Thoughts for the End of 2011

If you can't quite recall everything that happened in this action-packed year, here's the condensed version, courtesy of JibJab.

Goal.From Flickr user Opopodopo.
Now's a good time to reflect on your own goals for 2011 - how did you do?

I set a number of goals for 2011 - maybe too many...

There were a couple of big ones for me - starting this blog, and also finding a new gig for my main source of income, both of which I did. This enabled me to meet some other financial goals I'd set for this year.

There were others (for health and wellness), where I made strides but didn't get where I wanted to be, and still others (for continuing education) that I just couldn't get to.

So, what's the lesson here? 

First, it's important to congratulate yourself on what you did get done. I'm really proud of my new client relationships and I feel like getting my own blog and Twitter feed this year were key in supporting those.

Second, it's healthy to acknowledge where I made progress - I am exercising more and eating more healthfully, but there are continued improvements I need to make.

Third, examine what you couldn't get done this year and why - I didn't make time to take any classes, but I did get a lot of other things done. I had to deprioritize this goal because finding new sources of income and working on my health and wellness were more important.

So what about the coming year? What are your goals for 2012, for yourself and for your business? Here are some of mine...

For 2012, I'd like to work on growing my online audience and doing some more in-person idea sharing and networking. I want to continue the strides I've made in the health and wellness department, and also make a more conscious effort to pursue educational activities in whatever form I can find. If I can't take a semester-long class, webinars and one-off lectures can also work. I got a theramin for Christmas, and I'm looking forward to learning to play it as well.  

If you're a bit stuck on setting workable goals, here's a very useful article from Washingtonian about setting resolutions you can keep. Try not to set too many goals at once, and make sure they specific and measurable.

Happy New Year, and thanks for reading! Wishing you all a successful 2012!

How Do Your Customers Use the Internet to Find You?

If you haven't seen it yet (and even if you have, it's worth another look), check out this great infographic from Business Insider - Incredible Things That Happen Every 60 Seconds On The Internet

Infographic by Shanghai Web Designers.
Among other things, there are 98,000 tweets, 695,000 Facebook status updates, and more than 1500 new blog posts.

How much of this action are you getting? If you're like most smaller businesses, probably not much.

And that's OK - you don't need to own Twitter, you just need enough people tweeting about you to dive traffic to your site.

The best way to get people tweeting about you? Tweet about them. If you don't do much on Twitter, think about setting a new year's resolution to spend 10 minutes on Twitter each day. Tools like Hootsuite and Buffer can help you to schedule your tweets and better understand your traffic.
In the mean time, there's a new version of Twitter out there that's generating some positive buzz - here are the highlights from Social Media Examiner.

If you feel like kind of a Luddite these days, don't despair, among other things, people send 168 million emails every minute. If you don't have a robust email program, you probably need one, unless you're letting coupon sites like Groupon and LivingSocial do your email marketing for you.

Even if you are, do you really want to pay for your email by discounting your product by 50 percent? It's time to price out this tradeoff - there are a number of email services geared towards list building for smaller businesses, including Constant Contact, but there are others.

Do the math - how many customers have you gotten through these coupon sites and what did it cost you in discounting? What would happen if you invested this amount of money on an email program?

Need an experienced eye on your email, Facebook, and Twitter strategies? Wondering what the heck Pinterest is? I can help. Drop me a line.

News this Week: Dilbert, Congress, and K-Mart Angels

What should you be paying attention to this week? 

Angel. Flickr user Ewan Traveler.
From blogger Sarah Gallagher at Gears and Shifts, some words on employee morale and office culture based on the wisdom of Dilbert.

Your takeaway: It's time to look in the mirror. Are you allowing, fostering, or participating in anything that contributes to poor treatment or poor morale for employees? Are you using resources to benefit the company, or your own convenience? Are you rewarding identical behavior in some people, but not others? Make 2012 the year you treat your employees better and provide opportunities for them to grow. If you've got a bad boss, make 2012 the year you stop responding to bullying and other poor treatment and/or embrace a new opportunity.

As I'm writing this, Congress has finally approved a two-month extension on the payroll tax cut.

Your takeaway: I wrote about this possibility back in August -  and how it might make 2012 a more difficult year for pretty much everybody. The Obama administration helped things along with a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #40Dollars - asking Americans to tell Republicans what it would mean to us to lose $40 out of each two-week paycheck. You can find out more about the campaign and what $40 means to some people from this infographic, released by The White House. Let's hope Congress does the right thing and extends the payroll tax cut all the way through 2012.

Finally, in even better news, Secret Santas all over the country are paying off layaway accounts for strapped K-Mart shoppers, and a new study finds that Americans are, on average, more generous that people from any other country, with three out of five giving to charity and two out of five doing volunteer work this year, despite the poor economy. ( and ABC News)

Your takeaway? Who can you help between now and the end of the year? Take some cookies to a friend (or make a new one), walk the dog for an elderly neighbor, or make an extra gift to charity. The world will only get better if we make it that way.

Happy Holidays and thanks for reading!

Some Holiday Thoughts for 2011

From Flickr User ThisParticularGreg.
The week before Christmas is always so hectic, whether you celebrate the holiday or not.

People running around, getting ready to be away from work and school next week, and getting all that last minute baking and shopping done.

I'm not going to give you any new marketing advice this week - though if you have any super last-minute promotions, now's the time - but encourage you to take a minute to remember why you're in business in the first place.

What's the most important thing about your business?

The people.

Your employees, partners, vendors, clients and customers. 

You might have an A-1 business plan, the latest technology, and a super-cool product, but it won't make a difference if you don't honor, respect, and connect with the people in your working life.

Take some time today to say thanks - to your customers for buying, to your vendors and clients for doing business, and to your employees and partners for their support. Without recognition and positive energy, your best customers and employees will be seeking greener pastures. Your vendors perform better when they know you appreciate what they do.

I also want to thank you for reading this blog and for doing business with me. Without your support, feedback, and wonderful projects, I wouldn't be here. I hope that you and yours enjoy a warm, wonderful holiday season this year as a wonderful prelude to a successful 2012.

News this Week: Kindle Fire, Holiday Sales, Online Tracking

What should you be paying attention to this week?

Three new tools to help you track everything you do online - if you're terrible at keeping track of all that great content you see in your daily journeys through Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere, EgoArchive, Memolane, and Greplin can help.

Your takeaway: I don't know about you, but I'm a little squeamish about archiving my entire online life online. At the same time, I am always losing cool links. These might be worth considering if you're starting a blog or wanting to raise your social media presence, but can't keep your content organized. 
Holiday retail sales continue to be a bright spot, says the National Retail Federation, which just raised this year's sales forecast to $469.1 billion. (New York Times)

Your takeaway:
Here are four ways to stay relevant after Cyber Monday, including Free Shipping Day, which is December 16th. On the other side of the coin, if sales are doing so well, what's with so many empty shopping malls? This economy isn't all better yet.

The new Kindle Fire already has software update on the way, due to several major complaints, including an unresponsive touch screen, slow browsing, and lack of privacy. (Washington Post)

Your takeaway: You can never do too much product testing. Make sure you're including people who are familiar and totally new to the product. Sometimes it's a good thing to slow your roll and get it right, rather than invite poor product reviews and disgruntled customers.
What's up with you this week? Drop me a line and let me know.
Have a good weekend, and thanks for reading.

Time to Set Your Business Goals for 2012

So your holiday season is cooking along - you got through Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Green Monday, and hopefully you're all signed up for Free Shipping Friday, which is coming right up on December 16th.
Martini. Flickr user Adrian Hoffmann.

Take a little time out of the hustle and bustle to think about some key priorities for 2012. These may include:
Maximizing. Make a new years resolution to explore the potential on top of a new channel, like mobile or social. If you're already there, then maybe it's time to look at your PR or advertising in a new way.
Organizing. How do you organize your web content, photos, videos, enewsletters, and other assets? Are they managed in a way that makes them easy to find and allows for easy re-use? If not, it may be time to revisit your content management systems.
Motivating. Your salespeople (whether you have one or one thousand) need inspiration to keep on moving. Take another look at your incentive program. Are the incentives attainable? Are rewards frequent enough (monthly or quarterly) to keep people motivated? Is everyone participating? If the answer to these questions is "no" then revamp your program and see your sales rise as a result. People are not robots - they need to be incentivized, recognized, and rewarded to perform.
Networking. It's hard to get out there when we're so busy. If you're not a regular networker, challenge yourself to meet some new people this year. If you're not active on LinkedIn, set a goal of joining a group and participating regularly this year. If you're already there, challenge yourself to get to at least one live event in the first three months of 2012. If you're actively networked but your employees aren't, help them get started - new contacts benefit everyone in your organization.

What do you want to accomplish in 2012 and how will you get there? Please share.
Need help putting together your plan for success? Let me know.

Four Ways to Stay Relevant for the Holidays

You've had a successful Black Friday and Cyber Monday this year, and now you're cruising towards home - just another couple of weeks and then it's visions of sugarplums while you get a little rest.

But your numbers haven't stayed up, and you're finding that now your numbers are actually LOWER than last year. Your Thanksgiving sales strategy brought in plenty of customers in November, but now they've moved on to other deals.

Holiday cheer. Photo: Flickr user Glennharper.
How do you light a fire under your customers? Here are four ways to keep the traffic coming.

1) Give a special offer to people who bought right after Thanksgiving. They should have their orders by now and if they like what they bought, they may want to purchase again.

2) Do a winback campaign for past buyers who didn't buy this year. Give them a reason to buy from you again.

3) Keep your customers in the loop - about new specials, deadlines (like for free shipping or Christmas delivery).

4) Don't forget other holidays - depending on who is in your customer base, your buyers may be honoring the Winter Solstice, celebrating Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Boxing Day. Don't forget Saturnalia or Gluten Free Baking Week. Did you know that December is also National Tie Month? Most importantly, December 16 is National Chocolate Covered Anything Day. OK, so I'm getting carried away, but the bottom line is that Christmas is only one holiday - bring in more customers by including people celebrating all kinds of things this month.

Need help planning your observance of National Whiner's Day? Let me know - I can help. First step - no whining.

News this Week: Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Niche Social Networks

What should you be paying attention to this week?

Don't forget about some of those smaller, niche social networks, like Instagram, Pinterest, Foodspotting, and one of my favorites, Ravelry, which is for knitters. (Mashable)

Holiday cheer from Flickr user John-Morgan.
Your takeaway: Think about applications for these carefully. It can be time and energy-consuming to put yourself on yet another social network, but if you can make one of these work for you, you'll have far less competition on something like Pinterest than, say, Facebook.

Black Friday 2011 has been judged a success, with the National Retail Federation estimating sales up $11.5 billion over 2008 sales and up $7.5 billion over last year. Retailers really pulled out all the stops this year - some even opening on Thanksgiving itself to boost sales. Many (though unfortunately not all) consumers had a better year in 2011 than 2010 - paying off debt and saving more, leading to more spending this year.

Cyber Monday 2011 was also bigger than ever, a 33% jump over last year, with social media and mobile (especially tablet) use contributing to the numbers in more significant ways. Customers looked for recommendations, shared deals, and did their comparison shopping, and ended up spending more than expected.

Your takeaway: I hope your Thanksgiving strategies boosted your business this year too, but there are still plenty of people who aren't going to be able to give their families the holiday they wish they could without a little help. Enough people had a better year this year to boost holiday retail sales, but there are still millions of people out of work who could use a boost. If you have means, consider giving a little more to your favorite charity this year.

How's Your Week Going So Far?

It's been a big week so far...

According to the National Retail Federation, 226 million shoppers spent $52.5 billion on Black Friday, an average of $398 per person. This is up 14 million shoppers, $7.5 billion overall, and $33 per shopper compared to last year. The stock market has been feeling optimistic all week.

From Flickr user storebukkebruse.
So far, the word on Cyber Monday is positive, too, with Multichannel Merchant reporting a 33% increase in sales over 2010 numbers. Average order value was also up - about $5 over last year to $198.  See this article for other important points - like the mobile device/tablet factor, and the effect of social media on shopping.

So, is it time to celebrate yet?

Sure, but you're not done yet, unless you're 100% sold out of merchandise and you've surpassed all of your annual goals. Sometimes early good news means bad news later - we won't really know how the 2011 holiday season is really doing until the after-Christmas sales are over.

Still, this seems like an auspicious beginning to me - customers are feeling more optimistic than last year,  merchants are offering lots of deals and options, and people may have a bit more cash for gifts, having paid down record amounts of consumer debt over the past few years.

What's next?

Keep going - your customers are still looking for gift ideas, new packages, and great deals. Shopping may slacken a bit later this week, but it will swell again the week of December 11th as shipping deadlines loom with major retailers. Make sure you're staying in touch with customers who've bought once - if they've had a good experience buying Mom's gift from you, they may come back things to give Dad, Sis, or Aunt May.

How's your week going? Drop me a line and let me know.

Last Minute Thanksgiving Preparations

And I don't mean the cranberry sauce.

From Flickr user Christina Rutz.
Your biggest sales days of the year are most likely in the next week - Black Friday, Super Saturday and Sunday, and Cyber Monday will be some of your biggest days this year. While you still have a minute to breathe, let's make sure you're ready. Have you....

1) Checked and double checked your email promotions? You may be sending them already. In any case, do one more check to make sure the links work, everything's spelled correctly, and your prices are right.

2) Done your keyword research? Thanksgiving sales are search intensive, so it's a good idea to make sure your metadata is in place. A little SEO now can generate a lot of sales this week.

3) Gotten your IT in order? Make sure your web server has extra capacity set up, and that you have an emergency contact in place - someone who is available over the weekend if your servers go down.

4) Pumped up your customer service staff? Do you have enough people working in your stores, answering your phones, dealing with your web chat, and answering emails? You risk losing orders (and next year's customers) by not being 100% responsive.

5) Lined up your logistics? Is your warehouse ready to ship a higher volume of orders than usual? Do you have enough stock of all of your sale items? Have you set up the infrastructure to support all of your package deals?

Sounds like you're all set and ready to go! Have a prosperous holiday season!

How's your busy season? Drop me a line and let me know.

Related posts

The Procrastinator's Guide to Cyber Monday

Get Your Holiday Sales On

News this Week: Yelp, Google, Cyber Monday

What should you be paying attention to this week?

Yelp users in Corvallis, OR have their own logo.
First, online review site Yelp has filed for an IPO in hopes of raising about $100 million. Yelp generates income from local advertising, and though it made $58.4 million from January - September of this year, it still isn't profitable. (Mashable)

What's Next: Watch for news from analysts who are looking at the volatile and competitive marketplace, and where Yelp fits in with brands like Groupon, LivingSocial, and Angie's List. Will be interesting to see where this one goes.

Google Checkout is over, replaced by Google Wallet. Wallet's ease of use means that consumers are adopting it at a far faster rate than they ever used Google Checkout. (Search Engine Land)

Your takeaway: It's always a good idea to make sure that consumers can buy from you using as many options as possible. You don't want to miss sales because you're not available.

Cyber Monday is the biggest online shopping day of the year, and it's 10 days away. If you're not 100% solid on what you're doing to drive customers to your brand, here's a procrastinators guide to Cyber Monday.

Don't mess this up: If you think you can sit this one out, don't. Last year, consumers spent more than $1 billion on the Monday after Thanksgiving.

Need help with holiday strategy and business planning? Let me know

Have a great weekend, and thanks for reading.

The Procrastinator's Guide to Cyber Monday

It's only a few weeks to Cyber Monday, and I really hope you have your online promotions already planned. 

Target's dashboard helps shoppers find things quickly.

Why? According to ComScore, the Monday after Thanksgiving in 2010 was the highest spending day of the year - consumers spent more than $1 billion online, up 16% over the year before.

Even if you're the CEO of procrastination, it's time to stop living in denial and understand that you can't pass up this opportunity. Your customers are expecting deals and you need to provide them. Here's how to make the most of the biggest shopping day of the year:

1) Make your deals easy to understand  - is it $10 toys, 50 gifts under $50, 100 ten dollar ties? Whatever you can do to group products or make them easier to find gives you an edge. Make your pricing prominent- people do a LOT of comparison shopping on Cyber Monday, so your price is important. Don't be fooled into too much discounting, though - consumers don't always buy the cheapest thing.

2) SEO is key for Cyber Monday - make sure you're using the "Cyber Monday" keyword and you're using strong title tags and metadata. Time now on keyword research will drive great organic search results later. Think about how you would search if you were really in a hurry, validate those assumptions using the Google Adwords Keywords tool, and tag away.

3) Don't forget to advertise, but remember that all of your customers are expecting you to have a Cyber Monday sale. Ads are more expensive this time of year (and at this late date), but it can't hurt to check pricing on popular shopping sites like to see what you can do. That said, the best people to message are those that already like your brand - make sure your current email subscribers know that you're having a sale and do some deals just for them.

4) Don't ignore logistics. You can package 10 toys for $100, but it'll all blow up in your face if you don't have the stock to support a higher volume of orders than you're used to. Make sure your supply chain, your web server, and your shipping department are ready for an increase in sales. If there are products you don't have very many of that are difficult to re-stock, don't put them on sale. Promote items that are profitable, that you can turn around quickly, and for which you have adequate supplies.

Need help preparing for a big Cyber Monday? Let me know. I can help.

News This Week: Smartphone Use, Google+ and You

What should you be paying attention to this week?

His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama. Photo: Flickr user Abhikrama.

First, for all of us thinking about mobile, it's important to remember that only 37.4% of US mobile users have a smartphone. (This blog, and Business Insider)

Your takeaway: This is good to consider as you invest in mobile apps and marketing. A simple text messaging campaign has the potential to do far more than an expensive app, depending on who is in your core audience.

Second, Google+ has opened up company pages. These look the same as people pages, but there's a little icon to indicate that they are branded pages. More on this from Mashable, including instructions on making your own company page.

Your takeaway: This is going to make Google+ a true competitor and possible game changer in the social world - now business can really be done on Google+. I'd recommend that you try to spend a few minutes with Google+ sometime in the next few weeks to determine if you need a presence and how much time it might take to maintain it. By some reports, most people on Google+ are either involved in the tech or social media world, but when brands like Coke and Target start doing promotions on there, more people will follow. Also, content like the Dalai Lama - Desmond Tutu birthday hangout will bring more people to Google+ to see what's possible.

Have a great weekend, and thanks for reading!

The Facts About Mobile Marketing

I've been talking a lot about mobile marketing on this blog lately - ruminating about the wisdom behind investing in mobile apps, thinking about how customers use their mobile phones while they engage with your brand, and reporting on current mobile news.

That's all fine and good, but it's important to take all of this with a grain of salt.

Chart from Business Insider/Asymco.
Why? Check out this chart, from the folks at Business Insider and Asymco. I'm reposting it here, because it's really, really important. 

What stands out? While the US still has the largest smartphone market (China is catching up), only 37.4% of mobile phone users have a smartphone. Android is the most common, with 39 million users. Apple smartphones have about 24 million users.

So, what does that mean? 

Although smartphone adoption is continuing to rise, the vast majority - 62.6% - are not on a smartphone. That means many of your customers can't use all those fancy apps - they can't use your special app, they can't find you on Yelp or RedLaser or anything else, they can't download coupons or reviews or anything else.

So, how do you reach them?

This is why you have multiple channels - you'll need to keep paying attention to your web site, support a robust email program, and (gasp!) answer the phone to make sure you're reaching everyone, unless all of your customers are urban, high-income people between the ages of 25 and 39. And don't forget good, old fashioned text messaging. One of my favorite local bars handles free dessert coupons via text - that's right - no fancy app, no downloads- just a text and a free dessert.

Need help reaching a diverse customer population? Let me know - I can help.

News This Week: Women, Siri, Real Time

What should you be paying attention to this week?

The world's women are now responsible for more of the world's economy than men, controlling $20 trillion in yearly consumer spending in 2009, a figure that will continue to rise in the next five years. (Harvard Business Review)

Your takeaway: Don't ignore your female customers, but don't patronize them either. It's not about "making it pink" - women don't  need pink web sites or pink merchandise to embrace your brand. We need quality products, easy access to reviews and other product data, and a way to talk to our friends about it.

To the women's only train cars in India. Photo: Flickr user Zoonabar.

The iPhone 4S's new digital assistant, Siri, is down. According to this article, Apple was unable to be reached for comment. (Business Insider)

Your takeaway: Bugs happen, seemingly no  matter how much you test. Don't ignore them and get them resolved as quickly as you can. Communicate progress via all possible channels and make it right. Customers become more loyal when you prove that you stand behind what you do.

Google Analytics Real Time tells you what's happening on your site right now, and is now available to people with the new version of the Analytics software. (Google)

Your takeaway: Real Time can be really useful to determine the immediate impact of social media posts - on your blog, Facebook, Twitter, or on other networks. Even more useful, you'll be able to see when  your social media stops working - how long does a Facebook post last, or a Tweet?

Have a good weekend, and thanks for reading!

Your Business and Mobile Users

So you're feeling pretty good about your multi-channel strategy - you're using a good mix of social, PR, advertising, online, mail, and whatever else you can think of.

Then, like lots of people, you find out from the nice folks at Pew Internet that half of adult cell phone users have apps on their phones. That rate has doubled in the past two years and will likely continue to increase as people trade in their old phones for new smartphone devices.

Android. Flickr user osde8info.

Crap, you say. Another channel to manage? But I'm already customizing content for so many channels. I just can't take on anything else!

Not to worry, you're going to be OK. Here's what to do:

1) Just because people are using apps, doesn't mean you have to invest in your own mobile app. Just make sure you're available to mobile users in a variety of ways, like, for example:

2) Be available on popular check-in apps, like Foursquare. You want to be findable and sharable.

3) People do a lot of comparison shopping on their smartphones while they are shopping in your store, so make sure your prices are available on comparison shopping apps like Price Check and RedLaser.

4) People also look for restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and other hangouts using their phones, and check reviews on the way, so if you have this kind of venue, make sure you're findable on Yelp and Urban Spoon.

5) Last but not least, make sure your site is optimized for mobile. If you're going to invest in mobile, this is where your dollars should go, long  before you develop your own app, which you might not even need.

Still going crazy with too many channels? Drop me a line. I can help.

News This Week: Shopping Habits of Frugalistas, Curated Content

Early online shopping. Flickr user Garethjmsaunders.
What should you be paying attention to this week?

39% of Americans
have already started their holiday shopping, and some frugalistas are already done. Retailers discounted aggressively in October, and without any one toy or tech gadget rising to the top as this year's must have, there's no reason for shoppers to wait.

Your Takeaway: How are you helping holiday shoppers plan their shopping and get great deals? Help them get organized with gift lists and gift ideas by type of recipient. Click here more posts from this blog about holiday planning.

Macy's, Target and other major retailers now using editorial and curated content to drive sales. Macy's and Target both launched online magazine-type sites that include trending news, fashion guides, and user-generated content to help guide shoppers to the right looks.

Your Takeaway: You're probably not in a position to create something on the magnitude of what Macy's and Target are doing, but that doesn't mean you can't give your customers a little more guidance. Consider putting together outfits or other sets of product that go together, linking relevant posts from your blog to your product, and bringing up the prominence of customer generated content on your site. This doesn't just mean customer reviews - get customers to send you pics and videos of them using your products, and you may gain some marketing gold.

Consumers shop in stores but buy online, finds a new survey by electronics site The most typical behavior is for today's frugalista customers to find something in your store that they like, and then use their smartphones to compare other retailer's pricing and availability to yours.

Your takeaway: How will you measure up when customers do this? People don't always buy the least expensive thing, but you'll need to be competitive, on service and quality as well as price. Also, now is a good time to make sure your site is optimized for mobile and you're available on check-in sites like FourSquare. After all, people will be in your competitors' stores checking your prices, too.

Have a great weekend, and thanks for reading.

Your Customer Referral Program

Friends. Flickr user Glennharper.
What customer referral program, you ask?

The one you should have already.

The one you need to start this week. Here's why:

  •  90% of customers seek others' opinions before making a purchase - using online customer reviews, Facebook, forums, and other tools to validate their purchasing decision. When we read online reviews and forum posts, we don't know who is putting forward their opinion, and it's sometimes hard to know whether or not to trust those opinions, and...
  • People naturally trust the opinions of people they know over people they don't know, and it's vital that you make it easy for your most satisfied customers to tell everyone they know how great you are.
Simple enough, right?

How do you get started? Here are some ideas:

  • On your web site, add a "tell a friend" button, where your customers can send your home page to others - on email and via social networks. Even better? Go one step further and let people share specific products with one another.
  • Once a customer has made their purchase - add a "tell a friend what you just bought" button to the purchase confirmation page. 
  • Make sure customers are able to share product reviews - their own or other people's - on email and via social networks.
  • Add a page to allow customers to request catalogs for a friend, or a copy of your latest enewsletter.
  • Reward referrals with discounts on future purchases. Give customers points or dollars towards their next order when they refer a new customers.
Need help getting it done? Drop me a line.

News This Week: Postal Rates, Facebook Posts, Ads and Economy

What should you be paying attention to this week?

Mailbox. From Flickr user Pocius.
The United States Postal Service has announced a postal rate increase, effective January 22, 2012. The average increase is 2.1% - it will be more for some types of mail and less for others. (Multichannel Merchant)

Your takeaway: If direct mail is part of your strategy, your marketing just got more expensive. If you ship products to your customers via USPS, that just got more expensive too. Crunch the numbers carefully to figure out what this might cost you, and look for creative ways to save - there are lower increases on certain sizes of mail, and you might evaluate different carriers for your customer shipments and see if you can lock in some lower pricing now.

The average lifetime of a Facebook post is 22 hours and 51 minutes for comments and likes, according to researcher Jeff Widman of PageLever. See more information on his study at Entrepreneur.

Your takeaway: You need to post on Facebook daily or you run the risk of being forgotten. If this sounds overwhelming, tools like Hootsuite help you schedule posts ahead of time so you don't forget. I like to do a social calendar on a weekly basis - for my clients, I sit down each Friday and plan out the posts for the following week, mapping them to inventory needs and what else is going on in the marketing calendar at large. If things change, I can always reschedule or change posts as needed.

Advertisers trying to connect with consumers are referencing the poor economy more often in their messaging these days - a tactic they dropped when the economy started to improve a bit last year. This is a risk, as consumers don't want to be reminded of bad news, but do connect to ads referencing bail-outs and Wall Street fat cats. (Marketplace)

Your takeaway: A great deal always resonates, whether you reference current events or not. Connect with customers with a great deal, attentive service, and quality products. Be prepared to be nimble - the changing landscape out there means that an ad that takes six months to produce might be outdated by the time it's ready if it's based on this week's news.

Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend!

What's Getting in Your Way?

Is there something getting in your way? Something keeping you from moving to the next stage of the game? If you're having trouble moving forward right now, today is a good day for a little business therapy.

Tito may be keeping me from full combo score on my dance game.

Some things to think about...

1) On what issue exactly are you having trouble moving forward? Creating a budget for next year? Completing your marketing plan? Putting together a press package? Identify where you're getting stuck.

2) Do you have too many goals? Just as it's probably not a good idea for a person to try to lose 30 pounds, get a new job, and learn a foreign language all at the same time, you might not want to try a creating a formal forecasting process, 5-year business plan, and a first-time press package all in the same 30-day period. Figure out which goal is the most important to get to first, and work on that. Sometimes giving certain projects a little rest can be immensely helpful. You'll come back later with fresh perspective and renewed energy.

3) Do you need help? Remember that it's OK to ask for help. This is where your network becomes a huge resource. Ask folks in businesses like yours (and different) how they are dealing with the issues you've been having. This is a great way to get some creative solutions, and make deeper connections.

What's holding you up? I'm here to listen, so drop me a line.

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Setting Your Goals

Get Your Holiday Sales On

From Flickr user Christina Rutz.
So we're about halfway through October, and it's time to put the final touches on your holiday sales planning. For most retailers, the winter holidays are the busiest time of year. This is when everyone's buying, and everyone's expecting a deal.

In fact, the National Retail Federation forecasts a better holiday season this year, with sales up 2.8% to $465.6 billion. Of course you want your share, so here's what to consider while you're finalizing your plans:

Do you have all the decor you need?

You should have approved designs and ordered everything a couple of months ago. Everything should be arriving now. Give it a thorough inspection and call your purveyors if anything is out of order. If all looks good, get it out to your stores with their new plan-o-grams, which they should implement right after Halloween.

What's your online plan?

While you were ordering your holiday decor, you were also approving designs for your web site to match. It's always a good idea to be a little more festive at this time of year - substitute some warm wintry graphics and put holiday sellers forward and move non-seasonal items back. Of course, the holiday promotions you've planned should go front and center.

What's your email plan?

Now that your stores and web site are updated, you can work on your holiday themed emails. These should be highlighting your deals and special sales events - Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and one or two more before the end of December. Consider a Hanukkah event, a last-minute event, and a deadline-oriented event - "last day to get free shipping" or "last day for 10% of orders of $80 or more..." kinds of things.

Are you staffed?

I hope you've already hired everyone that you need to start November 1. This includes warehouse staff, call center folks, and regular retail personnel. If not, help this year's lackluster job market by hiring people now. There are plenty of talented, motivated people out there who'd love a chance to build your business while they build a career.

I hope you're ready for a strong holiday season this year. Need help? Drop me a line and let's get our sale on.

News this week: Places Facebook isn't used, Online Shopping, Blackberry Outage

What should you be paying attention to this week?

Blackberry. Flickr user Arrayexception.
In more bad news for Blackberry maker Research In Motion, which is really taking a hit from the more popular iPhone and Droid devices, a huge Blackberry outage spread this week from Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and South America on to parts of the US and Canada - seems to be stemming from a switch problem. (Mashable)

Your takeaway: No matter what kind of device you use most, think about what you'll do if it's not working. I always stay a few tweets and Facebook posts ahead using tools like HootSuite, just in case. My email and contacts are backed up in a couple of different ways, and so are my other files.

Artist Ian Wotjowicz has used maps from NASA to generate a picture of where Facebook has the most users, and which places it hasn't penetrated. Still available for Faceover are places in Asia and North Africa. (Business Insider)

Your takeaway: You probably don't need to take over the world to grow your business, but it's a good idea to regularly investigate your geographic reach and see where it would be logical to grow next. It can be especially useful to map your customers by zip code to see if there are areas that could use a little advertising love.

In a startling statistic out of Britain, it turns out that 40% of UK online shoppers make more than one online purchase per week. (Retail Week)

Your takeaway: If you're only talking to your customers once a month, that's probably not enough to keep your brand top of mind. Think about increasing the frequency of your email marketing program, and adding channels like Facebook or Twitter to get the word out more often, especially to multi-buyers. Don't ignore traditional channels like print ads and direct mail, either. A well-rounded marketing plan works best.

Have a great weekend, and thanks for reading!

Creating Your Branding Statements

So, last week we talked about building your brand and what you need to do to create meaning and strength behind your brand.  I asked you three questions:

Boxer puppy. Flickr  user MythicSeabass.
1) What do you do?

2) How are you different than the competition?

3) What do you stand for?

Now let's go through a branding exercise - we'll answer these questions for a sample brand.

Imagine that you own a small, local pet-sitting service, called Pets n' Friends. So...

1) What do you do? 

Pets n' Friends offers dog walking and pet sitting services for local pet owners and their pets.

So far, so good...

2) How are you different than the competition?

We really care about your best animal friends. Our qualified pet sitters and dog walkers are not only specially trained, bonded, and insured, they are genuine animal lovers. Our pet people love spending time with your pets - interacting with them, snuggling them, walking them, and playing with them. We offer great value, with weekly, monthly, and annual packages tailored right to your pets' needs.

Great job! And finally...

3) What do you stand for?

At Pets n' Friends, we feel like your best animal friends deserve the best quality of care, even when you can't be there. We believe that pets that have lots of caring people around are the happiest and healthiest, so we've designed a full suite of programs for play, exercise, and companionship.

Well, there you go. How would you describe your brand?

Need help? Let me know.

News This Week: Steve Jobs, Google+

What should you be paying attention to this week?

From Flickr user Monoko.
It turns out that Google's senior management isn't using Google+. (Mashable)

Your takeaway: Do you and your employees use your product? If not, why not? Even if you wouldn't naturally be the target audience for your offering, find a way to use it.

The major (and unfortunate) story this week is that Steve Jobs has died from pancreatic cancer. He's the reason we have icons on our desktops, we use a mouse to navigate, and that computer use is accessible to people who aren't engineers. You're reading this blog thanks to technology that Steve Jobs and his Apple colleagues pioneered. We're all forever in his debt for unleashing the power of the computer to the masses. The Internet is full of tributes to him, and questions about what Apple will do now. One of my favorite Steve Jobs quotes is:

"Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary." 

Your takeaway:  Life is short. Now is a good time to re-evaluate what you're doing with your time, and with your business and your brand. Do you like what you do? Are you proud of it? Is it a good fit with your values? Are you making progress? If you're answering these questions with "no," think about other directions you might consider.

Have a rejuvenating weekend, and thank you for reading my blog. 

Building Your Brand

Brand. From Flickr user DentalBen.
What's your brand?

Your company name? Sure.

Your main product? OK.

Your visual identity - your logo and colors? All right.

That's a start.

But the strongest brands mean something. The strongest brands stand for something.

Now it's time for you to decide what your brand stands for.

Here's a simple exercise to get you started - ask yourself these questions:

1) What do you do? This is the core of your brand. Do you make clothes for children, sell organic produce, provide computer repair service, help people plan vacations?

2) How are you different than the competition? This is your value proposition. Are those children's clothes more affordable? Is the produce locally grown? Is the computer service guaranteed? Are the vacations more luxurious? These key differentiators help you articulate the value you offer to your customers.

3) What do you stand for? The very best brands are memorable because they stand for something larger - something bigger than a product or service. Do you believe that great children's clothes help kids stay more active and learn more? Do you believe that locally-grown organic produce is the key to our health and our economy? Do you believe that businesses are hurt by poor IT service? Or do you believe that travel can be a transformative experience that causes people to change the world?

Attempt to answer these questions, and you'll be closer to understanding how to strengthen your brand. These answers should be reflected in all of your communications - from your in-store merchandising to your catalogs, to your web site, PR, and social media.

You'll notice that I didn't say a word here about your logo, colors, or company name. While these things can make a difference to your business, the real difference is defining what stands behind them.

Need help articulating your brand? Drop me a line.

News This Week: Facebook Changes, Email Charter, Bank Fees

Tito is horrified by BofA. He can still get tuna, right? 
What should you be paying attention to this week?

First, Facebook has made some massive changes to the way user feeds look and information is organized. Some of the engagement tools are really cool.

On the other hand, early results are bad for small and medium-sized brands - those with only a few hundred or few thousand fans may find themselves disappearing from fan feeds. Check your Facebook insights to see if your impression numbers are affected. That's what I'm noticing for the corporate Facebook pages I manage. Look for fixes soon - there will have to be workarounds or brands will start giving up on Facebook, which Zuckerberg won't like. (Search Engine Watch)

Next, do you find that email is taking over your time, and not in a good way? I often feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of email that I receive. I am a conscientious person who tries to read everything, but I sometimes find I'm deleting information that may be important because I know I'll never get to it in favor of trying to get to the stuff I know that I have to respond to, which is often more urgent, but less important. Check out the Email Charter, which is trying to change all that. I have to say I'm on board!

Finally, Bank of America is going to start charging customers $5 a month for use of a debit card, starting in 2012. This is as a result of Congress capping the fees that banks can charge retailers for accepting debit card purchases.   (Business Insider)

What does this mean for you?

Take a look at how many of your customers are using their debit cards to buy with you - these customers will now either have to pay cash or use a debit card to avoid this $5 fee. It's hard to say what kind of affect this will have - debit cards sure are convenient and $60 a year may not be enough to make most consumers avoid using them. Are people really going to stop using their cards? Early chatter is more oriented around customers boycotting Bank of America, rather than ceasing to use their debit cards. Definitely keep an eye on this one if your customers use debit cards.

Have a great weekend, and thanks for reading! What do you think of this week's  news?

Improve Your Web Site

Now is a great time to take another look at your web site.


Old-school web site. Photo: Flickr user Cybershotking.
It's a smart idea to do a regular site audit. Sometimes when we upgrade our design and update our content, important things get lost. Take some time today to go through this checklist:

  • Is it easy for users to find multiple ways to contact you (online form, phone, email, live chat)? Is your contact information on every page?
  • Are your navigation bars intuitive, and complete on every page?
  • Does your search function deliver results that make sense? 
  • Do graphics download quickly?
  • Does your site look good using different web browsers and screen resolution?
  • Does the user's natural progression through your site end in the result you want - an inquiry, purchase, or other engagement?
  • Are you promoting your other customer channels, like Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn so users can join you there?

Hopefully you can answer yes to all of these questions. If not, fix these now, before they cost you more sales. Need help? Let me know.

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Starting Your Marketing Plan

So you you've been updating your Twitter account like a good kid, posting to Facebook often, but not too often, you make sure your blog and your web site always have fresh content, and you may finally get that press release done this week. For some reason, though, you feel like none of this is helping. The traffic just isn't coming.

Planning Essentials: Photo: Flicker user JacQueLyne

Because it's not part of a larger marketing strategy. Twitter, Facebook, blogs, web site, and PR are tactics, not strategies.  These tools play their part to support a larger plan. If you don't have a larger plan, then won't realize their true potential to grow your business.

OK, so now what?

I like to lay out an annual plan, mapping out the year and determining some major themes. Marketing events might include promotions around holidays, the launch of a catalog, a major web site update, and a quarterly PR push. This is also a good time to think about new product that will be launching in the next year, where that goes on your marketing calendar and what you'll be doing around it.

"But, I can't possibly think of every single tweet, Facebook update, or blog post I'm going to do for the next year!" you say.

And you're right. You'll plan those things out on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, depending on how you prefer to work. It's important, now, though, to lay out your year so you can see what needs to be done in advance. For example, if you're launching a major new product line in the next year, you'll need to build in time to update your web site, put together a new catalog, write a press release, and make sure the rest of your online properties are updated.

Your Takeaway?

Set a goal to put together a marketing plan for 2012 by the end of October. Think about what your major campaigns will be, and what you'll need to do to execute them. I'm happy to review what you've put together and offer my feedback. You can connect to me on twitter at @leahibraheem or on LinkedIn here.

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News This Week: Google+, Facebook, Gifting

What should you be paying attention to this week?

News - Google+ has opened access to everyone - no more invites required. It now also has search functionality, which really seemed like an odd oversight to begin with - a social network created by a search company that doesn't have search? Glad they resolved that one. This also means the war for stickiness between Google+ and Facebook is officially underway. (Mashable)

Meanwhile, Facebook has changed, among other things, the way your news updates appear, and it's now unclear whether users are getting all of their friends' updates - the "most recent" news option is gone (though you can get it back by un-designating all of your stories as top news), and Facebook now decides what's important, ticking off millions and millions of people. In cooler news, Facebook will be launching "Facebook Gestures" which means you'll be able to read, watch, and do other things in your status updates besides just "like"-ing everything. (Mashable, too)

Your takeaway: It might be time to take another look at Google+, which might be more useful now that more of your friends are on it.

At the same time, good advice from Harvard Business Review to practice a little temperance when it comes to social media. Users are feeling social network overload. Do we all really need to maintain a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Klout, LinkedIn, ReferralKey, Bebo, Ravelry, Google+, and Yammer? HBR recommends you take a good look at all of your social properties and make sure you're adding value for your followers on each one. Figure out why people are following you and tailor your content appropriately.

Finally, watch this space for more on gifting innovators like Giftly, which allows you to give a gift certificate for anything, whether the merchant is set up for gift certificates or not, Treatly, which is focused on fine dining, and LetsGiftIt, which takes the complexity out of group gifts. (FastCompany)

Your takeaway: The holiday selling season will be upon us before you know it. What are you doing to encourage more gifting this year, and how can you participate? Check out what these innovators are doing for inspiration.

Have a great weekend, and thanks for reading!

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Last week's news: Target, Twitter, Jobs

Do you need to be on Twitter?

How LinkedIn Can Help You Build Your Business

You're a consumer-oriented business, so you don't need to be on LinkedIn, right?

Wrong. There's plenty on LinkedIn for you, even if you're not using it to sell directly to your customers.

Chain links. Photo: Flickr User Horia Varlan.
1) It's a great place to connect with others practicing your craft. Join groups, keep abreast of the news, and share ideas with folks who do what you do.

2) It's a great place to find vendors. Need an accountant? Need a PR or marketing manager? You can go on LinkedIn to read profiles and recommendations, and then connect to do business with just the click of a mouse.

3) It's a great place to recruit new employees. Search for the expertise you need, post open positions, and recruit. Find people who know people you know - people you can trust.

If you're looking for more ways to use LinkedIn to build your business, click here for an excellent post from Guy Kawasaki. 

Are you on LinkedIn? It would be great to connect with you there. Click here to connect with me.

Why All Marketing is Local

OK, all marketing isn't really local, but local marketing should be a strong component of your marketing strategy, whether your customers are consumers or other businesses. Why?

Local businesses. Flickr user RachelVorhees.
1) Being local gives you a natural connection to your customers. You're from the same place. You live and work in the same place, and this gives you a serious, valid reason to support one another.

2) You'll be able to make face-to-face connections. This is especially important if your customers are other businesses. You can call on new and prospective clients in person, sharing local stories, and building long-term connections. Your customers won't need to wait for you to fly into town to see you - you'll be able to stop by anytime. If you sell to consumers, you'll also be able to invite them to your store or call on them much more easily.

3) You'll have a much better understanding of the market than your non-local competition. Since you'll be selling to people who live and work in the same community as you do, you'll have an intrinsic understanding of the needs, environment, and conditions of that community. Knowing your local market inside and out will put you one rung above your non-local competition.

How do you access that local network? Simple is best - use your local papers (web and print properties), local events, local chambers of commerce and business groups, and local groups on LinkedIn to connect. Facebook also allows you to advertise by location, so you can find local customers there as well. Don't forget other networks that focus on local business reviews - like Yelp, ServiceMagic, and MerchantCircle.

What are you doing to strengthen your connection to your local community? Please share in the comments.

Are you local to the DC area? Drop me a line or let's connect on Twitter or LinkedIn.

News This Week: Target, Twitter, Jobs

What should you be paying attention to this week?

Sold-out Missoni suitcase. Image: Target.

The price of success: Target's Missoni sales event generated more traffic than on Black Friday, and more traffic than its site could handle, locking out desperate Frugalistas for hours. (Consumerist)

Your takeaway: Do you know how much traffic your site can really handle? What's your backup plan? Do you need to expand your bandwidth? Now's a good time to investigate your limits, just in case.

Because knowing is half the battle: In an appeal to businesses, Twitter launches a new analytics tool. The new Twitter Web Analytics will help users understand how their web properties are shared across twitter, how much traffic twitter drives to their sites, and measure usage of the Tweet Button application.  (Social Media Today)

Your takeaway: According to this study, Twitter influences more purchases than Facebook, so this is great information to have all in one place. At the moment, the new tool is only available to a small group, but be sure and give it a whirl once it's available to everyone in a few weeks.

The word of the day is "job": Last week, I wrote about the American Jobs Act, which President Obama debuted in a speech on September 8th. This week, Congressional Republicans have drawn a line in the sand about taxes (they don't want to raise them), so it remains to be seen what will happen with the bill. In the mean time, here are a few things you can do to create jobs while Congress gets its deal on.

What are you thinking about this week? Please comment or drop me a line.