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Updated: 2 hours 49 min ago

Marketing 101: Tips for Sticking to Your Marketing Budget

Wed, 11/25/2015 - 16:00

Marketing is such a crucial aspect of business success. It can help spread your message via word of mouth, get customers excited about your product or service, and encourage new customers to walk through your doors. Knowing the potential of marketing, it can be easy to get carried away – overextending your time, energy and budget.

The key to a good marketing strategy is to have a solid plan in place and then stick to it. Easier said than done, so if you need some help on that, I’d like to point you in the direction of a new Intuit article by Ramon Ray, titled 7 Steps for Sticking to Your Marketing Budget.

The article offers tips on a variety of marketing aspects, including:

  • Planning
  • Strategizing
  • Finding Inexpensive Options
  • Measuring Your Outcomes
  • Considering ROI
  • And Much More

It will help you think wisely about your marketing strategy, so you can see real returns on the money and effort you put forward.

I’m not giving away any other spoilers today. To get the full scoop on how to stick to your marketing budget, check out the Intuit article here.

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Categories: SMB

2015 Small Business Influencer Champions Announced

Wed, 11/25/2015 - 14:16

The votes have been tallied and the Top 100 Champions for the 2015 Small Business Influencer Awards have been chosen! The champions, a mix of well-known small business enthusiasts and up-and-comers as well as companies and members of the media, represent the best of the best in small business.

The process to find this year’s champions began with the small business community nominating those who influence them and then picking their choices for Community Choice Honorees. A highly-esteemed panel of Judges selected the final champions based on their involvement and influence in the small business community.

Here are this year’s Champions under the two special categories:

Best Growth Story

Michelle Joseph is the Founder and CEO of PeopleFoundry, an innovative recruiting consultancy headquartered in Chicago. PeopleFoundry started as a one-woman team in 2013 and was profitable in its first month and has seen impressive growth since that time; 2015 year-to-date revenue growth is 98% over 2014 and 233% over 2013. This growth has been achieved entirely through word-of-mouth and client referrals, which is a testament to the value PeopleFoundry brings to every partnership. 2015 also saw the opening of a second office in Cincinnati and an expansion into California via a full-time employee in LA. PeopleFoundry has helped build teams for over 45 companies across the country. PeopleFoundry has been featured in notable publications, such as Forbes, USA Today, Yahoo, and Chicago Tribune, and despite the company tripling in size over the past 12 months, PeopleFoundry has been able to maintain a culture that values teamwork, a healthy lifestyle and giving back.

Best Marketing Campaign

Redd’s Barbershop is a local Austin business specializing in straight razor shaves, precision haircuts and exceptional service. Since its opening in 2013, the shop’s owner, NFL veteran and entrepreneur, Cory “Redd” Redding, had his sights set on expanding beyond Austin to across the U.S. Unfortunately the shop’s small but steady stream of customers was not generating the revenue needed to accomplish this, so Redd’s teamed up with ReachLocal on a highly optimized online advertising campaign aimed at customers in the Austin area.

You can view all the 2015 Tip Champions and Honorable Mentions HERE.


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Categories: SMB

How to Explode Productivity with CRM and ERP

Mon, 11/23/2015 - 20:47

To facilitate growth, small and medium sized businesses must work to build systems that will streamline processes to create efficiency and promote productivity. Businesses often invest in a number of tools to gain insight into their operations and customers, through customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions. Both CRM and ERP offer a number of benefits to a business, but to make the most of what they have to offer, integrating your solutions is the answer.


Why CRM Matters

CRM focuses on customer data, designed to manage contacts, leads, events, and more. It places all customer data in a central location so sales, marketing, and customer service teams can work together. Since every dollar spent on CRM yields $8.71 CRM can help your business grow exponentially.


CRM gives you the power to truly understand your customers. With it, you can discover valuable information about what your most active customers are doing, and what incentive your potential customers need to convert to paying customers. Customer profiles allow you see what they’re looking for so you can adjust your products and services to serve them better.


New leads are quickly and easily added to the system and categorized to better target your marketing efforts, cut down on response time, and move to the next opportunity faster.


Understanding your customers better gives you the information you need to find cross-selling and upselling opportunities, and to leverage more sales from your existing customer base. Since it costs six to seven times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one, keeping the existing customers happy is a critical component to success.


Because CRMs integrate well with other tools, lead data can automatically be captured from your website’s contact form and sent to a sales professional for follow up. As each customer moves through the funnel, marketing materials can be adjusted accordingly, to nurture the lead and develop a relationship with the person.


When a customer purchases your product or service, your customer service team is automatically updated and equipped to provide a better experience for the customer. Quality customer service is paramount. U.S. businesses lose $41 billion a year due to poor customer service, and 44% of consumers take their business to a competitor as a result.


Why ERP Matters

ERP focuses on improving efficiency across business processes to reduce costs. The right ERP allows businesses to share information across all departments, improving workflow and better integrating operational data and processes in business. Traditionally used by large corporations, even small businesses can benefit from implementing ERP. Accurate ERP systems that show real-time information for daily operations help companies reduce operational costs by 23%, while also reducing administration costs by 22%.


When everyone in the business can access the same information, rather than segmenting important information to department-specific areas of the business, the business ultimately runs more efficiently. Without an ERP approach, each department has to re-enter data as an order moves from processing to fulfillment, or as a client makes their way through the sales funnel. This is not only tedious, but increases the risk of error, which could create unnecessary customer service issues.


Consistent information across all areas of the supply chain saves valuable time on all levels. For instance, as the business grows and changes, the human resources department can determine the need for additional staff recruitment, and senior management can get a clearer picture of operations, allowing them to make more informed decisions about investment and resource allocation.


Since investing in ERP can be a costly undertaking, it’s important to meet with consultants from various companies to be sure you clearly define priorities and plan a system that will work best for your business. Implementation time will vary on a variety of factors, including the size of your business, required customizations, training, and process changes.


Once implemented, ERP automation tools can analyze your company’s big data to identify potential pain points, allowing you to improve business processes.



Harnessing the Power Through Integration

Combining the use of a CRM with ERP enhances business workflow in a number of ways. In the traditional business setup, CRM is left with the sales and marketing team, and finance and operations handle ERP. Though this approach works, it’s not the most efficient way to do business. It creates disjointed “islands” of information, segmenting areas of the business that should be working together.


Using CRM and ERP together in your business creates an even, central flow of information accessible to everyone who needs it. Removing data barriers improves productivity and cuts wasted time in customer service.


Both CRM and ERP can help your business save money. CRM allows you to laser-target marketing efforts to avoid spending time and money on customers who won’t convert. ERP streamlines processes so you’re not investing in unnecessary software and equipment to run the technical side of your business. That frees up capital to invest in other areas of your business to foster growth: additional staff, more marketing and promotion, product/service development, etc. With the streamlined processes and key customer data, you’re also setup to increase overall profit.


Ultimately in any business, the customer is all that matters. Unless your business can serve them quickly and efficiently, you cannot expect to remain in business long. Your CRM helps improve your targeted marketing efforts to bring more customers into the business, and your ERP makes delivering on those promises simpler.

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Categories: ICT, SMB

Close More Sales During the Holidays – Not Less. Pipedrive CRM Survey Says

Sun, 11/22/2015 - 21:46

A recently Pipedrive CRM survey says that sales people can expect to close sales at a rate 3.5%, higher, globally, during the Holiday’s than not. This means that instead of seeing the holiday’s as a time to SLOW down – it’s best to see them as a time to get more sales.

The Pipedrive survey reads, This is primarily due to the fact that companies are looking to spend their budgets before year end. Additionally, salespeople are more willing to cut deals in order to meet targets.

“November and December are the best months for your salespeople to work hard — even if you don’t own a retail business,” said Timo Rein, president and co-founder of Pipedrive. “Our data shows that if your salespeople hypothetically close five deals out of every 100 calls they make in a regular month, then they’ll close eight deals in November and December by simply showing up and doing the work. Now imagine if your salespeople work hard? In fact, the smart ones make a big push to add to their pipeline in prior months to ensure that there are lots of deals to close during the last two high-converting weeks.”

So instead of assuming you won’t get a sale during the holiday’s consider these things:

  • Reach out and connect with your customers outside of just selling them something.
  • Know the stage of the sales cycle your customer’s are in and know when to be in touch with them.
  • Instead of only doing a hard sell to your customers, continue to educate them on the value your product/service can bring to them and why they should buy from you.
  • Make sure you build a powerful referral system to have satisfied customers being raving ambassadors for you.



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Categories: SMB

9 Tips from 4 Entrepreneurs: How To Succeed In Holiday Sales (and Beyond)

Mon, 11/16/2015 - 16:00

Tips from business owners who are succeeding online

There’s a lot of small business owners who are doing well online. I love bringing the best practices of successful business owners to you so you can learn all you can – with how to succeed in online marketing. Especially in preparation for the holidays.

These two customers use do it yourself service Weebly for their web site platform.

Paige Curtis, – they reclaim and re-purpose any and all wood because
we can make it beautiful again.

Check out their video story and scroll down for their tips:

  1. For a small business, the holiday rush actually starts in September. This is when we inventory needs to be ready for the customer and wholesale orders. Try to get all holiday wholesale orders in by the first week of October so you can give undivided attention to the new orders rolling on your website through Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.

  2. Introduce one or two new products, but no more than that. First time visitors to your site might feel overwhelmed with too many product choices. You want them to feel focused, not distracted.

  3. Also, time your big email blast to the week leading up to Black Friday or Small Business Saturday. Start to build energy and get customers excited about what you are offering. It’s important that you find the sweet spot of landing in their inbox– if you do it too early they will forget about you, if you do it too late, you’ll be lost in the white noise of Black Friday emails.

  4. Get your site mobile ready. It’s so important that your site is mobile responsive since the numbers show more and more people are visiting (and purchasing!) on mobile devices than ever before! On our Weebly e-commerce site, the design, products and checkout are all as seamless from mobile as they are on the desktop which allows our customers to shop from anywhere!

  5. Be ready to run YOUR site from mobile! This will save you time, headaches and give you more flexibility through the holidays. With our Weebly app we are able to run our small business from our phones and iPad. By checking orders, responding to customers, moving through orders as shipped, pending or returned on my phone, I am able to also enjoy the holiday season and get some Christmas Shopping done without being stuck to my laptop all day. I’ve even been known to run my business from the beach some days!

Cyndi Grasman,

Video story below and best practices below the story:

  1. Start planning months in advance if you want to truly capitalize on this window of spending. That means getting inventory prepped and stocked, introducing new products for the holiday season and hiring extra help so that when Black Friday hits, your business is 100% prepared, not overwhelmed, by the rush in sales.

  2. Spend September and October reaching out to editors with Holiday Gift Guides to try and secure product placement for the upcoming season. Send editors a free sample of your product to get them excited about it. If you don’t know who to reach out to, be sure to save any gift guide you come across this year to have a stacked contact list for next year.

  3. Have a holiday shopping deal ready to go for Black Friday. Everyone will be looking for a deal and you don’t want to miss out on the money being spent this day. Be ready to have a special promo code. We even do a giveaway to drum up social media activity. By following our business on Facebook or Instagram and leaving your own food pun, you’re automatically entered to win a $100 credit. Utilizing social media to drive people back to your e-commerce store is a great way to drum up business.

  4. Email marketing is your best friend through the holidays! Use the email addresses of your previous customers to remind them what your business is up to, what is new and why they should come back to your online store. Promote a sale or giveaway and watch the number of site visitors steadily climb. At Bad Pickle Tees we have a lot of customers who specifically wait and look for sales this weekend, which is why it is our busiest weekend of the year.

The post 9 Tips from 4 Entrepreneurs: How To Succeed In Holiday Sales (and Beyond) appeared first on SmallBizTechnology.

Categories: SMB

Can We Finally Stop Using Notebook Computers? Are Tablets a Notebook Killer?

Sun, 11/15/2015 - 21:00

Apple’s iPad Pro is big, it’s built for businesses and enterprises who want to attempt to replace their notebook computers. To get a model with as much memory as you can and a keyboard you can expect to pay around $1,200, as reported by the WSJ. Windows Surface tablet, which I use (I’m part of Microsoft’s Ambassador program) is about the same price for the high end version.

So here’s why I’m not quite ready to give up my notebook computer – I need a full sized keyboard for long form typing. The Surface keyboard is very good – but it’s not as good as my Lenovo X1 Carbon Keyboard.

However, those differences between a “notebook” and “tablet” are quickly being erased.

They’re being erased not by tablets that come with keyboards, but more so by computers such as two-in-one computers that have detachable keyboards. These devices, give you the ultimate portability and flexibility in meetings and in the office, and give you a full computer experience on the road. Microsoft’s Surface Book is this type of device as are those by Dell, Lenovo, HP and other vendors.

It’s always good to have a small, thin, light tablet in your accessory tool box. But it’s also good to have a notebook computer for long trips away from the office – even if that notebook has a detachable screen or keyboard.

Technology is QUICKLY evolving and within two – three years, two-in-one notebooks will be the norm for all new tablets.

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Categories: SMB

When Should You Buy A Smartwatch? There’s Only One Reason.

Sun, 11/15/2015 - 16:00


TAG Heur recently released a Google powered and iOS compatible smartwatch – it’s $1,500. Of course smartwatches by Apple, Samsung, Pebble, and other vendors are cheaper. I’ve been exploring buying a smartwatch and here’s the one reason I would.

If I wanted the convenience of getting “phone” notifications on my wrist, instead of taking my phone out of my pocket – then I’d get a smartwatch. Is it a NEED? No. Is it a pretty good convenience for digital natives – sure thing.

Beyond that one main reason – if you are looking for an accessory that can leverage bio-metric apps – there’s a second reason. Imagine not having to wear two devices – a watch and a “fitbit” type device on your wrist. But one device that can help measure how much you’ve walked and etc. There’s another reason.

The other problem I have with a smartwatch is that I love my big faced, manly, silver, Fossil watch. Giving this up would be hard.

Gadgets 360 gives you this reason to NOT get a smartwatch:

To some extent, I have to agree. Smartwatches are simply adding another device to the list of things you have to remember to plug in before going to bed every night. And of course, it’s an additional expenditure on a product that will last as long as your smartphone, and we all know how long smartphones last. Are we trying to turn a potentially simple and life-long purchase into just another disposable gadget?

Wareable has a great round up of watches – if you’re interested.


The post When Should You Buy A Smartwatch? There’s Only One Reason. appeared first on SmallBizTechnology.

Categories: SMB

Cloud Computing: Two Dangers To Be Careful Of

Sat, 11/14/2015 - 16:00

Cloud computing holds a lot of promise for businesses. No servers and powerful computers inside your offices. You can let 3rd party experts handle the storage needs, server load and some aspects of security.

But the Wall Street Journal reports that there are two dangers:

  1. Be careful of vendors wanting to lock you into long term contracts – this is not the promise of cloud computing
  2. The more you use any online application the harder it is to switch.

Writes the Wall Street Journal – Some characteristics of traditional business software contracts have been creeping into cloud service negotiations. Software service providers, analysts say, are bundling together applications, a practice common with traditional packaged software deals, and requiring businesses to agree to a multiyear commitment for using applications and other services.

Those practices can run counter to the cloud’s theoretical promise of flexibility, in which businesses could at will drop one service for another that offers better terms or technology.

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Categories: SMB

Which Tech Bag Is Best For You? 14 Experts Weigh In On Tumi, Thule, Briggs & Riley, Piquadro and other tech bags.

Fri, 11/13/2015 - 17:35

As a public speaker, frequent traveler and overall geek, the bag I carry is important. My current bag is a Briggs & Riley Bag – it’s getting a bit worn and the straps lack enough padding.

I’ve had it for many years.

My back hurts when I wear it for more than an hour or so. It’s probably time to get another one. I’m not sure if the pain is from the straps not being padded enough or from the weight I carry. Either way – I suspect more padding would help.

I’ve been eyeing Tumi, but wonder is it worth the $400 – $500 – which is a comparable cost of a Briggs and Riley bag.

But then I wonder, should I pay $50 – $200 for a much cheaper bag from Target or somewhere else. Sigh….yet, Tumi, Briggs & Riley and other “high end bags” have style, form and function – which I like.

I reached out to my Facebook friends to get their insight on which bag to purchase. Join our discussion here.

Carland Wright suggested North Face – definitely durable, low cost but not a line of bags that look good with a suit and tie. Serenity Baldwin is a North Face voter too.

John Lawson (ColderICE) – e-commerce expert and speaker – suggested a Swiss Gear bag from Target. He bought one on sale for $30. Their line of bags look pretty good.

Jenny Baio suggested a customizable bag from Vans.

Bryan Eisenberg said that Ebags is a good option. They take good bag designs and make their own bags – but cheaper. I’ll check them out.

Jon Ferrara, founder of Nimble (social CRM software) and Mario Kroll (gaming consultant and more) said to go with Thule. Thule bags are light and strong, Jon says.

Jay Baer, global speaker and online marketer and author of Hug Your Haters is a fan of Piquadro. I never heard of this brand – but if Jay likes them – they must be pretty good.

Steve Strauss is in the Tumi camp! PR consultant Haim Hass switched from Briggs & Riley to Tumi.

Sylvia De Gusto, is an executive image consultant and her expert opinion is that a well dressed man should not be wearing a backpack.

Robert Patterson of Progressive Computing, says that Incase is his brand of choice for backpacks.

Ellen Williams said that if my back was hurting I needed to ditch my back pack and use an option that would not hurt my back. Ron Fleming said that he uses a wheeled bag.

On the other hand, Virginia Steinberg said that with her back pain, it was suggested a backpack might be best to more evenly balance what she needs to carry.

Richard Marker said that book bags work well – but uses a wheeled bag if it’s heavier than a laptop computer.







The post Which Tech Bag Is Best For You? 14 Experts Weigh In On Tumi, Thule, Briggs & Riley, Piquadro and other tech bags. appeared first on SmallBizTechnology.

Categories: SMB

Fiverr Goes Beyond $5 For Freelancers. Get’s $60 Million in Financing.

Thu, 11/12/2015 - 16:00

Today Fiverr announced that it received $60 Million in Funding. That’s good new. But what’s even more important is that with this funding Fivvr will enable the freelancers on its platform to charge their own rates – more than $5.

Their press release reads: Fiverr is also going beyond five dollars. For the first time, the company announced that all freelancers on the site will soon be free to set their own Gig® prices rather than be required to start them at $5.

Over the next several weeks, Fiverr will introduce easy-to-understand Gig Packages across several pricing tiers. This will dramatically simplify the way Fiverr sellers price and bundle services. The new Gig Packages will also help Fiverr sellers easily pocket more cash, create greater value for buyers, and make sellers nimble enough to attract SMBs, entrepreneurs and even corporate marketing departments.

The freelance (on demand) economy is great for those who want to create their own path – but it’s also awesome for business owners who need expert help in a variety of categories – design, marketing, data entry and more.

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Categories: SMB

Three Things Small Business Can Learn From Obama’s Digital Strategy

Tue, 11/10/2015 - 16:00

Photo Credit – NY Times

The White House has 20 staff members focused on maximizing social media – while most of their focus is on the “White House” overall, their main focus is on the President of the United States. We can learn a lot from the President’s digital strategy, as covered in the NY Times.

Here’s some lessons to learn:

Analytics –  It’s important to track the results of your social media strategy. To see what articles are popular, which ones are not. Which ones are trending, which themes your audience once. You can use social analytics to know WHO your audience is and what they want.

Speed – Use social media to react quickly, yet thoughtfully on subjects that align with your business. Tweet about what’s happening “today”. Speed and relevancy will ensure your social communication is a must have by your audience.

The NY Times writes, “The goal is to bring a sense of spontaneity and accessibility to one of the world’s most choreographed and constricted positions.”

Authenticity – It’s important to use your own voice and be authentic. Don’t try to be like someone else – but like yourself.

Sure President Obama is “the President” and has a huge megaphone and voice. You don’t. However you can use the principals of the White House to build your own voice and your own following.

Do you ever watch “West Wing Week” – a weekly show of the inside of the White House and what’s happening with the President. It’s no different than the #AskGaryVee show – which digital celebrity entrepreneur does each week to build his tribe and his brand. You can do this too.

You can check out my presentation on “Sales is Dead – Why Social Content is the New Way to Sell” below.

Sales is Dead. Social Content Marketing Is In. from Ramon Ray

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Categories: SMB

Don’t Let Holiday’s Reduce Your Productivity and Communication: Use Video Conference Tools

Mon, 11/09/2015 - 16:00


During the holiday’s you and your team (virtual, employees or consultants) want to take vacation time, leave early and come in late. Leveraging the power of technology to help you be as productive out of the office as you are in the office can help.

New research from Flex+Strategy Group, co-sponsored by Citrix reveals a surprising two-thirds have never used video or web conferencing and most are inconsistent in where they save and store work across company and personal platforms. That’s where the right web conferencing and file sharing tools come into play.

According to Citrix, Imagine these two scenarios:

You’re at Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, but you still have to finish that proposal due tomorrow and you don’t have access to your desktop. No need to fret! Use your tablet to browse files or folders and share them with file sharing tools such as Citrix ShareFile, DropBox, Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive.

You’re down to the wire buying gifts this holiday season and you have five back-to-back work conference calls. No problem — you can do it all using the Citrix GoToMeeting mobile app to join your meetings from any location or tools such as, WebEx and etc.

The time to be productive and communicate effectively, remotely, is not when you’re in an emergency and in the situation – but before hand. Have your notebook prepared, software installed and test the technology.

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Categories: SMB

Local Search Can Power Your Black Friday Sales Success: 4 Big Tips

Mon, 11/09/2015 - 16:00

Black Friday is the high water mark of the holiday shopping season, and for many small businesses, it opens the door to driving traffic and sales. Many small business owners, however, tend to feel intimidated and lost in the shadows of larger brands when it comes to Black Friday. Due to smaller marketing budgets and less recognizable brands, it’s easy for their message to get lost in the holiday fervor.

Thankfully, there’s something those small business owners can easily implement to help them during the holiday season and the rest of the year: local search. Local search levels the playing field for businesses of all sizes, taking away the advantages larger brands have over SMBs.

Sarah Matista is the marketing communications manager for Vistaprint’s digital services business and its social marketing suite, Pagemodo. I’ve asked her to provide her insight below.

According to Google, four out of five consumers use search engines to find local information. Of those searches, 88% occur on a smartphone, with more than half looking for directions to a local store. The requirement that a store be nearby automatically turns the tables, giving smaller businesses an equal advantage, as they’re no longer competing in an online popularity contest. Instead, consumers are more interested in where the product they’re searching for is located.

With that in mind, small businesses should take a few moments to make sure that their local listings are up to date and in top shape in time for Black Friday. Here’s how:

Back to basics. Begin by doing a simple search for your business – what comes up? One of the most important aspects of local search is ensuring that your business’ information is consistent and accurate across the web; yet almost 50 percent of SMBs have reported seeing inaccurate listings online. Outdated or inaccurate information can lower search visibility, making it even harder for potential customers to find you. Prior to the Black Friday madness, be sure to update any missing or old information so when the time comes, customers will be easily directed to your site.

Reach far and wide. Local search directories are still somewhat fragmented – everyone has their own favorite way to find local businesses. Keep in mind that not every customer uses a Google or Siri search, so don’t put all your eggs in one basket. To ensure that you don’t miss out on your best local customers, focus on creating detailed, current profiles across multiple sites like Yelp,, Google, Yahoo, Facebook and others. By doing so, your small business has a better chance of being seen by potential customers. This can be done site by site or with a centralized local listings service. Be sure each profile includes important descriptors—address, phone number, proximity and hours—as these are the most sought out.

Mobile matters. While many shoppers will get your address and directions and head straight to your store, others will shop around your website first to make sure you have the products they’re interested in. Your website is essentially the most important place for customers to learn about your company before they decide to move forward with a purchase. Since 18% of local smartphone searches lead to a purchase within a single day, you’ll want to make sure to impress shoppers with an attractive mobile version of your website that showcases your products and details front and center. Have a big Black Friday sale? Make sure to advertise that on the homepage. The easier customers can access this type of information, the sooner they’ll be walking through your front door.

Engage, engage, engage. Creating a strong relationship with your potential customers now means they’ll be far more likely to shop with you on Black Friday. Determine which social networks make the most sense for your business to reach consumers and share content your potential customers are likely to be interested in. Like any other relationship, you can’t rush engagement on social media. So take the time now to engage with your audience across all platforms. Whether your audience is most active on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, keep them engaged with quality content, helpful advice, and great customer support. Your online experience should match the experience you want shoppers to have in store. The more comfortable they feel, the more likely they will shop at your store rather than your larger competitors.

You don’t have to be a large brand name or business to get customers through your doors this holiday season. Set up your small business for success with these four local search tips, just in time for Black Friday.

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Categories: SMB

Endurance Buys Constant Contact: 5 Million Customers. Small Business Marketing Giant

Mon, 11/09/2015 - 00:00

I remember when Constant Contact was launched – it’s first name was Roving. It was launched by two amazing entrepreneurs.

Gail Goodman, president and co-founder of Constant Contact has been a leading force of growing for Constant Contact and has taken it from a small company to a global company helping small businesses generate awareness and sales and keep in touch with their customers and prospects.

Recently, web host, Endurance International Group, a combination of hosting companies and domain registrars, purchased Constant Contact. Endurance now has a fuller suite of digital marketing solutions for small businesses with 5 million customers.

What does this mean for Constant Contact customers? I doubt it means much.

Endurance executives are smart and they’ll probably take the time to learn from Constant Contact’s growth and ensure they can sell their existing customers email marketing services from Constant Contact. Furthermore, they’ll work to ensure Constant Contact customers can purchase web hosting and domains and other services from Endurance companies.

Ironically, many small business owners are still far behind in using online marketing to grow their businesses. Sure, many have a web site, many send out some version of an email newsletter – even some blog. However, the holistic and strategic marketing that is needed to drive new customers, nurture existing customers and raise brand awareness is lacking.

Many marketing solutions are not easy to use, there’s many low life scammers around who prey on small businesses, marketing is so much more than “sending a Tweet” or clicking “Boost post” on Facebook. Into this confusing soup is where many small businesses live.

It’s up to marketing vendors such as Endurance and Constant Contact to continue to genuinely educate their customers and the market overall – about the power of online marketing and how it can drive sales for their business.

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Categories: SMB

Microsoft’s Evolution: 7 Things I Learned From Touring Microsoft’s Redmond Offices

Sun, 11/08/2015 - 19:00

Recently I and other “small business influencers” were invited to tour Microsoft‘s Redmond campus and be briefed by executives responsible for Microsoft’s marketing into the small business market. We also met with executives from Microsoft’s OEM Partner team (ensuring Microsoft Windows works well with HP, Lenovo, Dell, ASUS, etc), Microsoft Retail, Microsoft Research and  Office 2016 and Office 365.

Cindy Bates, Vice President, US Small Business, Microsoft

A PC In Every Home. What’s Next?

Bill Gates’ mission for Microsoft was to have a PC in every home. His dream has been reached. Sure – not “everyone” – literally has a computer – but the overall societal reach of a ‘PC in every home’ has been reached and in fact surpassed.

We are now in a new era, where the PC is no longer the dominate or desired device.

Business professionals and consumers are using mobile devices (phones and tables), accessing information via the cloud (online applications) and living in a world of online movies (as traditional TV declines) and social networks.

Microsoft has been able to morph and adopt from a PC centric company with software installed on these computers – to one that is focused on mobile and cloud.

Microsoft Culture

Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO, is the driving force to ensure that Microsoft operates as a nimble, cross functional company. He wants to ensure Microsoft is willing to partner and work with competitors such as Salesforce, Google and Apple. This culture shift brings interesting scenarios. There’s the Microsoft Surface tablet team. But then there’s the Office team who is working with Google, Apple (and other partners) to ensure Office software is on their devices.

Microsoft Software vs Free Applications

Small business owners and entrepreneurs have access to an almost unlimited amount of free (and very cheap) tools and services to build their businesses – this is a challenge to Microsoft’s traditional software business.

Microsoft‘s legacy of heavier and fee based solutions is evolving to meet this new norm – of light and freemium based applications. This challenge was highlighted by by entrepreneurial influencer Evan Charmicahel. Tools such as Evernote, Asana, Slack and Google Docs are free tools which are in direct competition with Microsoft’s software offerings. Many small business and entrepreneurs use these tools because they’re free and simple to use.

Why consider Microsoft software?

For business owners who are looking for built in security, team collaboration, and a rich user experience, Microsoft‘s software and hardware is an ideal and at times preferred solution for growing businesses.

Office 365 is Microsoft‘s flag ship solution for growing businesses. It’s the online offering of Word, Excel, Power Point, OneNote, Skype and other tools, but also available for download.

Microsoft’s software gets better and better. Being able to easily schedule meetings from an email, leverage a real time document with pertinent information about the meeting and include it in that calendar invite are just a few of the enhanced features within Office 365 and Office 2016.

Read this Microsoft blog post for an overview of Microsoft’s new Office

Microsoft Power BI continues to be another powerful tool enabling business owners to mine actionable information from data. Bring data from a variety of sources and query the data using natural language. Create a dashboard for your business.

Enhanced Security

Microsoft Office 2016 and Office 365 have enhanced security – known as Microsoft Data Loss Prevention (DLP). For example, typing the word “confidential” in the subject line of an email automatically restricts where that email can go (this option can be turned on or off by an authorized person).

According to Microsoft’s web site, DLP policies are simple packages that contain sets of conditions, which are made up of transport rules, actions, and exceptions that you create in the Exchange Administration Center (EAC) and then activate to filter email messages and attachments. You can create a DLP policy, but choose to not activate it.

Read even more about Microsoft’s new security here.

Microsoft Research

Microsoft has 1,000 scientists dedicated to looking at the future of computing. Microsoft Research is asking “what would happen if…”. This constant quest of exploration means Microsoft is ok with a research project
leading no where and not working out. They’re ok with this because they also know this quest will birth amazing technologies that will benefit businesses and individual consumers  – and of course Microsoft – over time.

We saw Skype translator, which seamlessly translated a conversation between one scientist  (with a slight Brazilian accent) and his colleague who was speaking in French. We saw the Skype call being translated live. Other pretty neat technology was ‘auto cropping”. A tool that could sense what part of a picture was important and crop it accordingly. These are just a very small amount of the benefits and features of Microsoft‘s research program.

I interviewed Rico Malver, Microsoft Distinguished Engineer and the Chief Scientist for Microsoft Research.

Ramon Ray with Rico Malvor, Microsoft Chief Scientist (Microsoft Research)

Microsoft and Entrepreneurs

Microsoft BizSpark, is Microsoft’s program to reach out to startups. Before startups are big and have decided on a platform, Microsoft wants to work with them. BizSpark is a program which gives startups 3 years of free stuff – software, services, tech support, and Azure cloud. A startup qualifies if it is less than 5 years old, is privately held, and earns less than $1M annually. And at the end of your 3 years, you keep all the software you’ve downloaded – at no cost.

According to the entrepreneurs we spoke to BizSpark is beyond just technology, but also introducing entrepreneurs to partners – technology partners, financial partners and others who they might need to grow.

Ritu Gupta – Cirkled with Ramon Ray

Microsoft Retail

Retail is a $22 trillion industry in the US. Consumers going into a mall, local auto repair  center, purchasing coffee, buying clothing from a downtown boutique – these are all retail experiences. Microsoft and it’s partners have solutions to improve the retail experience for shoppers and provide better customer buying information to retailers.

We toured the Microsoft retail experience which is a “fake” mall filled retail scenarios.

One of the many retail technologies we saw was the use of beacons. Imagine going into your local coffee shop, your phone wirelessly connecting to a beacon. The beacon constantly sends out a signal, which triggers your phone to communicate to the coffee shop that you’ve arrived, so your coffee can now be made and ready for you.

Microsoft Kinect (audio / video camera originally built into Xbox) is useful for more than just gaming – it’s an integral part of Microsoft’s retail strategy. Kinect technology can sense movement and audio be enabled for powerful retail applications to track store movement and enhance the retail experience.

Using Kinect’s incredible sensitivity to motion, a customer could touch a boxed retail product in an aisle and have information about what product they touched, displayed on a screen in the aisle. A Kinect camera would be above the aisle watching for the movement of a hand touching a boxed retail product. Another scenario, Kinect could be embedded in a candy/beverage dispensing machine and sense the foot traffic passing in front of it. How many are passing by? What is their gender? How many bought? This information is very powerful for a retailer.

These are just a few of the examples how the power of technology, Microsoft technology, is enhancing the retail experience.

Taking us on the tour of Microsoft Retail was Brendan O’Meara who heads Microsoft Retail here’s my interview with him.

Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book

Microsoft’s push into mobile technology is impressive. It’s tablet (Surface 4 and 3) and “tablet notebook” (Surface Book) have received good reviews and are built for business and pleasure. I’m seeing more and more professionals using Microsoft Surface – it’s no longer a rare sight.

We also saw the Microsoft Surface Hub, a conference room collaboration tool.The Surface Hub comes in an 80 inch and 55 inch configuration. From the ground up, the Surface Hub is built for real time collaboration with others. You can use virtual ink to write on the screen, share that writing with other participants, join a Skype meeting and so much more.

Microsoft Display Dock (Continuum)

Take your phone, connect it to the Microsoft Display Dock and operate your phone like it was a computer. Connect a monitor and keyboard to your phone at operate your phone powered applications as if it was a desktop computer.

Intel Compute Stick

Intel Computer Stick is a neat gadget which turns any HDMI monitor or TV into a computer. The small devices gives you a quad-core Intel® Atom™ processor, Intel® HD Graphics, integrated Wi-Fi* and Bluetooth* technologies, 32 GB storage, 2 GB memory, a USB 2.0 port, and a Micro SD card reader.

We saw it at Microsoft campus used in a variety of ways.


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Categories: SMB

The Growth Of Team Collaboration Tools for Growing Companies: Canvas for Teams – New Software

Thu, 11/05/2015 - 19:00

There are dozens, if not more, of software products offering teams the ability to better collaborate, share and keep in touch with each other and what’s happening in the company. Jive Software and Microsoft’s Yammer are just two of these tools.

One new tool is Canvas for Teams by Icon.Me LLC

What is Canvas?

A: Canvas is a content hub and daily reader for companies and teams.

How is it different than so many other collaboration tools out there?

A: Collaboration tools are designed for group project management and messaging. Canvas is designed as a way for companies and teams to share and archive insightful articles, posts and links with one another.

Those who are not using tools like Canvas, what are they using? Email?

A: Today links are predominantly sent as an FYI via email or in a chat thread. Canvas places team articles and posts in to a “reader” format outside of email and the chat thread.

What’s wrong with email?

A: We are all suffering from email fatigue. Our inboxes are full with clutter and It’s hard to sort out what’s important vs spam or time sensitive vs to be read later. Furthermore it is difficult to go back and find content at a later date. Canvas delivers company and member posts in a reader format outside of the inbox. Team members are notified of posts via mobile alerts and email notifications so they can choose to view the content instantly or at their leisure. Canvas content may also be tagged for easy retrieving at a later date.

What does Canvas cost?

A: Canvas is free for the first 20 members. >20 is $1/member. Volume discounts are also applied for larger groups and companies.

Does it integrate with other tools and services?

A: Yes. The Canvas extension is integrated with Safari and Chrome browsers and our mobile apps are integrated with iOS and Android mobile devices. In addition to alerts being delivered via email and the Canvas mobile apps we are integrating Canvas with HipChat and Slack, with other collaboration software to follow.

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Categories: SMB

Millennials. Love ’em? Hate ’em? How Can Old and Young Get Along?

Thu, 11/05/2015 - 18:30

It’s very frustrating to me, the inane and insane fear of “millennials”. Sure they’re young, inexperienced, born in a world of swiping, touching, and social connectivity. But “millennials”  have a lot to learn from older professionals as well. How to shake hands, clearly communicate verbally or written. How to lead and be led and more.

There is so much focus on millennials as increasingly they are the ones who will be working for us and who we will be working for. They are the ones who will be leading the shared economy and pushing the boundaries on digital communications.

In that context, Microsoft released a new survey in partnership with PWC that will be helpful.

Download the full survey here. Check out a summary of the report in the blog of Cindy Bates (head of Microsoft small business).

Why do millennials matter?

Millennials matter because they are not only different from those that have gone before, they are also more numerous than any since the soon-to-retire Baby Boomer generation – millennials already form 25% of the workforce in the US and account for over half of the population in India. By 2020, millennials will form 50% of the global workforce.

Millennials want more than money:

Millennials are attracted to employers who can offer more than merely good pay. That’s not to say that pay isn’t important – 44% of those questioned said competitive wages made an employer more attractive, the second highest proportion for any factor given. The biggest draw for millennials, though, is the opportunity for progression – 52% said that they felt this made an employer an attractive prospect. Once again, the ambition and optimism of this generation comes through

Developing millennials:

One of the strongest millennial traits is that they welcome and expect detailed, regular feedback and praise for a job well done – 51% of those questioned said feedback should be given very frequently or continually on the job and only 1% said feedback was not important to them. The companies that are most successful at managing millennials are those that understand the importance of setting clear targets and providing regular and structured feedback.

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Categories: SMB

Mobile Advertising Works. If You’re Very Strategic About It. 5 Tips To Help.

Thu, 11/05/2015 - 17:00

Everyone is using a phone at some point in their typical day – some more than others. Many are walking and reading and browsing one of many social networks.

While the computer screen should not be ignored – you NEED to pay attention to mobile audiences. Your content and your advertising need to be built from the ground up for a mobile audience.

Here are five tips from Harpreet Marwaha, SVP of Digital Ad Products at YP, on ways to maximize your mobile advertising dollars:

Create a mobile-ready website. This is important for a number of reasons.  First, mobile-responsive sites load faster which means when someone is on the go, they can access your page quickly.  Second they provide a better user experience because the content is designed to fit the screen size.  And finally, they help with your organic rankings in search engine results so you’ll be listed closer to the top.

Think about both who your customers are and where they come from. How many miles, on average, do people travel to come to your store?  If you are a business that has a lot of repeat customers, like a restaurant or coffee shop, you probably draw your customers from a smaller geography.  Maybe 1-5 miles?  You want to make sure that your mobile campaign geographic targeting closely resembles your business area.  Do you sell a product that has a higher price point with less repeat customers, like furniture or cars, then you probably draw customers from a larger area and should target a larger geographic area, maybe 10-20 miles.  You should determine the average distance people travel to your business and use that to specify your geographic target.

The next thing to think about is who your customers are.  Does your product or service have universal appeal? Then you may just need geographic targeting and adding an audience or demographic target may not be necessary.  Or maybe you have a very specific target customer.  Are your customers outdoor enthusiasts?  Parents? Sports fans?  Think about how you would describe your ideal customer and use that description to find the best audience or demographic target for your mobile campaign.

Determine your campaign message. Are you trying to build awareness of your business?  Then your campaign message should speak to what differentiates you from competitors and you may also consider making your audience and geographic target wider to reach the largest potential customer base.  Are you trying to acquire new customers? Then you should present an offer that compels people to try you out – for example $50 off your first visit.

Create consistent and compelling content. A great offer or message can sway someone who wasn’t in the market for your product or service into considering what you’re providing.  For this reason, it’s important to tailor the creative (both visuals and copy) to your target audience by calling attention to something that might appeal to their interest.  This could be an early bird special for seniors or a cocktail of the day for young professionals.  Also be sure that any promotion is included on your landing page so that it’s easy for consumers to find more information when they visit your website.

Control the number of times your ad is visible to a specific user. As a rule of thumb, if you are trying to generate awareness, you want people to see your ad multiple times in a given timeframe.  On the other hand, if you are trying to draw a response or conversion, you would want to limit the number of times the ad is shown.  Serving an ad to the same user who chooses not to respond becomes an ineffective spend.

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Categories: SMB

Use Visuals In Customer Service Increases Customer Engagement

Thu, 11/05/2015 - 13:52

Image credit –

Did you know that optimizing content with compelling visual elements can produce a 37% increase in customer engagement. Problem-solving customer service and customer engagement service, both vital to building a strong customer relationship, can be amplified by adding visual content such as photos, videos, and infographics to online platforms.

I asked TeamSupport CEO Robert C. Johnson to share his 7 tips with us:

1. Create a personal touch
Videos and live video chats help customers feel more comfortable by making messages more personal. Putting a face with a name can greatly increase the trust a customer has in a company. This boost in trust ultimately deepens relationships more than written communication ever can.

When an actual person provides instructions to customers, it’s much more engaging and, in many ways, easier for customers to follow. It also helps reduce the level of separation that has been created by the new age of digital customer support – rebuilding the personal connection that gets lost in email and phone interactions.

A great example of using visuals for personalization is creating a personal welcome video for new customers. The video could be from the CEO, the sales rep, or the customer service agent who is handling their account. This effort helps make your company more personal, and more human, to your customers. In a world where many of our business relationships are purely digital, this small effort can make a big difference.

2. Improve communication & clarity

It can be very frustrating for customers with a difficult issue to try to write out a long, involved description of the problem. Many times, especially with technical issues, it is much easier to show the exact issue. Giving customers access to video tools like screen recording and video recording via webcam can significantly reduce their amount of effort and frustration, while simultaneously providing clarity to the agent who is trying to help resolve the issue. Consider a written explanation, “The yellow thing with the green light is making a weird noise” versus a video showing the exact component, including audio. With video, the agent will know exactly what the customer is talking about, allowing them to resolve the issue faster and better.

3. Show instead of tell
Simply telling your customers what to do can seem somewhat cold. It can also be difficult to write out a complex narrative detailing a complicated solution. Many issues are more easily resolved by actually showing the process. Visuals allow customer service teams to show customers exactly how to fix specific issues. A screen recording featuring a strong narrator can provide step-by-step instructions to customers in a much more efficient way.

Showing instead of telling is highly effective for FAQs and product tutorials, but it can also be extremely useful for service updates and specific ticket resolution. If needed, you can even combine several forms of visual communication. Instructions could include webcam videos, screenshots and infographics to better illustrate a solution.

For agents, visual support can include adding video to tickets using their webcams. Through the video, reps can explain to a customer why they’re experiencing issues, how to diagnose problems and offer step-by-step instructions to remedy the situation. For example, the support director at A.C.T. Lighting was able to use webcam recording to quickly show a customer what buttons to push and where specific cables should be plugged in so that the customer could use the product correctly.

4. Self-service and proactive instruction
A good customer support software solution will have a searchable central repository for customers to browse before they actually submit a ticket. While these databases typically house written communications, visual supplements also work well for this type of library. Useful visual aids for customer self-service include videos, infographics, screenshots and photos.

In addition to providing visual content for self-service based on common customer issues, it’s beneficial to implement proactive customer service measures. By anticipating questions or issues customers may have and posting relevant visual content, you’re providing customers with a quick and easy way to access the answers they need. Creating how-to videos, printable step-by-step instructions with screenshots, or images at each stage of the process are also great ways to reduce the number of tickets coming into your support team.

5. Customized solutions for each customer
While some visual communication can and should be used multiple times, creating personalized videos and screenshots for specific customers is one of the best ways to ensure your customer feels important. The data complied in your customer support software will help you keep track of what information a customer has provided previously, which can help customer service reps determine what information the customer truly needs. This customized approach will help prevent reps from detailing items and features a customer may already understand, providing the most concise and best answer possible to the customer. 

While visual communications are important for customer service, there is no disputing the fact that written communications are still highly valuable. When a company utilizes both visual and written communication in its customer service approach, it provides customers with service that’s highly effective and efficient.

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Categories: SMB