Small Business Internet Marketing

3 Keys That Create A Foundation

Small business internet marketing provides small-business owners and service providers with several inexpensive, viable, and high-return marketing opportunities. This article will identify 3 critical yet easy to ignore Internet marketing tactics that can each help a business get more customers. More importantly, these tactics lay the groundwork for other inexpensive, high-impact online marketing efforts down the line.

They are:

web design
keyword research
and Google maps listings.

Having an effective and well-designed website is a critical first step that every business must take as it markets itself online. Web design should be simple, and should follow direct response marketing principles. Web design does not need to be overly expensive. While it is common for some web designers charge as much as $5000 or more to build a website, almost every small business should be able to have an effective website build for around $1000. Unfortunately expensive web design, while it may be attractive, rarely considers direct marketing principles. As a result, small businesses often spend too much money building their website and leave themselves without enough money to effectively market that website after it is complete. The primary purpose of effective small business websites is to prompt the visitor to take action by making a purchase, calling the business, going to the business, etc. Websites should not be online brochures that simply provide information but do not elicit a response from the visitor.

A second key to effective small business Internet marketing is effective keyword research. Every business needs to have a solid understanding of what words and key phrases potential customers are using to find their service or products online. Without this knowledge, almost every other marketing activity that a business engages in becomes far less effective than it could be if that business was targeting the correct key phrases. Keyword research is especially effective for off-line local businesses because, with proper targeting, those businesses can very often shoot to the top of the search engines because they are targeting location-specific keywords, which tend to be far less competitive than more generalized keywords. For example, the keyword “plumbers in Atlanta” tends to be far less competitive then the keyword “plumbing services”. In the beginning of any Internet marketing campaign, effective and focused keyword research is the key to maximizing your marketing efforts.

The third key for effective small business Internet marketing is having Google maps listings, also known as Google local listings. Effective Google maps listings provide small businesses with the opportunity to leapfrog all of their competition in the search engines for their targeted search terms. Google gives local business and service providers preference over nonlocal search engine listings for searches that are done in the area that the business serves. More importantly, it is absolutely free for any small business to create a local listing on Google, as well as other search engines like Yahoo and Bing. In order to get the best results, local businesses should also create free listings in other business directories such as Yelp and CitySearch. Local listings provide small businesses with an excellent opportunity to enjoy increased visibility in their local market at a bare minimum cost.

There are several other small business Internet marketing strategies available to every business owner. These 3 strategies are all highly effective and all are a great place for any small business to begin its online marketing efforts. Even for business that don’t actually sell anything online… plumbers, chiropractors, lawyers, car salesman… the list goes on and on… these strategies lay the groundwork for future marketing efforts that increase visibility as well as market reach, which almost always leads to more profit for the business owner

Top Ten Legal Concerns Business Owners Need To Know Now

You’re a busy business owner wearing many hats – you’re always marketing your business, constantly trying to secure clients and collect your fee for services rendered or products delivered. You know the importance of having your legal affairs in order, but there aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all, or perhaps there isn’t enough money to pay a professional to handle those matters.

Many entrepreneurs and business owners face this challenge. But it is crucial to address certain legal concerns so that you can remain in business and do so successfully. Here are top concerns you need to know and address… right now! This is not a comprehensive list, and all may not apply to you, but they are general concerns to be considered.

1. Choosing the Right Business Structure. There are four (4) basic structures – the sole proprietorship, general partnership, corporation and limited liability company (LLC). The riskier your business, the more you need to shield yourself from personal liability for any debts or wrongdoings of the business. Operating your business as a sole proprietorship or general partnership means that you may be personally responsible for claims brought against your business or for paying its debts. One lawsuit could destroy your business. Carefully consider the pros and cons of each structure and determine which one works best for your business.

2. The importance of good legal record keeping. Maintaining good records is a must, particularly with a corporation which is legally required to keep strict records of meetings and other actions required to be taken by its Board of Directors or shareholders. The failure of a corporation to keep adequate records could mean that its “corporate veil” is “pierced” and essentially the corporate status is negated. A third party bringing an action against the corporation may be successful in attacking the personal assets of the shareholders, and in some cases, those of the directors or officers.

3. Entering into Formal Agreements with Co-Owners. So many people are in business with others – family members, close friends or business associates and without a formal agreement. This is a MUST, regardless of the relationship. The reality is that business relationships don’t always go as planned and owners may need to ‘divorce.’. Without an agreement which makes it clear as to the ownership interest each person has, how and if interests may be transferred, the duties of each owner and terms of any non-compete clause, the departure of an owner or dissolution of the business can be difficult and costly.

4. Entering into Formal Agreement with Third Parties. Failing to document business arrangements in writing has been the downfall of many businesses. Common agreements include (i) consulting agreements with agents acting on behalf of the business; (ii) employment agreements for key officers; and (iii) non-disclosure agreements to preclude third parties from disclosing confidential information about your company. Also consider agreements that prohibit consultants or employees from competing against the business and/or soliciting agents or employees of the business (or include such provisions in an existing consulting or employment agreement). Without a non-compete or non-solicitation agreement or provision, a business could lose a significant of business to someone who has gained knowledge of your business and the specific industry and then snatched your clients and trusted employees/agents.

5. Labor and employment. In order to avoid issues with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), be clear as to whether someone working for you needs to be classified as an employee, or whether they are a consultant. The general test is whether the person is instructed by the company as to when, where and how to work. In some cases, the IRS has fined a company for not properly classifying a worker as an employee and back employment taxes are imposed, resulting in a great financial burden for the business. The possibility also exists that a claim may be brought by consultants who then maintain that they are employees and are legally entitled to certain benefits such as workmen’s compensation or unemployment insurance.

6. Entering into a Commercial lease. If you operate your business outside of your home, it is best to have a written agreement to ensure business continuity. Negotiate the right lease term, rent amount, etc. Without a written agreement you run the risk of the landlord asking you to leave even if you are a good tenant, and generally with just thirty (30) days notice. This could result in a significant loss of business income – having to move could mean the loss of good clients and a serious business interruption until a new space is secured.

7. The impact of taxes on your business and its owners. The four basic business structures all have different tax consequences and could therefore affect your bottom line differently. Discuss the tax reporting of each, and how each relates to your personal financial situation, with your tax advisor.

8. Raising Capital to Grow Your Business. Many business owners seek to grow their business through equity offerings to investors. Ascertain the types of documents required to be provided to potential investors to ensure compliance with federal and state securities laws, and to ensure that proper manner of soliciting investors.

9. Buying or Selling a Business or Assets. Conduct due diligence if you decide to sell your business or a significant amount of its assets or intend to buy another business. Evaluate all problems you may inherit if you are buying a business, such as pending lawsuits or outstanding debt.

10. Protecting Intellectual Property. If your business uses a trademark or service mark, protect it against all others by filing an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Similarly, confirm that you are not using a name that legally belongs to someone else, which could mean infringement, and a successful lawsuit brought against your company. This could be catastrophic to your business.

Plan to Hit Your Profit Targets

To make a Profit, the business needs to focus, not on breaking even, not on survival, but on business profitability – literally, the ‘ability’ of the business to aim at and produce a specific dollar amount of profit as a percentage of projected gross income. Only when this is the clear business target is it possible to build a business that can deliver profit to the owner year after year. Only then can that business truly become an ongoing, revenue-producing asset for the owner. How is this done? How can a business become a profitable asset? Show me the Money! Most small businesses are inherently profitable. Depending on the business, a reliable profit of 10% to 30% of total annual sales already exists as the potential, ongoing profit return on investment of the company. But where is this Profit? Why is it so hard to see, let alone produce?

As a small business consultant for a major consulting practice, I was continually amazed at the number of small-to-medium sized companies operating with a ledger notebook and aluminum box for cash. I was stunned that the computer was used only for internet email, customer letters and office decoration. The accounting software (QuickBooks or Peachtree) was on the computer for tax purposes used by the accountant at tax time. As a consultant I was able to help the small business owners realize the most effective way to run a profitable business was to plan to be profitable. By getting the owner to understand that expenses and sales should be planned towards a goal and events controlled in such a manner as to yield the profit target. By not monitoring the profit and loss statement, the business events control the owners, and management cannot drive process and procedures toward profits. The accounting software packages were then set up to view each product by profit and loss statements on a monthly and annual basis. This allowed the small business owner the ability to react quickly to any deviations from its budgeted plans (cash falling through the cracks). The organization learns from the feedback it gets by comparing budgeted goals to actual results(revenue decreasing). Communication increased throughout the organization about employee expectations towards profitable goals.

Owners, when was the last time you updated your business plan, which is probably on your bookshelf where you placed it since you initially developed it. Now, don’t get bogged down in the document, just dust it off and use a red pen to ask your self the following questions:

Profit Planning: Budget vs. Business Plan

Has the management team updated the business plan to reflect current/future market industry ‘realities’?

Does my management team understand the ‘market intricacies’ of each product they sell and service in the business unit they oversee?

Does my management team understand the ‘customer’ product needs and wants they sell and service in the business unit they oversee?

Have you developed a profit and loss statement for each product? What are your sales revenue, direct costs, and overhead expenses for each product?

Have you benchmarked your Gross Profit margin against industry standards? Is it high or low?

How are your products sales trending? Quarterly? Is product cost percentage lowering as you sell more volume of products? If not, can workflow be streamlined.

Is my business making money? Do I have a simple profitable business model in place for every product?

Have you identified your bestselling product lines vs. your worst selling products? Select which product will grow your business?

Have your management team created action plans to meet planned product profit specific objectives and goals in target areas?

Employees/Operational Readiness

What is the current morale of the employees? Who will champion the ‘Profit Program’ that they can believe in?

What are the current ‘roadblocks’ to lowering cost and increasing throughput of products? Why?

What are the training needs of my employees to achieve profit goals? How will training improve business or morale?

Do the employees know what’s expected of them? How will they be held accountable for performance?

How will they be rewarded? Plan to give Incentives, increase Profit-Sharing, surprise Bonuses, spontaneous Intangibles?

Have your managers and supervisors set specific production objectives and goals in target areas?

Are my employees cross trained in key (growth products) production areas? Why not?

Do I have financial measurements scorecard posted in work area? Do I have relevant workflow processes posted in work area?

Do we have the best technology solution in place to reach profit goals?

Customers

Has my customer base changed?

Has my product/service offering changed?

How often/how many new customers have I obtained in the last year?

What product do my customers need to solve their problem? What services can we offer to provide convenience or can we lower product cost?

Are there any solutions outside the industry that will ‘wow’ the customer? Is the marketing strategy relevant to customer wants?

What is the company reputation to the customer? If low, how can we improve reputation and brand image to the market?

Do I know who my best customers are? What do they really want?

Do I have more/fewer customers? Why did they leave?

Who are the current ‘bad customers/clients’? Money Owed? Should I keep them or sell them?

Competitors

Do I have new competitors? Who?

Do I have more/fewer competitors? Why?

What are the current competitive threats to my business?

How are my competitors resolving the customer problem? Who?

What industry has the best innovative solution to address my customers need? Why? Applicable?

What technology is a competitive threat to my bestselling product?

Evaluate answers against the strengths and weaknesses of your business capability. Formulate your strategy according to the opportunity available in the marketplace. The game is to make money for the long term, not to see how many widgets you can ‘hide’ at the end of the month or play financial engineering games with the books.

Price Points

It is never a good idea to cut your price, even in tough economic times. If you do cut your prices, only do it for a limited time encouraging customers to “act now.” This should be a last resort effort.. The temptation to cut your price in tough times is great. Ask your management team ‘If we cut prices, how will you get the prices up when the tough times are over?’ Stay on the message. Your value doesn’t diminish in tough times. Why should your price go down? Businesses should focus more on customer satisfaction. By focusing on delivering more than you promise, you are putting the customer first. It reinforces their decision to buy.

Business Partners

Look for businesses that you can partner with to cross-promote your products and services while sharing the costs. For example, a laundry mat offers free detergent with each washer load and the free detergent is paid for by both the owner of the laundry mat and the supplier of the detergent. The price was not reduced, but there is a unique incentive for the customer with a specific start and end date, which will get the customer to “act now.”

Plan to profit with sales this year. Explore new markets, new prospects and new products and pitches. This year, the three Ps of marketing your business are: prospects, products and pitches. All three may need to change a bit to get you to a profitable year.

You can do it. Surround yourself with mentors who you can talk to plan for success. It’s amazing the difference it makes just talking through your ideas. Think of planning as preparing yourself for success with a clear profit picture in mind.

New Markets

As you review your business plan, ask yourself where else you can sell your product or service. Go back to those customers who have not bought from you in a while. Have a compelling reason for them to buy from you now, such as improved service, different products or greater customer satisfaction just to name a few. Does it make sense to enter new geographic markets? Have any competitors in that market left or ‘retrenched, waiting for better times’?

Update Your Offerings

After reviewing your business plan is it necessary to change or update your product or service offering? Will product or service changes or additions allow you to sell more to your existing customers? An “update” here could mean a redesign of your web site, starting a blog, joining a social network. Essentially any way you can expand your reach to potential customers. The reason newspapers across the country are closing is due to lack of readership. People are moving to the internet for their news and information… and to find your business!

Improve Your Pitch

Thoroughly understand your product and service and why someone should buy it from you. Use written testimonials from some of your satisfied customers.

• Tell your story in five minutes or less.

• Practice to perfect your pitch “before” the sales call.

• Listen well. Ask questions & really listen to the client’s needs and concerns.

The bottom line is practice makes perfect. Be a dedicated practitioner in client connection. You are the owner. Your time, care and connection in the sales process will bring results. In these times, you can be tenacious & focus on seeking out new opportunities which will pay huge dividends when the economy turns around.