keeping up with the finances is very important. Business owners need to know how much money is being spent, if bills are being paid, etc.

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For a long time all bookkeeping and accounting was done on paper but with technology continuing to advance more and more online accounting software options are becoming available.

For a long time all bookkeeping and accounting was done on paper but with technology continuing to advance more and more online accounting software options are becoming available. QuickBooks is the most common accounting software that is available to business owners but some others are Mint, Pear Tree, and Freshbooks. Some companies have different versions of the software depending on what you need to use it for. The accounting software is a much better option for business owners and accountants for many reasons.

1. They save time

Writing invoices and checks and recording every single transaction can be very time consuming. It also takes up more time because each step needs to be done separately. Accounting software, like QuickBooks gets rid of all these time consuming tasks. It is so easy and fast to just put all the information into the system. Another benefit is that these systems can be edited to recall past customers, for example, which allow for continued speed.

2. They provide backup

Manual bookkeeping can be very risky, if there is a fire in the office or you spill your cup of coffee then you lose all the accounting information and that can cause a plethora of problems. With accounting software, these troubles become non-existent. The information in the software can be backed-up and even saved off-site which allows for the information to always be accessible.

3. Less errors/More accuracy

Making a mistake when dealing with finances is never a good thing. With manual bookkeeping there is a greater risk of making a mistake because it becomes a monotonous job. The software automatically balances the transactions as you go so that you don’t have to worry about double entries. Another benefit of accounting software is that some are formatted to alert you if a transaction seems out of place which allows you to check it before it is finalized.

4. Increased compliance

QuickBooks Certified ProAdvisor - QuickBooks CertificationRecently more and more laws have been put into effect that put pressure on finance teams and accountants to reduce non-compliance. With the features of the accounting software, non-compliance is becoming much less of an issue and making it less stressful to follow these laws. The accounting software provides reporting, management, auditing, transaction tracking, to name a few. All these features make bookkeeping faster and compliance easy.

If you are a business owner and need help with bookkeeping or are just looking for an upgrade to software and need some teaching then reach out to us at Business Concepts, Inc. Our staff includes full charge bookkeepers, certified QuickBooks™ experts that can help you utilize the benefits of accounting software.

 

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How to Get on Page 1 of Google’s Search Results

Like most businesses I’m sure you would like to get to page 1 of Google search results. It’s considered by many to be the goal of “SEO”.

Some companies and blogs would like you to believe that a few simple tweaks to your website’s code can do this. In fact this is a process that is going to take some time.

The process is simple, but it takes work to improve how your business gets found online and to get to the top of Google’s search rankings.

 

1. Creating content for your site

One of the main ways that Google decides who to rank highest is based on website content. The newer your webpage information is and the more new pages that you have the better your site will rank.

BCI-googleplacesThis means that you should always be creating new content and updating your website. When I say updating I don’t mean you should be changing the current pages you have. I mean you want to constantly be creating new pages for Google to find.

These are called indexed pages. The more indexed pages that you have the better off you are. The way to create indexed pages is by starting a blog and committing to updating it regularly.

 

2. Optimizing that content

When creating good web content, you want to make sure that it’s optimized for your business, your industry and for the words people will use when they search Google.

To do this you have to make sure keywords are in your content. (This is not as important as it once was. Seriously, people put way too much emphasis on keywords.) But it is still important to make sure you are getting found for the right things.

If you use WordPress I like a tool called WordPress SEO by Yoast. When you create a new post or page in WordPress, this plugin makes it easy to test your blog and make sure that your keywords are in all the areas that Google checks.

 

3. Getting people to share your content

Optimizing your content with keywords is secondary to having blog content that people will share. Google takes into account how share-able your content is when they consider who to rank higher in their search results.

What are the best ways for you to get your content in front of people to read and share?

  • Social Media (Facebook, Google+, etc.)
  • Email Newsletter
  • Bookmarking Sites (Digg, StumbleUpon, etc.)

Using these will put that web content you’ve created in front of your audience. If you are creating good useful articles that are actually helping people they’ll share that with other people. The more people who are linking to and sharing your content the higher your rank in Google search results.

 

4. Optimize for People; Not Computers

Google’s goal is to put the information that people want right in front of them. To do this Google is constantly changing their search algorithms and the way they rank content. If your goal is to get to the top of Google search results then you should have a website that people will want to find and will be searching for.

Your goal should not be to stuff your content with keywords and to spread it out to as many social networks to get as many links as possible. Your goal should be to create and share the kind of content that people will actually want.

That way the next time Google changes it’s algorithm, instead of you moving down in the search rankings because some of the SEO techniques that you used no longer work with Google’s new search rank algorithm, you’ll move up in the rankings because their goal of putting the best content to the top will be getting more and more accurate. If your website is in fact the best, it will continue to rise to the top.

Social media plan template

How to Save Time Blogging

How can I find time to blog?

There is no shortage of excuses for businesses who don’t want to blog. One of the biggest ones I hear is that they simply don’t have the time.

People understand that they need to do it they just don’t always feel that they have the time. It’s true, it can be a huge time commitment. But it’s not necessarily as big of a commitment as people think.

There are 3 areas in my opinion that people spend too much time preparing a blog. They are:

1. Coming up with a topic
2. Actually writing the blog
3. Editing

So I’m going to give you tips that can help you for each of these processes. There are more ways out there to increase your blogging productivity but these are just a couple that I think should get you started.

1. Coming up with an idea

If you try to come up with an idea for every article you create you will use that as an excuse to get writers block. So you will spend an hour or two thinking of ideas instead of spending it writing.

Instead, spend an hour or two every month or every quarters and take that time to write down 20, 30 or 100 topics that you can use for your blog.

You may think that sounds like way too many topics to come up with in one sitting. But really, you only need to come up with around 10 general topics. Then, you can use the same topic in different formats and for different audiences.

Check out 7 Blog Topic Ideas to Get Your Started. This will give you a few ways you can approach the same basic topic to turn your 10+ topics into over 70 blog post ideas.

Come up with your topics and you will have a reference sheet that you can refer to when it’s time to write your daily, weekly, or monthly blog.

2. Actually writing the blog

Running a business is definitely a full time job. Few of us have time to sit in front of a computer for an hour or two and try to write a blog post. But, you don’t necessarily have to write the post in front of a computer.

Right now I’m using a tool called Evernote to take a voice memo of myself while driving to work. Later I’ll listen to the memo and transcribe it into a word file.

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You can also use an Evernote feature that allows you to automatically turn your voice to text. Another tool for this is Dragon Dictation.

You could also pay someone to manually transcribe your voice.

The benefits of using this method:

  • Most of us probably spend enough time sitting in a car all day that we can spend that time productively getting a post out.
  • Ideally, your writing should come across as natural and conversational. If you’re speaking into a microphone you’ll come off more personable than if you were typing away at a computer. You’ll use more common words instead of feeling like you need to come up with complex terms to make it a really fancy piece of writing.

3. Editing

Once you have your article typed up in your computer, your next step should be to edit it. You want to make sure your grammar and spelling are correct, but the real goal is to make it readable.

You want to make sure your sentences make sense, have a clear flow, and aren’t overly complicated.

For this, you should have someone else read your article. You can also print your article out and read it aloud. This can help you hear any obvious mistakes and anything that doesn’t sound right.

A tool that I like for this is Hemingway App.

This is a web application that you can paste your blog into and receive a score for how readable it is. To help you edit, it will highlight some sentences and words that could use simplifying to help you get your readability up.

If you’ve never blogged before, I hope these tools give you a feeling that it’s not as time consuming as you thought. It is in your ability and your schedule to start blogging.

If you already blog, I hope you find these tools as a way to not only speed up the process but to improve what you’re putting out. They should help make your writing more readable, more personable, and more enjoyable.

If you have any further questions please ask them in the comments below or send me a message through my social media channels.

Happy blogging!

Social media plan template

Why Remodelers Need to Be On Houzz

A couple weeks ago EM-NARI hosted an Evening with Houzz, the online community for remodelers and home owners. Houzz allows contractors, remodelers, designers, architects, and other professionals to share images and advice with home owners planning home improvement projects. Based on my experience doing social media for remodelers and contractors and what we learned at the event, Houzz is one of the best ways for professionals in the remodeling industry to get found by new customers.

houzzBefore social media and the internet, homeowners would riffle through home magazines looking for inspiration for their building and remodeling projects. As a remodeler you probably had a stack of these that you would show homeowners to help the process.

Now, your potential customers can simply go online to view ideas for their new projects. Houzz allows them to find millions of pictures categorized by different spaces, styles, colors, products, and dozens of other criteria. Every month, 23 million people visit Houzz for research and ideas. You can use Houzz to make sure your work gets in front of that audience.

While it may not have been practical for you to advertise in home magazines, Houzz makes it simple for your pictures to show up in front of people planning home projects. The important thing that was stressed over and over again at the NARI event was to have high quality photos. While this may be an investment, it will benefit you immensely.

We got plenty of great tips at the event that I’ll be covering in the next couple blog posts. My goal is going to be to show you how to set up your Houzz page and the best practices for managing your page and getting the most out of the site. The takeaway from this post should be that if you aren’t on Houzz, you should definitely check it out.

If you’d like help setting up or managing your Houzz page or if you have specific questions feel free to contact me by email or through the comments below.

Internet Explorer Security Flaw May Leave You Vulnerable

If you’re reading this on Internet Explorer, it may already be too late. Just kidding, but…

Last weekend, the DHS discovered a major security flaw in the internet browser Internet Explorer.

security-326154_150The bug, dubbed “Operation Clandestine Fox” by security firm FireEye, affects Internet Explorer versions 6 and up. It allows hackers to set up malware that could allow them complete access to your system. Once you’ve been infected, a hacker could install apps, break into other accounts, and download further viruses.

What this means for you is you should make sure to stop using Internet Explorer now and make sure your employees do the same. To protect yourself from this vulnerability, you can use one of these three options:

 

1. [Recommended] Use a different internet browser like Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox. No other internet browser is affected by the bug. Also, in general both of these browsers are much better than IE.

2. Enable Enhanced Protected Mode. If you don’t want to stop using Internet Explorer, this workaround will protect your computer from attack. Check out this video for instructions.

3. Disable Adobe Flash plug-in. This will stop the bug but will not allow you to play Flash videos and games. Click here for instructions.

 

Microsoft should create a fix for their Internet Explorer security flaw soon. In the meantime be sure to protect yourself with one of the above options.

Thanks to SwiftecIT for informing us of this security flaw.

Scam Alert: Beware of Calls from “IRS Tax Agents”

While most of us are out of the woods of tax season for another year, everyone should still stay on guard for scam phone calls.

Picture1Recently the US Treasury has gotten over 20,000 complaints about phone calls demanding people make their IRS tax payments. The caller ID shows that the call is from the IRS and the caller may even know the last four digits of your social security number.

Because of this information, this has been the largest tax scam of its kind and has cost more than $1 million. There are a few things you can look out for to know if you are being scammed:

1. The caller will request payments by a debit card or wire transfer. The IRS never requests payments in this form.
2. The real IRS usually contacts people by mail first, not by phone.
3. The IRS never asks for credit card information over the phone.

If you think you may have received a scam call, report it to J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, at 800-366-4484.

Source: bottomlinepublications.com

Small Business Sales and Marketing Scorecard

Now that our series on Lifecycle Marketing is over, you’re probably eager to start improving some of the ways you communicate with your customers. But where do you start?

In order to identify what you’re already doing well and what you should focus your time on to improve, check out this Sales and Marketing Scorecard from Infusionsoft.

The Marketing Scorecard is a great way to measure your current marketing success and find ways that you can improve. You can’t build an entire marketing system for your business overnight. Instead, prioritize what needs to be done first, get to work, and measure its success along the way.

scorecardSo let’s break down specifically the areas that the marketing grader will look at.

Attract

The Grader’s robots will crawl your site and judge how effective it is at attracting new prospects for your business. This may include capturing leads and integrating social media into your website. Blogging and creating other great content is also a huge part of attracting new leads.

Sell

Once you attract a potential customer, how is your sales process? There are a few questions to ask yourself to judge how well you do at following up with prospects, managing your contacts, and marketing to prospects. The Marketing Grader will ask the right questions about how you convert leads into sales, so you never lose a prospect or repeat customer unnecessarily.

Wow

How well do you deliver value to your customers and ask for referrals? Referrals are one of the cheapest ways to expand your business, and wowing your current customers is the fastest way to earn referrals. Judge how you are currently seeking referrals to find out where in your process you can improve.

After going through the Marketing Scorecard for our business, I was surprised by some of the things that we’ve missed! No business is perfect and there are definitely areas that we can improve how we attract, sell and wow our customers.

After the scorecard finishes judging you Infusionsoft gives you some great, free resources on how you can improve the specific areas you need work on.

3 Steps to Getting the Best Referrals Possible

How many salespeople do you have?

Some answers may be 2, 10, or “are you crazy? It’s just me!” But if you include your past customers, your answer would be hundreds, maybe even thousands.

PerfectCustomerLifecycle-StageWe’ve reached the end of our Perfect Customer Lifecycle series. Over the past couple months I’ve talked about a strategy for communicating with your customers throughout your relationship with them. Now we’ve reached the stage that makes all of the past ones so important.

The reason you take so much time after the sale is made to deliver great service and continue to follow-up with your customer is to turn them into a loyal customer that wants to refer their friends to you! But, just turning them into a happy customer and waiting for the referrals to roll in won’t work. So, what can you do?

Questions to Ask Yourself

  • Do your customers know what kind of referrals you’d like to get?
  • Do your customers even know you’d like to get referrals from them?
  • Are you rewarding customers who refer business to you?

Problems You May Have

  • You aren’t getting the number of referrals you would like.
  • You are getting referrals that aren’t a good fit for your business.
  • Your customers refer business to someone else because they don’t know what services you offer.

Solutions

1. Ask for referrals

So many businesses rely on referrals to grow and sustain their business, but many of them never actually outright ask their customers for referrals. You can’t just assume your customers know that you want them to refer you business. You have to tell them!

Rather than simply making an effort to ask them more, set up a system to automatically request referrals from past customers. With marketing automation software like Infusionsoft you can create a series of emails that automatically go out after your work with a client is done. This will make sure you are always following up and explicitly asking for business.

2. Tell them how to give them

If your customers aren’t sure what a good person to refer to you is or they aren’t sure how to go about referring them, consider creating referral resources. These can serve two purposes:

  1. Resources to educate your customers on what makes a good customer for you (ebooks, buyer personas, handouts)
  2. Resources for your customers to give to their friends or use in their business to refer people to you (fliers, bring-a-friend coupons, banners to add to their website)

Try to make it as easy and as clear as possible who you are looking for and what someone can do to refer them to you. Sending these resources to your customers, especially those that have sent you referrals in the past, is a great way to improve the number and quality of the referrals you get.

3. Thank your customers for their referrals

Thanking your customers after they’ve given you a referral is a great way to show your appreciation and increase the chances of them sending another referral your way. There are a couple ways you can do this.

Informal

Thanking your customers can be as simple as sending them a gift basket or a gift card after a referral.

Formal

To further motivate your customers, you can create a formal rewards program. This can include a free month of service for every X number of referrals, a specific gift for every referral that becomes a customer, or a percent of the sale you receive from their referral. Make sure to make your formal rewards program clear.

Clearly, referrals are a huge part of making your business successful. Put some thought and time into how you can improve the way your business asks for referrals, equips your customers to refer, and rewards them for doing so.

How to Follow Up With Your Past Customers to Grow Your Business

What do your customers think of you?

Most small businesses know the clients that really love them and they know the few outspoken clients that have issues. Few businesses know about all of their other customers:

  • The ones that are less outspoken about how much they like you
  • The ones that are less outspoken about an issue they have with you
  • The ones who don’t remember you at all

PerfectCustomerLifecycle-StageThis week I’d like to focus on the sixth stage of the perfect customer lifecycle: Following Up.

Put simply, this stage is about staying in contact with your customers, past and present. This helps you stay on their minds for future work and referrals, helps you identify customers with problems you can solve, and gives you feedback about how you can improve your service.

Questions to Ask Yourself

  • Does your business track customer satisfaction?
  • Are you staying in contact with customers after the job is done?
  • Unable to get any feedback, testimonials, or referrals?

Problems You May Have

  • You do great work, but then a year goes by and the customer can’t remember what business they worked with.
  • You don’t hear about problems that customers have until it is too late or until you hear it second hand.
  • Only clients that call you get any attention, it’s easy for others to fall through the cracks.

Solutions

Customer Satisfaction Survey

checklist-154274_640Sending a survey to your clients is a great way to keep in touch with them and get some feedback about how you are doing. Be sure to include areas of the survey for them to add specific feedback.

In order to get participation, it may be a good idea to add an incentive to the survey. You can offer a small gift card for submissions or an entry into a drawing for a bigger prize.

After the survey is complete, be sure to follow up with the participants! If someone rated you poorly, call them immediately to find out what went wrong and see if you can fix it. The added attention could turn an underwhelmed client into a raving fan.

If someone rated you highly, reach out to them for testimonials and referrals! They are the ones most likely to support your business (but only if you ask them).

Newsletters

A company newsletter is a great way to stay in touch with your clients and continue to provide them with value. That’s the key word here; make sure your newsletter is valuable to them. Here are some ideas for things to include:

  • Links to your blog articles
  • Popular posts from your social media
  • Information on upcoming classes or new offers
  • Industry news, helpful hints, or other resources

Upsell Offers

The easiest customer to sign is an existing customer. If you have additional services you can offer your existing customers, be sure to let them know. This can be done through a series of emails that go out over weeks or months after their initial purchase.

The important thing is to make these offers relevant to them. If someone signed up for your advanced training or service package, don’t send them something to promote your beginner’s package.

The key here is to segment your list properly. Make sure you categorize people by what they’ve bought in the past and by other actions they’ve taken.

There are many ways you can follow up with your clients after the sale. As long as you are memorable and provide value to your customers, you will be rewarded with valuable feedback, referrals, and further business.

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