This Saturday, November 29, 2014 is Small Business Saturday.
In 2010, American Express created Small Business Saturday in lieu of Black Friday and Cyber Monday in an effort to promote small businesses and help them bring in more customers. Since then, every Saturday after Thanksgiving, small local businesses around the U.S. have been open for holiday shopping. This campaign has grown into a powerful movement to support local businesses and neighborhoods.
There are benefits to participating in this countrywide event. For instance, businesses that participate and qualify can register to be included on the Shop Small Map so that consumers can easily locate small businesses in their area. It also means more customers, additional business in the future, and a personal relationship with the community.
For shoppers, the benefits involve discounts and savings, as well as a more intimate atmosphere and a better shopping experience. For instance, one benefit is offered by American Express. They are offering cardholders a $10 statement credit for up to three qualifying purchases in qualifying small businesses that appear on the Shop Small Map. However, the card must be registered for the benefits to apply. Many local shops provide their own special promotions as well.
The community also benefits from this event. Small businesses tend to employ local residents, which supports neighborhood families and helps lower the unemployment rate. Owners also tend to help out their community by volunteering or donating to local events, groups, and teams.
It is a cyclical effect. By supporting local small businesses, a sense of trust and loyalty is created within the community, which enables and empowers business owners to give back to their community. Teamwork can be a powerful thing.
Many companies are now making the move towards remote and mobile workers, and away from the conventional 9-to-5 office workday. This seemingly new trend may ultimately benefit all parties, though it does create some challenges among managers and business owners. How do you successfully navigate the changes to keep your remote and mobile employees accountable and productive?
There are many great tools available online for free or at low cost to help you and your employees keep track of progress, time, and information, as well as keep the lines of communication open.
Knowing how much time is being spent on any one task or project is vital. Time budgeting is crucial to any business. And the ability to track time from a mobile phone, tablet, or desktop computer is equally important. Harvest, toggl, and timecamp are just a few of the online time tracking software programs available to help businesses manage time. They all have a free option, but it usually only allows one user. There are options available at different prices with more features that allow multiple users.
The ability to access or send important data such as project documents, tasks, client information, records, or receipts is essential for remote or mobile workers, as well as those at the home office. There are numerous file sharing apps and programs that allow you to scan or take pictures, and then email them out or store in a file. And most allow the Administrator to set limits for accessibility. Evernote, Genius Scan, Dropbox, and Shoebox are just some of the many options for file sharing. Similar to the time tracking programs, they offer many pricing selections, but they also allow for different data usage amounts, as well.
Managing projects, tasks, and client information is necessary for a business. It’s important to see, for example, who is working on what project, what is being accomplished, or what clients have been taken care of and in what way. Details about what is going on helps managers know what action needs to be taken. Software such as Asana, Zoho, Infusionsoft, and Google Apps for Business were created to help managers succeed in knowing everything that is happening within each project or with each client. They all include different products and packages so you can get exactly what you need.
Communication is key for every successful business. Whether you need company cell phones, software for business phones, or just a way to have conference calls, there are a variety of choices that won’t bust your budget. Company cell phones may cost a bit more, but in the long run may prove more valuable than the cost. They will give insight as to what communication is taking place. Limitations on minutes, data, and texting can be set, and records of all communication from each phone can be accessed at any time.
Software for phones to be used as a land line is another option that is available at lower cost and without long term agreements. MagicJack works with your computer and uses your internet connection as a land line. Grasshopper lets you pick your number, has customizable features, and can be used with a mobile phone.
Conference and video calls are another popular way of communicating within businesses. They are easy and can be done from anywhere, with anyone. GoToMeeting, Skype, and Google Hangouts are some video and call conferencing tools that allow multiple callers to attend the virtual meeting. They can either call in or use the video on their device to see the meeting. Prices vary according to packages and number of callers, but are generally low cost.
If your employees are spread out by working from home, on the road, or in the office, there’s no need to panic. Your remote workers can still be accountable, productive, and in touch. Utilizing the many online business tools will help your managers and employees work more efficiently, which can produce positive results.
On Monday, Facebook announced yet another change to it’s News Feed Algorithm, the program used to decide what content should show up when people log in to Facebook. In fact, this is one of many updates Facebook has made in the past year.
If you are using Facebook for your business you don’t want to miss any of these changes.
Photo Updates with Links are out, Link Posts are in
This is the most important change for the average, well intentioned business using Facebook.
Photos have always performed better than text on social media. It was a good call to add your website link to a picture update instead of in a less engaging link post. A few days ago that changed.
Facebook has found that it’s users what to see a full article link before they click on something. Posts that share the article directly and include the article preview will show up in news feeds more often than pictures that just include a URL in the caption.
Luckily for businesses, Facebook has changed their link preview to make it more visually appealing. So make sure you are still using an engaging photo!
SPAM Posts will be penalized
Facebook obviously wants to reduce the amount of SPAM that shows up in user’s news feeds. In order to do that, in April 2014 they announced 3 types of content they’ll be trying to prevent:
- Like Baiting- These are posts that get people to engage by asking them to like, share or comment. Usually this will be a poll where one answer is a like, and another is a share.
- Frequently Circulated Content- When you post something, only a small percent of your Facebook followers actually see it. So it makes sense you should post it a few times to get the content in front of more people right? Facebook is now cracking down on pages that repost the same thing over and over again. You can repeat an especially popular or important post a few times (every few months) but don’t go overboard.
- SPAM Links – Have you ever seen Facebook post about one thing and when you click on it it sends you to an advertisement or a completely different site? Facebook now penalizes content that doesn’t have a high percent of people sharing or liking it after they click on it.
Post from Pages (Businesses) will show up less
Late last year it was revealed that Facebook would be showing less posts from pages in people’s news feeds. Now less than 5% of people will see any given post.
Facebook did this to entice people to pay to have their posts promoted. Depending on how well your business was doing on Facebook before this change, you may want to consider spending a few dollars. For even $1 a day you can dramatically increase the effectiveness of your Facebook posts. Facebook advertising also allows you to target your posts to very specific audiences.
So the past year has given us some big changes to Facebook and social media in general. If you’ve noticed a decrease in your Facebook page’s engagement, one of these could be the culprit.
The main thing is to keep your content fun, informational, and not too salesy. Good luck!
Summertime! The weather is beautiful, the kids are out of school, and you are feeling the urge to knock out of the office for a little trip.
Summer is definitely vacation season, but for business owners it can be tough to be able to let go of your business for an extended period of time. Part of the ability to head out involves hiring the right team to support you.
Another part is to let your customers, vendors, and partners know you’ll be gone in advance. To remind them during the week, and to let anyone else know, you should set up an email auto-responder. This will let anyone who emails you know that they shouldn’t expect a response from you right away. You can even give them instructions on who they should get in contact with if there is an emergency.
If you’re heading on vacation this summer, here is how to set up your email autoresponder:
Outlook’s auto responder is a little tricky to set up. First you need to create an email template and then create an autoresponder rule for when that template should be used.
2. Under File, choose Save As.
3. Save the email as an Outlook Template
4. Go to Rules and Alerts
5. Click New Rule
6. Configure the rules you would like to use for this message
7. Click Finish
For more detailed instructions for each version of Outlook, check out How to Set Up an Out of Office Vacation Auto-Reply in Outlook
For Gmail users, you’re in luck! You’re autoresponder set-up is much, much simpler.
If you use Google Apps for Business but you have your mail sent through Outlook, you should still set up the Gmail Vacation Responder.
1. Open Gmail
2. Click the gear icon at the top right of your screen
3. Click Settings
4. Scroll down to Vacation responder
5. Turn the Vacation responder on and fill out the message you’d like to have sent
6. Click Save Changes
For more info about Gmail’s vacation responder you can check out Automatically reply when out of office or on vacation.
Using an autoresponder will help remind anyone who emails you that you are out of town. However, you should still give certain people advance notice. Be sure to let your bookkeepers and marketing team know when you will be out of town. This will help everyone to plan on who needs to do what during the time you are gone.
Once you do this, you’ll be able to have a worry free vacation and know your business is taken care of!
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?
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!
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.
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
Recently 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.
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.
This 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Before 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.
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.
The 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.