Tuesday, September 26, 2017

10 Tips for Small Business Marketing

small business marketing
As the owner of a small business, you are likely the chief lead generator and chief marketer. These tasks may not be what you most enjoy, but they are not difficult and can even be fun. Here are 10 tried-and-true ways to make the process easier:

1. Market your expertise

What do you do or offer that no one else does? What expertise do you have that your competitors can’t match? This is part of your “authority platform.” Think about how best to use it to attract the clients you want. Perhaps you’re a health and fitness coach. Gyms and fitness centers provide a ready-made base of potential clients, but how do you reach them?
You could host a special program in person or via a Webinar. Such initiatives show potential clients that you have valuable information to share.

2. Tap word-of-mouth

Recommendations from people you’ve done business with and from family and friends will always be the best form of advertising. These days, word of mouth includes online and offline referrals from satisfied customers. Online reviews have a proven track record of generating new business, too. The cost of word of mouth advertising is low, which means your return on investment (ROI) is high.

3. Got raving fans?

Turning the people who know and do business with you into raving fans will further boost word-of-mouth ROI. Perhaps you run a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning company and one of your clients, a hair salon, is having a business anniversary. Offer to throw a party. You’ll generate loyalty, score brownie points, and add a personal dimension to your bond with the client.

4. Strategies, then tools

Educating and providing value to clients and prospects is one example of a strategy. How you follow through may include tools such as in-person workshops, articles on LinkedIn, free e-newsletters or free 15-minute consultations. Let the strategy and your authority platform guide you on the best initiatives to launch. Otherwise, you’ll be spending valuable time and resources on initiatives that yield no long-term relationships and do nothing to expand your client base. Also, make sure your strategy is cost effective.

5.Think intrinsic value

Relationships have value and are not a means to an end. People can “smell” when you’re angling for leads and are not committed to developing relationships, says Art Radtke, a customer success manager at marketing firm More Prospects Now, based in Annapolis, Md. “We want attraction,” he says. “We want to give people the ability to step toward us naturally,” which goes back to figuring out how you can serve them.
A young investment advisor Radtke knew went to a meeting looking for referrals. He met many people, including a couple of estate planning lawyers. The attorneys didn’t send clients to him directly, but, when asked, they were quick to recommend him to others.

6. Expand your attitude

Anything that gains or maintains a place in someone’s mind is marketing. An example: Radtke’s firm suggested that a title company make homebuyers feel as comfortable as possible by offering them coffee, tea and homemade cookies while they read and signed their contracts. Midway through, the clients found a $50 gift card to a local restaurant as the title company’s thanks for their business. They went home happy and told others about their positive experience. Referrals jumped by 30%.

7. Get help!

Be sure to ask clients for help with referrals and social media posts. (This goes back to word-of-mouth.) People for whom you’ve done a good job will want to recommend you. Make it as easy as possible by putting clients’ verbal testimonials in writing and asking them to post to Facebook or other social media channels.

8. Advertise

You still have to build relationships. If people don’t know you and you’re not providing any added value, they disappear. This is why paid advertising is also key. Be sure, though, to think through the most effective way to promote your services before you take out an ad. A pastor Radtke knew tried unsuccessfully to advertise services at his church on Facebook. Radtke suggested that he change tack and highlight the church’s support groups for the newly divorced. People signed up to receive a series of informative articles aimed at recently divorced singles, allowing the church to expand its email subscriber base. Some of those who subscribed joined the support groups and took part in other church-related activities.

9. Evaluate

What’s the return on investment from your strategies and tools? If you don’t already know, ask new clients how they found you. Tailor your marketing accordingly. Maybe four hours of cold calling yielded only one person who’s ready to buy your product or engage your services. Maybe a workshop that likewise took four hours of your time yielded five referrals, three of which are now clients. Record the time spent on each strategy and the number of new clients added. Having this information at your fingertips will allow you to assess which strategy is working best.

10. Track the long haul

By recording this information and using it to conduct periodic assessments, you may discover that an endeavor that at first appeared ineffective has actually been very effective over the long haul.
Remember: Some initiatives take longer than others to yield results, and client relationships take time to establish. Don’t be impatient, as strong relationships are key to any successful business: They yield repeat business, solidify client loyalty and generate referrals.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Key Tips for Buying a New Car

Tips for buying a new car
Car shopping can be a stressful event even for the savviest negotiator. For most people a car is the second most expensive purchase they’ll make next to buying a home — all the more reason to be prepared and have a plan for picking a car out and financing the purchase. A snap decision at the dealership can easily lead to buyer’s remorse you’ll have to live with for years.
“All big purchases can be stressful,” says Wade Newton, spokesperson for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, “and considering how durable cars are today, they can be a long-term commitment.”
Your car purchase needs to start long before you set foot in a car dealership – with background work that will pay dividends not only financially but for your peace of mind.

Determine your budget

Like any major buy, determine your budget and define your needs within that constraint. Your car expense shouldn’t exceed 25 percent of your monthly household income, and that includes all of your vehicles. Besides monthly auto loan payments, you should factor in operating costs such as gas, maintenance and insurance.
Once you know how much you’re able to spend, you can start to narrow down the list of cars you want. It’s one of the fun parts of buying a car, but with challenges of its own. “Consumers have seemingly endless choices when it comes to buying a car, which is a good thing,” says Newton. “But it also means you have to look around at all of the options. Automakers provide hundreds of different models designed to meet a variety of needs, and consumers’ options are growing.”

Conduct the necessary research

Start by visiting the websites of automakers and other car sites to get an idea of model inventories and features available in your area. With your list of preferred choices, you can then look at whether you want to lease or buy new or pre-owned. Used cars offer the best upfront value but have shorter warranties and higher loan interest rates. “If it’s not a new auto, always be sure the vehicle isn’t under an active recall,” says Newton. “It’s easy to check at safercar.gov, and you can search by VIN.”
Leasing a vehicle allows you to get a more expensive car, but there are restrictions to “ownership” and you’ll have to turn the car in after the lease term is up. If you choose to buy new, you may not have the budget for as many features, but you’ll get a full warranty and lower interest rates. Use an auto payment calculator to determine how much a car loan for a new car would cost.

Determine total ownership costs

After you determine the exact model you want, you can calculate the monthly insurance and fuel expense to figure your total ownership costs. You’re then able to shop for the best pre-approved financing deal through a bank or credit union. Dealers sometimes offer loan incentives for the model you’re after, as long as you qualify. Either way, having your financing secured before you walk into the dealership can make for a simpler, less-stressful process.

Know the price of the model you’re leaning towards

Next, research your model’s invoice or wholesale price. This gives you a general idea of what the dealer paid for the vehicle and puts you in a better negotiating position. Shoot for a sales price close to that amount before any discounts, keeping in mind that dealers need to make at least some profit to stay in business.
Speaking of discounts, check the automaker’s website for promotions or rebates. You may also find discounts aimed at specific groups, such as students or military personnel. Whatever rebates, discounts and other incentives you uncover can usually be combined.

Go for a test drive

With all your research in hand, you’re finally ready to visit the dealership. Make an appointment for a test drive, and take your time behind the wheel until you’re sure it’s the right fit for you. Play with the controls and make sure the car’s features fit your needs. For example, is the trunk large enough for all the items you plan to carry? If you have regular passengers, will they be comfortable?

Negotiate a fair price

When you’ve made your decision to buy, you can start the negotiating process. If you have a trade-in, keep the two separate and focus on the new car, factoring in the discounts you’ve researched. The dealer will have a list of fees associated with the sale; check that each is accurate and not an unnecessary add-on.
Finally, if something doesn’t feel right with the car or the deal, don’t be afraid to walk away.

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Pros and Cons of Your Business Starting a Podcast

small business podcast marketing strategy
More small businesses are starting podcasts to reach customers. In fact, 89 million people listened to a podcast in 2015, nearly double the number from 2008, according the Pew Research Center.
It’s also estimated that 46 million Americans listen to podcasts each month, with the average listener tuning in to about six podcasts each week, according to Edison Research.
If you’re looking for new ways to reach potential customers, you might want to consider giving podcasting a try. Diane Daniels, host of Medicare Nation, a weekly podcast that educates listeners on Medicare policies and benefits, says her podcast, which consistently has 150 to 200 downloads a week, has helped build her business, Senior Advisors for Medicare and Medicaid.
The key to creating a successful, well-listened-to podcast is to pick a topic you are passionate about and give your audience valuable information, she says. And while Daniels doesn’t talk about her business on her podcast, it’s listed in the show notes, and some of her listeners have become clients.
Here are some small business podcasting pros and cons:

Podcasting Pros

Captive audience

Most podcast listeners will give your content their undivided attention. Listeners typically download podcasts and listen on-the-go while working out or commuting so you have a captive audience with few distractions.

No competing messages

Unlike radio or TV, when your listener tunes into your podcast, that person will only hear your messages. Your content won’t be interrupted by competing advertisements or messages.

Accurate metrics

It’s easy to measure your audience because you can track the number of downloads as well as the number of people who subscribe to your podcast, and adjust your podcast marketing strategy accordingly.
However, Daniels warns not to get caught up in the number of weekly downloads in the beginning. If you keep putting out good content, you’ll get followers. Her first week, Daniels only had eight listeners and, she says, half of them were family members. Don’t try to compare yourself to the most popular podcasts such as “This American Life” and “Serial,” which are downloaded by millions of listeners each week.
Consider this: If you were doing a presentation and 25 people attended, you would think that was a good turnout, Daniels says. With podcasting, she says, you can get 100 or more people listening to you each week.

Podcasting Cons

Finding an audience

One way to find an audience is by promoting your small business podcast on  . Daniels posts audio files from her show on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to help new listeners find her. According to Pew, 93 percent of podcast listeners are active on social media and 58 percent engage with brands online. Another way to market your podcast is to appear as a guest on someone else’s podcast.

Sticking to a schedule

Your listeners will expect a new podcast every week or, at the very least every month. This can be difficult for a small business operator with limited time and resources given that Daniels estimates she spends about three hours on each podcast, devoting an hour to research, an hour to recording the show and an hour to promoting it through social media. In the beginning it might take longer while you’re getting the hang of it, she says. A weekly editorial calendar may help keep you on track.
But one alternative may be to delegate the responsibility to an intern. Interns are generally young, tech savvy and in touch with online viewing preferences. Outline your goals for the podcasts and weigh in regularly about content and tone to ensure that they are accomplishing what you want them to. But also be receptive to ideas that can help your business connect with new customers. For example, a young intern may have insights about reaching Millennials, who are the largest demographic group in the U.S.

Editing your podcast

It would be great if you could just hit record, talk and then post your podcast but most podcasts are edited to include music and to trim down the discussion to keep a lively pace. If you lack the skills to do the editing yourself, you can always outsource that task to an audio editing firm.
Creating the podcast is easy, Daniels says. “Any personality can podcast. You don’t have to be an extrovert.” And, it doesn’t cost a lot of money. You can start podcasting tomorrow with less than $100 and a smartphone.

Friday, September 8, 2017

School Fire Safety Tips: Prevention Begins with Education

fire safety education
According to the National Fire Protection Association, U.S. fire departments respond to approximately 5,690 fires at education buildings each year. That’s why it’s so important to stress fire safety education in our schools. Take a look at the following school safety tips, and learn how you can teach school fire safety prevention to your children or students.

School fire preparation

Nearly 40% of all school fires are started intentionally. Needless to say, implementing these security measures are vital:
  • Exterior lighting with timers, motion- or daylight-detection sensors
  • Shrubbery and trees trimmed to keep areas around the building unobstructed
  • Intrusion alarms on doors, windows, ventilator openings and roof hatches
  • Trash receptacles stored away from buildings to reduce danger of fire. Locked metal lids for extra protection.
  • Encourage neighbors to alert school personnel to signs of vandalism

Fire safety education

Educating and preparing students for a fire emergency should be a priority.
  • Conduct expected and unexpected monthly school fire drills in which everyone participates
  • Inspect exits regularly to ensure stairways, doors and windows are unblocked and working properly
  • Train students on how to respond to a fire alarm during a school fire drill
  • Know locations of the fire protection system, fire alarm pull stations and sprinklers
  • Make sure every room has a map showing 2 exits
  • Pair students with specific needs to an adult or classmate for extra assistance
  • Have a predetermined location where students know to meet once they exit the building and practice during a school fire drill
  • Have a roster to ensure every student is accounted for
  • Encourage parents to practice home fire drills, and prepare them in the event of a residential fire

College fire safety prevention

These school safety tips focus mostly on elementary, middle and high schools. However, they can also apply to college buildings, where firefighters respond to about 3,810 fires each year – 88% of which are due to cooking mishaps. Here’s a college-level course in fire prevention:

On-campus precautions

  • Cook only in designated areas
  • Keep cooking areas clean and free of clutter
  • Never leave cooking unattended
  • In case of a fire inside a microwave, close the door and unplug the unit

Campus lab precautions

  • Never leave lab experiments or pressure vessels unattended
  • Keep flammable gases and chemicals away from heat

Off-campus precautions

  • Be sure each bedroom has a working smoke alarm
  • Make sure the building sprinkler system is well maintained
  • Building heating and fire-prevention systems need to be checked annually by fire officials

General precautions

  • Identify the 2 closest exits and all possible evacuation routes
  • Know locations of fire alarms and how to use them
  • Report vandalized fire equipment to campus security
Of course school isn’t the only place to promote fire safety education. Check out our fire safety tips for the home and workplace so that you can practice fire safety 365 days a year.

Friday, September 1, 2017

9 Outdoor Grilling BBQ Safety Tips

bbq safety
It happens every year. The weather gets warmer, more people use outdoor grills – and incidents of grill-caused fires go up. Each year, outdoor grilling causes an average of 8,900 home fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
Gas grills cause more home fires than charcoal grills, the association adds. According to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, 61 percent of households own a gas grill, 41 percent own a charcoal grill and 10 percent own an electric grill.
Regardless of the type of grill you own, here are 9 BBQ safety tips that will keep you and your home safe for barbecuing season:

1. Grill outside and away from any structures

Charcoal and gas grills are designed for outdoor use only. However, NFPA reports that more than one-quarter (27 percent) of home fires started by outdoor grills began in a courtyard, terrace or patio, and 29 percent started on an exterior balcony or open porch. Pay attention to overhanging tree branches when you set up your grill.

2. Make sure your grill is stable

Only set up your grill on a flat surface and make sure the grill can’t be tipped over. Consider using a grill pad or splatter mat underneath your grill to protect your deck or patio.

3. Keep your grill clean

Remove grease or fat buildup from both the grill and the tray below the grill. If you are using a charcoal grill, allow the coals to completely cool off before disposing of them in a metal container.

4. Check for propane leaks on your gas grill

Before the season’s first barbecue, check the gas tank hose for leaks by applying a light soap and water solution to the hose and then turning on the gas. If there is a propane leak, the solution will bubble. Other signs of a propane leak include the smell of gas near the barbecue or a flame that won’t light.

5. If the flame goes out, wait to re-light

If you are using a gas grill and the flame goes out, turn the grill and the gas off, then wait at least five minutes to re-light it.

6. Take care around the grill

Never leave a lit grill unattended. Don’t allow kids or pets to play near the grill. Never try to move a lit or hot grill, and remember the grill will stay hot for at least an hour after use.

7. Be careful with charcoal starter fluid

If you use a charcoal grill, only use charcoal starter fluid. If the fire starts to go out, don’t add any starter fluid or any other flammable liquids to the fire. Consider using a charcoal chimney starter, which uses newspaper to start the fire instead of starter fluid.

8. Wear the right clothing

Clothing can easily catch fire, so be sure your shirt tails, sleeves or apron strings don’t dangle over the grill.

9. Be ready to put out the fire

Have baking soda on hand to control a grease fire and a fire extinguisher nearby for other fires. If you don’t have a fire extinguisher, keep a bucket of sand next to the grill. Never use water to put out grease fire.
These easy-to-follow tips will help you and your family to enjoy a safe summer barbecuing season. For those grilling over an open fire, check out these fire pit do’s and don’ts to keep you and your guests safe.