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// by Bridget Weston Pollack / Jul. 31, 2015 0 comments
Nonprofit

Running a nonprofit takes passion, dedication, and a big heart. Whether you’re working to save endangered animals, slow climate change, or help your neighborhood prosper, it’s easy to let your mission take center stage. After all, tirelessly serving that mission is key to your nonprofit’s success.

But are you looking at your nonprofit like a business?

While the mission-focused work of your organization is essential, that on-the-ground progress simply won’t happen unless you’re in a business mindset. Money, paperwork, procedures -- it all adds up to help your daily work have a greater impact on the causes you care so much about.

As you put plans in place to launch your nonprofit, keep these three essential business components in mind:

Cash flow

When you start a nonprofit, you have to start separating your automatic association between “making money” and “profit.” You’re not in this business for the millions, but cash flow can make or break your meaningful work in the nonprofit sector.

Along with good money management, responsible funding at a nonprofit leaves room for reinvestment. If you’re planning to receive grants or other funding specific to particular projects, you may not be able to plan for “extra” money in the bank. But it’s wise to think of ways to put money back into your nonprofit, just like you would think about how to invest revenue back into a flower shop or consulting firm.

That reinvestment might come in the form of launching a new program, boosting a social media campaign, or budgeting to give a dedicated employee a raise. By keeping costs in check, your nonprofit can manage its funding to go the furthest possible distance.

Staff salaries

Nonprofit executives can get a bad rap for taking large salaries. But try not to think about the extreme cases of poor fiscal responsibility. Think about the people who work with you, and the tasks you rely on them to perform. Who takes care of your annual reports, IRS form 990 filings, and audits? Who oversees marketing so that your organization gets the word out about your efforts?

A team of entry-level staffers may be eager to work, but in many cases it’s worth the higher price tag for a seasoned professional. When you review job descriptions, make sure that your team is making salaries comparable to their colleagues in the private sector. Providing healthy compensation for those professionals who are essential to your nonprofit mission builds the strength of the entire organization, while keeping your staff excited to come to work each day.

Don’t leave yourself out of the salary equation, either. As much as you might wish and hope, passion alone can’t pay the bills.

Business plan

You may not be expecting huge returns like a for-profit business, but your nonprofit will need a plan for growth. A complete business plan for a nonprofit should cover your cash flow -- including how you intend to raise money to support your work -- along with realistic salaries and anticipated rent or lease costs. Don’t forget administrative expenses, and the little things like copy paper that add up quickly.

When it’s time to apply for grants or reach out for other forms of funding, that business plan can help you make a solid case for your nonprofit.

But no good business, whether for profit or a worthy cause, was magically built overnight. Many SCORE mentors across the country have worked in nonprofits, as executives or as founders -- and sometimes both.

Your local office can match you with a mentor that can help with your specific needs, or you can browse email mentors who are versed in the nonprofit world.

So go ahead, kick your feet up onto your desk and start thinking of the big picture for your nonprofit. How can you apply for-profit business lessons to your work for the greater good?

Bridget Weston Pollack
Vice President of Marketing & Communications
SCORE
Bridget Weston Pollack is the Vice President of Marketing & Communications at the SCORE Association. In this role, Bridget is responsible for all branding, marketing, PR, and communication efforts. She focuses on implementing marketing plans and strategies for the organization to facilitate the growth of SCORE’s mentoring and trainings services.
// by Bridget Weston Pollack / Jul. 30, 2015 0 comments
Content Marketing Ideas

You know that content marketing is necessary to increase your brand awareness and attract customers. But what do you blog, tweet, or Instagram when you’re simply out of ideas?

It’s a common problem for small business owners. Creating a marketing calendar for your business takes time, and the tasks of brainstorming, creating, and scheduling content often take  a backseat to more pressing issues, whether they be customer concerns or recurring essentials like bookkeeping.

But letting your content marketing fall by the wayside is a dangerous move for a business that’s already easy to find online. A customer who finds your latest blog post from the last holiday season might wonder if there’s anything new happening at your business. What if a potential customer sees that you haven’t tweeted in six months? They’ll wonder if you’re even operating anymore.

That’s why it’s essential to make a content marketing schedule, and stick to it. It’s not enough to think that you’d like to post to your business’s blog once each week. You need to set aside time to craft your story, finalize your posts, and promote them on social media.

If you’re running out of steam -- and ideas for marketing your business -- remember these tips:

1. Your business is about more than selling

Sure, blog and social media posts about sales and other special promotions are important for keeping your customers informed. But you want customers to be lined up at your door even when there’s not a sale.

Think about what your favorite businesses post online. What makes you smile? Does your favorite pizza shop go wild on Facebook when an employee has a birthday? Does your favorite boutique offer detailed how-to blog posts for recreating their elaborate window displays?

The type of content that resonates with you is likely to resonate with your customers, as well. You don’t have to copy what others are doing, but keeping up with your colleagues (and your competition!) can help keep you inspired.

2. Consistency is key

One of the most important things you can do to boost the effectiveness of your company’s content marketing is be consistent. Publishing five blog posts in one week before going dark for a month is no way to keep your customers coming back for more; you’re likely to create confusion if you’re sharing content in spurts, instead of on a steady schedule.

But don’t assume that consistently sharing content requires lengthy, in-depth blog posts. A photo with a short paragraph can be enough to keep your audience interested in what’s happening at your business. New flowers by your front door? Show them off on Instagram. Got a new machine that helps you complete orders more quickly? Explain how it will help you -- and your customers -- in a short blog post.

As long as you’re posting on a regular basis, you’re providing reminders to your customers that you’re excited about what you do.

(And if you do publish a lengthy, in-depth blog post, show it off and share it frequently. It’s likely a resource worth bookmarking!)

3. Remember: you’re an expert

There’s an easy way to track of content marketing ideas to turn to when you’ve got writer’s block.

Whenever a customer or client asks you a question you’ve answered (or feel like you’ve answered) a million times, write it down. Those questions often make for blog or social media post that remind customers why you’re qualified to run your business.

Don’t feel pressured to give away your trade secrets, but do be open in sharing information that helps your customer understand your business and your unique perspective. This content could include:

  • The benefits of various services or products you provide (Example: “A lot of customers ask us if Model R is worth the additional cost over Model Z. It depends on your needs at home, so here are a few factors to consider…”)
  • Explaining how you got started in your industry (Example: “I first fell in love with fly fishing when I was 10.”)
  • Or even admitting failures in your business and the lessons you’ve learned from them (Example: “We don’t carry Product X anymore. Since it was so popular, we want to explain why it’s off the shelves, and what we can offer instead.”)

You’ve done so much work to start and grow your business. Don’t be afraid to share what you’ve learned with your clients and customers. They’re sure to appreciate your insight.

Still stumped for blog post topics? Not sure your tweets are increasing brand awareness? A SCORE mentor can help you refine your content marketing voice and style, and encourage you to keep a consistent posting schedule. 

Bridget Weston Pollack
Vice President of Marketing & Communications
SCORE
Bridget Weston Pollack is the Vice President of Marketing & Communications at the SCORE Association. In this role, Bridget is responsible for all branding, marketing, PR, and communication efforts. She focuses on implementing marketing plans and strategies for the organization to facilitate the growth of SCORE’s mentoring and trainings services.
// by Wendy Johnson / Jul. 29, 2015 0 comments
Content

Do your readers and potential customers really trust you? Are you sure? Does your online presence send out trust signals?

Trust is vital to all of our relationships, both online and off. In order for visitors to your site to become customers, they must feel that you can be trusted with their personal details and payment information.

Trust Signal 1: Good Website Design Encourages Trust

Your website design is the first trust signal that you send when visitors come to your site. Your target audience will make a judgment based on their perception of the effort you took to create and maintain your site. Good design that is aesthetically pleasing and easy to use is a must.

Awful website design that tries to fit everything on one page and features no keyword-rich content will signal visitors that you are not trustworthy. These examples are a bit extreme, but similar elements of bad design are unfortunately still present on some sites.

The amount of content you provide is also a trust signal. The more content and the more webpages you have, the higher your trust level. While opinions remain mixed on the subject of one-page sites, it is best to create sites that are robust and contain enough content to answer all of your visitors’ potential questions.

Trust Signal 2: Contact Information is a Must

If you are an exclusively digital business, you may think your site visitors and customers will have no reason to contact you directly. Your web site makes sense in and of itself--what more could they need? Why do they need a mailing address?

By not providing an email address, phone number, and street address, you could be missing out on opportunities that are vital to your success. What if a publication wants to write a piece on you that would be excellent publicity? What if one of your customers has a complaint and can’t get express it to you personally? What if a potential customer wants to ask a question about a product or service before taking the big step of purchasing it?

If you don’t have contact info, here’s what will happen: that publication will probably find something else to write about, the shafted customer will take their complaint to social media, and the potential customer will walk away after you reeled them this close to the point of sale. 

Make sure you have a contact page that can be easily accessed from the home page. If you run your business out of your home, grab a P.O box at a convenient location. Anything to get that address up there!

Trust Signal 3: Let Site Visitors Know Who You Are

Photos are such a great clue when it comes to discerning the truth of a person or business online. Words can paint a picture for the reader but they also leave a lot to the imagination, and mystery is not what most business should be going for.

Include more than photos of your products--show off your office, staff, pleased customers, and even yourself. Show your potential customers that they are purchasing from a real, relatable human being.

To really show visitors what you’re about, include bios of your key staff and the company's executive or owners. Answer the question of who you are, your role in the enterprise, and your goal in nurturing this business or project.

Trust Signal 4: Be Active on Social Media to Prove that You Are Real

Your content needs to go beyond your website. Anyone can put up a fancy website, show off pictures of quality products, and talk about their business all day long. But nothing will make people feel as confident as the social proof that comes with a relevant social media presence. In the same way that reviews reinforce our confidence, conversations between you and your customers will legitimize you.

If you have no social media profiles to speak of--or extremely outdated ones that have no new content--you are missing out one of your only opportunities to prove that you can deliver on your promises. Social also matters because it increases your visibility and expands your presence, reinforcing your brand identity--which in turn builds trust.

Trust Signal 5: Secure Payment Assurance

If you accept online payments for anything (ebooks, digital downloads, subscriptions, consulting calls, or actual products), you must have trust seals to signal that you are collecting payment information in secure manner. Unless you are a major, national brand, customers will need proof that you can be trusted. Your payment processing company will be able to provide you with trust seals to use on your site. You should also put include seals from other applicable entities that have approved you: Better Business Bureau, Verisign, Norton, etc.

Be Upfront about 3rd Party Payment Processing: If you must send customers off-site to collect payment information, clearly state that upfront. When customers are caught unaware and notice that they are being sent to a new site, you run the risk of them abandoning the check-out process because of their immediate distrust.

Include Terms and Conditions and a Privacy Policy: Yes, no one actually reads these but the mere presence of them signals trust to buyers. They offer protection for both parties, set parameters, reassure them that you have carefully thought about the way you do business, and reduce suspicion about how you will conduct business if something doesn’t go as expected for the customer.

Privacy Policy Summary: Are you collecting email addresses and other contact information in order to build your list? At the point of collection, include a mini privacy policy: clearly state your intentions for using that data. On email collection popups, many small and medium business include statements like “I respect your privacy. Your information stays with me.”  Clearly stating your intentions up front will garner their trust so that they will provide their information.

Your goal for your website is to turn visitors into customers. Including all these trust signals in your content will help prove to visitors that you are someone they want to do business with. The lack of trust signals can unintentionally raise your visitors suspicions and cause them to leave your site. 

Wendy Johnson
Content Strategist
KapowContent.com

As a sought after messaging and content strategist, Wendy Johnson helps companies connect with customers via targeted content and social media. She shares how she does it at KapowContent.com. Join her 28 Day Writing Challenge and connect with her on Facebook.
KapowContent.com | Facebook | @kapowcontent | More from Wendy

// by Rieva Lesonsky / Jul. 28, 2015 0 comments
Social Media Marketing

If you had any doubts that small business owners have wholeheartedly adopted social media marketing, the seventh annual Social Media Marketing Industry Report should dispel them. A whopping 96 percent of the marketers, business owners and sole proprietors Social Media Examiner surveyed use social media marketing; of those, 92 percent agree or strongly agree that it’s important for their businesses.

Some 93 percent of respondents use Facebook, while 79 percent use Twitter. Also high on the list are LinkedIn (used by 71 percent), Google+ (used by 56 percent), and YouTube (55 percent). However, Pinterest is strongly represented (45 percent) and 36 percent of respondents use Instagram.

Asked what their number-one social media channel is, 41 percent of B2B respondents choose LinkedIn and 65 percent of B2C companies choose Facebook.

Areas for Improvement

There’s still room for growth in the use of social media marketing. In the next 12 months, two-thirds of respondents plan to increase their marketing efforts on Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn. And despite the predominance of Facebook, more than six in 10 respondents say they’ll use Facebook even more for marketing in the coming year.

For very small businesses, LinkedIn could be one potential area for growth. While 71 percent of companies with 100 or more employees use YouTube for marketing, just 38 percent of self-employed entrepreneurs do.  

Marketers still have a ways to go in measuring the results of their social media marketing efforts. For instance, only 36 percent say their Facebook marketing is effective, while 35 percent don’t know if it is, and 19 percent say it isn’t.

Perhaps this is why the vague term “increased exposure” is ranked as the top benefit of social media marketing, cited by 90 percent of respondents.

However, 77 percent cite the measurable benefit of increased traffic to their websites, 65 percent say social media marketing generates leads, 58 percent say it boosts their business’s ranking in search results and 51 percent say it improves sales.

Less-tangible results such as developing loyal fans (69 percent) and providing insights into the marketplace (68 percent) were also cited as valuable.

Make the Most of Your Time

The amount of time social media requires is a big concern for marketers in the survey—and one every busy business owner can relate to. One-third of marketers say they spend 1-5 hours a week on social media, but 25 percent spend 6-10 hours per week, and 22 percent spend 11-20. That’s a lot of time! However, small business owners in the survey say it’s worth it. Half say social media marketing helps cut their marketing expenses—a considerable benefit for a small business on a budget.

One way to make the most of your social media time is to determine which social network attracts the most valuable users. After doing this, you can focus on providing the best content to attract those users.

Some 45 percent of respondents say blogging is their most important form of content—above visuals (cited by 34 percent) and videos (19 percent). Apparently, consumers are doing more extensive research than ever before making a purchase, so they are gravitating to blogs, which provide more information than a photo or short video can.

Need help getting a grip on your social media marketing plan for the coming year? The experts at SCORE can guide you. Visit www.score.org to get matched with a mentor and start getting business advice today. 

Rieva Lesonsky
Columnist and CEO
GrowBiz Media
Rieva is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a content and consulting company specializing in covering small businesses and entrepreneurship. She was formerly Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine and has written several books about small business and entrepreneurship. 
// by Community Merchants USA / Jul. 27, 2015 0 comments
Chip Readers

Is your small business prepared for the upcoming migration to EMV credit and debit cards? EMV (an acronym for Europay, MasterCard and Visa) is a new, worldwide technology standard that is intended to help prevent credit and debit card fraud by enabling more secure in-person transactions. And as of October 1, 2015, businesses of all sizes will be required to have technology in place to accept the new EMV credit cards, or face the risk of being held liable for credit card fraud that occurs at their businesses. That means you!

Unlike today’s credit and debit cards, which have a magnetic stripe that users swipe in a payment terminal, EMV cards have a chip embedded in them. The user “dips” the card in the terminal, where it stays during the transaction. The chip creates a unique transaction code for that transaction that can’t be used again. Unlike the information on a magnetic stripe, this one-time code is much less likely to be stolen. The user accepts the transaction by either inputting a PIN or signing.

EMV cards have many benefits. Once they understand how the new cards work and that they are more secure, your customers will appreciate the security. Your business will be less liable to debit and credit card fraud, which lowers your costs. The EMV standard has already been adopted or is being adopted by more than 80 countries worldwide, and nations where it’s being used have seen payment card fraud drop dramatically.

Clearly, the EMV standard is a good thing for consumers and businesses alike. However, if you want to be compliant with the new EMV standard, you need to get moving, because your point-of-sale (POS) system must be ready to accept EMV cards by October 1. But in a recent survey by Intuit, almost half of small businesses had never heard about the EMV transition deadline, and fewer than half were planning to make the switch to EMV technology.

Don’t be one of them! Start by contacting the payment processing company that provides your current POS. If the system is relatively new, it might already be EMV compliant once that feature is switched on. If not, you may need to upgrade to a new POS; your provider will be able to tell you.

While you’re at it, talk to your provider about getting a terminal that can accept other types of payment technologies such as NFC (near field communications) and Apple Pay and other mobile wallets. For example, the Clover Mini terminal, sold by a wide range of major banks, offers businesses the flexibility to accept a variety of payments options including EMV (both chip and PIN and chip and signature), NFC (Apple Pay™) transactions, cash, credit, debit, and prepaid. After all, the more current features you get now, the fewer upgrades you’ll have to make later.

Along with the new POS hardware, make sure that any software you use related to your POS (such as inventory or loyalty software) will work with the new terminal.

If your payment processing provider isn’t helpful or responsive in getting you the information and upgrades you need, look for a new one without delay. Now is a good time to do so—with the EMV transition around the corner, there are plenty of attractive offers out there. For example, Square is offering its customers a free EMV reader and Intuit is offering an EMV reader for $30

Don’t wait too long to start the upgrade process; in addition to getting the new POS terminals installed, you’ll need to train your employees on how to use them and make sure everything is working properly before October 1.

Community Merchants USA
SCORE Corporate Patron

Community Merchants USA (CMUSA) is a complete resource for navigating the world of payment card acceptance to add the most value to your business. CMUSA is an educational nonprofit 501(c)(6) project of the electronic payments industry. Our site provides educational resources and tools about the evolving world of payment card acceptance.
communitymerchantsusa.com| Facebook | @MainStPayments​ | More from CMUSA

// by Community Merchants USA / Jul. 24, 2015 0 comments
EMV Card

Do you know about the upcoming migration to EMV payment cards? Although this transition, which takes place October 1, 2015, will affect any small business that accepts credit or debit cards in person, almost half of small business owners in a survey by Intuit had never heard about it, and just 42 percent were planning to switch to EMV technology.

Unfortunately, 85 percent of the business owners who said they were not planning to switch weren’t aware that this could put their business at risk. If your company is not using EMV compliant point-of-sale terminals by October 1, you may be liable if certain types of credit card fraud occur as a result of a transaction with your business.

EMV, which stands for Europay, MasterCard and Visa, is a global credit card standard that works to make in-person card transactions more secure. The standard is already in use or being adopted in more than 80 countries worldwide, and has greatly decreased incidence of payment card fraud in countries where it’s been adopted. Unlike most current credit and debit cards, which store sensitive customer data in a magnetic strip, EMV cards have tiny embedded chips. When the card is inserted in a card reader, the chip generates a unique code for each transaction. The code is only used once, making it difficult to steal. Further enhancing security, users must either sign or input a PIN to approve the transaction.

In October 2014, President Obama issued an executive order calling for tougher security measures for consumer finances and requiring U.S. government payment card issuers to issue EMV cards by October 2015. The technology has many benefits, including lessening the risk of payment card fraud for both consumers and businesses, and making consumers feel more secure about making purchases in stores that accept EMV payment cards.

Here are some important steps to take in order to transition to your business:

First, in order to accept EMV payment cards, your business will need EMV enabled point-of-sale terminals and software. Start by contacting the provider of your current point-of-sale terminals to see if they need upgrading or replacement. If your machines are fairly new, they may have EMV capability that just needs to be turned on.

Also be sure to find out whether the POS-related software you currently use will work with the new EMV technology. They, too, may need upgrades or replacement.

The earlier you begin this process, the better. For one thing, you’ll need some time to train your employees in the new system (and learn to use it yourself). For another, payment card processors are currently offering some great deals for merchants who upgrade or replace their terminals with EMV-enabled models. (To avoid having to upgrade again in the near future, see if you can obtain terminals that will work with other new payment technology, such as NFC payment methods like Apple Pay and other mobile wallets.)

Now is also a good time to look for a new payment card processor if you’re unhappy with your current provider or if they are not helpful in transitioning your business to EMV compliance. Compare plan features, upfront costs and ongoing fees to make sure you get the best option for your business.

There are many resources available to provide information and guidance in making the transition to chip technology.

The more you know about EMV readiness, the easier the transition will be.

Community Merchants USA
SCORE Corporate Patron

Community Merchants USA (CMUSA) is a complete resource for navigating the world of payment card acceptance to add the most value to your business. CMUSA is an educational nonprofit 501(c)(6) project of the electronic payments industry. Our site provides educational resources and tools about the evolving world of payment card acceptance.
communitymerchantsusa.com| Facebook | @MainStPayments​ | More from CMUSA

// by Judy Milner / Jul. 23, 2015 0 comments
Small Business Owner

For small business owners, there are two different categories of time – clock time and real time. Sometimes it feels like there is not enough real time to get things done and effectively manage a business. The truth is for small business owners, time is irrelevant.  It’s all about doing what you need to and when you need to in order to meet the needs of the current project, product or customer.

As Vice President of Operational Support at The UPS Store and a former owner of multiple franchise businesses, I’m no stranger to the challenges of running a small business. From my experience running a business, I’ve developed the following tips to help run your business and operate efficiently.

  • Manage your time. Real time is hard to come by and it’s easy to get interrupted and lose focus on the task at hand. Set aside blocks of time during the week to catch up and consider which tasks can be delegated to be most effective. For example, administrative tasks with no immediate deadlines can be delegated or scheduled at times outside of peak hours.  It can be difficult to find the time, but it’s important to schedule time to make sure you are working on your business in addition to in your business.
  • Use your resources effectively. It’s important to be confident in those things you do well, and realize there are resources to help with those parts of running a business that are not as comfortable. Invest in the equipment you need to help get your business off to a good start.  If you don’t have the equipment in-house, look for accessible resources like The UPS Store that can help with services needed to run your business such as packing, shipping, printing, and other business service needs. We often hear about the importance of time management, and learning more about available resources can help us better manage our time. 
  • Utilize your employees. Don’t be afraid to delegate tasks to employees. What you as a small business owner can’t forget is that delegating helps save you time, provides an opportunity for you to focus on your many other tasks and helps to ensure you keep your priorities in order. You can always start with delegating small tasks and increase the level of responsibility over time so that you can build confidence and trust together.
  • Promote a positive work environment and communicate. Surround yourself with good people, and take the time to engage and build a rapport with your team. Have established standards and clearly communicate your company’s vision through goals and objectives that help empower your staff. A simple tip – set up a standing meeting for coffee or lunch with individual employees. It seems simple, however, it’s often times the simple things that presents opportunities to engage with your team –to find out where things are at, what’s on their mind and keep aware of   any issues.  This also provides an informal surrounding that makes it comfortable for them to open up and share. When you and your employees are all committed and focused on the target, you have a higher probability of achieving it.
  • Use mistakes and setbacks to implement positive change. Understand that mistakes are going to happen.  Use these setbacks as an opportunity to help improve your business. Incorporate your learnings into updates in your instructions and policies going forward.

Some days might seem longer or shorter than others, but with effective and efficient time management, you can maximize those 24 hours to their full potential. Planning is key and will allow you to be productive with the management of your business. Implementing daily habits to improve your efficiency will not only help with the day-to-day tasks, but also with your sustained success looking forward. It’s never too late to make those operation decisions and updates within your business to ensure both current and future success. 

Judy Milner
Vice President of Operational Support
UPS Store

Judy Milner joined The UPS Store, Inc. in 1988 and held various positions including accounts receivable manager, audit manager, revenue accounting manager, area operations support and director of operations. In 1997, Milner became the Area Franchisee in Northern Virginia and for the next 13 years, Milner, along with her husband, became multiple area franchisees and multiple center owners. In 2013, Milner was appointed to vice president of operational support. 
The UPS Store | @TheUPSStore | Facebook

// by Wendy Johnson / Jul. 22, 2015 0 comments
Content Tricks

What does it take to look like a content pro? A great subject and well written text is a start.

But content that really shines and looks like the work of a professional offers that little something extra: an intriguing title, visual branding, clear organization, and outside support for its points.

With a few simple content tricks, your content will shine like the pros, even if you’re just getting started. Think of these tips and tricks as keyboard shortcuts to boost your article’s professionalism.

Create a Title Image

For each article you write, create an image that includes the title of the article. Period. End of story.

If you aren’t currently doing this, you are making it hard for your readers to share your content on social media. Social media has made a big swing toward visual content with the rise of Instagram and Pinterest, and even the 140 character based Twitter finally displays uploaded images within tweets rather than as attachments.

To share your content on Pinterest and Instagram, you must have an image. And Facebook and Twitter users are more likely to pay attention if you include an image rather than just text and the link to your article. Don’t miss out on an easy opportunity to get noticed, shared, and remembered by your audience.

In addition to making your content shareable via social media, your article images are a branding tool. Don’t make them all the same, but do try to use consistent typefaces and colors. Place them near the top of your post every time. Creating this consistency builds trust and recognition that leads your audience to view you as an authority.

Write Killer Titles

Like your image, your title is a major factor in your audience’s first perceptions of your content. You have 8 seconds to make a good first impression and entice your readers to keep reading. A strong title and image works hard to grab their attention and keep them reading your carefully crafted words.

Fortunately there is a great tool to help you figuring out if you have a killer title or not. The American Marketing institute developed the EMV headline analyzer. The Emotional Marketing Value (EMV) is a calculation of how many words in your title are known to evoke emotion from readers. The higher your EMV score, the more emotionally compelling your title is. But this isn’t just a fuzzy concept: posts with higher EMVs perform better than posts with lower ones.

Take the title of this post for example. I had a few others in mind and ran them all through the EMV calculator:

  • 5 Content Tricks to Amplify Your Article’s Professionalism, EMV 37.5%
  • 5 Simple Content Hacks to Make Your Writing Ooze Professionalism, EMV 30%
  • 5 Simple Content Hacks to Make Your Writing Astonishingly Professional, EMV 40%
  • 5 Content Tricks to Take Your Writing From Basic to Professional, EMV 27%

My winning title scored 50%. Typically a title that scores 30 to 40 percent is a solid, engaging choice.

Use Sub Headings

Readers need to be able to quickly see your main points. Why? Because readers scan content; they don’t read word-for-word. Sub headings essentially show the flow of your content and outline your main points. Sub headings allow readers to effectively scan your content and get value..

Sub headings do more than just help you avoid the appearance of info dump. They also make your article look shorter. Have you ever looked at a huge chunk of unbroken text and just felt your brain give up then and there? Be considerate to your readers and do the organizing and outlining for them by consistently using sub headings.

Keep Your Paragraphs Short

Have you ever read an article that you didn’t realize was 3,000 words until you were finished? It was probably broken up into small, palatable paragraphs. Short paragraphs keep even the longest article from feeling intimidating.

Info dumps and long paragraphs are a sign of disorganized thoughts. Short paragraphs make you appear organized and professional. Short paragraphs are also much easier to read on a smartphone or tablet.

While you are keeping it short, keep your sentences concise as well. Your words may be complex but your sentences need to be short and easier to digest.

Use Sources to Support Your Ideas

Of course you need to link to your sources to avoid plagiarism. But do you realize that using sources also helps you look like a real expert? This is a tip that I picked up in college. Linking to your sources proves that you are an expert in your field by showing that 1.) You are well read in your field of expertise and 2.) Your content isn’t just personal opinion and conjecture (source).

Using a source isn’t a crutch or a sign that you aren’t creative. In fact, it helps show that you are creative: you’ve read other great pieces of content and were able to synthesize and link it back to your unique ideas.

For your next article I encourage you to use each of these five tricks to make your content really stand out and shine. 

Wendy Johnson
Content Strategist
KapowContent.com

As a sought after messaging and content strategist, Wendy Johnson helps companies connect with customers via targeted content and social media. She shares how she does it at KapowContent.com. Join her 28 Day Writing Challenge and connect with her on Facebook.
KapowContent.com | Facebook | @kapowcontent | More from Wendy

// by Rieva Lesonsky / Jul. 21, 2015 0 comments
Smart Sales Idea

I was researching software the other day when I came across an interesting way of making a sale that stopped me in my tracks (no pun intended). The website for time tracking software provider Toggl shows three levels of product pricing—but they put the most expensive level first (check it out on the Toggl pricing page).

Offering different pricing for different service levels is a tactic that many small businesses already use to attract more customers, but Toggl’s move is super smart. Our eyes naturally start reading on the left side of the page (or website). However, most websites that offer three levels of product pricing start with “free” on the left side, moderate pricing in the middle and the highest price on the right. That means people look at the free version first, and if it has everything they need, they’re likely to just briefly scan the higher-priced options, if they look at them at all.

By putting the highest-priced level where we’re most likely to look at it first, Toggl is subtly “selling us” on all the features that come with their paid package. When you see all the things you can get for just a little bit of money, you’re less likely to even bother looking at the free version. And even if you do check out the free option, it probably sounds chintzy to you now.  

What can you learn from Toggl’s savvy sales tactic? Here are three lessons that come to mind:

1. Don’t be afraid to try something different. Lots of small business owners get intimidated by the idea of innovation, thinking you have to be a Steve Jobs-level genius to do it right. But thinking different doesn’t necessarily mean you have to throw all the rules out the window—just a few of them. Toggl’s website uses the same basic format hundreds of other software-as-a-service sites do, but has one important difference. Tweaking your “same old same old” just a little bit can have big results.

2. Stay one step ahead of the pack. If everyone else starts putting their most expensive package where customers see it first—or promoting their highest service level from the get-go, instead of starting with the “basic package” and adding on—Toggl’s tactic will inevitably lose some of its effectiveness. But for now, they’ve got an edge on their competitors by doing it this way. Keep your eyes on your competition, monitor their moves and be willing to zig when they zag.

3. Test and re-test. The Internet offers even the smallest business the ability to constantly test, improve and upgrade everything from its business website and product offerings to its marketing methods, timing and message. Take advantage of this flexibility to try different things and see what gets the best response from your customers. If something works, great—if not, try a different approach. There’s no longer any excuse to settle for the status quo or to accept “average” sales as the best you can do.  

Need more help shaking your business up a bit? Talking to a SCORE mentor can give you some great ideas. Visit www.score.org to get matched with a mentor today and get free business advice 24/7. 

Rieva Lesonsky
Columnist and CEO
GrowBiz Media
Rieva is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a content and consulting company specializing in covering small businesses and entrepreneurship. She was formerly Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine and has written several books about small business and entrepreneurship. 
// by Jeanne Rossomme / Jul. 20, 2015 0 comments
Meetings

I have to admit that my first inclination in writing a title to this piece was “Meetings that don’t suck the life from your brain and leave you wanting to bang your head on the table”, but that title was too long and may get me in trouble.  But I am sure I am not alone (unfortunately) in the sentiment, or the all-too-often experience of being stuck for HOURS in a meeting that goes nowhere and feels like complete torture. 

One of the reasons I started my own business was to spend more time adding value, and less time in dead end corporate meetings.  But after years of being a business owner and working with business owners, I realize that this problem has not gone away.  It has just taken other forms.  Instead of big team meetings in a conference room, it might be phone calls with prospects or vendors, or Skype meetings with developers on a web project.  The end result is the same – nothing seems to get done with precious time and opportunity cost wasting away.

So, I decided to create a one-page cheat sheet to ensure that my meetings were at least not part of the problem.  Spend 3-5 minutes filling this out and your meetings are much more likely to be productive and energizing for all participants.

  • What is the Purpose of this Meeting?  This is honestly THE most important question to have clear in everyone’s mind.  What do you want to walk away with at the end of the meeting?  Buy-in? A plan? A decision? Communication of important information?  Put it in writing and give it to everyone in advance so that you at least begin with the end in mind.
  • Stick to a time schedule and agenda.  The minute you start or end late, it gives the signal to all members that time (yours and theirs) is not that important.  Very quickly, members will arrive late, leave early, check out during the meeting or not participate at all.  If you clearly stick to the goal, agenda and time, you will get in turn get respect and an effective team.
  • Set up Ground Rules.  Each person enters a meeting with his own agenda, and pre-conceptions.  Setting up Ground Rules first thing allows each person to “reset” and get to the task at hand.  It also gives you the power to get things back on track – you get to point to the rules and not the person.
  • Who needs to be there?  You need a meeting facilitator and a scribe.  After that, who really needs to be in the meeting in order to accomplish the goal you set in Step 1?  If someone is only needed for a part of the agenda (such as approval or an update), invite her for just a portion of the meeting.
  • Put it in writing.  Document the purpose and your agenda.  During the meeting, note resources needed and next steps.  Additional ideas or discussions that may be valuable but not part of this specific meeting can be entered into a “parking lot”.
  • Have a follow-up process.  What happens as a next step?  What will be the follow up to ensure that the commitments members made will actually get done.  Leave a few minutes before the end to make sure that is clear and on everyone’s calendar.

Click here for a copy of SCORE’s Succcessful Meeting Guide.

Jeanne Rossomme
President
RoadMap Marketing

Jeanne uses her 20 years of marketing know-how to help small business owners reach their goals. Before becoming an entrepreneur, she held a variety of marketing positions with DuPont and General Electric. Jeanne regularly hosts online webinars and workshops in both English and Spanish.
www.roadmapmarketing.com | @roadmapmarketin | More from Jeanne