Protecting Your Intellectual Property Is More Important than Ever

When you see or hear the abbreviation “IP,” it stands for Intellectual Property.  IP is a key asset in a small business. Simply put, intellectual property is the ownership of concepts, processes and ideas, as opposed to physical property which characterizes a tangible asset. IP is fast becoming the major delineator among business owners who are competing for market share and customers.

There are four basic types of IP that small businesses often rely on.

Copyrighted Material

This category encompasses everything from literary and artistic works to video and audio recordings to architectural drawings and computer code. Although a copyright is the most common form of IP, it does not cover ideas or concepts unless they are written down, creatively rendered, or recorded in some other fashion. However, you can not copyright a book title unless it’s a book series. Though technically speaking, you don’t have to register a copyright in order for it to be valid, doing so is relatively inexpensive and gives you more solid legal footing should a dispute ever arise.

Trademarks

While copyrights focus mainly on creative works, trademarks protect anything that is related to branding. Things that can be trademarked include company symbols (like McDonald’s golden arches), names (like the Super Bowl), or logos (like the blue and white F for Facebook) – as long as it is distinctive (for instance, the name “AAA Plumbing” probably couldn’t be trademarked). Trademarks can be filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for a few hundred dollars or a bit more if you utilize a lawyer.

Patents

These days, patents are the least common types of IP among small business owners. That’s because patents only apply to invented products, processes, and methods which are determined to be “novel,” “non-obvious,” and “useful” according to federal statutes. Also, the patenting process with the USPTO can take months or years and cost thousands of dollars, and it always involves securing the services of a patent lawyer.

Trade Secrets

This is a more nebulous classification which covers any type of process, recipe, formula, or design that gives your business a competitive advantage (like a family secret pie recipe, your unique 3D printing process, or Coca-Cola’s secret formula). Here’s the problem: the government doesn’t provide any registration process for trade secrets (which would defeat the purpose, after all), so it’s up to the small business to restrict access to its trade secrets. Legal relief only comes if the IP is leaked or stolen (which is theft) or an employee violates a non-disclosure agreement (which is a breach of contract).

Intensely Protect Your IP

Though the process for safeguarding or registering various forms of IP can differ depending on the company and the context, here are some general guidelines for how to protect your business:

Do your homework. Identify your IP, categorize it properly, and know your rights and limitations.

Don’t procrastinate. The USPTO operates on a “first to file” system, so even if you come up with the idea first, you’re out of luck if someone else registers it with the USPTO before you do.

Seek expert advice. For complex IP types like patents and trademarks, hiring a who specializes in IP law to help you navigate the process.

Monitor your IP rights. Once you have registered your IP, it’s up to you to watch out for infringements; the government won’t do it for you.

Handle disputes wisely. If you find someone using your IP improperly, don’t automatically run to the courthouse. Consider sending a notification letter to the perpetrator; or if the revelation might actually boost your business, it may be prudent to ignore it altogether.

Overlooking your IP could have negative ramifications for your business. But don’t wait to find out you’re wrong by watching a competitor leverage your creative ideas or logo to make money for their business. When it comes to IP, Prevention is worth a pound of cure.

For more insights on running your small business, follow me on Twitter.

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How to Handle Conflict in Your Life and Business

Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9 pm ET.  This is excerpted from my recent interview with R.W. Burke who is a Certified Professional Coach through the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching and is the top coach on Ford Motor Company’s Consumer Experience Movement (CEM) project.  He is also the author of a self-help book for business executives – Quiet the Rage:  How Learning to Manage Conflict Will Change Your Life (and the World).   For more information:  www.quiettherage.com.

SmallBizLady: HOW DOES UNMANAGED CONFLICT IMPACT THE EMPLOYEES OF BUSINESSES?

R.W. Burke:

  • 85% of employees at all levels experience conflict to some degree; U.S. employees spend 2.8 hours per week dealing w/conflict, which translates to 385 million working days, or $359B paid hours.
  • 27% of employees have seen conflict lead to personal attacks
  • 25% saw it result in sickness/absence.
  • 70% of employees see managing conflict as very/critically important leadership skill
  • 43% of non-managers think their bosses don’t deal with conflict as well as they should
  • 67% of employees have gone out of their way to avoid a colleague because of a disagreement at work

SmallBizLady: WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR BUSINESSES TO MANAGE CONFLICT?

R.W. Burke: Most companies are all aiming to lift the collective performance of their employees. Why? To establish a sustainable competitive advantage. Managers at all levels have the same concerns: “How do I move my organization forward by getting more out of my people?” They do that by elevating employee engagement.

According to Gallup, employee engagement is at an all-time low—only 27% of employees are “highly engaged.” Employee engagement is a direct result of the health and the strength of the relationships that exist between people. Unmanaged conflict jeopardizes those relationships.

SmallBizLady: HOW CAN MANAGERS BECOME BETTER MANAGERS OF CONFLICT?

R.W. Burke: Most managers struggle with trying to change behavior…his own, or someone else’s. And it’s usually someone else’s.

The struggle with that behavior is mostly caused by the lack of understanding of it.

Once a basic understanding exists, managing it becomes easier. The same is true of managing conflict.

Managing conflict is not only a state of mind, but a state of understanding.

And it’s easiest to learn to manage it within yourself before trying to manage it in others.

SmallBizLady: WHAT ARE THE KEY INSIGHTS MANAGERS MUST UNDERSTAND TO EFFECTIVELY MANAGE CONFLICT?

R.W. Burke: Some keys to addressing conflict between employees, managers and employees, between departments, divisions, etc.  Understand that all human behavior is a function of personal values.  Recognize that conflict exists when someone feels as though one of their personal values has been offended; or, when someone feels like another is imposing their personal values on them.  Realize that we sometimes create the behavior in others that we don’t want. Learn about the specific situations that are prone to offend our personal values to anticipate them, manage them, and proactively avoid them.

SmallBizLady: WHY DO PERSONAL VALUES MATTER IN A BUSINESS ENVIRONMENT?

R.W. Burke: When one of our personal values is offended, we become emotionally reactive.

When we’re reactive, we’re not our best selves, nor do we produce the best outcomes. We don’t recognize that others’ behavior is simply their honoring their values. And that recognition is the keystone to eliminating the offensiveness we perceive in their behavior. Recognition leads to transformation of our reaction into a response, flipping it from a negative to a positive interaction

SmallBizLady: WHAT ARE THE STEPS TO MANAGING CONFLICT?

R.W. Burke: There are 5 Steps to managing conflict:

  • Step One: Identifying and declaring your personal values
  • Step Two: Recognizing “hot” situations, those prone to offending your personal values
  • Step Three: Understanding your default style of emotional reaction
  • Step Four: Learning to interrupt your emotional reaction
  • Step Five: Discovering how to transform your negative emotional reaction into a positive response

SmallBizLady:  HOW DO YOU IDENTIFY AND DECLARE YOUR PERSONAL VALUES?

R.W. Burke:  There are a couple of reasons it’s important to identify your personal values.

  • The first is, all human behavior is a function of personal values. Your behavior will either honor a value or defend one.
  • The 2nd is, your personal values are also your triggers.

Any situation that you encounter that challenges 1 of your values will cause you to become emotionally reactive.

SmallBizLady:  HOW DO YOU RECOGNIZE YOUR “HOT SITUATIONS?”

R.W. Burke:  Conflict exists when someone feels like a personal value has been offended,

and by answering this question, they identify their individual “hot situations” –

or those that are prone to offend a particular person’s values.

SmallBizLady:  HOW DO YOU DETERMINE YOUR DEFAULT STYLE OF EMOTIONAL REACTION?

R.W. Burke:  Once becoming emotionally reactive, what remains is to identify someone’s “default reactionary style.”  People will react as “victims” or “in conflict.”

If reacting as a victim, that person will withdraw, stop communicating, feel helpless and powerless, and the prevailing idea is “I lose.”

If reacting in conflict, that person will lash out, become angry and aggressive, argumentative and combative, and the prevailing idea is “I win.

Regardless of the default reactionary style, the ultimate challenge is to learn how to interrupt

the negative emotional reaction and transform it into a positive response.

SmallBizLady:  HOW CAN THE NEGATIVE EMOTIONAL REACTIONS BE INTERRUPTED?

R.W. Burke:  There are two levels of interruption, one is simple restraint. That is where the emotion still exists, but the destructive action does not. The problem with restraint though is it is a diminishable resource…you can run out of restraint.

The second level, is where the emotion no longer exists by virtue of dissociating the perception of intentionality with respect to the observed or witnessed behavior. Without the emotion, there is no fuel for the reaction, and without the reaction we are simply left with a situation that we would like to be different.

SmallBizLady:  IN YOUR BOOK, YOU SAY: “SOMETIMES WE CREATE THE BEHAVIOR IN OTHERS THAT WE DON’T WANT.” HOW DO WE DO THAT?

R.W. Burke:  Conflict also exists when another feel like someone else is imposing their personal values on them. It’s natural for an organization to reflect the persona of its managers and owners. Too often though, those managers and owners are judging everyone else in the organization with respect to how much like them, those others are. And when they feel someone isn’t enough like themselves, they attempt to change them…making it natural for employees to rebel against that.

SmallBizLady:  IN YOUR BOOK, YOU TALK ABOUT SOMETHING CALLED A “SUPER WICKED PROBLEM.” WHAT IS THAT?

R.W. Burke:  A Super Wicked Problem exists when: the people that want to solve the problem also create it. That means to say, if you want to productively manage conflict, you must first understand how you may be participating in it…in other words, creating it. When we allow ourselves to become emotionally reactive, our behavior contributes to the problem, not the solution.

If you found this interview helpful, join us on Wednesdays 8-9 pm ET; follow @SmallBizChat on Twitter.

Here’s how to participate in #SmallBizChat: http://bit.ly/1hZeIlz

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Five Steps to Freedom from Feeling Overwhelmed

Guest Article

As a small business owner, we all feel overwhelmed at times, and it can be a debilitating. It is not only frustrating and miserable, but it keeps us from achieving our goals and delivering value to the world.  My most recent experience was a couple months ago when I was trying to use social media to broaden my reach about my core message about positivity. I was learning how to do it effectively and found that it was time-consuming work. Because I was just learning, I was making painfully slow progress on my long list of things to do. As I fell behind, I started feeling stressed. After a week of making minimal headway, I was stressed, tired, and overwhelmed by my seemingly insurmountable list of things to do. One afternoon, feeling particularly stressed and upset with myself, I complained to my wife.

She looks at me and says. “Really Steve? Think about this a second…You’re getting stressed-out about positivity.”

Touché. That stopped me in my tracks.

She was right. I had to take a different approach. I decided that this was a perfect opportunity to use one of the tools in my book Head First! A Crash Course in Positivity: Eight Practical Ways to Increase Your Positivity and Improve Your Outcome. In my current situation, the most relevant tool was Principle Two: “Focus on the things you control.”

This principle works well when you are feeling overwhelmed. It’s a simple five-step approach to getting unstuck, unstressed, and moving in the right direction again that will work in any situation.

Step 1:  Place the elements of your situation into three categories

Take a sheet of paper and make three columns with the labels:

  • Things I can control
  • Things I can influence
  • Things out of my control

Now, break down your current situation into its component parts and put them into each category. In my situation of being stressed out about social media, I came up with the following:

Simply breaking down your situation into these elements and writing them down makes a big difference in your attitude and helps you become unblocked. It puts some structure to the problem and you can start to see the path forward. By writing it down and defining it, you have already started taking control of the situation. You will feel your mindset shift.

Step 2:  Awareness and acceptance of what you don’t control

Read through the items in column three to just simply to be aware of them and accept them. Don’t spend any energy on these things, just be aware of them so you can navigate around them.   In my situation, I had to accept the fact that social media marketing is effective and I need to do it, even if it’s a time suck for me.  Sigh…

Step 3: Focus on what you CAN control

Read through the items in the list of things you control. Pick one that meets the following criteria and circle it.

  • You are comfortable doing it.
  • It won’t take long to do.
  • It can make a small but real difference in the situation.

I circled “Making time to do social media.”   It was the easiest thing to do and it would be a small but visible step in the right direction.

Step 4: Take ACTION!

For that one thing you circled, write down what steps you can take to move it forward. The smaller and easier the steps, the better. Now pick one of those steps, do it, and cross it off the list. Pick another action and do it.

For my first thing, ‘Finding time to do social media, all I had to do was decide when was a good time, put it on my calendar and tell my wife the plan.  After thinking about how my days were going, I decided that the best time for me would be sometime between getting home from work and eating dinner. I blocked off 30 min each day, and told my wife so she could help hold me accountable… She would tell me… “No treats until you do your tweets!”

Once you take a few small steps forward, even if they are tiny, you start to separate yourself from your overwhelmed feeling. Once you regain control over the situation, you will regain your confidence and energy.

Step 5:  Move into things you can INFLUENCE

After focusing on what you can control and regaining your self-confidence, start putting energy into the things you can influence.  It is through influence that we have the biggest effect on the world, but you won’t be successful influencing unless you approach it from a position of strength and confidence.

Although it can be rewarding, influencing can also be time consuming and frustrating. To avoid wasting your precious time and energy, ask yourself three questions:

1)     Is it any of your business? Is it reasonable for you to try to influence it?

2)     Do you have the credibility to convince others to follow you?

3)     If you are successful, Is the expected benefit worth the effort?

If you answered yes to all three of those, then dive in. Do it from a position of strength, do it with confidence and be aggressive.

My step five was to start interacting with others on Twitter and Facebook trying to build engagement.  I crafted social posts that encouraged likes and shares from my audience.  It is hit or miss things, but as I do it, I get better reactions. Bit by bit, my list of followers is expanding.  By the time you read this article, I will probably have almost as many followers as the SmallBizLady, we’ll I can have a goal anyway.   I have an idea. Next time you feel overwhelmed, grab a pen and paper and give this process a try. Honestly, the hardest part is getting the energy to grab a pen. Momentum is a big part of this equation and by starting small and making incremental progress you gain momentum. Every moment you spend moving forward gives you more momentum, which makes the next step even easier.

Once you completed step five, that feeling of being overwhelmed is a distant memory and has been replaced with accomplishment, confidence and energy. Keep going! Get out there, do great things and make this world a better place!

About the author:

Steve H. Lawton is a positivity expert and author of “Head First! A Crash Course in Positivity.” Lawton shares his inspirational story alongside eight practical positivity principles that he took away from a major tragedy and instructions on how to implement them into your life. Follow him on Twitter @SteveHLawton

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Where to Find Support as a Veteran-Owned Business

If you’re one of the 2.5 million veterans who own a business, or is a vet thinking about starting a business, you should know that there are resources that will help make your journey easier. There are programs specifically designed for veteran-owned businesses. Whether you need financing, a mentor, or just small business training, here are a list of resources that you can take advantage of to boost your business venture.

  1. Veteran Entrepreneur Portal

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs website has a robust section dedicated to veteran entrepreneurs. There, you can find resources for starting and growing a business, as well as financing and pursuing federal contracting opportunities. You can also find franchising opportunities, training and employment programs.

What it’s best for: Sometimes getting started is the hardest thing to do, especially when it comes to applying for federal contracts. This site provides ample educational resources to walk you through becoming certified as a veteran-owned small business so that you can bid on federal contracts. If you’re a disabled vet, you will be given priority in the bidding process, so it’s worth becoming certified.

  1. V-Wise

For female veterans, V-WISE (Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship) can get you started on your entrepreneurial adventure. This three-phase training program includes a 15-day online course, a 3-day entrepreneurship training conference, and ongoing mentorship and support as you launch or grow your business.

The great thing about this program is that it’s not only for honorably discharged women vets and active duty service members, but also female spouses or same-sex life partners of women veterans.

What it’s best for: If you thrive networking with other veteran business owners and learning in a formal education-style training program, you’ll get the most out of this resource.

  1. Entrepreneurship Boot Camp for Veterans

For the past 10 years, the Entrepreneurship Boot Camp for Veterans has been held on 10 college campuses, with the aim of providing access to higher education-level training for veterans interested in entrepreneurship.

The program, free for post-9/11 vets, includes three phases:

  • 30-day instructor led, online course focused on business basics
  • Nine-day residency at an EBV university, with access to over 30 accomplished entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship educators
  • 12 months of support and mentorship

What it’s best for: If finances have kept you from seeking top-level training to boost your entrepreneurship skills, this program removes financial hardship from the equation.

  1. Bunker Labs

Bunker Labs, a national non-profit built by military veteran entrepreneurs, designed to empower other military veterans as leaders in innovation by providing educational programming and small business resources.

Through this organization, you can network with other veteran business owners through its Bunker Brews and CEOCircle events, or take one of several education courses online or in person.

What it’s best for: If getting to an in-person training course is difficult, check out Bunker in a Box, an online entrepreneur education platform.

  1. Hivers & Strivers

For startups, having funds to scale a big business idea is key. If you’re seeking funding for your veteran-owned startup, why not work with an angel investor that focuses on funding people who have served in the military? Hivers & Strivers provides early-stage investment for startups founded and run by graduates of the US Military Academies.

What it’s best for: If you’re looking for $250,000 to $1 million in investment, Hivers & Strivers is the resources to consider.

  1. VetFran

Franchising is an excellent option for entry into business ownership: with business branding and processes already established for you, it’s less work to get an establish business up and running than to build an independent business from scratch.

VetFran supports veterans who are interested in franchises, and connects them with franchising opportunities. Often, franchisors will offer a reduced franchising fee to veterans as a way to encourage them to buy a franchise, and VetFran can guide you to the best franchise for your needs. The website includes a veteran franchise directory, as well as educational resources.

What it’s best for: If you want guidance toward finding the best franchises for you as a veteran, this is a great resource.

  1. Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC)

Having a local resource to turn to with questions on small business ownership is invaluable. The VBOC has centers all over the US, where you can participate in transition assistance programs and receive counseling, training, and mentoring. It’s also a great place to meet other veterans in your area.

What it’s best for: If you feel in over your head in starting a business, a VBOC can help. They offer training and education on developing your business plan, conducting a comprehensive feasibility analysis, and much more.

As a veteran, you can access organizations like these dedicated to helping you succeed as your own boss. Take advantage of them so that you have an edge over the competition once you’re up and running in your new business.

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How to Implement Cost-Effective Programs to Grow Your Sales

Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9 pm ET. 

This is excerpted from my recent interview with Louis Gudema, who has worked with companies from MIT startups to IBM — and everything in between. He focuses on helping small- and mid-sized businesses grow faster by focusing their efforts with his Bullseye Marketing Framework. For more information:  www.revenueassociates.biz.

SmallBizLady: WHY SHOULD SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS CARE ABOUT MARKETING?

Louis Gudema: Across virtually all industries, the companies that market more and better, grow faster. Period. For example, a study of >1000 insurance agencies found much faster growth from those that market more. My study of 85 software companies found those with the broadest marketing programs grow almost 5X faster than others. Those are very different industries, but you see the same results over and over again. The biggest companies market a lot. They didn’t get big then start marketing, they got big because they marketed.

SmallBizLady: DO SMALL BUSINESSES TYPICALLY MARKET ENOUGH?

Louis Gudema: No, the vast majority of small businesses do very little, if any, marketing. They should allocate several percent of their budget toward marketing, at least. Remember: marketing is an investment; it should not be an expense. It should return several times what you spend.

SmallBizLady: IF MARKETING IS SO GREAT, WHY DON’T SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS DO MORE OF IT?

Louis Gudema: There are reasons why more small business owners don’t do more marketing. First, they often don’t know much about it. They are really experts in their business. And they probably developed good sales skills.  Marketing has become complex. There used to only be about 6/8 ways to communicate w/customers. Now there are DOZENS. Plus, over 5000 marketing software vendors in dozens of categories, all making similar claims. Many marketers are overwhelmed, so it’s no surprise that small business owners are, too!

SmallBizLady: ISN’T IT REALLY EXPENSIVE? SMALL BUSINESSES DON’T HAVE A LOT OF MONEY?

Louis Gudema: It doesn’t have to be. Marketing starts with understanding the customer. Talk to 10-20 customers — not a sales call, but a listening conversation. That’s free! If you have those conversations I guarantee you you’ll learn a lot, improve offerings and probably even have some of those customers ask you to do more business.  And, it’s amazing the number of free and inexpensive tools available these days, like low cost email tools and free CRMs.

SmallBizLady: WHAT’S THE BIGGEST MARKETING MISTAKE THAT SMALL BUSINESSES MAKE?

Louis Gudema: They equate marketing with advertising and other approaches that are expensive and typically take a long time to have an impact like social media. They also forget about the most profound purpose of #marketing which is to understand the customer and market and develop better products and services.  In the startup world, that’s called creating product-market fit. Don’t do any promotion until you have that!

SmallBizLady: YOU HAVE DEVELOPED THIS APPROACH THAT YOU CALL THE BULLSEYE MARKETING FRAMEWORK. HOW IS THAT USEFUL FOR A SMALL BUSINESS?

Louis Gudema: This small business marketing approach helps companies recognize marketing assets that they’re not taking full advantage of. These are marketing assets that they already own, like their customer relationships/website, but are not fully exploiting.  They are foundational. Every company should do these first both because they produce the fastest, least expensive results…and because they help set you up for success with those later programs.

SmallBizLady:  WHAT’S IN THE CENTER OF THE BULLSEYE?

Louis Gudema:  Talking with customers, having listening conversations, creating better offerings, and then upsell them. Least expensive new revenue. Improve your website so that it helps produce new contacts, leads/sales for you. Make sure that it’s more than a brochure

Use email marketing. Analyst firm Deloitte estimates that email marketing is 40X more powerful than social media! Use remarketing, which shows ads only to people who already have visited your website. It’s very efficient and inexpensive.

SmallBizLady:  AFTER YOU DO THAT, THEN WHAT?

Louis Gudema:  Secondly, you expand your universe by selling to people who want to buy *now*.

Think of these 3 characteristics of customers:

  • People (or companies) who fit the right demographic profile for your offerings (age, gender, income, etc.) but, still may not want your particular products.
  • People who have the right attitudes, or “psychographics”, they like your stuff! But they’re not looking to buy this week, month or year
  • People with the right demographics and psychographics who want to buy NOW! That’s who you need to focus on

You can find them through search ads, by people who visit your website repeatedly, and other methods.

SmallBizLady:  YOU HAVE THINGS LIKE SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING & INBOUND AND ADVERTISING IN THE OUTER – LAST – RING OF YOUR BULLSEYE. REALLY?

Louis Gudema:  Absolutely. These are long-term awareness and branding programs. They can take 1-2 years — or more — to have an impact.  VPs of marketing often complain that execs in their firms don’t understand that they need more time to let those work.  Not that they can’t be valuable in the long run. They can! Creating a strong brand means your customers are more loyal, you can charge more and have higher margins.  You can get $1,000 for a smartphone!

You want to get there eventually, but you want to start with those faster, less expensive programs.

SmallBizLady:  CAN A SMALL BUSINESS PERSON REALLY DO THIS ON THEIR OWN? WHAT KIND OF SKILLS OR TEAM DO THEY NEED?

Louis Gudema:  Great question! If a person doesn’t have marketing experience, then they should get help. Each of the tactics that I’ve mentioned has many techniques that are essential to their success, like combining email with Facebook Custom Audience ads and remarketing

That combination is very inexpensive but has lots of levers you need to pull to get it right

Take advantage of what others know. It’s faster and cheaper than doing it all yourself.

SmallBizLady:  THERE ARE THOUSANDS OF MARKETING SOFTWARE PROGRAMS. HOW CAN YOU CHOOSE THE RIGHT ONES FOR YOUR COMPANY?

Louis Gudema:  Yes, and those thousands of programs are in dozens of categories. No one can know how to use them all. But, with the Bullseye, you can focus on the 5 or 6 most important programs to support those initial efforts.  And, the great thing for small business people today is that many of these are inexpensive — sometimes free! It’s a great time to be marketing.

If you found this interview helpful, join us on Wednesdays 8-9 pm ET; follow @SmallBizChat on Twitter.

Here’s how to participate in #SmallBizChat: http://bit.ly/1hZeIlz

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7 Low-Cost Ways to Market Your Company

Guest Article

Marketing your own business can be time consuming and costly. As a business owner you have limited time with often a tight budget. Fortunately, you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to execute a marketing plan. Below are seven low-cost ways to market your company without forfeiting quality.

  1. Social Media

The three main social platforms you can use to promote your social media for free are Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. All you need to get started is a solid social media plan, content writing skills, and/or video making skills. However, you can always use your staff or interns for this if they have a higher skillset. Just remember, quality content counts. A single post on your social media profiles can make the difference between hundreds of clicks, comments, and shares versus none.

  1. Blogging

Writing blog posts or press releases that interest your customers is another great way to promote your business online. Plus, the more attention your articles get, the more traffic it can drive back to your website and advertise your company. If you’re a real estate company, you can write anything from securing home loans to finding the perfect home in your area. Remember, the more specific you make the topic of the article, the more it can market your company. You should also include a short blurb about you and your business with your article to allow potential customers to know how to find you.

  1. Referral Program

Word of mouth is still the most popular marketing tools used for business, large and small. Creating your company’s own referral program is a great way to reward customers and get them talking about how professional your business is. Plus, you don’t have to spend a lot for customer rewards. You’ll be surprised how excited people get for small discounts, free t-shirts, or even movie passes.

  1. Email Campaigns

Sending out weekly or monthly emails to your valued customers is a great way to market new products or simply tell your consumers how much they mean to your company. Plus, offering special deals in return for reading the email is a great way to reward your customers. However, make sure that you are providing helpful content to your readers. You don’t want to message your customer too much do that they unsubscribe from your list. The last thing they want is to feel pressured into buying a product or be bombarded with irrelevant news from your company. Make sure to keep it as light and interesting as you can.

  1. Use Promotional Products

Using branded promotional products is a great way to boost brand awareness and ensure potential clients remember your business. Give them away for free to potential customers and clients or use them to draw a crowd at business conferences. Whenever they see the product, they will remember your company and what you do. You can remain in the forefront of their mind when looking for or recommending a company like yours, which will surely increase sales.

  1. Cross Promote

When using cross-promotion, also known as buddy marketing, you create an agreement with another business to promote each other. For example, you may agree to post an ad for the other company in your email newsletter if they agree to do the same. This is a fantastic way to spread the reach of your business and reach an entirely new audience.

It might be in your best interest to seek out companies in the same industry, though not ones that offer the same sort of product. This way, you can run joint promotions. For example, if you teach art classes, you can cross promote with an art supply store and run a contest together. This is less expensive than running a promotion on your own and will require less effort on your part since you will be sharing responsibility and the cost.

  1. Brand Your Communications

Every document you send out, both physical and digital, should be branded with your logo and pertinent company information. Yes, this is for more than just your business cards. Every document that you send out should contain your company name, logo, website, and contact information. You can even add your slogan onto your documents to be even more memorable. This info should be placed in the letterhead on digital and physical correspondences. You should also update your email signature to contain this information, too. You can even add links to your company’s social media profiles so your clients can connect with you there, too. Be sure to take every promotional opportunity given to you.

About the author:

Ryan Bridges is a contributing writer for Alamo Tees & Advertising.  In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his family and running.

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7 Mobile Marketing Trends for 2018

If you pay attention, you’ll notice a quiet revolution happening in the world of marketing. Mobile is quickly becoming the go-to channel for a variety of strategies designed to reach your customer. If you’re not using mobile yet, you will soon be. Here are 7 trends to take notice of to start developing a strategy to add mobile to your marketing mix in 2018.

  1. Mobile Video

It’s been predicted that in 2018, people will spend about 36 minutes watching videos on their mobile devices, where they’ll spend just 18.5 minutes on non-mobile devices. That’s reason alone to invest in mobile video content and mobile advertising for your brand. With different formats for mobile video ads, there are a variety of ways to engage with your audience, as well as get them to click to your website from the device that has their attention throughout the day. Remember less is more, keep videos under two-minutes to gain traction.

  1. Mobile SEO

This is far beyond having a responsive website. It’s a given that your website design will adapt based on the device it’s being viewed on. Mobile SEO is about how your mobile website focuses on core ranking, indexing and leveraging mobile keywords. Keys to success are the following:

  • Focus on relevancy, usefulness and authority
  • It must download quickly
  • Create a mobile index
  • Fix mobile-friendly errors
  • Do mobile keyword research and content creation

Also know that in 2018, Google will rank search results based on the mobile friendliness of websites too, so if you’re planning on updating your site keep mobile top of mind.

  1. Mobile Search

You may have optimized your website for desktop searches, but you’ll need to take another gander to make sure it’s mobile friendly in terms of search, too. Because so many searches for local businesses happens on mobile devices with intent to buy, it’s imperative that your website content uses keywords to attract local customers. Consider long-tail keywords, that include the neighborhood your business is located in within those keywords.

Also know that voice search is huge with mobile, so people are searching differently. Rather than typing in “restaurant best steak Philadelphia,” a user might voice search with Siri, Amazon Echo or Google Home “What’s the best place to get a cheesesteak in Philly?” Knowing this, you can use these semantic search phrases in your SEO to better reach your mobile audience.

  1. Mobile Apps

Mobile apps have been all the rage for years, and they’re not going anywhere. While not every business needs to invest in the expense of designing an app, they can be beneficial for many industries including restaurants, lifestyle bloggers, fashion, art, health and fitness, and of course productivity/software businesses. But your app better be worth it. People aren’t willing to give up precious data to a hog app that runs in the background.

Before diving in, ask yourself what your purpose is in building an app. How will it better serve your customers? Are you prepared to invest in marketing the app to boost users? What’s your end goal? Having a mobile app strategy will help you be successful in this endeavor.

  1. In-App Mobile Content

You may be focusing on creating great content on your blog, but you need great mobile friendly content too. Why? Because Google now searches apps for content and shows it in search results.

Having valuable and up-to-date content in your mobile app may help you attract more app users and customers simply because Google will acknowledge it, so divert some of your content marketing efforts to that mobile app.

  1. Mobile Gamification

Whether you want to boost use of your mobile apps, get people to redeem mobile coupons, or have users share your content on social media, mobile gamification can help.

People like challenges. Imagine a marketing campaign where you enter anyone who opens your app every day for two weeks into a drawing for a vacation. Or giving a coupon to anyone who shares your content on Facebook. By requiring people to make tiny efforts, you can have a huge impact on your mobile marketing.

  1. Mobile Ads

Mobile pay-per-click ads can help you connect with the millions of smartphone users who are searching on their phones for businesses — especially local ones.  Beyond mobile video ads (which should be no more than :15-:20 seconds) are growing in popularity. There’s growing interest in Google shopping ads which are pay-per-click ads that allows you to show up in Google search results even if your target is blocking ads. Facebook ads, are now mobile friendly, and can help you boost engagement of your Facebook page through mobile use. With over two-thirds of Facebook traffic being mobile, there is far more available inventory to optimize.

There are other mobile ad options to consider, like banner ads, retargeting ads, display ads within app content or on mobile websites. The key is: go mobile with your ads, because that’s where your audience is.

If you truly care about reaching your target audience, don’t ignore mobile. Instead, choose one or more of these up-and-coming mobile marketing trends and see how they affect your bottom line. You may just find mobile to be the next marketing boost for your business.

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Source: http://succeedasyourownboss.com/7-mobile-marketing-trends-2018/

10 Free Time Tracking Software Options For Entrepreneurs

Learning how to properly bill time can be a tricky concept to master. In this guide, we uncover the 10 best free time tracking software options that can ensure accurate billing to your customers, or accurate payment to employees/contractors who have performed the work. Here is our list of the 10 best free time tracking…

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Source: https://fitsmallbusiness.com/free-time-tracking-software/

Best Secured Business Credit Card for 2018

A secured business credit card is backed by a deposit and acts like a normal business credit card. Business owners with poor credit or limited credit will find it easier to qualify for a secured credit card when compared to an ordinary business credit card. Secured business cards can help you establish business and personal…

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Source: https://fitsmallbusiness.com/best-secured-business-credit-card/

How to Prospect for your Small Business

Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9 pm ET.  This is excerpted from my recent interview with Dianna Geairn is the Irreverent Sales Girl and is known as the champion of the salesperson who goes out every day to make something happen for themselves, their families, and their clients.  For more information:  http://www.isalesgirl.com.

SmallBizLady: FOR THOSE SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS WHO DON’T KNOW, WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY PROSPECTING?

Dianna Geairn: Prospecting simply refers to the act of reaching out to people who could become customers and do business with you.  Some people do it by attending networking events, some by email campaigns, some by telephone, some through social media, and others by direct mail.  Prospecting means any activity you do to keep a steady stream of new revenue coming in the door.

SmallBizLady: WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS TO HAVE A PROSPECTING PLAN?

Dianna Geairn: I find that far too many small businesses suffer from the “feast & famine” syndrome. One-minute business is booming and the next they are desperately trying to find new customers or new streams of revenue. Effective prospecting plan helps to Avoid Feast and Famine Syndrome by helping them to: 1) Minimize Risk of Losing a Client, 2) Consistently Grow Revenue and  3) Uncover new revenue streams revenue that might have not considered.

SmallBizLady: WHAT ABOUT BUSINESSES THAT SELL ITEMS ON-LINE? HOW DOES PROSPECTING FIT INTO THEIR MODEL?

Dianna Geairn: Even businesses who drive most of their purchases from marketing activities (like eCommerce businesses) need to constantly grow their network and find new partnership opportunities – even if they never act on them.  Selling products online? Speak with large retailers to sell your product thru their channels to prevent losing business.  Explore affiliates who could be promoting your products to highlight your company, product, and expose you to new audiences. Prospecting is about creating new opportunities to do business in expanded ways. Get creative!

SmallBizLady: ALMOST NO ONE I KNOW LIKES PROSPECTING? HOW CAN SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS MOTIVATE THEMSELVES TO PROSPECT?

Dianna Geairn: Most business owners don’t like to prospect because they feel uncomfortable intruding on someone’s day and asking them for something they may not want to give. I get that. Business owners need to remember the difference their products and services make for their super-happy customers. Remember that YOUR PROSPECTS ARE COUNTING ON YOU TO FIND THEM. They don’t know you’re there and need what you offer. Make it your mission to find those people! They will love you for it.

SmallBizLady: WHY DO PEOPLE HATE TO PROSPECT?

Dianna Geairn: Prospecting is hard. I’m not gonna lie. Not every connection you make is going to want to do business with you and that can feel like rejection. It’s not – but it can feel like it. It’s vulnerable. But, mostly people don’t like to prospect because they don’t know 1) What to say 2) Who to say it to & 3) When to say it. A good prospecting plan helps with all three of these items.

SmallBizLady: HOW DO THEY FIGURE OUT WHAT TO SAY?

Dianna Geairn: People need to consider three things when they are figuring out what to say.

1 – They need a “trigger event” – or a reason to reach out. 2 – They need a low-risk offer that is easy to say “yes” to.  And, 3 – they need to understand their Value Proposition.  Figuring out what to say is the most important thing – everything else flows from there.

SmallBizLady:  LET’S START WITH THE TRIGGER EVENT – WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THAT?

Dianna Geairn:  To find the trigger event – ask yourself “What is happening in THEIR world that would cause them to make a change?” It’s easiest when you think about your current customers. What happened suddenly to make your offer important to them? A mom didn’t need a stroller until she found out there was a baby on the way.  When she did find out – she became an ideal person to target – if you’re a baby stroller company.

SmallBizLady:  THAT MAKES SENSE – WHEN THEY’VE FIGURED THAT OUT – WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THE “OFFER” AND THE “VALUE PROPOSITION”

Dianna Geairn:  Sure. Rarely do people buy on the very first contact. Prospecting is about opening the door for a conversation. So figure out a low-risk offer that makes it easy for them.

A8b It could be meeting for a coffee, or taking a short survey, or a free (short) consultation. Always be ready to share How Your Customers Are Better Off Because They Did Business With You. That’s your value proposition.

SmallBizLady:  NOW THAT THEY KNOW WHAT TO SAY – WHO SHOULD THEY SAY IT TO?

Dianna Geairn:  This is where you want to create a list of people you want to reach out to.

You will NEVER be reliable to reach out to one person and then figure out who the next person will be. It takes too much mental energy. Figure it out all at once and then start working on your list.

SmallBizLady:  HOW CAN PEOPLE BUILD THAT LIST?

Dianna Geairn:  There are free ways & ways that cost a bit of money. The best place to start is w/current & past customers/partners.  Reach out to them with the intent to re-connect and see how they’re doing. Find ways they can expand their business with you or ready to do biz again. Create a list of 100 people in your network. They don’t have to be directly related to your business.  Just reach out to them and let them know what you’re up to – opportunities often arise from these casual conversations.  Get creative – a million ways to get in front of your ideal customers, think about what they need, and where to find them!

SmallBizLady:  NOW THAT I HAVE A LIST – WHEN SHOULD I REACH OUT TO THEM?

Dianna Geairn:  Put your plan together. To be effective, you must be consistent. I find that people are reliable to do one of 3 things.

  1. They’re reliable to set aside a certain time each week or month to do something.
  2. They’re reliable to promise a certain number of committed hours – they just don’t know exactly when they’ll do it.
  3. They’re reliable for a certain number of committed outreach ACTIVITIES – they can’t say when they’ll get it done.

Figure out what type of person YOU are & make a promise to yourself about time, number of hours, and activities you will do.

SmallBizLady:  ANY OTHER IDEAS FOR STARTING A PROSPECTING PLAN THAT WILL REALLY WORK?

Dianna Geairn:  Yes. Get an accountability partner. Someone else who needs help sticking to a plan – any plan. Pick someone who will not let you off the hook and who you feel comfortable calling them out when they’re not keeping to the plan. If you miss a week – or you need to tweak the plan – don’t worry. Just get back on track ASAP. You’ve got this!

If you found this interview helpful, join us on Wednesdays 8-9 pm ET; follow @SmallBizChat on Twitter.

Here’s how to participate in #SmallBizChat: http://bit.ly/1hZeIlz

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