Foursquare check-in clingWhen I wrote, “Local Online Marketing for Small Businesses”, a couple of months ago, I neglected to mention Foursquare, a great tool for local retailers. I have been meaning to get back to it, so I figure now is as good a time as any.

With so many social marketing tools `available, why should you consider learning and using yet another one? Because Foursquare is different from the other tools. It offers some really neat capabilities that the other tools don’t. First and foremost, it gives you, the small business owner, management and promotional abilities the other tools don’t.

As social media and networking have moved from computers to cell phones, new applications are being designed and incorporated into existing marketing tools. One of the latest is called “geo-tagging”. “Geo” is short for geographic. As you probably know, cell phones now have a feature called “location”. You can turn it on or off but all phones now have the feature and software companies are building apps around it. Initially, it was navigational GPS. But now, every day other new apps are popping up. Foursquare is built around this feature and helps drive foot traffic to your location, increase branding and create advocates for your business.

Let’s take a look at Foursquare from the advantages to first the consumer and then the small business owner.

Foursquare for the Consumer
Consumers can launch an app on their smartphone (or via text messaging for non-smartphones), that allows them to “check-in” to a business when they arrive. When they “check-in”, several things take place. They can see if any of their friends are at that location or nearby; they have access to tips and special unpublished “deals” (determined by the small biz owner); and they earn points. Points are automatically tracked and consumers earn badges that determine their status. This creates an active and competitive community around your business. The individual with the most points over a 60 day period (your most loyal customer) becomes the “Mayor” of your community.

Here is a short video for the consumer from Foursquare.

Foursquare Social Media
As you can guess, the goal of most Foursquare users is to become the Mayor of their favorite business – stores, restaurants, theaters, night clubs, museums, or your business. These people then become your brand advocates. How well it works for your business will depend on well you play your side of this game – the business side.

Foursquare for Your Business
We mentioned how the consumer earns points for checking-in when they arrive at your business and if they are the top point earner, they become the Mayor of your business. This is really fun and great for the egos of your customers. But, if you could easily identify who your best customers and brand advocates are, wouldn’t you want to reward them in some way? And if you did, wouldn’t your customers compete more aggressively for points? It is easy for you to do this with Foursquare software that is available for your business.

It starts with you claiming your business or “venue” as Foursquare calls it. Then you can use the simple self-service tools to allow you, the business owner, to create different kinds of foursquare Specials, manage multiple Specials and ultimately track how these Specials perform. These services should empower you to develop more engaging ongoing relationships with you customers. You’ll be surprised how effective a little friendly competition — over the Mayorship, free fries or whatever! — can be in driving customers back to your business.

As a business owner, you can use foursquare to engage your increasingly mobile customers with foursquare “Specials,” which are discounts and prizes you can offer your loyal customers when they check in on foursquare at your business.  Don’t forget to show extra love to your business’s Mayor!  Additionally, if you offer foursquare Specials to your customers, you will be able to track how your business is performing over time thanks to Foursquare’s robust set of business analytics – for free!

For example, you can use these tools to create a variety of Foursquare Specials, customized just for your business and for your customers:

  • Mayor Specials: unlocked only by the Mayor of your business. Who’s the Mayor?  It’s your single most loyal customer! (the user who has checked in the most in the last 60 days) For example, “Foursquare has deemed you the Mayor! So go ahead an enjoy a free order of french fries!”
  • Check-in Specials: unlocked when a user checks in to your business a certain number of times. For example, “Foursquare says you’ve been here 10 times?  That’s a free drink for you!”.
  • Frequency-based Specials: are unlocked every X check-ins. For example, “Foursquare users get 20% off any entree every 5th check-in!”.
  • Wildcard Specials: always unlocked, but your staff has to verify some extra conditions before awarding the Special. For example, “Show us your Foursquare Swarm badge and get a free drink!”.

Foursquare statsOnce you claim your business on Foursquare, you’ll be able to check real time stats about your business. For example, how would you like the stats for the following?:

  • most recent visitors
  • most frequent visitors
  • the time of day people check in
  • total number of unique visitors
  • graphical display of check-ins per day
  • gender breakdown of customers
  • portion of foursquare check-ins broadcast to Twitter and Facebook

And if that is not enough for you, Foursquare has created mobile phone apps (iPhone, Android and Blackberry) for consumers to check-in and has woven the “Specials” platform into these apps. Through this platform, Foursquare actively calls attention to those businesses (it could be your business) that offer specials to Foursquare users. For example, if a Foursquare user is at your bar/restaurant, Foursquare will tell them what they have to do to unlock a free snack or discounted drink. If they happen to be across the street or two blocks away from your business, Foursquare will let them know that your business gives special treatment to Foursquare users and that they should swing by for a visit.

phone specials

Small businesses often promote their involvement with Foursquare via Twitter, signs at cash registers and sidewalk blackboards. Also, Foursquare can help you market your Specials to your customers by sending you official Foursquare window clings (see first image in this article as an example). Once you claim your business, you’ll be able to add your mailing information to the list, and Foursquare will send some window clings your way.

Before I leave the subject of Foursquare, I just want to add that Twitter recently announced “Twitter Places” – the ability to send tweets that identify your location. Foursquare users can integrate their accounts with Twitter Places. So if you click on a Twitter Place, you will also see nearby Foursquare check-ins.

Foursquare seems to me like a huge opportunity for retail businesses. And I can’t see a down side. It is free (at least for now) and their software makes everything happen automatically for both the business and the consumer. I am interested in the thoughts from our readers.

Those who enjoyed this article also enjoyed:
Local Online Marketing for Small Businesses

If you would like to contact me, you can do so by visiting my LinkedIn page or emailing me at mike.clough@bestbizpractices.org.

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Posted by: Susan Fronk

Just One Thing

Just One ThingDo you know what one thing could have the biggest positive impact on your small business? I am reminded of the old 1991 comedy, “City Slickers”. In the movie, Mitch, played by Billy Crystal, is a middle aged radio advertising salesman. He and his friends Ed and Phil are in a mid-life crisis. They decide to go on a two week holiday in the Wild West driving cattle from New Mexico to Colorado. Their guide , Curly, played by Jack Palance, teaches them how to become real cowboys and one or two other things about life.

At one point, Curly says to Mitch, “Do you know what the secret of life is? One thing. Just one thing.”  Mitch asked, “What is the one thing?”. Curly answered, “That’s what you have to find out”.

Of course, driving revenue, keeping costs down and customers happy are critical. But, the one thing that will help you achieve everything else is great employees. Without them, everything else is a lot harder to achieve.

The verdict is officially in. Studies have shown a statistically significant relationship between employees who are passionate and engaged at work and positive business indicators including profits (see research by Gallup). Although this short video by Enterprise Leaders Worldwide does promote their services, it reveals some of Gallup’s findings; proving that when employees feel good (employee engagement), it’s good for business.

Now, if you don’t have employees, you may be thinking this is irrelevant. However, if you are planning on growing, eventually you are going to need to hire at least a few employees. Hiring and retaining great employees may seem like a no-brainer these days when there so many people are out of work. But, this is only an illusion. Great employees are still hard to find and even harder to keep.

A previous article on this blog, “Employees From Heaven or Hell”, reveals alarming research statistics and cases as sited in Cliff Roberson’s eBook titled, “Preventing Employees from Ruining Your Business”.

According to Roberson, employee misconduct is considered the primary reason for the failure of one-third of the businesses that fail. Research indicates that approximately 50% of employees steal at least one item per year. It is estimated that losses from employee theft exceed $30 billion a year. Others estimate that inventory loss through theft exceeds 5% of the inventory cost.

Some experts say that 20% of the people will not steal from you no matter how you treat them. Another 20% will steal from you no matter how you treat them. A full 60% will steal if they feel they are treated poorly. The key, of course, is to avoid hiring the 20% who will steal from you no matter how you treat them. Then, make sure your employees enjoy their work.

Basically, there are three steps to make sure you have passionate and engaged employees. The first is to do a good job of recruiting and hiring. All too often, when small business owners hire employees, they make mistakes. The problem is that many small business owners lack the training to conduct effective employee selection interviews.

Job candidates are notorious for over-selling their abilities and hiding their weaknesses in an effort to obtain employment. Compounding this problem, small business owners are notorious for over-selling the company and the opportunity in an effort to fill the position. This is similar to dating, when both parties are on their best behavior. Then, after they get married (or the the employment relationship gets underway), reality sets in. New employees turn out not to be quite as wonderful as they led the small business owner to believe they were. The job turns out not to be quite as wonderful as the small business owner led the employee to believe it was. Is it any wonder that so many mistakes are made on both parts resulting in disappointment and turnover? For this reason, it is critical that small business owners receive training on effective interviewing.

Today, more and more businesses are turning to temporary help firms to make sure employees are a good fit before hiring them. Temporary workers are an excellent solution for small businesses, especially if there is any doubt about the long term need for help. This way, small business owners don’t have to worry about taxes, unemployment insurance, health insurance or liability.

The second step is to create a great working environment. Contrary to popular belief, compensation is not the main consideration for many employees. Most employees are at least as interested in having an opportunity to contribute to something important, to perform work that they enjoy and are good at and to be appreciated. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do everything you can to make sure your wages are competitive. For more on this topic read the article, “Compensation, You Get What You Pay For

The third step is something many small business owners do very well. Build relationships with your employees and foster relationships among employees. People don’t quit companies, they quit bosses. Many studies show that relationships at work contribute to employee engagement.

So, if you want to know what one thing will make the biggest difference in your business, look no further than your employees. Take a ruthless look at your business to see where you need to improve it. Call your employees together and be totally transparent about the problems in the business. Ask for their help. Allow them to help. Then, show your appreciation for their help. Sounds simple. It is.

If you would like to contact me, you can do so by visiting my LinkedIn page or emailing me at susan@susanfronk.com.

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Isn't It Time for A Social Media Policy?If you are operating a business today and you have employees or contractors, you probably should have a social media policy. Why? Virtually every human being who has any interaction with you or your company is involved with social media. That includes your employees, contractors, customers, vendors/suppliers, bankers and consultants. This is just as true for a small business as it is for a big business. Of course, it is unrealistic to think that you can control what all of these people are saying about you or your company online. However, you must recognize the reality of the situation and do what you can to monitor, influence, control and mitigate any potentially negative impact.

The first step is to identify the people over whom you have the most influence. That would include your employees, contractors, consultants and suppliers. These people are probably motivated to maintain favorable relations with you and your company. The only way to have any influence over these people is through policy. If you don’t have a policy for social media, here are some of the scenarios you could encounter:

  • Your receptionist wins a wet t-shirt contest and posts pictures on Facebook
  • Your new temp tweets that his company sells junk-he has 32,000 followers
  • Your bookkeeper comments on a blog that her boss failed to report income
  • Your consultant shares in a LinkedIn group that you are hard to work with
  • Your employee posts a video of an irate customer on YouTube-it goes viral
  • Your supplier complains online that you don’t pay your bills on time

Now, you might be thinking, “my employees, bookkeeper, consultant or suppliers would never do that!” And, you may be right. If so, that is great. However, I would encourage you to open your mind to the possibility that one of these scenarios or something similar could happen. If it is a possibility, you should ask yourself three questions:

  1. How can I know what people are doing/saying about me and/or my company?
  2. What, if anything, can I do about it?
  3. How can I prevent it?

1. The best way to know what people are doing and saying about you and your company online is to get involved in social media yourself and then observe and “listen” on LinkedIn, Twitter, blogs and Facebook. Here are some free online monitoring services:

Google Alerts will notify you when something is posted about you (your name), your company (company name), your blog/website (domain name), or your employee’s names.

TweetBeep will notify you when someone tweets about you (name or username), your company (company name) and/or your blog (blog name). If you put in the (Twitter account name) of your employees, you will be notified about their Tweets.

BackTweets will notify you when someone tweets about something on your blog and/or website using your domain.

2. The best thing to do if someone does or says something that negatively impacts you and/or your company online is to respond. For example, if you notice that one of your employees has posted pictures of themselves online that are questionable, you may not have any legal right to demand that they take them down. However, if they have listed your company name in their profile, you might want to have a conversation with them about the potential harm pictures like that could do to their image as well as the company’s image. Remember, anything that is online could easily be seen by your investors and customers. Before taking any action with an employee, however, I would suggest that you check with an attorney to be sure you are standing on solid legal footing.

If someone says something online that negatively impacts your company, the first thing, you should do is determine whether or not it is true. If, after researching the situation, you find it is true, you need to resolve the problem by making an apology and appropriate amends. Whenever possible, you should try to repair any damage to your image by communicating through the same social media networks the individual used that caused the damage in the first place. In the case of dissatisfied customers, disgruntled employees, contractors, consultants or suppliers, you should communicate with them personally as well as online to offer an apology, correct any misunderstandings and make amends. That way, others can see how well you took care of the situation.

4. How can I prevent people from doing or saying things online that negatively impact me and/or my company? The simple answer is you can’t prevent it in all cases. Of course, with employees, contractors and consultants, you have some recourse. You can always terminate them. However, unless you have an established social media policy in place, there could be legal repercussions.

More and more companies are creating social media policies to prevent the kinds of problems mentioned in this article. If you Goggle social media policy, no doubt you will find a lot of helpful resources. Social Media Today offers examples of social media policies form over 100 companies. You may also wish to consult with an expert in Human Resource policies and/or an attorney before drafting your social media policy as every company is different.

By now, everyone realizes that the worldwide adoption of the Internet has forever changed the way we live, do business and relate to one another. Terms like global economy and global village are not just clever euphemisms; they describe the world as we know it. And, it’s going to be almost impossible for small businesses to avoid being impacted by the power of online communications and social media. However, these new media can become a runaway train for a small business with employees. It’s best to get on board before the train gets too far down the road and develop a social media policy.

If you would like to contact me, you can do so by visiting my LinkedIn page or emailing me at susan@susanfronk.com.  

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Posted by: Mike Clough

Sam’s Club Now Offers SBA Loans?

Sam's Club now offers SBA loansFrustrated over the lack of cash to run your business? Many existing small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs seeking to access capital in the form of bank loans are running out of patience by the inability to land credit. Only half of small businesses that tried to borrow last year got all or most of what they needed, according to a survey by the National Federation of Independent Business. In the mid-2000s, 90% of businesses said they got the loans they needed.

Now, if you are on Twitter, it is probably not news to you (they have been tweeting about it since its introduction) that Sam’s Club recently announced it is testing an online program with Superior Financial Group (SFG), the Nation’s leading Small Business Administration (SBA) lender, to make $5,000 to $25,000 loans available to qualifying members. The initiative, aimed at supporting small business as well as its small business members, was launched after a survey in 2009 revealed that nearly 15 percent of Sam’s Club’s business members reported being denied a loan to run their operation. This statistic is up from 12% in April 2009.

The Sam’s Club small business loan program complements other offerings for small businesses including low rate merchant credit card processing, convenient order-ahead programs and early shopping hours. This will be the first small business loan program offered by Sam’s Club.

The small business loan program offered by Sam’s Club targets Main Street minority, women and Veteran owned small business owners and micro-entrepreneurs under the SBA’s Premier Outreach Express products such as Community Express, Patriot Express and Export Express loans.

“Access to capital is a major pain point for our members and the small business Main Street community.  We believe this pilot program is a step in the right direction to help fuel small business growth and create jobs to stimulate our economy. It’s also simple to apply and costs less, which is consistent with our goal to help our members make smart choices and provide superior value,” said Catherine Corley, vice president, Membership at Sam’s Club.

There are only 13 Small Business Lending in Corporations (SBLC) that are approved and federally regulated by the SBA. SFG, which specializes in providing access to credit for Main Street and underserved borrowers, is one of them. SFG also offers free online technical assistance and online training courses specifically designed to shore up the borrower’s weaknesses. They include “how to” instructions on writing a business plan, complete with a business plan writing template.

“All Lenders are trying to make an impact on Main Street, which includes minorities, women and veterans to help create jobs. Main Street, however remains the most difficult underserved market to reach”, said Tim Jochner, CEO Superior Financial Group. “Sam’s Club together with SBA’s premier outreach express loan programs provides both a unique and powerful opportunity to reach and provide capital along with technical assistance and training to increase successful penetration into this underserved space.”

A special offer by Sam’s Club for members who apply for a small business loan online during the pilot is $100 off the application fee, a 20 percent discount and a 7.5 APR, which is a 25 basis point discount. Loan terms will remain at 10 years, which is common to help keep monthly payments low. Best of all, there is no penalty for early repayment. Sam’s Club memberships typically run $35 annually.

Sam’s Club small business loan pilot program is anticipated to be delivered online. However, Sam’s Club is planning on testing some in club communication and other marketing efforts to reach business members and small business owners. For more information visit samsclub.com and click on the services tab.

For more information about Sam’s Club SBA Loan Program, view their Q&A page and download their brochure. If you are already a member of Sam’s Club, you can even apply online.

If you would like to contact me, you can do so by visiting my LinkedIn page or emailing me at mike.clough@bestbizpractices.org.

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Posted by: Susan Fronk

What’s Your Social Media Avatar?

What's Your Online Image?If you aren’t familiar with the term, James Cameron’s blockbuster movie of the same name should at least give you a frame of reference. In the story of Avatar, incredible technological advances have enabled scientists to give humans the ability to take the form of super creatures who possess extraordinary strength, agility and sensory perception.

So, where did the name Avatar come from? According to Wikipedia, in Hinduism, an Avatar refers to the descent of a deity from heaven to earth. In English it means incarnation, appearance, or manifestation. My question is related to your personal identity in social media communities. What identity are you projecting? What’s your Avatar?

Many of us try to project a different (better, bolder, smarter, more attractive) image of ourselves in social media communities. While most would agree that it is a good idea to paint a picture of ourselves in the most flattering light, others do not seem to care. Or, maybe there is a wide range of definitions as to what constitutes the “most flattering light”.  This past weekend, we were at the beach on the Fourth of July and my two year old grand daughter took off her diaper and started parading around naked. She was oblivious to the disapproving glances of others while she reveled in her nakedness.

Most adults know that unless you belong to a nudist colony, it is not appropriate to be seen naked in public. However, it would seem that some people have a very different notion of what is appropriate in public when they are online.

For example, the other day, I was looking for a YouTube video and noticed a comment that someone made about one with a woman standing in front of a large sign. The comment was, “I want to see your t___s”, which is a slang term for a woman’s breasts. This person obviously felt it was perfectly appropriate to write something like that for the whole world to see. Another acronym I see quite often online is WTF. If you do not know what expression these initials represent, I am not going to spell it out. Just ask someone-they’ll tell you.

Another type of behavior I have observed online is when people get into arguments over politics or religion. These people may feel justified because, by sharing their beliefs, they identify themselves as members of a particular group, be it political, religious or any other type of “tribe”.  Certainly, there are advantages to such affiliations. However, there are bound to be others who do not agree with their point of view who may very well be people with whom they want to develop a professional relationship.  The point I am trying to make is that many people don’t seem to realize or care about how the world sees them online.

Maybe people feel some sort of anonymity online which gives them freedom to behave in ways they would not otherwise behave. I often think this is the case when drivers behave rudely on the road towards other drivers. I can’t imagine that they would dream of doing or saying the kinds of things they do in the car if they were standing right next to the person.

I have also seen several LinkedIn profiles for men who are looking for professional jobs and yet, they are dressed in a t-shirt. Now, I realize that business attire has become far more casual in the last couple of decades. Perhaps you are in a job field where suits and ties are not worn. Maybe you have no desire to work in a corporate environment. However, most of the recruiters, hiring managers and Human Resource executives I have known screen candidates based on a first impression no matter what type of job it is. What kind of first impression does it make when the candidate is wearing a t-shirt?

We have all seen or heard stories of people whose Facebook pages contain pictures of themselves partying like rock stars. One can only wonder how these same people are going to feel about having those pictures floating around twenty years from now.

It is illogical to me when women put a provocative picture of themselves online and then complain because men seem to be “stalking” them. What did they expect? I fully expect some push back from readers when I suggest that whenever a woman shows her cleavage online, unless she is the actual product she is selling, she runs the risk of creating a real “branding” problem for herself and/or her business. Of course, many marketing experts see no problem in using sexuality to capture the fickle attention of online crowds.

In today’s fiercely competitive marketplace, professionalism, business acumen and credibility are more important than they’ve ever been. Think about it for a moment. Every image of you, every word you type and every interaction is captured for all time online.

In my opinion, it is important to treat people online with consideration and respect. The notion of “civility” comes to mind. According to Wikipedia, civility refers to behavior between persons and groups that conforms to a social code within the construct of a society.

You see, what happens online stays online; forever. And the sum total of everything that exists about you online makes up your Avatar. But, remember, the Avatar you create for yourself today may not be the one you want people to see tomorrow.

Here are a few guidelines for creating an Avatar you can be proud of for years to come:

  • Use photos you wouldn’t mind showing a client, prospective boss or superior
  • Use language you would use with clients and superiors (no swearing!)
  • Ask for clarification before taking offence-it is easy to misread something online
  • If you disagree, disagree respectfully
  • Don’t “push” your products, services, or agenda
  • Find ways to compliment others (i.e. knowledge, ideas, writing, products, services)
  • Contribute to others (knowledge, ideas, support, resources, etc)
  • Recommend others on LinkedIn
  • Give others exposure by following them on Twitter
  • Give others exposure by retweeting, Friday Follow (Twitter), links, etc.)

Essentially your online Avatar is another word for your brand or image. So, what does your Avatar look like? Someone who is knowledgeable? Someone who has something to offer? Someone who can be trusted? Someone who is interested in others? Someone who would be great to do business with?

What do you think about online Avatars? What guidelines would you recommend?

If you would like to contact me, you can do so by visiting my LinkedIn page or emailing me at susan@susanfronk.com.

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autoresponders are the missing piece to a total marketing campaignI recently posted an article, “The Value of Social Media Bots”, which stirred up a lot of comments both pros and cons. Today, I would like write about the bot of all bots when it comes to marketing. And, even though it is often overlooked by many new online marketers (they may not even know about it) and forgotten by experienced online marketers who have been seduced by other social media tools, it is truly the most powerful bot of all.

The Master Bot of which I speak is called an “autoresponder”. No this is not the same thing as “auto-reply”. It is auto-reply on steroids – far more advanced. It is also different than an email newsletter. Before we dive into why the autoresponder is so powerful, let’s take a minute and look at what it is and what it does.

An autoresponder uses email as a form of communication similar to a newsletter. However, what is different about an autoresponder is that you can prepare a series of messages in advance and determine the frequency of delivery (e.g. daily for x days, weekly for x weeks, monthly for x months or whatever). With a newsletter, the current issue goes out to everyone on your mail list at the same time with no regard to previous issues.

With an autoresponder, recipients always begin receiving the first message of the series. As soon as a visitor to your website completes the autoresponder form requesting to receive your online offer, they will one immediately and continue to receive messages until they have received all of the messages in the series or, until they unsubscribe. Each recipient receives a different message from the other list members or none at all depending where they are in the series, as it starts when they completed the initial form. Each message can be personalized with the recipients’ name and other info that you have collected from the form.

Autoresponders are most commonly used for an eCourse on a specific topic (e.g. “Seven Day eCourse on Social Media”) but there are lots of other uses as well. I once sold an expensive product online (in the thousands of dollars) and offered a discount if they acted by a specific date. After sending them the proposal outlining the value proposition and pricing, I used an autoresponder to automatically follow-up with them. “Only two weeks until the special discounts expires. Call me with questions because if this is right for you, you do not miss out on this promotion.” Of course it was longer and better written (more compelling and persuasive) but that was the gist of it.

I discovered autoresponders about 15 years ago when I was trying to accomplish a couple of things. I had built great traffic to my website but people were coming and leaving without taking any action and most would never be back. What a waste of resources, especially because I was using a lot of pay-per-click advertising to get them there. If there was just some way I could collect their email address before they left, I could follow up with them after they were gone and bring them back again and again. I also know from marketing statistics that we need to connect with our prospects an average of seven times (hence the 7 day eCourse) before they buy.

So why is an autoresponder so powerful? Well, let’s start with content. You can type up a seven page document that explains your value proposition and the odds are good that most people will not read all of it (in fact many people will not read all of this article) but they would read one page. So instead of sending a seven page document you can divide it into seven one page emails and send one per day over seven days as an eCourse. Just as with all social media, your eCourse should be more informational than hard-selling. Of course, it would be a mistake not to have various links in each email that point back to your website and/or blog. And it would also be a mistake not to include buttons to follow you on Twitter, fan you on Facebook or connect with you on LinkedIn. (You should always network your networks.)

I did some direct selling when I was young and just getting started (from door to door vacuum cleaner sales to office machines). I learned that selling was really about leading prospects down the path of agreement. If you made each sales point clear and concise and they agreed with it, by the time you got to the end of your presentation you would secure the order. The same holds true with autoresponders. Each message can be short or longer as needed but should not cover too many points. I try to limit mine to just one main point per message. There is nothing that prevents you from creating a 10 or 15 day eCourse if necessary. Each eLesson should build a more solid case for the prospect to do business with you. You should treat your eCourse content like a blog rather than a website (see “Is Your Blog Really A Blog?”), not because it is from an autoresponder but because you sold it as an eCourse.

Just because you are spoon-feeding content through an autoresponder does not mean you shouldn’t use the same or similar content elsewhere like the seven page document (some will read it all), your website, your blog, Facebook or anywhere else you desire. The more times they see the message from different sources the more credible the content becomes.

Now the big benefit of the autoresponder is that unlike other social media tools (e.g. newsletters, blog, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), you can just “set it and forget it”. Simply put the sign-up form on one of your pages that is already securing traffic. For a blog, I would put the sign-up form in a side bar so it will be on every post you make. The autoresponder will work for you 24/7/365. There is no need to do anything else unless you want to edit your message from time to time. You can even download the contacts you have collected and upload them to another list if you so desire. These are the things that make the autoresponder the bot of all bots – the Master Bot.

So where do you find an autoresponder to use? There are three types of autoresponders:

  • Free Autoresponders – The advantage with these is that they are free. The disadvantage is that they usually limit the number of messages in a series or the number of recipients and they usually include advertising over which you have little or no control.
  • Autoresponder Services – There are email marketing services like AWeber, iContact, ConstantContact, Benchmark Email, etc. that offer autoresponders along with other email marketing tools. The advantages of a service are that because of their anti-spam policies (double opt-in) they are seldom blocked by ISPs for spamming, meaning more of your email will get to where it is supposed to go. They control the speed (number per hour) so very few of your messages get blocked. Set-up is easy and most offer great tracking (who opened email, who clicked on links, etc.). The disadvantages are that there is a monthly fee (prices can be found on their respective websites) and they control your list.
  • Self Hosted Autoresponder Software – For a one time fee (sometimes free as with www.parabots.com) you can host the software yourself. The advantages are that you are in control of most everything (including your list) and there are no monthly charges. The disadvantages are that many do not have good tracking features built in and you are at the mercy of your ISP as to how many of the messages you want to send are actually sent and at the mercy of the recipient’s ISP as to how many are actually delivered rather than blocked as spam.  Plus you have to figure out how to install and maintain it.

If you are just starting out using autoresponders, I recommend starting with a service. Once you understand what you are doing, you will be better prepared to select your own software if that is the route you choose. In selecting which service you choose to use, just compare features closely and make sure that the one you choose will do what you want it to do. I do not work for any of them and I haven’t used them all so I don’t feel I am qualified to recommend one over the other. Possibly readers will have opinions they will wish to share.

In summary, if you have something to sell online, you should be seriously considering using autoresponders as one of your online marketing tools as it really, truly is the bot of all bots – the Lord of the Bots, the Master Bot!

Those who enjoyed this article also enjoyed:
The Value of Social Media Bots
Is Your Blog Really A Blog?
Web 2.0 Email Marketing & Autoresponders

If you would like to contact me, you can do so by visiting my LinkedIn page or emailing me at mike.clough@bestbizpractices.org.

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Posted by: Susan Fronk

See You & Your Business As Others Do

see yourself as other see youI call it the frog/prince effect which is a metaphor for the blind spots we have about ourselves and our businesses. When you look in the mirror, what you see looking back at you is a reflection of what you believe about yourself. If the image you see is positive, such as a prince or princess, you will not feel the need to change anything. If the image you see is negative, such a frog, you will feel the need to change. In reality, neither of these images is entirely correct. Most of us have both frog and prince/princess characteristics. The problem is that we do not see ourselves or our companies as others do.

If we don’t see ourselves and our companies as others do, we won’t have a clue as to why they respond they way they do, which can hinder our success. Worse yet, we won’t know what changes we need to make to obtain better results. I used to tell my clients, if someone tells you that you have a tail, because you probably don’t believe them, you won’t turn around and look. But, if five people tell you that you have a tail, you might want to look and see if it’s true.

Here is a dramatic example. Many years ago, I worked with a brilliant female consultant. She was a physicist who had been a colonel in the Navy with close to 50,000 people under her command. Her claim to fame was “war games”. Following her career in the Navy she went to work for a large corporation and became one of the first female executives in a male dominated organization within a male dominated industry.

The problem with this female executive had nothing to do with her abilities. She was eminently qualified. But, everyone she worked with was physically and emotionally exhausted after working with her for any length of time. She was fine at the beginning of an initiative. But, somewhere along the line, in the “heat of battle”, she lost all sense of balance or proportion, working herself and everyone else long past the point of exhaustion. I knew there was something amiss when she stopped eating, sleeping, and showering. In her mind, her career was progressing quite nicely. However, her CEO was so concerned about the damage she was causing in the organization with her aggressive behavior that he hired an $8,000 a day consultant to work with her.

In a more recent example, I was pleasantly surprised to find that a consultant I met turned out to be for more qualified than they appeared to be. The reason I was pleasantly surprised was there was a significant difference between this individual’s appearance and the image I had of other professionals of their caliber. If I had not had the opportunity to see just how competent this person was, I never would have hired them based on their appearance.

So, what can you do to make sure that you see yourself and your company as others do? The simple answer is to ask. For companies, this can be done formally or informally through focus groups, interviews, surveys, and social media. There are many marketing companies that provide “brand management” consulting services. These firms can help a company make sure that the way their brand is perceived is how they want it to be perceived and, if it isn’t,  what they can do to change it.

For individuals, many large companies conduct 360 degree feedback appraisals or surveys where they ask others to evaluate employees on specific performance and behavioral dimensions. Then, the company can use these results to show employees how others perceive them and their performance. This can be very helpful in reducing “blind spots” or the frog/prince effect. If the employee is a senior executive, the company may decide to hire a consultant to work with individual.

Sometimes, the best decision a small business owner can make is to hire a professional coach. Even if everyone in a small company sees that the business owner or a key employee needs to make changes, it is often difficult, if not impossible, to get them to change.  This is when a coach can really have an impact.

One of the companies that has been providing this kind of coaching for over twenty years is Change Masters, owned by Tom Mungavan and Carol Keers. Prior to joining Change Masters, Carol and I worked as Outplacement Consultants in a firm that provided career transition services to executives and line managers who had been terminated.  We saw firsthand how easily careers can be derailed even if an individual is highly competent. When Carol and I had lunch together a few weeks ago, she gave me a copy of their book, “Seeing Yourself As Others Do, Authentic Executive Presence At Any Stage of Your Career”. The book inspired me to write this article.

The book reveals that 55% of our communication is non-verbal or visual attributes such as facial expression, dress, posture, handshake, etc. Vocal quality is 38%, or how we say what we say and only 7% is content or words. What this means is that communication is a lot more than just words. This is the reason why people can be misunderstood even when they use the right words.

According to Change Masters, a key to managing perceptions is to align one’s internal and external authenticity. Internal authenticity is meaning what you say and external authenticity is saying what you mean.

I would encourage you to consider buying and reading the book if you want to know how to manage the perceptions others have of you. For individuals in leadership roles, executive presence is critical.  The book describes several areas that contribute to executive presence including charisma, leverage (political), communicating expectations, presentation skills, building relationships, listening and an ability to inspire.

Here’s a question. The next time you look in the mirror, do you think others see what you see? Do you think  your prospects, customers, competitors or employees see you and your company as you do? If not, they may be seeing something you don’t, like a frog!

If you would like to contact me, you can do so by visiting my LinkedIn page or emailing me at susan@susanfronk.com.

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Posted by: Mike Clough

Is Your Blog Really a Blog?

blog vs. websiteWhat kind of a question is that? Of course it is a blog. What else could it possibly be? Well, a blog has a completely different function than a website. However, when a blog is used for website functions it looses it value as a blog and in fact becomes just another website.

To better illustrate my point, let’s take a look at the differences between a blog and a website. I will borrow a table from a friend of mine, Tom Pick, who blogs over at Webbiquity:

Website Blog
Static Content Updated Frequently
Formal / Professional Informal
One Way Broadcast Interactive/Dialog
Transactional Informative
Product / Services Industry / Customer Issues
Almost Mandatory Not for everyone

Web vs. Blog
Think of a website as a virtual store front where you promote and sell things. A website is a great place to advertise and self promote. This is what people expect to take place on a website. They visit a website when they wish to purchase something from you, find your location or your hours of operation. Then, they usually don’t return until they are ready to purchase again. There is little a website can do to build relationships with your prospects and customers. Because a website is pretty much static, once you set it up, you can forget it. And once a visitor sees it, they can forget it as well.

On the other hand, a blog provides interesting content for visitors and allows for interaction and commentary regardless of whether or not they are ready to buy from you. It has special features (RSS) that allow visitors to “subscribe” so they can receive updates each time you post something new to the blog that they might want to read.

A blog should have at least one or two new posts or articles each week to attract and retain the interest of visitors. This allows you to build a community of followers around your blog. Because a blog allows visitors to contribute to content by leaving comments, it creates a platform for you to build relationships with them and for them to build relationships with other visitors.

However, a blog is not the place for advertising and a lot of self-promotion or visitors will treat it as a website rather than a blog and return only when they are ready to buy. There will be little or no opportunity to build relationships as they will not be returning one or twice a week.

I’ll give you an example of how many, otherwise savvy, business people do not understand this issue. A while ago, I received a comment from someone in the advertising industry about how blogs were a waste of time. After doing some sleuthing I discovered that this person was selling Television commercials and had a blog. The blog hadn’t been updated for several months, which told me something. But, even more telling was the fact that every post promoted their business. No wonder this person felt blogging was a waste of time!  The end result was that their blog was not a blog at all but just another website. Does that make sense to you?

A blog requires a lot more time and dedication than a website. However, it is possible to generate a lot more traffic with a blog than a website. With links between the blog and website, a blog can grow the amount of traffic to your website as you grow traffic to your blog.

From a search engine optimization (SEO) standpoint, it is far easier and quicker to build traffic to a quality blog than a quality website. Why? First, search engines love blogs because fresh new content is added frequently. It is far easier to secure links to your blog from other sites (including other blogs) than to your website because you are sharing information rather than selling something. If you promote your website in online groups, you are viewed by other group members as a spammer. If you promote your latest blog article in online groups, you are viewed as sharing valuable information and you become an authority or “go to” person on those topics.

So now that we know the difference between a blog and a website lets look at the primary functions and characteristics of both.

Website:

  • Attracts visitors (potential customers) that are ready to buy
  • Describes your company/products/services
  • Promotes your company/products/services (online brochure)
  • Provides call to action and purchasing information
  • Generates revenue with e-commerce and affiliate marketing
  • Builds minimal  authority, credibility and trust
  • Offers minimal personal interaction  with visitors
  • Ineffective at building relationships for future business and referrals

Blog:

  • Builds credibility and trust for you, your company, products and services
  • Establishes you and your company as an authority relative to content
  • Generates higher traffic due to frequent blog updates
  • Higher Search Engine Optimization due to new content and links from other sites
  • Builds relationships and community by allowing visitors to interact
  • Allows for mild or subliminal limited promotion if done very carefully
  • Does not allow for blatant advertising and promotion
  • No e-commerce or affiliate marketing
  • No call for action from a sales standpoint

As you can see, while there may be some very minor overlaps in the characteristics of a blog and a website, they each have their own distinct functions. As I mentioned earlier, a website is almost mandatory while a blog is not for everyone. After you have developed a quality website, then you can evaluate the merits of a blog for your situation.

A business with a blog that is used properly has a huge leg up on a business without a blog. However, you must be able, one way or another, to meet at least minimum requirements for the blog to become successful and increase traffic to your website and dollars to your bottom line.

Minimum Blog Requirements

  • Knowledge about the topics addressed in blog content
  • Ability to write well (or hire an editor)
  • The time to write (3-4 hours per article)
  • The time to share (promote) your blog with others
  • Commitment and determination (it takes time to build a following and see results)

If you decide to add a blog, I recommend the following:

  1. Make sure you update the content on your blog at least once or twice a week with material that your audience will want to read. Quality content and frequency are essential if you want to reap the benefits of Search Engine Optimization, establishing yourself as an authority, building community and relationships.
  2. Be sure to install an RSS feed plug-in (Google’s Feedburner is great) on your blog so visitors can receive automatic notifications when you post updated material.
  3. Be sure to install a Twitter plug-in (TweetMeme is good) on your blog so your visitors can retweet (RT) the new material when you post it.
  4. When visitors comment on material you have posted be sure to respond as soon as possible. Try to keep conversations going by responding to comments. Be sure to thank those who comment, acknowledging the value of their remarks and adding additional information or interesting anecdotes.
  5. Make sure you track and measure blog traffic (Google’s free Analytics is good) so you know how many visitors you have on any given day and where they are coming from.

So, if you have a blog, but are trying to promote your business with it like the well meaning individual in the television commercial business, I recommend that you start using it like a blog and save your promotion for your website. If you have a website and feel that a blog is right for your business (and, for many small businesses it is!), you will need to dedicate yourself to creating high value content and updating it at least twice a week.

If you are thinking of blogging and you are on LinkedIn, you may wish to consider joining “The Blog Zone” group. This group is devoted to up and coming bloggers. Most bloggers find it very useful.

Hopefully, I have shed some light on the differences between websites vs. blogs. In summary, almost everyone with a real business needs a website. Blogs bring additional benefits to those who have the resources to meet minimum the requirements in terms of time, commitment and writing skills. These days, cost is not a serious factor to consider as you can have either or both for very little expense ($10/month).

Those who enjoyed this article also enjoyed:
Is Small Business Blogging Really Effective?
Web 2.0 Blogging for Business
The Elements of a Web 2.0 Website

If you would like to contact me, you can do so by visiting my LinkedIn page or emailing me at mike.clough@bestbizpractices.org.

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Posted by: Susan Fronk

Making Change Work

Making Change WorkHave you ever tried to get someone to make changes? How successful were you? How successful has anyone been in getting you to make changes?

In today’s uncertain world, there is only one thing that’s certain; change. Have you noticed that even when the status quo is less than satisfactory, many people are reluctant to make changes? Maybe its because the the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t. Making change work in a small business can be especially difficult.

Most people would agree that the frequency and speed of change in society is accelerating. A 1965 paper written by Intel’s founder, Gordon E Moore, described a driving force of technological and social changes as a trend that would continue for at least ten years. He had observed the number of integrated circuits doubling every year between invention in 1958 and 1965. Moore’s prediction was correct as the trend has continued for at least 50 years. Thus, it became known as Moore’s law.

The internet has accelerated the exponential expansion and dissemination of information. Change is often necessary in the wake of new information. So, if change is inevitable, why do people resist it so much?

When people feel pressured to make changes their natural reaction is to resist. Is it because they are stubborn? Most of the time, this is not the reason. In fact, they may not even realize that they are resisting.

Allow me to use an example that’s pretty close to home. My husband is quite a bit more computer savvy than me. So, he’s always trying to teach me shortcuts. This is a good thing. However, oftentimes it creates tension because either consciously or unconsciously, I resist. He doesn’t understand my resistance because, as he says, he’s just trying to help me become more efficient and effective.

What my husband doesn’t realize is that when someone is encouraged to make changes, even if the change is for their own good, it creates a stress reaction. When a person feels pressure to make changes, their brain perceives it as a threat, which it is. It’s a threat to their current  status quo or comfort zone. When an individual perceives a threat, their brain doesn’t distinguish between a physical or psychological threat. It responds immediately by sending signals through the body to get ready for “fight” or “flight”. As adrenaline rushes through the body, the senses become heightened and the muscles become tense. When a person is in such a high state of alert, they are anything but relaxed and receptive, which inhibits learning and adapting to change.

What this means is that even if you are trying to get people to make changes that will help them be more efficient and effective, they can, and often will resist. What can you do to minimize resistance and get people to embrace positive change? The first step is to understand some fundamental truths about how people respond to change.

First, people don’t resist change if it is their idea. People don’t argue with their own data.  This is why engaging people in the process of problem solving is so effective. When it comes time to implement any of the solutions identified by these people resistance will not be an issue. The solutions are their ideas.

Second, people will make changes if they feel it is in their best interest to do so. Therefore, you must help them see the benefits of making changes. Here is another example that is close to home. When my son in law was in high school, he was not interested in studying. Consequently, his grades suffered. My husband tried everything to motivate him, including helping him get a loan for a new car. But, nothing worked.

Eventually, he flunked out of school. Then, instead of completing the exam for his GED, he continued to procrastinate. Finally, my husband told him, “You know, it’s too bad that you haven’t gotten your GED yet because I was going to pay off your car loan as a graduation present.” The next day, my son in law got his GED.

Third, you can’t intimidate, threaten or push people to change. I know because I tried one or more of these techniques with all three of my children when they were growing up and it never worked. I am always surprised when a manager holds the belief that employees will work harder if they think there’s a chance they might lose their jobs.

While employees may refrain from goofing off if they think there’s a chance they might lose their jobs, they do not necessarily work harder. For one thing, they immediately start using quite a bit of their mental and physical capacity in a “fight or flight” reaction to the threat of losing their job. Remember, the brain doesn’t distinguish between real or perceived threats before it sends signals to the body to start releasing adrenaline.

As I mentioned earlier, when people are in a high state of alert, they don’t think as clearly, which interferes with job performance. They are also less likely to adhere to socially acceptable behavior, which also interferes with performance. Their brains are too busy to monitor workplace behavioral norms such as courtesy and respect. Contrary to the belief that people will work harder if they feel their jobs are in jeopardy, there’s a good chance they will perform worse.

It is important to note that if people perceive repeated or prolonged threats, eventually, they can begin to exhibit symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress syndrome. In fact, in organizations where there have been multiple lay-offs, productivity drops while incidents of absenteeism, illness, conflicts and even workplace violence increase.

Fourth, the best way I know of to get people to make changes is to lead them. I learned this many years ago when the consulting company I worked for helped Arizona Public Service company (APS) restructure. The CEO at that time, Mark DeMichael, demonstrated how people can be led to make changes if they are led. Mark kicked off the restructuring initiative with the slogan “Top five in 95”. At first, employees just rolled their eyes because, at that time, the company had some of the highest rates in the industry and was not performing well in a number of areas.

In spite of the palpable disbelief in the organization, Mark stuck to his guns and executed the restructuring initiative. The company needed to make significant changes in its business processes. Some employees did not like the changes. Some left the company. But, Mark pressed forward, obtaining a critical mass of buy-in for the changes he wanted employees to make by involving them in the reorganization. People from every department served on re-engineering and process improvement teams. Was there resistance to the sweeping changes these teams recommended? Not among team members. Why? Because the newly restructured organization was their idea-their baby. And, what happened to Mark’s prediction, “Top five in 95?” They were top five in 93.

If you want people to make changes, don’t waste your time pushing, threatening or begging. It won’t work. In any change effort, there will be those who are leading it. There will be those who passively resist. There will also be those who actively resist. Your best strategy is to involve as many people as possible in the process of identifying any changes that need to be made. This way, their brains will be brainstorming and problem solving instead of getting ready to “fight” or “flight”. And they could become change agents.

What are your thoughts about making change work? What experiences have you had where people resisted change? What experiences have you had where people bought into change and became change agents? I would love to hear from you!

If you would like to contact me, you can do so by visiting my LinkedIn page or emailing me at susan@susanfronk.com.

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Posted by: Mike Clough

The Value of Social Media Bots

The Value of Social Media BotsThe world is full of innovators and the minute they see a problem, they go to work on creating a solution. This also holds true with social media.

One of the big issues that always arises when using social media for marketing is the amount of time that must be invested to get results. It takes quite a bit of time to build a sizable community on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. If you are a blogger, you know how much time and effort it takes to publish just a couple good posts each week in order to build a sizable community. And, lets not overlook all the time and effort it takes to prepare a good newsletter and build a community around that.

In response to these issues, innovators around the world have created automated software to handle some of the more time consuming administrative aspects of social media. This software is called “robots” or just “bots” for short. The utilization of bots covers a broad spectrum of applications from increasing the size of online communities to committing illegal acts. Whether or not bots should be used in social media is a question that elicits responses ranging all the way from “why not if they can help me accomplish much more in far less time” to “bots are evil and should never be used.” Consequently, I expect this article will trigger quite a bit of debate as readers share their opinions.

Personally, I came a little late to the social media table. It’s only been a couple of years since I started to get involved.  When I first started, I thought it would be crazy not to use available automation. However, several people advised me not to use bots because there was nothing social about them. They said, “How social is it for my bot to talk to your bot? You need to build relationships and a bot cannot do that for you.” I was also told that if I used bots it would probably result in me being shunned just as “spammers” are shunned. It made sense because who wants to be shunned? So, I avoided the use of bots altogether as I struggled to build my networks and communities.

Then I met an individual who was quite successful in marketing with social media and I asked him about bots. His view differed from that of my early mentors. He felt that what I had been told was only half correct. He said, “Yes, to be successful at social media marketing, you do need to build relationships and bots cannot do that for you. But there are a lot of time consuming activities associated with social media marketing that have nothing to do with building relationships. This is where bots can become very valuable.” This sounded logical to me.

Having a network of millions is worthless to social media marketing if your prospects aren’t among them. Even if I invest the time to develop relationships with them, if they are not my prospects, I am probably wasting my time. My new mentor gave me this example, “I have a great relationship with my sister but I don’t want to date her,” he said. I knew this was true from the very beginning.

About a year ago, I joined Twitter just as an experiment to see if it made sense for business marketing. The first thing I realized was that finding the right people to follow (with the hopes that they will follow you back) takes a lot of time. I would check out the profiles of the people following the people I was following to see if they were in my small business target market. I would also search the hashtag #smallbiz and follow those that were tweeting about small business. All of these activities took quite a bit of time which made building a sizable community of prospects in my target market a very slow process.

My new mentor then explained to me how he used TweetAdder to find Twitter users that were in his target market and to follow them automatically. He has over 100,000 followers on Twitter. Meanwhile, I have only been able to build a Twitter network of a couple of thousand. We all know that size does matter (assuming that they are in your target market). So, who do you think is correct, my early advisors or my new mentor?

Last week I purchased TweetAdder and went from a little over 1,900 followers to over 2,500 in just four days. This may not sound like much, but if I had been doing this for the past year, I would probably have somewhere between 50,000-100,000 followers by now. And absolutely nothing I have done prevents me from building relationships with the people I follow. The software will do many other things like send Direct Messages to all of your follows. Since I haven’t used these features I don’t know whether they hinder or help with relationship building or if even they will make me look like a “spammer”. In my humble opinion, these are the main factors to consider.

These types of tools are also available for Facebook and MySpace as well. So now I am going to make up for some lost time and start building my communities at a much faster pace. This will give me more time to build relationships with those who are following me.

Bloggers can use WordPress Plug-ins and third-party software tools like TwitterFeed, HootSuite, OnToplist and Google’s FeedBurner which will automatically send their article’s titles and links to Twitter followers and Facebook friends. These tools are bots and by themselves can save you a lot of time that you could be investing in relationship building.

Now that I have sung a few bars of praise for bots, I need to address when they can be downright evil. So evil, in my opinion, that I am not going to provide their names or links because the harder it is for people to find them, the better. There are evil bots out there that can add content to a blog on specific subjects after copying it from other blogs. This saves the blogger the trouble of writing original content. Of course, since content is copyrighted, it is illegal to use it without the author’s approval. The blogs where this is practiced are also full of advertisements like Google AdSense and affiliate marketing ads. So, it seems the only purpose for these blogs is to suck in traffic for financial gain. Normally, I don’t mind find advertising on a blog offensive, but when it comes to stealing content that belongs to someone else, I have a serious problem with it. This is why I think these bots are evil and since they are designed to break the law, they should be illegal.

In fact, because my own content has been stolen, I started a LinkedIn group called “The Blog Zone” for the purpose of helping other bloggers find out where their content may have been pirated and what to do about it. Since then it has morphed into something much bigger, broader and better. We still have a subgroup called “Copyright Matters” that addresses copyright infringement and plagiarism.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand… are bots valuable when it comes to social media marketing? When bots are used to perform administrative tasks that have absolutely nothing to do with relationship building, I do think they can be a very valuable resource. But, if you intend to use bots to spew out self-promoting advertising instead of building relationships and endearing the people in your network to you, chances are, you are going to become socially unattractive and your network will unfriend, unfan and unfollow you. You will lose trust with your community and they will ostracize you. And then you will end up being one of those people who claims “social media marketing does not work”.

Now I would like to hear from you. What are your thoughts about using bots in social media marketing? Is it thumbs up or thumbs down and why?

Those who enjoyed this article also enjoyed:
LinkedIn: The New Business Card Exchange?
Should Small Business Give Twitter A Twirl?
Is Small Business Blogging Really Effective?
Local Online Marketing for Small Businesses
When Social Media Goes Wrong

If you would like to contact me, you can do so by visiting my LinkedIn page or emailing me at mike.clough@bestbizpractices.org.

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Merchant Account Options For Small Business I wanted to write about a subject that is almost always near the top of every small business owner’s mind, or should be. Money. There was a time (not so very long ago) when the customers of a local business could “charge it” to an individual account managed by the business. This worked well when the vast majority of customers paid their bills. However, if a lot of customers stopped paying their bills, it resulted in serious cash flow problems for the business owner.

Today, small business owners can’t afford to take those kinds of risks. Enter credit cards and merchant accounts. Credit cards have had a profound impact on business. In fact, businesses that accept credit cards can experience increases of up to 400% in revenue over cash sales.

Many business owners realize that accepting credit cards is essential to staying competitive, but don’t know what options are available. There are many types of merchant accounts that can make a customer’s experience more efficient and pleasurable while potentially saving the business money on transaction fees.

It is important to find a merchant account provider that offers a variety of services at affordable rates. One such merchant account company is North American Bancard. They offer several options for credit card processing. Many of those options will be explained in more depth later in this post. There are also companies like PayPal and Google Checkout that handle specific types of merchant accounts.

When most people think of a merchant account, they envision a terminal that swipes credit cards at brick and mortar businesses. Since this is the most visible of the options for accepting credit cards, it is easy to understand why so many people think it is the only option for a merchant account. In fact there are many options available that cater to an individual business’s needs. The following list will help you determine which type of merchant account will work best for your small business.

Wireless Merchant Accounts
These types of merchant accounts are the latest in credit card processing innovation. They are gaining in popularity with businesses that rely on commerce that take place outside of an office or brick and mortar establishment. One example is a food vendor at a baseball game that accepts credit cards with wireless terminals. This is a perfect solution because fans often run out of cash.

Retail Merchant Accounts
If your business model revolves around a physical location, then a retail merchant account may be necessary to compete with other businesses (i.e. restaurants, dry cleaners, and other stores). After opening this type of account, retailers receive a countertop terminal that is used to swipe customers’ credit cards. After swiping the credit card, the terminal retrieves information associated with the customer’s account. Transaction fees are typically lower due to the lowered risk of fraud since the transaction is face to face. To further reduce fraud and keep their transaction fees as low as possible, many retailers also require identification along with a credit card. Although the transaction fees are lower, the monthly fees are higher with retail merchant accounts. Most merchant account companies offer retail merchant accounts.

Internet Merchant Accounts
Businesses that rely on e-commerce have to be able to accept credit cards if they want to generate revenue. Depending on their sales volume, they can either use a virtual terminal or a weblink gateway.

Virtual terminals are most suited to businesses with a lower volume of internet sales. The credit card information is entered into fields on a website and is transferred to the site administrator. The administrator then verifies the credit card information manually. The verification process can be performed from any computer with access to the internet.

Weblink gateways are for businesses that experience a high volume of sales from the internet. The verification process is automated by the gateway provider. These accounts are more expensive due to the automation but there are far fewer errors..

In general, internet merchant accounts cost more to open due to the increased risk of fraud, since the transaction is not face to face with the customer. Merchant account providers want to protect themselves from losses related to fraud. As e-commerce grows, so does the number of merchant providers offering this service. PayPal and Google Checkout are forms of internet merchant accounts that offer increased data protection.

Mail Order and Telephone Merchant Accounts
Although considered “old-fashioned”, it is still important to offer this option to appeal to audiences that prefer these methods. Some people just feel more comfortable talking to someone on the phone when placing an order for a product or service. Transaction fees are higher for these types of accounts.

High-risk Merchant Accounts
Businesses that are exposed to greater instances of fraud and chargebacks are classified by merchant account providers as high risk. While they can accept credit cards, it involves higher fees. Some examples of high risk businesses are pharmacies, casinos, adult stores, and travel agencies.

Offshore Merchant Accounts
If a business accepts credit cards from international customers, offshore merchant accounts might be the best option to protect them from fraud. These types of providers have verification procedures that wouldn’t be available in this country. The benefits of opening up an offshore merchant account include lower taxes and deposits. They are also easier to open.

It is not enough for a small business to offer great products and services at competitive prices. In order to stay competitive in the global marketplace, it is incumbent on small business owners to do everything they can to make it easy for customers to do business with them. Rest assured, if you are not making it convenient for your customers to do business with you by accepting credit cards, your competitors will.

If you would like to contact me, you can do so by visiting my LinkedIn page or emailing me at mike.clough@bestbizpractices.org.

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What up with social mediaAll the buzz about social media these days reminds me of the hilarious Saturday Night Live skit, “What Up With that?” All joking aside, exactly what is social media? I have struggled with the answer myself. Everyone seems to have different opinions. Some say it is social networking sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. But what about blogs and even Angie’s List?

People tend to have passionate feelings about social media, both positive and negative. My own understanding of social media has grown and evolved over the past couple of years.  I hope this article will inspire you to comment and share your own thoughts on social media.

The verdict is in, though. Social media is definitely not a fad. You might describe it as more of a “movement”. It really isn’t LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook, etc., as these are just social media or networking “tools.” Social media could even be described as a consumer “cause” much like “alternative energy” is a cause, movement or environment and solar panels, wind turbines, etc. are the tools. Allow me to provide some context.

Up until the 1970s or so, the marketer had complete “command and control” of a company’s message and brand. The message was “in your face” advertising, using one-way communication mediums such as print, radio & TV.

In the 1970s, distribution channels like Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, etc., wrestled the control away from the marketers. While these channels had a huge influence on the message they still delivered it through one-way mediums like print, radio & TV.

In the mid 1990s, when the internet began to receive acceptance, distribution has never been the same. By the turn of the century everyone was using email and browsing the web. The power and control of the message began shifting towards the consumer.

First there was the iPod which allowed consumers to listen to music while blocking advertisements. As marketers began email marketing campaigns; consumers used spam blockers and anti-spam software to block advertising messages. Then TiVo (DVRs) was introduced, allowing consumers to watch TV when it was convenient for them. It also allowed them to skip the advertisements. As advertising moved to the web, consumers began using pop-up blockers.

When consumers began accessing the internet on cell phones it allowed them to receive news via internet rather than newspapers no matter where they were. No wonder newspaper revenues have plummeted. And when was the last time you used the Yellow Pages?

The growth of this movement has exploded within the last few years as new social media “tools” have emerged and consumer acceptance has grown. The widespread acceptance of social media is nothing short of stunning. Launched in 2003, LinkedIn has more than 65 million members. Facebook was launched in 2004 and has over 500 million users (yes I know, “if Facebook were a country it would be the third largest country in the world”). Twitter was launched in 2006 and already has about 100 million users. Using these new and improved “tools”, consumers now decide what information they wish to receive as well as when and where they receive it. The result? The consumer now has virtually complete command and control of a company’s message and brand, which means your message and your brand. Does it surprise you that so many consumers have chosen not to receive advertising – your advertising?

With social media, messages are no longer one-way broadcasts. They are now broadcast in multiple directions by those in the movement to others in the movement. If a consumer has an experience (good or bad) with your company or brand and they decide to share with others via the web, thousands or tens of thousands of people can learn about it within a matter of hours. Then, whatever has been communicated (good or bad) will be visible to whole world. And once it is on the web, it never really goes away. This can work in your favor or against you, depending on the consumer’s experience. Social media makes it possible for you to build a growing community of brand ambassadors or a growing community of detractors for yourself, your brand and your company. Remember the consumer has the control. It sure makes you want to review your customer service policies and how you treat customers, doesn’t it?

Some companies and organizations refrain from participating in social media thinking they can simply “opt” out of its effects (good or bad). This is really silly. Can they possibly believe that if they don’t participate, these online conversations won’t take place? Maybe they don’t realize who now has command and control of the message, and it isn’t them. If they participate, they can identify conversations of interest and become involved. If they don’t participate they can’t.

Since consumers are now deeply involved in social media networks and communities like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, where do you suppose the marketers have gone? When Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, he answered “Because that is where the money is.” Is it any wonder that marketers are stampeding in droves to social media?

It is important to remember that the social media movement has rules and etiquette that users must follow or they will be ostracized by the community. The implication for marketing is that they must do things quite differently than they have done in the past with other media or they will be shunned by the very people they wish to endear.

In the beginning of the social media movement, the rules and etiquette were far more black and white than they have become since marketers have begun to participate. And since consumers are in charge of the rules and etiquette, their opinions sometimes vary. As more people get involved in social media, the fuzzier the rules become. However, it seems there are a couple to which the vast majority of people adhere:

  1. No Advertising – If you post anything that appears to be an ad or some sort of self-promotion, particularly it if is for profit, you are likely to be called out as a “spammer” and shunned by those to which you wish to market.
  2. Pay It Forward – “Be of service” to others seems to be a universally held value by social media participants. If you build good “web karma,” later, when you need assistance, there will be plenty available.

You may be wondering, if you can’t advertise, what good is social media? Keep in mind that the definition of spamming and advertising in various social media communities varies. It is generally acceptable behavior to help someone by offering (with a “be of service” attitude) solutions that involve your products or services. This approach can be used without consequence, as long as it isn’t blatant or heavy handed self-promotion.

Some have described the social media phenomenon as a cocktail party. At this party you will find many small groups of people having conversations about many different topics. There may or may not be people you know well. You may have met some of them before and many you may not know at all. Some of the people will be talking about problems they have that your product or service will solve. How should you behave at this party?

Should you walk around with a sandwich board and a megaphone? Of course not! You should mingle and talk about whatever everyone else is talking about. If you are not interested in the conversation a particular group is having you can drift away and find another group that is discussing something more interesting. If, in the natural course of a conversation, someone mentions a problem that you could help them solve, it is acceptable to mention that you have a potential solution. You might say something like, “I am not sure this is the time and place to mention it but I can help you with that problem if you are interested.” This puts the control in their hands while your credibility remains intact. So, as long as you behave like any civilized person would behave at a cocktail party (and I don’t mean a “beer bust”), you will be just fine.

So, what do you think is the best way to market products or services in social media communities? I’d love to hear your opinion.

If you would like to contact me, you can do so by visiting my LinkedIn page or emailing me at mike.clough@bestbizpractices.org.

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American's are working too hardIts vacation season here in Minnesota, which means that a lot of business parking lots will be virtually empty on Friday afternoon as workers cut out early and head for the golf course, the cabin, or simply their backyard to start the grille. Mondays in the summer will find Minnesota workers gathered round the water cooler with freshly sunburned faces swapping stories of golf, fishing, boating, camping, swimming, picnics, and trips.

“Summertime, when the livin’ is easy” are lyrics to one of Ira Gershwin’s most beloved songs. Everyone takes it easy in the summertime, right? No, not everyone. While millions of workers enjoy a more relaxed summer schedule, many American workers, especially small business owners, put in long hours, barely even noticing the change of seasons. And, they do it willingly, at least in the beginning, because they know it is part of the price they have to pay for success.

As a small business grows and the owner can afford to hire employees, they can start delegating some of the workload. But, many small business owners know that this is not the time to relax. They believe in the old farming adage, “you’ve got to make hay while the sun shines”.

Sooner or late, whether the business is doing well or not, small business owners need to regain a bit of balance in their lives. If they continue to put in long hours with little or no time off, it can eventually damage family relationships or their health. While it is critical that small business owners give their all to give their business the best chance to survive and thrive, many a small business owners make a bad bargain, trading a life for a living. There are many stories about a small business that survived but the founder’s marriage didn’t.

In a recent WCCO report titled, “Our No-Vacation Nation”, a study by John Schmitt, an economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research was described comparing the amount of vacation taken by US workers and those from 33 other countries. While many countries with a standard of living almost as high as the US have laws that require employers to provide paid vacation and employees to take it, the US has no such laws.

In Great Britain, where Americans supposedly got their puritan work ethic, workers are guaranteed 20 days off. In France, its 30, in Germany its 22, and in Italy its 22. The average American worker has nine days off. Studies show that only 10% of Americans take a full two weeks off a year.  Approximately 25% of American workers do not have paid vacation. For part time workers, its worse.

A post titled, “Do Americans get less vacation than people in other developed countries?” published on an irreverent blog, “The Straight Dope; Fighting Ignorance since 1973 (Its taking longer than we thought), provided some interesting information on what other countries refer to as vacation loading. In Mexico, if you are supposed to receive 20 days vacation, you’re employer must pay you for the 20 days plus another 25%-the equivalent of 25 days pay. Often Mexican employers typically give more like 80%. Of course wages are lower. However, European countries have much higher wages than Mexico and they do the same thing.

In addition, there are a host of entitlements offered by other countries that support the quality of life for workers. Australian workers get 13 weeks paid leave after 15 years of employment. Muslim workers get extended leave for a once in a lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca. Indonesian workers get time off during the day to pray. Brazilian workers get one day off with pay to give blood. Italian workers get 15 days off to get married. Female workers in Japan, Korea, and certain Muslim countries get one day off a month to deal with menstruation issues.

Sometimes dramatic differences exist between members of the same country, company, or family about how hard to work. Take my house. My position on life and work can best be described as, “joie de vivre”, which is French for joy of living.  I want my work to include collegial relationships, fun, and a positive impact. My husband’s attitude is more “utilitarian”, which means he places value on an activity relative to the outcome. He wants his work to have a measurable impact on people, processes, and profits. When the going gets tough, which it usually does, instead of whining about having to work too hard, he simply does whatever it takes. And, although I joke about him wanting me to enroll in the “workaholic apprenticeship program”, I can’t imagine him not being able to achieve whatever he decides to do.

With my last job, I was thrilled to have a fabulous benefit package including close to five weeks vacation after the first year. But, even though the company promoted taking time off for work-life balance, did I take it? No. Why? Soon after I started, the economy tanked and it became pretty obvious that if I didn’t work more than 40 hours a week, virtually every week, I would never be able to make my numbers.

It wouldn’t have been so bad except the company would only allow employees to be paid for a small portion of unused vacation each year and/or to roll it over to the next year. In fact, many employees routinely forfeited a large portion of their vacation each year, not because they had to put in more hours to meet minimum requirements. They didn’t want to be perceived as slackers.

So, as one of my favorite characters on Saturday Night Live says, “What up with that?” Did the reluctance to be seen as a slacker begin with the recession? I think not. My Dad, who grew up in the depression, told me the story of how he got one of the few jobs available by pushing his way to the front of a crowd of 300 other men who needed the job just as desperately. The hiring manager pointed at my Dad and said “Anybody willing to do what I just saw you do deserves to get the job”. My Dad never forgot that. To this day, the only person I have ever met with a work ethic as strong as my Dad is my husband.

According to Cornell University economics professor Steven Kyle, Americans may not be as rich if we took more time off, but, we might be happier and healthier. People need time away from work to rejuvenate. After all why do we want a good job if it isn’t so we can have a better quality of life?

American Express conducted a survey and found that 40% of the smallest business owners ($200,000 or less in annual revenue) have no plan to take any vacation in any given year. Those who do schedule time off rarely get away. A third will link vacation time to a business trip and half will check what’s happening at work once if not several times daily.

The reluctance these small business owners have to take time off is not without good reason. They probably don’t have anyone they can rely on to handle problems or make sound decisions. They cannot afford any mistakes that could jeopardize their relationships with customers or clients. I can personally verify the validity of this concern. Years ago, when my boss, who owned the small business where I worked, went on vacation, he left me in charge. Unfortunately, I made a mistake on a Request for Proposal (RFP) and lost what would have been our largest contract ever.

For some, an excessive absorption in work may be compulsive. According to Diane Fassel, PhD and author of “Working Ourselves to Death”, there is a fine line between working hard to achieve one’s goals and Workaholism. When work dominates a person’s thoughts to such an extent that they can’t turn them off to eat, sleep, enjoy their family, friends, leisure activities, or spiritual pursuits, they might be a workaholic. If you answer yes to three or more questions on this assessment, you may have this problem.

In summary, can small business owners work too hard? Perhaps, if they continue to push themselves and their employees so hard that they burnout, a condition that has mental and physical consequences.

What are your thoughts about working too hard? Do you have personal experiences where working too hard or not hard enough was a problem? I would love to hear from you!

If you would like to contact me, you can do so by visiting my LinkedIn page or emailing me at susan@susanfronk.com.

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Posted by: Mike Clough

When Social Media Goes Wrong

When social media goes wrongI have written many articles on this blog about the huge benefits of using social media in marketing. So please don’t mistake this article as some type of put-down for social media. It is not. I believe that social media has leveled the playing field to some degree between big business and small business. Nonetheless, as with many great things, it can sometimes go wrong. A recent experience of mine illustrates this point so dramatically that I decided to use it as an example later on in this article.

If you have been involved in social media for any time at all, you no doubt are involved in some professional and social “groups” that have common interests to your own. LinkedIn has well over 600,000 groups, Google over 4 million and Yahoo appears to have over 17 million groups. With this many groups available, you are bound to find many that share your interests. Actually, I even started a couple of groups of my own.

Group members are people from all walks of life that share a common interest (the theme of the group). Some are men and some are women; some may be white collar while some are blue collar; some may be executives while others hold positions in the rank and file; some live in different cities and even countries; and in most cases, they are as different as they are the same. Most are social media friendly and therefore well aware of the rules and etiquette. Others are not.

Occasionally, I see people who are blatantly advertising much like you would see on Craig’s List. Most of these folks don’t know better or they wouldn’t do it as it really doesn’t work with social media. Most all group members view promotion for profit as “spamming” and it is really a turn off. Therefore, it is very ineffective and actually harms your reputation within the group. I wrote about this in “Using Social Networks for Marketing.”

Then there are those who take an extreme position at the other end of the spectrum. These well meaning (but misguided) and self-appointed “social media watch dogs” accuse others of “spamming” if they post a discussion that does not relate specifically to the core interest of the group. This is so ridiculous when you think about it. While the impetus for forming a social networking group is a common interest that is shared by members, it doesn’t mean that members aren’t interested in other things.

The notion of limiting or “censoring” group discussions to make sure they never deviate from the one common interest of the group is counterproductive to the purpose of social media. To me, one of the most powerful and desirable outcomes of social media is the way it brings people together around common interests and creates a forum for them to expand their knowledge, skills, and experience far beyond where it would be if they had not participated. When group owners or members attempt to place limits on what is being discussed in groups, it aborts this outcome. It can also lead to stagnation or, worse, a form of “ideological inbreeding”.

I had an experience recently that provides a perfect example of this problem. As a serial entrepreneur, business owner, and SCORE counselor, I like to write, publish, and post articles on this blog that support the success of the small business community. Because I am a member of 50 LinkedIn groups (the maximum allowed), I post my articles, as well any other material I feel may be of value on a regular basis.

On occasion, a group member will move my discussions to “jobs” by mistake. On another occasion, a group member intentionally moved them to “jobs” because, in their mind, they felt justified in “protecting” the group from ideas that were not specifically related to the core interest of the group. One group member was apparently so inflamed with righteous fervor that they embarked on a quest to keep the sanctity of the group “pure” and moved every single one of the articles I had ever posted in that group. This effort must have taken them quite a bit of time as I have written, published and posted over a hundred articles. Eventually, the group manager got involved and sent an email to all members threatening to boot anyone who behaved the way that group member did, as it was not in the best interest of the group.

By far, the most dramatic example of a “social media vigilante” that I have encountered so far was someone who not only accused me of “spamming” but resorted to shame and humiliation by calling me names and questioning how I could ever hope to be employed again with such a flawed character. Was this individual well intentioned? Probably. Did this individual have an impact? Probably. Did the 35,000 members of this group get any value from a discussion where one of their members insulted and assassinated the character of another member? Probably not.

Another common situation in social media where the wheels fall off is on LinkedIn when people refuse to connect with people they don’t know. This behavior puzzles me because, once again, it flies in the face of what I believe is the fundamental purpose of LinkedIn. First, there are many ways that people who know each other can connect personally and professionally other than LinkedIn. If you know someone well enough, you probably already have access to their phone number, address, and email. The biggest advantage of LinkedIn is that it can help you expand your professional network. So, it makes absolutely no sense to me to refuse to connect with someone because you don’t know them! For more information you may want to read the post, “LinkedIn, The New Business Card Exchange?

Now, I want to make sure that my point is understood. I am not suggesting that there should be no control over the type of discussions people post in LinkedIn groups or that all invitations should be accepted. The point I am making is that social media is not the place for “exclusion”, “elitism” or a “private club” mentality. To use a musical metaphor, social media is not a classical piece of music where a conductor leads musicians to play notes that have already been written, as it is a jam session where jazz musicians improvise and collaborate to create something that never existed before.

What experiences have you had where social media has gone wrong? I would love to hear from you!

If you would like to contact me, you can do so by visiting my LinkedIn page or emailing me at mike.clough@bestbizpractices.org.

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Veterans In BusinessToday is Memorial Day; a day we dedicate to honoring those who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom.  And, although my blog articles usually address the types of issues confronted by any entrepreneur or small business owner, I want to take this opportunity to focus on veteran-owned businesses and veterans thinking of starting their own business.

While every aspiring entrepreneur starts off in business with certain strengths and weaknesses, veterans bring a unique set of assets and liabilities. I feel qualified to write about this subject because I have served in the military, held executive positions in large companies, and have owned several small businesses.

My experience in the military taught me several things that have served me well in my civilian life as a small business owner:

  1. Goal achievement requires hard work, focus, discipline and tenacity
  2. Performance is enhanced by loyalty to subordinates and among team members
  3. Strategic plans, when executed flawlessly, lead to victory

Apparently I am not the only one who sees the business benefits of military experience. In an article published in the New York times titled, “Management / The military model: Image-conscious firms snap to attention”, Holly Hubbard Preston compares the military model and a typical corporate structure. After World War II, most large companies were organized hierarchically since that was what most managers, who were veterans, understood. As an example, AT & T, a typical large U.S. company, had 14 levels of management, similar to the U.S. Army. If fact, the most elite European business schools of business and engineering are still organized along military lines.

Today, although large companies have become flatter in an effort to become more responsive to change, they are demonstrating a renewed respect for the value veterans bring. The renewed interest in people with military backgrounds has been fueled by the seeming epidemic in corporate scandals. The assumption is that people who have served in the armed forces have more discipline, courage, leadership and integrity than the general population.

Jeanne Branthover, director of the New York office for Boyden Global Executive Search has been seeing a trend in her Fortune 500 clients to recruit top-level executives with military experience. They want people who can lead under difficult circumstances.

Sim Sitkin, a professor at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, asserts that the military prepares people to accept “high levels of responsibility at a relatively young age” and provide the type of crisis management training needed in a business.

However, Sitkin also asserts that the military is more decentralized and less hierarchical than it used to be. Officers are trained to respond independently and creatively to rapid changes in the environment.

In response to this new demand for military talent, business schools are offering new programs. The Fuqua school at Duke in collaboration with the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, has a program offering a subsidized master’s of business administration degree to active military personnel.

Apparently, others have reservations about the merits of a military management model in a civilian organization. According to Zoli Erdos, Editor-in-Chief, Program Chair, Silicon Valley Association of Startup Entrepreneurs, thinks that small businesses need a team of partners and collaborators rather than a military model.

P. Keskonis and KM Siddiqi, in their article, “Military Management Style Not Good For All Businesses”, make the point that in a large organization, a military management model with strict controls may not have much of an adverse impact because of the influence of many internal and external factors. However, in a small organization, where the owner or boss is intimately involved with operations, employees, and customers, an authoritarian management style and strict controls can erode morale, increase absenteeism, reduce productivity and lead to high turnover.

Regardless of your perspective relative to the value of a military background in a small business, we owe the brave men and women who lost their lives while serving in the military a debt we can never, ever repay. However, there are many ways we can demonstrate our appreciation for the many sacrifices made by service men, women and their families.

One way we can demonstrate our appreciation is to hire veterans. The transition from military to civilian life is challenging enough without the added stress of unemployment. Hire Heroes USA (HHUSA) is a non-profit organization that provides career placement assistance to returning service men and women, specializing in those who are injured or disabled. HHUSA serves veterans from all branches of the military: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, National Guard, Reservists and Coast Guard.

Another way we can demonstrate our appreciation is to buy from veteran-owned businesses. There are currently three million veteran-owned businesses in the United States. The goal of the National Veteran-Owned Business Association (NaVOBA) is to convince corporate America and the government to consider using veteran-owned businesses as preferred vendors.

SCORE offers many resources to assist veterans who want to start a business or have one they want to grow.  SCORE offices nationwide have programs and services specifically for members of the military community, some of whom will be leaving the service soon and others who completed their terms years ago. Helpful resources include:

  • Insights for veterans with leadership tips, grants and an introspective questionnaire to help determine if starting a small business is the right option
  • Directories of state programs and other resources for veterans
  • Statistical research on small business owners who are veterans
  • Links to business loan programs, including SBA Economic Injury Loans, Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loans and the Patriot Express Loan Initiative
  • Information about specific SCORE programs for veterans and links to SCORE’s free online and face-to-face mentoring, online workshops and eNewsletters

In addition to SCORE, the Small Business Administration SBA) offers assistance through The Veterans Business Outreach Program (VBOP). The program provides entrepreneurial development services such as business training, counseling and mentoring, and referrals for eligible veterans owning or considering starting a small business. There are sixteen organizations participating in this effort serving as Veterans Business Outreach Centers (VBOC).

If you would like to contact me, you can do so by visiting my LinkedIn page or emailing me at mike.clough@bestbizpractices.org.

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