10 Things Every Small-Business Website Needs – Entrepreneur.com

The Web is full of horrendous sites, and we’re not just talking about bad design. There are many other elements besides how your website looks that go into making it customer-friendly — not to mention something that inspires them to actually dobusiness with you.

From thorough contact information to customer testimonials, here are the essentials that every small business website should have for it to effectively help you do business.

1. A clear description of who you are
Someone who stumbles upon your website shouldn’t have to do investigative work to figure out what, exactly, it is that you do. That means clearly stating your name and summing up your products or services right on the homepage, says John Zhuang, of Web-design and SEO-optimization firm Winning Interactive.

“Tell people this is the right website that they have been searching for,” he says. “[A clear description] will attract the visitor’s attention immediately within 2-3 seconds, and encourage them to stay on your website longer.”

2. A simple, sensible Web address
Don’t make things complicated.

“Your domain name is like your brand. It should be easy for a user to type it into a Web browser or an e-mail address,” says Ron Wright, the founder of business Web design and online marketing firm Accentix.

He adds: “I always recommend the .com domain as users are conditioned to type that extension when they enter a Web address. For non-profits or organizations, I usually recommend using a .org domain for branding purposes, but also recommend having a .com version of the domain in case a user accidentally types the .com address.”

Wright also suggests avoiding dashes (which can cause SEO headaches) and numbers (which can cause confusion for customers).

3. An easily-navigated site map
Clear links to the most important pages, and a site map, are crucial for guiding visitors to the information they’re looking for.

“Be sure your navigation is clearly laid out. I always recommend using dropdowns in the navigation menu so the visitor can see the content under every heading from virtually any page. You want to make it very easy for your visitors to find what they are looking for, or what you want them to know,” Wright suggests.

4. Easy-to-find contact information
You wouldn’t want to lose a customer to a competitor just because you made it difficult for them to get in touch with you.

“Not every online visitor has the patience to click through every page on your website to find the contact information,” says Zhuang.

“The best place for the contact information is the top left or top right corner of the home page,” he recommends. “It is also a good practice to include contact information in every page of the website in the footer or side bar or even in top right corner, which helps the visitors to find it more easily.”

You should also be sure to include several ways for them to contact you — phone, e-mail, and a standard contact form, are all good options. Forbes also suggests including your address, and even a link to your location in Google maps.

“One of the biggest mistakes business owners make is to force only one way to reach them,” says Wright. “The point is to make it very easy for users to communicate with you on their terms.”

5. Customer testimonials
Honest words from others help make your products or services more tangible to customers who are visiting you online.

“They help your potential customers to build trust in you, especially if you are new,” Zhuang says. “[And they] help shoppers to confirm whether the product [or] services meet their needs.”

“People love to hear stories from real people,” he adds. “They help people [find out] other things you haven’t said [on] your website.”

6. An obvious call to action
“Tell the online visitors literally what you want them to do with clear tones of commend,” says Zhuang. “For instance, you may want them to call you now for free quote, or sign up to your exclusively online coupons, or add products to the online shopping cart, etc.”

And, he adds, call attention to your suggestion — by using special buttons or highlighting the text, for example.

7. Know the basics of SEO
Your website won’t do you as much good if no one can stumble upon it. Become familiar with the SEO basics to make it more accessible by search engine.

“You don’t need to employ mysterious, ninja, black hat SEO types to rank well on the search engines. Simply make sure your website is coded correctly,” Wright says.

That means using the correct keywords throughout your text, putting in plenty of links, naming your page titles and URLs correctly, and employing the magic of images and videos.

8. Fresh, quality content
For many businesses, your website is your first impression on a customer. You want to give them what they’re looking for, and perhaps even give them a reason to keep coming back.

Wright says, “The user is looking for something. Make sure you give it to them…. [and be] sure your content is original, well written and valuable.”

Fresh content is a goldmine for SEO, as well. You can keep your content from getting stale (and give your company some personality, too) by incorporating a regularly-updated blog or connecting in your social media feeds.

9. A secure hosting platform
Having your online information hijacked is a nightmare, and, should it happen to your business, it could cost you customers.

“It is imperative that you have a secure, trustworthy hosting company to keep the bad guys out and your content up and running,” says Wright. “It is also very important to keep your content management system updated in order to stay one step ahead of the hackers.”

10. A design and style that’s friendly to online readers
As Forbes puts it, “Web surfers have the attention spans of drunken gnats.”

Zhuang describes it in more detail: “Online visitors often scan through a Web page to sample the content first when they open a new Web page. If they feel like they are on the right page, they will slow down to read the full story. To enhance user’s experience on your small business website, you need to organize the content for scanning.”

He recommends three style points for online writing to keep in mind:

  • Break things down into short paragraphs, with headers if necessary
  • Use bullet points
  • Highlight important words or phrases.

Wright adds, “In the end, simplicity and basic colors are the best bet. Again, the content is the focus, not dancing clowns at the top of the page.”

sources: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/217499

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Survey: Email Is 40 Times More Effective Than Facebook and Twitter

BY  via http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/230949?newsletter=true#

What? You’ve opened up that thing called “Outlook Express,” and you’re writing an email?

Surely you know that this form of marketing and communications is as pass? as floppy disks and cell phones the size of Shaquille O’Neal’s shoe.

Or is it? Now comes a McKinsey & Co. survey stating that email is a far more effective way to acquire customers than all that tweeting and posting and “liking” you’re doing on social media–nearly 40 times more than Facebook and Twitter combined.

“If you’re wondering why marketers seem intent on e-mailing you more and more,” McKinsey states, “there’s a simple explanation: it works.”

That explains our inbox.

We learned of the McKinsey survey through a post by Technorati writer Kaleel Sakakeeny, who adds that email’s advantage holds “if your goal is to acquire customers, and not just share the latest family news or travel experience.”

Depending on your perspective, McKinsey’s report may be earthshaking or simply what you’ve been telling everybody for years.

Dawn of the social media age

Since the dawn of the social media age, back when wooly mammoths roamed the plains and fur-clad hunter/gatherers crouched around the campfire tweeting selfies, contrarians have touted the necessity of email.

Ancient seer Jeremiah Owyang argued in 2009 that email was “the first–and largest–social network.” And cave scratchings in the form of a HostPapa infographic indicate that the bloody clash between email and social media was a matter of discussion way back in 2012.

More recently, Hospitality Net in December awarded three of a five-round match to email in an article titled “Email vs. Social Media–Which One Deserves Your Marketing Dollar?

“While there is a lot of hype around social media when it comes to usage, email wins hands down,” author Madigan Pratt asserts in a piece for the hotel industry.

Still, McKinsey’s research chops make its contribution to the debate significant. In its post, authors Nora Aufreiter, Julien Boudet, and Vivian Weng offer three tips for those marketing or communicating through emails. Among them: “Focus on the journey, not the click.”

“Customized landing pages–which send the user directly to the item or offer featured in the e-mail–can increase conversion rates by more than 25 percent,” the authors write. “And don’t forget mobile. Nearly 45 percent of all marketing e-mails today are opened on a mobile device.”

Tough luck for those smartphone users can’t be bothered to sit at a computer, right? They irritate everybody playing Annoying Orange’s Splatter Up during memorial services and symphony performances, anyway. Who needs them?

Well, shrug them off at your own risk, McKinsey says.

“Google says 61 percent of users are unlikely to return to a mobile site they had trouble accessing,” the article states. “And, even worse, 40 percent visit a competitor’s site instead.”

Sounds like its time not only to rethink your social media vs. email practices, but to your mobile strategy and landing pages as well.

Read the rest here.

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7 Stupid Branding Mistakes Your Small Business is Making

Courtesy of www.entrepreneur.com by BY of Entreprenuer.com

When you think about great branding, Coca Cola’s distinctive red and white lettering, Nike’s swoosh and Adidas’s three stripes likely come to mind.  But as a small business, imagining the level of investment that’s gone into these iconic images can make the thought of undertaking your own branding initiative seem overwhelming.

It’s actually easier to do than most imagine. Just make sure to avoid some common pitfalls and branding mistakes.

1. Not understanding the power of a brand. From a customer-relationship perspective, having a strong brand is obviously advantageous.  For instance, when people think of online shoe purchases, they think of Zappos. You want to have that kind of immediate, definitive relationship with your buyers as well.

Defining your brand is also valuable from an SEO perspective.  It’s something of an open secret that Google likes to prioritize branded listings in its organic search results, since visitors are more likely to click on them.  More clicks tends to equal happier customers, which means that focusing on brand building could lead to unexpected website traffic and awareness benefits.

2. Forgetting to establish defined brand guidelines. So you know that your company may to develop a brand, but what exactly does that mean?  When creating a brand identity, you’ll want to establish defined guidelines that cover all of the following elements (as well as any others that are relevant to your field). Here are a few points to consider.

  • Logo (both an overarching logo and any logo lockups your company uses for individual product lines)
  • Brand colors
  • Taglines
  • Fonts and typography
  • The “voice” used in your branded materials
  • Imagery
  • Mascots and spokespeople

Clearly, this list isn’t comprehensive.  If there’s some other branding characteristic you feel is necessary to define your business, go ahead and add it to your brand guidelines documentation.  The worst thing you could do is to avoid creating these important documents altogether.  Without them, your branding efforts will lack the consistency and direction needed for success.

3. Over complicating your brand. Take a look at how Coca Cola’s classic script logo has changed since its first usage in 1887.  While the fonts used have varied slightly, the original look is still largely intact after more than 127 years of service.

Small businesses can learn a lesson from this beverage industry giant.  When initiating the branding process, it can be tempting to add more variables than you truly need.  But your logo doesn’t need to involve six different colors, and it doesn’t need to have six individual graphic elements to represent the different arms of your company.  Clean, simple elements are more likely to be recognized and remembered by consumers, so steer clear of over complicating your company’s branded elements.

4. Falling into the vague branding trap. But then again, don’t go the opposite direction and develop brand guidelines and elements that reveal nothing about your company and its value proposition.  Chances are you’ve seen this before in generic logos or in marketing language that’s downright repetitive. For example “best-selling” books, “championship” golf courses and “award-winning” ad agencies really don’t mean anything.

Daniel Burstein, director of editorial content for MECLABS calls this type of lazy branding “wallpaper copywriting” or the use of vague, catch-all nonsense that’s been repeated so often it’s lost all meaning.

So what’s the solution?  Clear language, logos and imagery.  For a great example, take a look at the following screenshot of mobile-payment processor Square’s landing page.  Not only does the company’s logo mimic the product in a way that’s unmistakable, the value proposition stated in the company’s tagline “Start accepting credit cards today” is clear.

5. “Cheating” on your brand guidelines. So you’ve sat down, crafted careful brand guidelines and begun implementing them across all of your company’s marketing materials and online properties.  But two months down the road, you need to create a new ad for a product line you’re launching, and it’d be really great if you could use a few colors outside of the palette you specified out in your branding documentation.

Can you do it?  Of course you can. But keep in mind, every time you deviate from your stated brand guidelines, you dilute their power by some small amount.  By doing so, you’re essentially introducing a new brand image to your customers, diminishing the strength of the association they’d have to a more unified branding campaign.

6. Not policing your brand’s usage. Developing and implementing your small business’s brand guidelines is only half the battle.  In addition, you’ve got to be proactive about monitoring where and how others are using your branded elements on your behalf. If not, you could have competitors creating a logo that looks similar, a review website using your logo and not linking back or a partner publishing an ad featuring your logo but with the wrong colors.

Some of these issues may be minor, but in other situations, it may be necessary to pursue legal action if you feel your branded elements are being infringed upon.

7. Rolling out brand changes poorly. There’s nothing wrong with rebranding. That is, unless you approach it poorly.  Bear in mind any changes you make to your established brand reduces the connection you’ve built with your customers.  Therefore, it’s important to only make changes when the benefits truly outweigh the risks of losing business. If you do decide to make an alteration, you need to clearly educate your followers on the changes you’re making.

While branding is certainly a marketing discipline in its own right, it doesn’t need to be overcomplicated.  Good intentions — and avoidance of the mistakes described above — will go a long way towards helping your small business form vital connections with your target customers.

Read Article: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/231966 BY

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Feeling Down? Here Are 3 Ways to Stay Motivated

BY on www.entrepreneur.com

Saying entrepreneurship is a difficult and lonely road is an understatement. Being a founder of a company can at times seem downright impossible.

There are a lot of big no’s, people snickering at your ideas and the big tear you let out when you realize 90 percent of first-time startups fail. Don’t lose hope. There are plenty of ways to stay motivated during this process.

Here are three things you can do to lift your spirits when you are feeling down:

1. Start a support group.
I decided to share my business idea among my college peers and guess what? I found myself listening to other people having ideas about launching their own venture but were too afraid to act. After a few sessions of getting feedback from one another, I proposed we get together weekly to work on our endeavors.

Aside from researching our industries and meeting with mentors, we also had fun. We would hold dinner gatherings to not only laugh and kickback but also confide in one another about the obstacles we face.

2. Pick up a hobby you are terrible at.
That’s right, the heading was not a typo. People equate entrepreneurship to perfection, but nothing you do will ever be completely perfect.

By taking on an unfamiliar activity, you become motivated to get better and are more disciplined in the area. Also, it gets you more comfortable being uncomfortable without serious repercussions.

Besides, who said you can’t have fun and laugh at yourself? I remember when I first started writing and performing spoken word. I was awful. But now, I can say I’m more confident in myself, as I improved with practice.

3. Create a wall of positivity.
As a college student attending business school (the land of everyone doing their own thing), I surround myself with a bunch of go-getters.

Even though I am with these people almost every day, it took me my entire freshman year to realize they have one thing in common: They all have entire walls embellished with things they find inspirational.

If you are thinking of having your own motivational wall, don’t go to an art store and spend $500. Instead, start with printing out pictures or quotes. You’ll remind yourself of why you are the right person to pursue your passion.

When you are struggling with your worst days, be sure to take a breath and remember that your situation or failure is not a reflection of who you are. Also, remember you have adopted a lifestyle of taking chances, while someone else has declined that challenge. That in itself is reason enough to continue on with your business and life purpose. You only live once, so live out loud and be proud.

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Top U.S. Cities for Women Entrepreneurs (Infographic)

More women than men earn college degrees, but many still struggle to reach leadership roles. Rather than try to compete in the corporate world, more women are starting their own businesses according to data compiled by software firm Intuit.

Weighing data from 48 major U.S. cities, Intuit created a list of the top 10 U.S. cities for women entrepreneurs. The criteria included the average income of residents, the unemployment rate and the percentage of businesses owned by women, among other factors.

Tech meccas San Francisco and Seattle came out on top. The list also includes some lesser known startup hubs like Raleigh, N.C. and Atlanta, Ga.

Two important steps to successfully starting up are finding a mentor and building a network of fellow female entrepreneurs that you can turn to for advice and referrals. Launching a business in a city with a thriving community of women entrepreneurs is a good place to start.

Take a look at the infographic below for details on the top 10 cities and more tips for aspiring female entrepreneurs.

BY Kathleen Davis

Corrections & Amplifications: An earlier version of the graphic misstated Denver’s unemployment rate. It was 9.1% as of February 2013 when the infographic data was compiled.

Read more:
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20 Brilliant Brand Logos

Thousands of logos compete for our attention every day. While we may not always consciously recognize their importance, when a change is made to the logo of a brand we love, collective protest is often the result.

In a much-publicized case a couple of years ago, Gap unveiled a new logo that was widely maligned. More recently, theUniversity of California introduced a logo that represented a stylistic shift from the previous traditional look; the gradient effect on the C quickly became the focus of criticism, even motivating several online petitions calling for a repeal. In both cases, the organizations buckled under public scrutiny and reverted to their original designs.

Clearly we care about logos. But what makes a great logo? And how can you make one that not only stands out, but also cultivates a loyal following?

Experts note there are at least three necessary traits: It must be distinct from other logos (especially those of competitors), instantly recognizable (imagine it on a neon sign in Times Square) and legible at all sizes (from billboards to mobile devices). That said, there are many ineffective logos that follow these rules. What sets the great ones apart is that they help audiences connect with the organization’s mission or personality in a meaningful way.

A memorable logo might be deceptively simple. Or it might have multiple levels of interpretation that allow us to fall in love with it over time, as we see it applied to advertising, business cards and websites. And while there is no certainty that a logo will stand the test of time, one way to prevent it from quickly becoming dated is to eliminate unnecessary content and to resist anything trendy.

The 20 logos showcased on the following pages were thoughtfully crafted with unique characteristics and wit that lend them eye-catching appeal and longevity. Let them be an inspiration as you create the public face of your own organization.

Click Here for 20 Brilliant Brand Logos

Courtesy of Entreprenuer.com
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3 Rules You Must Break to Expand Your Email Marketing List

Courtesy of: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/225615
BY  | January 30, 2013

When it comes to email marketing, you can craft the ideal subject line, creative copy and a great offer. But if you don’t have an extensive list of active email subscribers to send your message to, nothing else really matters.

How do you expand your email list? What are the rules you should follow?

You can include a “Sign Up For Our Email Newsletter” link on your site, and you can collect email addresses when someone creates an account or makes a purchase. But if you really want to build a larger list, consider rejecting — yes, rejecting — some of the traditional practices of email marketing.

Here are three email marketing rules you should break, and explanations for why you should do so:

1. Never use a popup to collect email addresses. Remember the early days of the internet when your monitor would suddenly be flooded with popups, those annoying boxes that seemed impossible to close without a CTR-ALT_DEL reboot? Well, popups are still around, but thanks to popup blockers, people can easily avoid them.

Now, marketers are using a more sophisticated, less intrusive form of the popup: the popover. A popover is a box that appears on a website asking viewers if they want to be added to an email list. These popovers are customizable — they can be set to appear only after a certain number of page views, only after a certain time period or only with people who haven’t visited the site in a set number of days.

Many companies are finding success with popovers. Patrick Starzan, vice president of marketing and distribution at the comedy video website Funny or Die, says nearly 80 percent of subscribers signed up in response to the popovers the site has been using for more than four years. The popovers appear only after someone has visited at least three pages on the site, and Starzan says he hasn’t received any negative feedback about them.

Popovers work best if they’re simple, direct and include a bit of humor. So, don’t clutter your popover with a lot of words. Keep the language light and fun, and give people a reason to opt in.

2. Always require a double opt-in. Imagine this: You’re ready to buy a new iPad Mini. You walk into a store, grab the tablet off the shelf, walk to the register and pull out your credit card. Then, the clerk says, “Before you give us your money, we’re going to send you an email. Please open it and click the link. Then, and only then, can you buy this tablet.”

Crazy, right? You are ready to buy, but the seller is putting an obstacle in your way. This scenario reminds me of the websites that require people to click a link in an email they have received before they can be confirmed and added to their email marketing list. As my former sales boss used to say, “Stop when they say yes.”

Not only does a double opt-in create an unnecessary barrier, but there’s also the possibility that the confirmation email won’t reach the intended recipient. According to Return Path’s Global Email Deliverability Benchmark Report for the second half of 2011, nearly a quarter of all emails never reach their target. Are you willing to take your chances by sending out a confirmation email?

Instead, consider sending a welcome or thank you email to new subscribers after they opt in to your marketing list. The email confirms that the new subscriber’s email address is valid, and it also can give people an idea of the type of content they’ll be receiving.

3. Never send an email without first getting explicit permission. One of the biggest misconceptions about the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 — the first national standards for the sending commercial email in the U.S. — is that you need permission before sending an email to someone. While the laws in some countries, such as Canada, are changing to require permission, it is still legal to send emails in the U.S. without explicit consent from the recipient.

Rather than require people to opt in, you can give them the choice of opting out. When media company KSL.com added a “group deals” email to its marketing mix, it could have sent an email asking subscribers to opt in to receive it. Instead, it decided to send an opt-out email to give people the opportunity to unsubscribe from the group deals list. It turned out that most people did not opt out. But if KSL had chosen to get explicit permission before adding everyone to the new list, many people might not have taken time to respond, substantially reducing the audience for the group deals.

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Unlocking Business Ideas Hidden in the Natural World

When Janine Benyus coined the term biomimicry in 1997 to describe how nature can inspire innovation, she never expected her phone to start ringing off the hook. Since then, such companies as Procter & Gamble, Boeing, General Electric, Herman Miller, Nike and Levi Strauss have called, wanting to know how they can use nature as inspiration for new products.

While large corporations approached her initially, Benyus, cofounder of the Missoula, Mont.-based consulting firm Biomimicry 3.8, says entrepreneurs are often the ones developing the kind of nature-inspired innovations these large companies are after.

Why the business interest in nature? “Every single problem faced by humans today has been solved by nature,” says Jay Harman, CEO of PAX Scientific, a San Rafael Calif.-based firm that conducts biomimicry research. “It has millions of years of trial and error with an open resource and development budget.”

If you’re interested in seeking inspiration in nature for your next business idea, here are three areas to investigate:

1. Elements like water and wind

Designs inspired by nature are effective because they aim to use the least amount of energy, says Philip O’Connor, co-founder of the San Rafael, Calif.-based company PAX Pure. His company is developing a water purification technology that simulates high altitude environments. This allows water to boil at lower temperatures, minimizes energy use and doesn’t require the expensive metal materials used in traditional approaches to purification. O’Connor was introduced to the purification method while he was an MBA student at Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco where he was given the task of developing a business model for the technology, originally invented by Harman at PAX Scientific. In May 2012, O’Connor and four partners founded PAX Pure.

This year, they plan to raise $6 million in funding and are reaching out to oil and gas companies–large producers of contaminated water–to begin pilot testing the technology. “If you look at the way nature does anything, it’s done with the least amount of energy possible,” O’Connor says. “We are surrounded by the genius of nature and we have looked past it for so long.”

2. The way wildlife works

Plants and animals have evolved over the centuries to their most resilient form. That’s why it makes sense for entrepreneurs to look to wildlife for inspiration in developing their products. In 2007, Mark Spiecker and his three business partners at the time, hooked up with Anthony Brennan, a biomedical engineer at the University of Florida, to see if they could help market Brennan’s technology, a material that mimics the pattern on bacteria-repellent sharkskin. That year, they founded Sharklet Technologies in Aurora, Colo., offering an adhesive film that stays sanitary, not by killing, but rather by repelling bacteria. Brennan had developed the technology as a way to keep algae from growing on the bottom of naval ships, but when Spiecker began pitching the idea to investors, their interest in using the technology in hospitals and for medical devices was clear.

Investors were drawn to the understandable and compelling analogy to sharkskin, and to date, Sharklet has raised $5.1 million in funding. While the product is currently sold online to consumers who use it to keep residential and office spaces sanitary, Spiecker is in negotiations with hospitals and medical device companies interested in buying it. Spiecker, who has no scientific training, says entrepreneurs can find inspiration in nature by reaching out to technology transfer offices at universities where there are often ideas waiting to be snapped up.

3. The human body as a blueprint

Biomimicry is a way to develop technologies that simulate what’s happening in the human body, making them more precise and attentive to human needs. Lloyd Watts was studying computer programming and speech coding when he realized: “There’s something biology can do that engineering can’t.”

For example, why could a small child detect the sound of his mother’s voice in a noisy room, but a software program couldn’t? In 2000, he founded Audience in Mountain View, Calif., and developed technology that reverse engineered the way the ear works when recognizing voices. Watts was all set to try marketing the technology as a way to improve voice recognition software on computers, but potential investors told him he had his market wrong. Watts brought on Peter Santos, a marketing expert and now Audience’s CEO, who said the best market for the sound-recognition chip was cell phones.

“You’ve got a great science thing,” Watts says. “But you need a great marketing person to turn this into a business.” Last year, the mobile phone market produced $144 million in revenue for Audience.

BY  | February 19, 2013

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From Deepak Choprah: The Rabbit Hole – Color and Perception

Are colors fixed qualities, regardless of who is doing the looking? Deepak Chopra addresses the fluid nature of perception, so dependent on the perspective from which reality is experienced.
We may all agree that what we see is “red” or “blue” or “green,” but who’s to say these words describe exactly the same experience for everyone? And how about for a dog or a bee? Perception is relative, and reality, as it turns out, may be mind-made.

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New Year’s Resolution Tips for Busy People

It’s that time of year again, another new year. If you have read any popular blogs lately, seems like everyone is talking about “the time to set goals.” Even one visit to a local bookstore will remind you what you already know: “You can be better, successful, healthy, and rich, if only you’ll set goals and work toward them.”

Why is it, then, that people we all know (maybe you included) fail to achieve new year’s resolutions? Many people simply don’t even make them anymore. Perhaps the idea itself has a bad reputation. Let’s start with the word itself:

Resolution comes from the Latin word: resolvere. Break it down, and you get: “re- (expressing intensive force) + solvere ‘loosen.’”

Uh-oh, when we make a new year’s resolution, we’re actually “loosening” ourselves up to step in to something new.

What does the word resolution mean to you? To me, when I resolve to do something, I make a firm decision and declaration of intent to achieve the goal, to finish the project, to ship the product. To do that, to achieve any goal really, requires that I look around and “let go” of some things, not do as much in some areas of my work and my life, and to delegate or forget doing some of the tasks that no longer are a part of moving the mission forward.

It’s simple to make a resolution (Scroll down, review the prompts below, and pick one or two that you’d like to achieve.). It isn’t always easy to move from “thought to achievement” on the “big, hairy, audacious goals” that so many entrepreneurs are fond of setting.

For many entrepreneurs, life is getting only busier. At the same time, the stakes are getting higher. Managing yourself well through your year is more important than ever. One way to do that is to reduce the “friction to implementation.” Simply, make your goals easier to achieve, celebrate your achievements more often, and reset your goals to be directional instead of destination-oriented.

What’s the secret? Unlike the Nike quote where you “just sit down and do it,” actually making significant, lasting change is going come down to two concepts: Focus and Iteration.

Take for example the typical resolution of “I’m going to manage physical inventory better” or “Finally, I’m going to get organized.” Both of these are uniquely “un-doable.” Meaning, there is not a clear-cut, objective “there” you’re going to get to.

What do you do? Start by focusing on the intention underneath the resolution. Take for example the idea of managing inventory. What are seven to 10 reasons you have for wanting to take on that goal? One could be: “We want to be more responsive to customers’ needs.” Another: “We want to more effectively manage our cash flow.” Now, when you reflect back (once a week, once a month) on the “new year’s” resolution to “better manage inventory,” you have some more objective line items to which to compare your progress over time.

Which leads to the next idea of effective goal management: efficient resolution-setting. Iterative improvement is important to study, understand and work with throughout the year. One of the common misconnections of traditional goal-setting work that people do is to “assume” that once they achieve the stated goal, it will be obvious that it’s time to reset the goal, to state the next resolution.

What I know about how this works is this: As you get closer to realizing an intention, you need to already start iterating, already begin re-calibrating your focus on the “next-next” thing. This does not mean that you’re “never satisfied.” Instead, it represents your focus and responsiveness to the dynamics of the market, social shifts, changes in the way your customers operate.
It is that time of year again. Use it to your advantage. Focus on the things you see that need your attention. As an entrepreneur you know how important it is to choose what needs to be fixed. Pick your areas of opportunity, state your intention, and use focus and iteration to get more done.

Here are some ways to think about using those two concepts: Focus and iteration.

Don’t “Write a book.”
• Do write one story about a memory.

Don’t “Get in shape.”
• Do pick a 5K run to train for and complete.

Don’t “Get rid of debt.”
• Do pay an extra 5% of what you owe next time.

Don’t “Get organized.”
• Do review, purge and clean one shelf (drawer, closet).

Don’t “Manage your time better.”
• Do get used to working in blocks of 15 minutes (1% of your day).

Don’t “Become a better person.”
• Do schedule the “next” volunteer event to spend a half-day helping.

Don’t “Learn more.”
• Do invite someone you respect to meet for a coffee or lunch five times over the year.

Courtesy of Entrepreneur.com


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The Dos and Don’ts of Social Networking

People have a tendency to get online at random times and start clicking away. Then something mysterious happens to the space-time continuum, and all of a sudden two hours goes and they have nothing to show for it. But it’s fairly easy to avoid falling victim to that trap–have a plan and stick to it!

The key to success with social media is to outline a strategy which considers the amount of time you can realistically dedicate each day to your online marketing efforts. If you plan your activities, use time-saving tools and make sure your ROI expectations are reasonable you’ll be in a good position to succeed at social networking.

Find the social network that’s right for you.
Everything that follows hinges upon this point. And let me add, it’s not all about Facebook. Some businesses will benefit more from concentrating on niche networks that may have less traffic, but more are targeted to that particular brand’s consumer.

Planning ahead makes you efficient.
Map out a weekly schedule that outlines the specific days and times you will spend on social media. Figure out what’s realistic and what makes sense for your company and go from there. Here’s a sample weekly schedule.

  • Everyday: You post one update at 9 a.m., one at 1 p.m. and one at 5 p.m.
  • Mondays and Wednesdays: You dedicate 10 minutes to responding to comments and direct messages at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
  • Tuesdays and Thursdays: You dedicate 10 minutes at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to retweeting people’s comments and thanking people for mentioning you or retweeting your posts.

This is just an example, but you should definitely take the time to devise a social media strategy that makes sense for you.

Use tools to save time.
Take advantage of the various social media tools that are designed specifically to save you time. For example, sites like ping.fmwww.seesmic.com and www.tweetdeck.com help you by sending updates to multiple social networking sites, including Twitter and Facebook, with one click.

Some sites–like atomkeep.com–even allow you to link multiple Facebook and Twitter accounts to one desktop application where you can post updates to all profiles, as well as view and respond to your friends’ posts. This means no more logging-in to multiple social networking sites.

Also, sites like www.cotweet.com let you schedule updates in advance, so your profiles can be updated even when you’re not online. This is a useful tool for all your road-warriors.

Check your ROI expectations.
Once you have a strategy in place, you’ll no doubt be anxious to start seeing a return on your social media networking investment. It’s very important to remember one thing: Networking takes time. Rather than expecting to see a surge in sales, you should hope to see people interacting with your brand.

Building relationships with people and credibility for your brand doesn’t happen overnight.

If your network is a mile wide and an inch deep (meaning you’ve hoarded followers but they aren’t engaged with your brand on a personal level), it will not be successful. Rather than a big pool of followers, it’s important that you create a network of depth and meaningful relationships. You do this by being visible and engaging in conversations. Over time, these activities give you credibility; which in turn leads to building your brand and your sales.

Remember these helpful don’ts.
So, you’ve learned what you should do to carry out an effective and profitable social media campaign for your business, but there are also some things you should be sure to avoid.

Below are the five most common mistakes that people and businesses make when it comes to social media networking.

  1. Spending too much time on sites you enjoy and not fully evaluating whether or not that particular site is the most effective one for your efforts.
  2. Visiting a site for “work” and then running down rabbit holes, getting distracted by interesting posts.
  3. Not recognizing when it’s time to delegate certain social media responsibilities to a consultant, agency, or simply another person.
  4. Setting up a blog, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter page and then not keeping it populated–consistency and fresh content matter.
  5. Forgetting that social media is about engaging in the conversation and not just about selling.



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