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How to Use Transactional Emails to Master the Customer Dating Game

Fri, 08/29/2014 - 15:00

Building a solid relationship with your customers is a whole lot like building a personal relationship with a partner. You have to build trust, be responsive, help them when needed…it’s a lot of work! And just like with personal relationships, there are some tried and true strategies you can use to win at the game of of customer love. Here are some tips and strategies on how to use transactional emails alongside your standard email marketing messages to build customer loyalty and trust.  

Transactional emails are sent as a result of an action from your customer – invoices, order confirmations, shipping notifications, etc. According to research conducted by Experian, the average transactional message generates two to six times more revenue than standard marketing emails. Intertwining automated transactional emails with marketing messages creates a significant opportunity that not many are taking advantage of. For instance, order confirmation emails with a cross-sell message have a 20% higher transaction rate.

“Transactional emails are a valuable factor in building customer relationships, but many companies aren’t using them to their full advantage. Most transactional emails are sent by teams that don’t understand the powerful up-selling and trust-building opportunities built in to those automated messages. You wouldn’t trust someone else to handle your love life, so why risk handing over transactional emails to someone that doesn’t understand marketing?” said EJ McGowan, general manager of Campaigner, a robust email marketing solution built by marketers.

The folks at Campaigner have created this great infographic that shares how to get the most from your transactional email.

By following these simple tips and best practices, you can work towards establishing long-term committed relationships with your existing customers.

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Categories: SMB

HR Rules and Regs Are Impossible To Keep Up With. ThinkHR Has A Solution

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 17:00

Running a business is not easy. Sure there’s the joys of freedom and passion as indicated in the latest Infusionsoft Small Business Survey , however there are so many challenges. Tax compliance, regulatory compliance, marketing to get more customers and to keep the ones you have.

For businesses who are growing, another headache is human resources management (HR). There’s a lot of information online you can “Google” but is this information correct? Does it meet your specific need? HR compliance is not something you can fudge. Of course if you have a lawyer, that’s a great option as well.

There is an online solution. ThinkHR has a 3 module system which is comprised of a portal of information, live experts and training solutions.

ThinkHR is $3 per employee per month and is ideal for businesses with 50 or more employees.

Beyond the “technical aspects” of managing employees remember, your core values should be the driving force of creating a great corporate culture.

HIRE right from the start so you have the right employees doing the right things.

Make sure you make your employee’s partners in your growth and not meere live stock who are cogs in a corporate wheel, as I learned from Hal Halladay, Infusionsoft’s Chief People Officer.

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Categories: SMB

Hiring for Success: 4 Things to Seek and Avoid in a New Hire

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 15:52

To ensure your next candidate is a lasting member of your team, it’s important that you know what you should search for as you filter through résumés. Here are a few things you should look for, and avoid, when going after a new hire.

I am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. Visit to take a look at the reinvented Facebook Page: Well Sourced by Visa Business. The Page serves as a space where small business owners can access educational resources, read success stories from other business owners, engage with peers, and find tips to help businesses run more efficiently. Every month, the Page will introduce a new theme that will focus on a topic important to a small business owner’s success. For additional tips and advice, and information about Visa’s small business solutions, follow @VisaSmallBiz and visit

For a growing business, success largely relies on sourcing and retaining the right people. But despite the many tools now available to small business owners, many still make the costly error of hiring the wrong person. The time it takes to research and interview a wide variety of candidates in order to find the right one is well worth it if it saves a business hundreds of thousands of dollars in wasted training and lost productivity.

Consider the Job Type

Before beginning your job search, know exactly the type of personality you’re seeking. If the person will be pounding the pavement every day, rounding up sales, you’ll likely be looking for experience on the résumé, personality in the interview and, honestly, a bit of an ego. A customer service representative will need a personable, patient temperament, as well as the ability to diffuse explosive situations. But if you’re searching for someone to handle your written communications or handle your business’s day-to-day tasks, you may find the information you need in the résumé itself by looking for small errors that could indicate the person doesn’t pay attention to detail.

Because bad hires can be so costly, businesses might want to consider testing candidates prior to hiring to determine ‘fit’. Talent management company Caliper provides insight to a candidate’s personality and matches them with the exact job you are hiring for to determine if they will be a ‘good match’. Carolyn Crummey, owner of VirTasktic, used the service for years in her previous position as Director of Operations for a manufacturer’s rep firm and highly recommends small businesses make the minimal investment before hiring. “We used the Caliper testing on every hire we made, from outside sales to customer service to administration, because although we could see past experience and test for skillset, we couldn’t always determine their personality which is an intricate part of hiring the right person for the right position. The small investment we made up front to test was well worth it. It not only saved us from making a number of hiring mistakes, it also helped us develop the people we did hire because we knew where their true strengths and weaknesses were and could build off that information.”

Don’t Rush to Judgment

While experts have traditionally cautioned against hiring someone with large employment gaps or frequent job changes, in the current economy, hiring managers are seeing this much more often. Don’t dismiss these prospects outright. Instead, work to determine the reason for these employment issues to alleviate your concerns. Is this person a flight risk or is he simply looking for a chance to be a part of a startup that makes it for the long haul?

Look for Passion

Throughout the process of reviewing résumés and interviewing candidates, search for a level of passion in whatever that applicant has done in life. Whether you’re hiring HR professionals or marketing managers, you should seek someone who has a passion for the field. You can determine this by asking questions in the interview about each candidate’s past positions. If someone can’t clearly describe what he did in previous positions, consider this a red flag.

Determine Interest

One mistake employers make is assuming a job interview is a one-way process. Just as you’re screening the candidate as a good fit for your team, the candidate should be taking an interest in your organization and the job itself.  During the interview process, the applicant should show signs that he has spent time researching your company and believes in your business model. The candidate should also ask questions and appear to be determining whether your business is the right fit for him, as well as for you.

Putting the right team in place is essential to your business’s success. As you work to find the right person to add to your team, take the time to get to know prospective hires and make sure a new employee has the same passion for your growing business as you do.

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Categories: SMB

11 SaaS Products All Entrepreneurs Should Start Using

Tue, 08/26/2014 - 15:00
What is the number one SaaS product you think every entrepreneur should start using and why?

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

1. Basecamp

The online project management tool Basecamp has helped automate everything we do at ZinePak. It’s incredibly powerful and very simple to use. Basecamp helps keep our entire team on the same page and saves literally dozens of hours of work each week that might otherwise be spent in meetings or working sessions. With plans starting at $20/month, I don’t think there is much more an entrepreneur could do for his/her business dollar for dollar.

Brittany HodakZinePak

2. is a super simple email tool that makes scheduling emails and getting reminders easy. There are many more sophisticated SaaS products that do the same thing, have a lot more features and so on — but the simplicity of is brilliant. I love it and use it every day.


3. Zapier

Zapier changed my life. If you are someone who relies heavily on web apps, then you know that they don’t all “play nice” with each other. Zapier solves this issue by making it super easy to integrate apps with one another to create a unified system that works. Currently, I have 45 zaps set up that take my business automation to the next level.

Lawrence WatkinsGreat Black Speakers

4. Boomerang

Most entrepreneurs get hundreds of emails a week, maybe even a day. Boomerang helps you stay on top of email. It’s a simple plugin within Google Apps for your email that lets you “boomerang” emails back to you if someone doesn’t respond or if you don’t want to take action on that email right away but are afraid it will fall through the cracks. It’s one of the only apps I use everyday.

Bhavin ParikhMagoosh Inc

5. Infusionsoft

Infusionsoft is an email management and sales funnel tracking software. There are three ways to grow your business: 1. Attract new customers 2. Get them to spend more 3. Get them to buy repeatedly. The hidden goldmine in so many businesses is number three. It’s so much easier and less costly to get people to buy from you again. But you must stay in consistent communication with your customers — Infusionsoft helps you do this.

Joshua LeeStandOut Authority

6. BuzzStream

BuzzStream is a great tool that helps immensely with link building, PR and social media. Through Buzzstream, you can research influencers, track communication and engagement and perform outreach. It’s a key tool in any marketer’s toolbox.

Josh WeissBluegala

7. Xero

Xero‘s accounting service is the answer to your Quickbooks woes. It’s all online, it connects and automatically downloads your bank transactions (even PayPal) and it allows you to send out invoices and keep track of receipts, contracts, etc. along with bills. They even have a payroll solution. The system is easy to use and comes with all the reports you’d expect, and additional custom ones are easy to build. They also have tons of integrations.

Brian FrittonPatch of Land

8. Salesforce

Salesforce is one of the pioneers of SaaS, and when it comes to sales team organization, there’s really nothing else like it. Salesforce has also made tons of acquisitions in recent years, like Buddy Media, RelateIQ and more, so they are always bringing new SaaS innovations under the Salesforce umbrella. Entrepreneurs who are fundraising or selling should consider a Salesforce license as it will greatly help organize their business.

Doreen BlochPoshly Inc.

9. Slack

We tried numerous chat solutions ranging from Google chat (great for less than 10 people) to GroupMe (great for less than 20 people) to Flowdock. Then we discovered Slack. I recommend this free team chat service to all startups. It’s great for team chat, one-on-one chat and small-group chat. The mobile app is also highly intuitive. Slack enables you to easily share photos, videos, links and have productive conversations on the go.

Nanxi LiuEnplug

10. 15five

We have been using 15Five for about six months and I’m obsessed! It’s the quickest, easiest way to keep up to date with all of our team members on a weekly basis. We can customize the questions for different teams, and I create a report each week that is sent to the entire team providing updates for the company as a whole and giving shout-outs to people who went above and beyond the previous week.

Kelsey MeyerInfluence & Co.

11. Yesware

Yesware lets you know within minutes whether or not an email recipient has opened your latest message. This is especially useful for entrepreneurs engaged in customer service, public relations and sales. Knowing if someone has read your email allows you to rethink your follow up approach, too. With Yesware, entrepreneurs can become far more effective as communicators, since they have more information on whether or not their original message got through.

Firas KittanehAmerisleep

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Categories: SMB

3 Shipping Strategies Every eCommerce Business Needs To Know

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 19:37

If you’re an ecommerce business, you know how intricate the shipping process is and how much it impacts your overall success. Afterall, you can sell a million dollars worth of product, but if you can’t get it to the customers door in one piece and at an affordable cost, you’ll soon go bust.

In a recent post written for the Endicia blog titled ‘3 Key Shipping Strategies to Help Boost Your Ecommerce Business‘, I share some great tips and strategies every ecommerce business should take note of. The article also includes some great advice from John Lawson, CEO of ColderIce Media and author of “Kick Ass Social Commerce for E-Preneurs“, including how you should be looking at shipping, why you should constantly be reviewing costs and whether Free Shipping should part of your offering.

Endicia is a company that offers electronic postage solutions to help both large and small businesses with their shipping needs. If you have an ecommerce business, I urge you to check them out here.


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Categories: SMB

Freelancers Are Awesome If You Follow These 7 Rules of Doing It Right

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 18:00

Freelancers are awesome professionals who can help your business grow, before you need to hire employees. I’ve used freelancers for years and they’ve helped my business, quite a bit.

Chris Byers, CEO of Formstack has some thoughts on how to do this and he’s shared his top tips for working with freelancers below

Learn from past mistakes

Identify the problems you have had with freelancers in the past. Was there conflict about rate or scope of the project? Establish a written contract. Have you hired freelancers who didn’t deliver? Create a new hiring process.

Once you pinpoint the underlying issues, determine what you need to do differently. Take the mentality that you’re not just hiring a freelancer; in many ways, you’re hiring a remote employee.

Vet your freelancers

Hiring is one of the most important elements to a business, but many people will take on a freelancer with little consideration. Even though you don’t have the same commitment to a freelancer as a full-time employee, you are still counting on them to deliver an important service.

Require references and ask about the freelancer’s turnaround time, dependability, and attitude. Were the references happy with the quality of work they received? Did they hire the freelancer for multiple projects? Always ask for work samples to evaluate their skill level.

Over communicate goals and deadlines

Be clear about your project schedule. Some freelancers juggle multiple clients and may not have total availability. As the project goes on, touch base with their progress. Give deadlines for rough drafts or mockups. You want to be able to stop your freelancer from going too far down the wrong path. (After all, you’re paying for the work!)

Video chats with screen-sharing can reassure you that your freelancer is producing what you had in mind.  According to the Formstack “Managing Remote Teams” infographic, 83% of remote workers report their project statuses online. Ask your freelancers to update you at least weekly.

Make the connection

Your freelancers are working on a project that probably includes several other employees. How well do they fit with the rest of the team? Help them feel connected to the team so they can catch the vision for your project. Introduce them to people via video chat or have them sit in on a meeting.

Connecting with your freelancer results in less isolation and a better sense of what your project’s goals are. This is especially helpful if you want to build a long-term relationship with a freelancer.

Create cheat sheets

Freelancers need to know about your brand guidelines. They should clearly understand your company’s style, design, and voice. Style guides can save you lots of time correcting things that aren’t quite right with freelancers.

Because brand guidelines usually change over time, create a living document that can be shared internally. Your freelancer may even offer suggestions on how to improve it, which is an added bonus.

Evaluate your freelance experience

Too often, small businesses have to run headlong into the next project without taking a moment to reflect. Evaluate your freelancers along the way. Did they meet the goals of the project? Were they available to you? Did work have to be sent back repeatedly for revision?

For example, if the deliverables were great but you could never get ahold of your freelancer, you might not want to work with them again. If you decide not to rehire someone, give them feedback to help them improve.

Managing freelancers like remote workers

The same rules apply to freelancers and remote employees. Hire well, communicate your objectives, report on progress, and offer feedback. Additionally, if you’re like the 66% of employers who offer occasional telecommuting, you’ll become more skilled as a remote manager. Taking a new approach can help you find the freelancers who will help your company reach its goals.

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Categories: SMB

Ready To Buy Online Advertising from Amazon? Google Adwords Has More Competition

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 15:00 is the biggest retailer in the world. However, it’s not the biggest advertising platform and wants to change that.

As reported by the Wall Street Journal is seeking to expand its own online advertising platform. First it will start by serving it’s own ads on, but industry observers expect that to grow to include 3rd party web sites as well.

Right now MOST advertisers use Google Adwords to place text, video or images on other web sites. However, in the future, expect to start serving those advertisements.

This is NOT going to happen overnight – but moves fast, has lots of money and the technical skill to make it happen.

If you’re a retailer it’s wise to keep your eye on what is up to.

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Categories: SMB

Is Social Media Holding Your Community Hostage?

Fri, 08/22/2014 - 19:06

It’s a commonly held belief that the cost of acquiring new customers is much higher than retaining existing ones. While the exact ratio and cost is often debated, it does ring fundamentally true. Attracting referral customers through delighted existing customers or converting an existing community of followers, attracted by your expertise, also costs less than cold-starting a brand new business relationship

That’s why content marketing is so popular (and effective). Its premise is that you share valuable content for free with the (not unrealistic) hope that some of the people enjoying the complimentary content will eventually see enough value to pay for the whole enchilada – you, your service or product.

A company’s best source for reaching current and potential future customers is an opt-in community. This has a few core components:

  • Engaging, consistent and useful high-quality content;
  • A platform that makes accessing the content convenient;
  • A viral aspect that enhances sharing and discoverability; and
  • Participants that have “opted in” as wiling members because they enjoy the content and community related to a common topic.

Some communities are primarily subscriber focused: you share content and the community receives it. The best thrive with bi-directional conversations between you and the community, as well as freely within the group.

Given their massive reach, ubiquity and easy of use, social media networks understandably became very appealing as accessible tool for building a business community. On Facebook, Twitter and others, it was possible to grow one’s following through hard and clever work; those with less finesse (or staff) could simply pay a reasonable amount to attract more followers. Most did both. The ROI came because once a following was established, you could communicate with them freely. You were able to execute content marketing rather than being forced into one-shot hard sells. Sounds great, right?

Fast-forward to 2014, and the picture looks quite unappealingly different. The harsh reality is that when you “rent” rather than establish your own community (or even just the platform to host it), your “customers” aren’t really yours!

A few years ago, Facebook began to interject and prioritize content viewable in your newsfeed, including paid “promoted” content, rather than only from your friends and businesses you had chosen to follow. Pursuing a post-IPO need to massively enhance advertising revenue, Facebook quickly demolished organic reach. It now hovers somewhere around 4-5 percent with a rumored goal as low as 1-2 percent.

If you’ve spent time (and money) to attract 1 million Facebook followers, as an example, you now organically reach roughly 3,000. That is unless you pay each time you want to reach them. Great for Facebook’s shareholders, not so great for you.

Not to miss out on the ad gold rush, Twitter, apparently confident that it knows better than us as to what we should read and whom we should follow, announced this week it will begin interjecting content from Twitter accounts we don’t follow into our Timelines, alongside already appearing promoted posts.

Cause for concern? Personally, I think so!

Let’s say you’ve painstakingly built a sizable Twitter following. They enjoy your carefully curated content and you provide them with valuable information, demonstrating your subject matter expertise in the process. It’s the first step of effective content marketing. Your organic reach is 100% and it only costs you a few hours a day finding, creating and sharing high quality content.

What happens when Twitter determines that the content from many other accounts that your followers aren’t following should be in their Twitter feed as well? Or that only some of yours shouldn’t appear to your followers at all? That’s right, your organic reach takes a nose dive. Perhaps I’m just being paranoid, but I’m seeing a slippery slope of declining ability to organically reach your own hard-won followers. That erodes the business value of investing in building up a following in the first place, unless you enjoy perpetually paying to reach it.

So where does this leave us? I see a few choices:

  1. Work much harder for less reach. You’ll need to increase your frequency of content while also maintaing the high quality, hoping not to get drowned out. Hopefully another algorithm or policy change won’t further lower your organic reach.
  2. Opt for quantity over quality. Perhaps you’ll lower your standards and share more often, potentially annoying (and losing) some of your hard-earned followers as you share less relevant material, trying to drown out and compete with the increasing content noise.
  3. Pay the ransom. If you have the budget, you can pay the social media networks and use promoted posts to try and approach your original organic reach. Perhaps you’ll even get discovered by new followers in the process – just don’t forget, you’ll pay every time you want to reach them.
  4. Refocus your effort and build your own community. Yes, it’s hard work, even if you’ve only “borrowed” the infrastructure from social media thus far. But, if you are clever and leverage your declining organic reach (perhaps with a necessary evil of selective paid promoted posts), you can redirect your existing social media followers to your own website or blog. And, just imagine, you won’t be stuck speaking to them in only 140 characters at a time!

What do you think? How are you tackling lessening organic reach? Have you found an effective way to still “rent” vs. build your community while retaining it as truly your own?

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Categories: SMB

6 Pre-Launch Plans for a Successful Tech Change

Fri, 08/22/2014 - 15:00
When making a major tech change, what is one thing your CTO or lead developer should include in a pre-launch plan so the whole team is on the same page?

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

1. A Clear Plan and Mock Up

The CTO should distribute a plan of attack, and mock-up of what things will look like after the change, to everyone on the team so they know what they’re working toward. A CTO should be able to manage her tech team, but it’s easy to forget the business side of the operation. Make sure your sales, client services and marketing people are also prepared for the changes since they’ll be on the front lines dealing with clients.

Jared FeldmanMashwork

2. Specific Details of the Testing Phase

Include specific details of the testing procedure so your team knows what to look for when trying out the new tech change. The feedback gained from this can significantly improve the probability of success.

Andrew SchrageMoney Crashers Personal Finance

3. Step-by-Step Deployment Instructions With Time Estimates

When implementing a major technology change, it’s important to have step-by-step deployment instructions with time estimates for completion to help everyone stay on the same page. Without time estimates during deploy, you may not leave yourself enough time to revert in case of any issues. When the team can follow each step and see what the time constraints are, they can then understand what and when their part is.

Phil ChenSystems Watch

4. A Tested Contingency Plan

Testing with a contingency plan that offers the ability to fall back to the old system if something doesn’t work as planned will prevent potential setbacks.

Lane CampbellSyntress

5. Controlled Releases

Like most major tech updates, there will definitely be issues. It is much more productive to roll out the changes in manageable stages. Set specific times during the week or day when new features or functions will go live. This allows for proper quality assurance of all projects, as well as a transparent and efficient plan for all of the non-tech members of the company.

Wilson OwensRoyalty Exchange

6. Information About How the New Tech Will Impact UX

With clear understanding of the user-facing implications of a major tech overhaul, the rest of the team can wrap their heads around the user experience and how they can leverage that to their advantage and continue communicating strong value to customers. Documentation, screenshots and walkthroughs of new processes will make it easy for the rest of the team to envision what will happen and how it will be better for users.

Firas KittanehAmerisleep

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Categories: SMB

Coworking: 7 Questions To Consider Before You Move To A Coworking Space.

Thu, 08/21/2014 - 16:30

In New York and other urban areas we have lots of options for coworking. What I like about coworking is the free or low cost environment, the others around you (human to human connections) and collaborative environment.

CoworkCT, a network of coworking communities whose members include small businesses, entrepreneurs, freelancers, and contractors who share space, resources, and ideas, recently announced the results of a national survey intended to better understand how familiar Americans are with coworking. Nearly two-thirds of Americans (63%) said they would consider working in a collaborative work environment once they understood the concept, but 60% said they had never heard of it.

“Coworking has reinvented the way people work,” said Marcella Kovac, cofounder of B:Hive, Bridgeport, Conn.’s first coworking and retail space. “These work environments allow freelancers, artists, entrepreneurs and even small businesses to create, collaborate and grow in a space where they share amenities and ideas with others.”

The demographic groups most inclined to consider a coworking environment were 18 to 34 year olds (75%) and residents of the Northeast (72%).

I asked Marcella to give us a bit more insight into co-working and how to do it right

How to do it?

It’s as easy as showing up to the space! Simply reach out to a coworking space about availability, determine what commitment level makes sense for you, and then show up and grab a seat.

Who is it for?

Anyone who wants to be productive, build meaningful relationships, collaborate with passionate and like-minded individuals, brainstorm new ideas, increase access to resources, and expand networks! Coworkers come from all backgrounds, industries, and experiences. Think entrepreneurs, telecommuters, freelancers, startups, writers, artists, designers, developers, marketers, consultants, tinkerers, and so on.

Who is it not for?

Like most things, coworking isn’t for everyone, especially those who may prefer (or require) privacy and quiet. Coworking spaces are known to be collaborative and dynamic, so there’s generally a lot of activity happening. If you are are easily distracted by others or need privacy for your job, coworking may not be the best option for you.

What are the NEGATIVES of coworking

Depends on the individual—what one person likes another person may not like. For instance, some people like working in an isolated environment. Those people would find it difficult to work in a coworking space since you’re always around other people and share almost everything, from bathrooms and kitchens to resources and ideas.

Working from a home office v. coworking

At a coworking space, you won’t encounter as many distractions as you would when working from home, unless you’re an incredibly strong-minded person who can say “no.” Think television, Facebook, house chores, children, pets, and so on.

Coworking spaces help those who suffer from procrastination to become more focused and motivated to get work done. Coworking spaces are also helpful for those who like to be around people (and not in an isolated environment). Plus, you get access to events, training sessions, potential collaborators, and even future clients when you work out of a coworking space.

Working in a traditional office v. coworking

Coworking spaces mimic the traditional office, but bring together people from all sorts of backgrounds and industries. It’s a new way to work where people think outside the cubicle in an open, collaborative, and dynamic environment. You get the same amenities as a traditional office (such as WiFi, kitchen, bathroom, office supplies, etc.), but also enjoy access to people from various backgrounds, industries, and experiences. In a coworking space, you may be working for yourself, but not by yourself.

Having several staff – could that work in a coworking environment?

Of course! Once a company becomes too large, however, it might make more sense for them to finally get that private office whether for financial reasons, space constraints, etc.

Some co-working spaces I frequent in New York City include Wix Lounge, We Work, General Assembly and Alley NYC

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Categories: SMB

Mailchimp Evolution. Autoresponder Is Dead. Marketing Automation CRM Rises.

Thu, 08/21/2014 - 13:36

Aweber, Mailchimp and other premium email marketing services all offer auto responders. Auto-responders let you send an email auto reply based on a click or some other action. You can bundle autoresponders together and have a pretty advanced system of communication to clients or customers.

However, autoresponders are not enough for some companies and they are finding that marketing automation or a customer relationship management (CRM) solution is really needed.

CRM is much more than a subsequent email sent based on a clicked linked. With CRM, such as offered by Infusionsoft (who I work for) you can move a prospect from one profile to another (from loving blue socks to loving red socks), you can ask them to provide an updated shipping address using a form on your web site or an almost unlimited number of action interactions.

Mailchimp announced that it’s morphing from an autoresponder to workflows – closer to CRM or marketing automation than they’ve ever been.

While an email newsletter is awesome, growing businesses are all jumping on the marketing automation bandwagon to improve their marketing.

Only CRM can provider personalized, and automated communication. Only CRM can take 237 different customers and provide them with 237 different experiences throughout their customer lifecycle.

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Categories: SMB

Uber Announces New Delivery Service Program: Could Google and Amazon Be In Their Crosshairs?

Wed, 08/20/2014 - 17:07

Uber, the transportation app that changed how people move by connecting riders to drivers, recently announced a new pilot program – Uber Corner Store. According to their blog, the program is a limited experiment that will run for only a few weeks in the Washington D.C. area and will allow Uber users to get delivery of staples like toothpaste, diapers and over 100 other items right to their door.

This program, if successful, would take Uber from a simple transportation company into a full-fledged logistics company – which many analysts think plays into CEO Travis Kalanick’s long-term vision. How will it’s success be measured? As stated in the blog, “The more you love it, the more likely it will last.” And as Kalanick  told CNN Money last December, “We’re in the business of delivering cars in five minutes. And once you can deliver cars in five minutes, there’s a lot of  things you can deliver in five minutes.” So it seems that Uber might have a laser like focus on a new market segment they want to be a part of and the drive, determination and following to make it happen.

But, can Uber truly compete in the same-day delivery market that is now dominated by players like Amazon, Ebay and Google? Well, if one company is going to make a go at it, it’s Uber. Their proven ability to forge into a market and wrestle with regulations and competitors, never backing down and coming out on top, has many thinking that they can.  And while this isn’t a completely new concept for them – they previously released a courier delivery service called Uber Rush in Manhattan – if they do decide to travel down this road, it’s going to be a bumpy one. While the big dogs, Amazon and Google, already have solid processes and infrastructure in place to dominate this market, there are also a number of other smaller services that will be forces to reckon with. How they structure, price and deliver the service, along with how well they can excite their following, will be key in their long-term success.

The one thing I find completely inspiring about this announcement is that it is a great reminder to every small business that no market is impenetrable. If we choose, we can all play with the big dogs – and if we come with a great product and service, we might just walk away with the bone.

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Categories: SMB

Intuit Study: Small Businesses Compete with Large Companies Using Online Services (Cloud Computing)

Wed, 08/20/2014 - 16:00

Online services such as Uber, Airbnb, Quickbooks Online and Xero, Asana, Evernote, Task Rabbit, Elance, PayPal and Fiverr are game changers in small business opportunities.

These services, and many others, enable small business owners to harness talent, leverage computing power and overall be more productive in their businesses – like never before.

Think about the worlds of online marketing – Infusionsoft’s marketing automation is creating time saving opportunities and boosting small business marketing success. Companies like ReachLocal provide small businesses with an entire outsourced marketing agency. Need help with your social content? is amazing.

What ways are you using online software to grow your business and crush your competition?

Intuit recently released a study which shows how small businesses using online services are able to compete in new ways.

These four profiles of small businesses are:

  • Plug-in Players: Small businesses will increasingly adapt to the cloud by taking advantage of specialized service that can be seamlessly integrated into back-office operations. Instead of spending time and effort on the nuts-and-bolts of finance, marketing and human resources, cloud-adapted small business will plug into cloud-based providers who deliver comprehensive, tailored solutions, giving small business operators the ability to focus on mission-critical areas of business.
  • Hives: Cloud-adapted small businesses will increasingly be made up of individuals who share talent to form a team. These businesses will operate virtually, with employees working in different locations, and staffing levels will be increasingly flexible, rising and falling to meet to project needs. For example, independent contractors will use virtual spaces to connect and market themselves. On Main Street, small manufacturers and producers may share a commercial facility.
  • Head-to-Headers: A growing number of cloud-adapted small businesses will compete head-to-head with major firms, using the growing number of platforms and plug-in services to reach markets once only accessible to large corporations. This is already being seen with platforms such as AirBnB, which provide individuals with the ability to reach a mass market through community infrastructure.
  • Portfolioists: Successful cloud-adapted freelancers will bring together multiple income streams to create a career portfolio. These largely will be people who start with a passion, or specific skill, and are motivated primarily by the desire to live and work according to their values, passions, and convictions. They will increasingly build personal empires in the cloud, finding previously unseen opportunities for revenue generation.


Small Business Success in the Cloud from Intuit Inc.

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Categories: SMB

Did Your Twitter Timeline Get Hacked? Nah… Twitter Is Just Deciding What You Should Be Seeing

Wed, 08/20/2014 - 15:46

If you were getting a little confused by posts appearing in your Twitter timeline from folks you don’t follow, don’t worry – you haven’t been hacked! It turns out that Twitter has decided that they know better than you do on what, and whom, you should be seeing in your timeline and have made a few changes to their policy to accommodate.

The new change, which started as an experiment and is now a full-fledged feature of Twitter, has you seeing tweets from people you don’t follow and that aren’t retweets in your timeline. Based on an update to it’s help center page, Twitter believes that this new feature will make your timeline “more relevant and interesting”. Below is the excerpt from the Twitter Help Center that outlines the new change.


So…what’s the big deal?

We’ve seen changes like this occur before on social media platforms. Remember when Facebook started dropping promoted posts and advertising onto our timelines? Just like those changes, these changes aren’t going to have any great impact on the fate of the free world, but they will have an impact.

For the casual user, these changes serve as nothing more than a very harsh reminder that user experience is probably not at the top of Twitter’s list of concerns. For business users, however, the impact is a bit more harsh. For those who have spent countless hour and dollars building a dedicated community and following, it will now be harder to rise above the noise. Looking at what happened at Facebook, as a close comparison. The days of being able to engage with customers, over a long period of time, may be dwindling due to the fact that your organic reach dissipates dramatically. For Twitter, though, it’s all about business. And just as Facebook did, they too will most likely turn this new feature into a paid opportunity for those looking to gain more visibility.

For those of us who view our social media timelines and profiles as our own little bits of internet real estate – deciding who to interact with, what we want to see and when / how we want to see it – it’s time to face reality. It’s not truly our space (after all – we don’t pay for it!), it’s theirs. They have the keys and at anytime they will open your front door, walk inside and redecorate to their hearts’ content.


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Categories: SMB

Biz & Tech Roundup: Event Marketing; WiFi Security; Wix and Hotel Websites

Wed, 08/20/2014 - 15:00

PRIVATE WiFi Unveils WiFi Dashboard to Alert Windows 8 Users When a Wireless Network Is Unsecure

PRIVATE WiFi recently unveiled a new free app — WiFi Dashboard — for Windows 8 personal computers and surface tablets, which will alert users when they are using unencrypted WiFi. Many hotspots — whether people access them in a hotel, coffee shop, airport, park, or are using an open connection at home — are unsecure. Any data sent or received over an open WiFi connection can literally be stolen out of thin air. The life of an SMB owner or employee is often one filled with mobile devices, connecting remotely, and blurred lines between professional and personal time. This new app alerts them, so that they can take immediate steps to not only protect their identity and personal information, but also safeguard the confidential data of their company and clients. @privatewifi Launches Code-Free Event-Tech Solution for SMBs launched a code-free email marketing tool to integrate with their mobile microsites for events. For SMBs looking to compete in a tough market,’s comprehensive event-tech solution gives them a marketing edge, empowering them to leverage the live event to engage directly with their customers – both current and potential – and ensuring they have the technology available to maximize the impact of the event. Their latest feature makes free email marketing available to all small business owners so they can engage more effectively with their customers, manage their guest list and easily follow-up after the event has ended.

Wix Launches Booking Solution for Small Hotels:

Last week Wix launched WixHotels, a complete hotel booking engine that can be integrated into a Wix website. The new service, available in the Wix App Market, makes it simple to build and maintain the room inventory with pricing, booking, reservation and payment management capabilities. With the code-free and mobile-friendly app, hotel owners can even compile reservations made outside of the website and manage all of their inventory in one place. Small hotels can finally take the booking process into their own hands, professionalizing their reservation systems and avoiding having to pay high commissions to online travel sites. The new vertical is a part of Wix’s goal to allows SMBs to build, grow and manage their business in one centralized location. Read more here.


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Categories: SMB

24 Awesome Apps To Save You Time and Have Less Headache – @LizKingEvents #techsytalk

Tue, 08/19/2014 - 20:42

Liz King is the preeminent guru of events.

She’s built a community for event professionals – to help them produce better events and she is an event organizer as well.

Here’s the apps she uses to run her empire – boosting productivity and having less headaches.

  1. Trello – task management
  2. Anydo – task management tool
  3. Mailbox - send email back to yourself, later on
  4. Yesterbox - a way of thinking from Tony Hsieh
  5. Expensify - expenses on the go
  6. Focus Lock - lock your phone to not do other things
  7. World Card Mobile – put biz cards into contact database
  8. Docusign – digital document signature
  9. ETA - quickly find times to get from one meeting to another
  10. Flightboard - look at flight times
  11. IFTTT - If this then that; an automation tool
  12. Dropbox - file sharing
  13. Doxie - scanner
  14. Magic Wand  – portable scanner
  15. Harvest - time tracking tool
  16. Lastpass - password saving
  17. Shoeboxed - mail them your shoebox of crap,  they tag and put it into Excel for you
  18. Unrollme - will look at all email subscriptions and unsubscribe you
  19. Hootsuite or @bugger – social media management tool
  20. Pocket – browse an article later
  21. Unstuck – app to inspire you
  22. Mophie - portable charger
  23. Drones – take pictures in the air
  24. Selfie Stick



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Categories: SMB

Google Adwords: 7 Ways To Fail Your Online Marketing Campaign with #Adwords

Tue, 08/19/2014 - 16:00

I’ve been doing a lot more online advertising on the occasion of the 9th Annual Small Business Summit - experimenting with Twitter, LInkedIn, Facebook and Google Adwords. For many of you, online advertising drives a big chunk of your sales.

I’ve asked Sheri Firstenberg, with Ripen Commerce, to help guide us into the best ways to do Google Adwords advertising.

Sheri knows what she’s talking about – she manages more than $1 million in paid search ad spend annually at Ripen eCommerce which a full-service digital agency that specializes in delivering custom solutions to online retailers.

AdWords is both an easy-to-get-started and difficult-to-master tool for online advertisers. Although setup can be simple, there are many in-depth features eCommerce owners may not understand or simply overlook. Here’s a look at seven Adwords sins that could be killing your ROI.

Choosing Search Network with Display Select

When you add a new campaign, the first thing Google asks you for is the campaign type. Your options are the following:

Search Network only
Display Network only
Search Network with Display Select

Assuming this is not a shopping campaign (we’ll touch on that later), you should choose either search or display. Google tries to steer you towards the combo category, claiming it gives you the best opportunity to reach more customers. However, search campaigns and display campaigns target different audiences and serve different initiatives.  If you’re looking to drive conversions, focus on the search network only. On the other hand, if brand awareness is your game, the display network is your playground.

Running Ads that Don’t Speak to Your Audience

If your company only ships products to the continental US, you shouldn’t be paying for your ads to be shown to buyers in Saskatchewan. If you’re targeting the population of Mexico, your ads shouldn’t be in English.

Setup your campaigns to target the area your customers are living in. Similarly, ads should be written in the language they speak. If you feel like you are missing out on capturing an audience outside of your main service areas, try setting up a dedicated test campaign using geographically based search terms to catch the outliers.

Letting Google Run the Show

You know your market better than Google – trust yourself to assess what is an appropriate limit on budgets. Accelerated delivery settings serve ad impressions as the opportunity arises, while standard delivery settings pace impressions based on a predicted number of daily inquiries. Using standard delivery, you’ll miss out on impressions no matter what your budget is because of Google’s predetermined pacing. A simple solution is to set your own budgets so you don’t run out of cash using accelerated campaigns.

Tolerating Poor Segmentation

Every market responds differently to AdWords. Volume and conversion rates vary significantly depending on time of day, a customer’s location, and the device they’re using. You have historical account data on these behaviors – use it to predict future patterns.

Typically, response rates from mobile users are well below that of the desktop/tablet-using contingency. See which campaigns are preforming poorly and lower those bids. If customers in one location typically have a higher return on ad spend (ROAS) than those in another, adjust the bids accordingly. AdWords allows you to set 6 different bid adjustments per day based on the time (up to 42 bid adjustments per week). Figure out (or refer to your data to determine) when your customers are shopping and hit those times hardest.

Know which segments convert best in your market and bid higher on them. Also, be sure you’re leveraging the higher bids by lowering those on segments that historically haven’t converted as well.

Dropping the Ball on Ad Extensions

Not all extensions are created equal. In general, ad extensions get you better placement and lower costs per click. They also involve minimal set-up and are displayed at no additional cost. Decide which extensions are best for your business and start reaping the benefits.

If you want to prompt customers to contact you by phone, call extensions are the way to go. These allow you to incorporate your phone number into text ads (otherwise not allowed by Google). On mobile devices, these extensions even add a call button to your ad. Location extensions are perfect for those with a brick and mortar business as they incorporate a physical address and phone number into ads (even link Google Places accounts).

Other extension options include linking to a review, especially if there’s a reputable source that has given your business some good feedback. Or if you offer an app, make it as easy as possible for customers to research and download it.

If none of these extensions make sense for your business, sitelink extensions have the answer. They allow you to promote additional landing pages below your standard ad text. You get 25 characters per extension to drive traffic to a relevant site, and up to four sitelinks can appear with each text ad. That’s a lot of front-page real estate at no additional cost!

Ignoring Match Type and Negative Keywords

One of the biggest AdWords pitfalls is allowing Google to determine which queries you want your ads shown for. Google is pretty intuitive but they get it wrong – a lot. The more direction you give them, the better your results will be. Unless you specify the type of matches you want, your keywords will all default to broad match. Use Exact and Phrase match for more control over when your ads are shown.

Just as important is safeguarding your ads against unrelated searches. Use the search terms tool to discover the queries that trigger your ads. If there are irrelevant terms, include them as negative keywords in order to suppress the ad from showing and potentially throwing money out the window. Don’t forget, match type counts for negative keywords too!

Lumping Together Shopping Campaigns

If you sell anything online, shopping campaigns are a must. The biggest pitfall here is that unless you pay attention to the details, every product will end up in a catchall category called “all products.” Not all products offer the same return, so categorize inventory with a focus on product lines, profit margins, and best sellers. The introduction of Shopping Campaigns has made it easier than ever to use labels and targets to group products and bid accordingly.

Features like extensions, proper categorizations, and specific match types add details to your campaigns to both stand out from your competitors and target shoppers outside of your typical audience. Even if you were catching 75% of your potential customers with your initial AdWords setup, you should not ignore the last quarter. With a few detailed fixes, your campaigns can be a smarter and more cost effective for your eCommerce brand.

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Categories: SMB

4 Ways To Use A Customer Database to Grow Your Business

Tue, 08/19/2014 - 15:15

Ramon Ray, editor of recently sat down with Ashley Meyers of the Wells Fargo Business Insight series to discuss the importance of using a customer database to grow your business.

During this live audio interview, Ramon discusses four ways every small business can use a customer database to grow their business, along with tips on what types of information you should be collecting and strategic ways to use that information to convert one time customers into lifelong advocates for your business and brand.

Click HERE to listen to the full interview or click the image below:


Are you collecting information and using a customer database to grow your business? Share your thoughts, experiences and comments with out community below!

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Categories: SMB

Vote Ramon @SXSW Presentation: The Local Celebrity Entrepreneur – Personal Branding

Mon, 08/18/2014 - 19:41

Ramon needs (would please like) your vote. SXSW Interactive , the biggest conference and show about all things digital, social and tech takes place in Austin of each year. I need your vote please, for my panel submission, “The Local Celebrity Entrepreneur: How Personal Branding Helps Your Small Business Crush Your Competition

Please vote. I would would appreciate it very much.

In this SXSW panel session you’ll learn why building your personal brand is so important, how to do it and my personal journey of personal brand building.

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Categories: SMB

Robots Or Humans Serving Your Hotel Room? Beep, beep, Here’s Your Newspaper

Mon, 08/18/2014 - 18:00

Let’s say you need some tooth paste, shaving cream or the morning’s newspaper delivered to your hotel room. Would you mind if a robot brought it to you? Would you prefer a human?

Robots are not new, some of them vacuum our floors and others are getting ready to drive our cars  - as Google.

But the question – although we have the OPTION to use robots in our day to day activities – should we? Is their a limit?

For the sake of the hotels brand extension at every touch point , is a human smile more welcoming than a robot?

The New York Times writes, On Aug. 20, the Aloft hotel here will begin testing this robotic bellhop, a wheeled service vehicle designed to shuttle items from the hotel lobby desk to guest rooms. Whether a gimmick or a sign of things to come, Botlr is the latest among a new generation of robots — like Google’s self-driving car, Aetheon’s Tug hospital supply robot and Caddytrek’s electric golf caddy — that are starting to walk or roll around the everyday world.

Think about it. Just because we can automate – should we? Where does a warm human smile work better than a a robots blinking LED lights?

Robots can be more efficient, work harder and can bring more features and benefits in certain areas, than humans can.

Tough choice…

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Categories: SMB