Most Recent Posts

// by Bridget Weston Pollack / Aug. 28, 2015 0 comments
B2C Content Marketing

B2C businesses, you’re on the top of your content marketing game. In our latest content marketing infographic, we’re looking at best practices for consumer-serving businesses.

While 86 percent of business-to-business marketers use content marketing, business-to-consumer firms come in at 77 percent for content marketing use. But B2C marketers take advantage of a wider range of content types, including e-newsletters, articles, illustrations and photos, videos, and even in-person events. Blogs, of course, rate high on the list -- 67 percent of B2C businesses maintain a blog.

Why is content marketing so important to build business? 70 percent of customers prefer to get information about a company from content rather than through advertising. Businesses are responding: 48 percent of B2C firms publish content daily, or several times per week. Customers want a steady stream of unique information about a business’s offerings -- not just the same ad design over and over.

The ROI on content marketing is all about clicks. 65 percent of B2C content marketers want to convert visitors on their website, and clicks from shared content are five times more likely to result in a purchase.

One major aid in content marketing: using a tag management service to streamline the analytics, affiliate, conversion, and other tracking codes on pieces of content like blog posts or videos. A tag management service can provide more agile tracking for web content, and cut down the time you need to spend on your site performing tedious tasks. 47 percent of content marketers reported better campaign measurement and 33 percent reported better campaign ROI as the primary benefits of using a tag management service.

Is it time to reevaluate your content marketing strategy? If you’re not measuring the return on your various marketing channels, sit down with a SCORE mentor to discuss ways to maximize your marketing efforts. Download this month’s infographic for more details.

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 Michael Katz / Aug. 27, 2015 0 comments
Newsletter Subject Lines

I could be wrong, but it seems to me that if you’re selling a professional service, you’re going to be most convincing when you “walk the talk,” modeling the behavior you claim to teach.

  • If you’re a personal trainer, you should be in great shape.
  • If you’re a financial planner, you should balance your checkbook.
  • If you’re an E-Newsletter consultant, not only should you be good-looking, your E-Newsletter should stand as a prime example of what works best.

Which is why you’ll be happy to learn that after reviewing some of my past posts, I found that I pretty much follow my own advice.

Pretty much. Because I realized that there is one particular area in which I knowingly and willfully ignore my own suggestions: E-Newsletter Subject Lines.

As I’ll explain in a minute, when it comes to the subject line – the short phrase that is visible in the recipient’s in-box – there’s a best way to do these.

But I don’t follow this best way. Not because I don’t want the maximum number of people to open my newsletter, but because I can’t seem to stop myself from sacrificing effectiveness for the sake of coming up with a catchy title.

So I end up with things like “Singing in the Rain,” or “What a Difference a Difference Makes,” or “Hairy Party to You.” Clever? Maybe. But cryptic and lacking any real indication of what’s to be found within.

As a practical matter, that’s a problem. Our newsletter subscribers get lots and lots of e-mail; they’re constantly deciding what to open, what to save for (maybe) later and what to delete.

So when your E-Newsletter arrives in someone’s in-box, not only do you want them to recognize that it’s from you, you want them to put it in the “open now” category.

A good subject line – like a good headline on the front page of a newspaper or the outside of a magazine – entices people to read further.

Consider the following four, sample subject lines:

Company Newsletter
Tips for Improving Newsletters
5 Tips for Increasing Newsletter Open Rate
5 Mistakes That Will Kill Your Newsletter Open Rate

I think you’ll agree that the second is more compelling than the first, the third more than the second, and the fourth most of all (still with me?).

Three things that make it so (and that I recommend you use in crafting your own subject lines):

  1. 1. Specificity. The first example doesn’t tell me anything other than who it’s from. Using this approach, the subject line of this issue, the next issue and every issue until the end of time will be exactly the same. Kind of like Stephen King calling his next book, My Next Book. Nothing here that makes you want to go further.
     
    The second example is a little more specific (better), but the third and fourth are even more so, making them both more compelling.
  1. 2. Numbers. I don’t really know why this is, but apparently it’s been well tested that numbers in headlines – odd numbers in particular – are very effective in drawing people in.
     
    Next time you’re in the supermarket check-out line, have a look at the magazines in the rack and note how many use numbers in the headlines on the outside cover. “7 Last Minute Lipstick Tips;” “5 Times U Shouldn’t Text Him;” “101 Things to Love About Middle-Aged Bald Men.” (Of course I just made that last one up; I can’t image there’s more than a few of dozen.)
  1. 3. Negatives. If I say “Here are some things you should do regarding X,” you might pay attention. But if I say instead, “Here are some things you should never do regarding X,” you’re even more likely to listen – you want to make sure you’re not already doing any of those things.
     
    While I don’t suggest you do it every time, phrasing your subject line (or white paper or presentation, for that matter) as a warning is more likely to grab attention.

Here’s the bottom line. When it comes to creating an effective newsletter, I put subject lines somewhere in the middle of the list: not the most important thing, but certainly worth paying attention to. And whether you decide to follow in my playful footsteps or instead do something more deliberately strategic, it’s worth giving some thought to how you show up in your reader’s in-box.

Michael Katz
Blue Penguin Development

Michael Katz is Founder and Chief Penguin of Blue Penguin Development. He specializes in working with solo professionals and, in particular, teaching them how to position themselves as Likeable Experts.  Sign up for his free newsletter, The Likeable Expert Gazette, here.  (LINK: http://bluepenguindevelopment.com/subscribe/). Also follow him on twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/michaeljkatz.

// by Mary Juetten / Aug. 26, 2015 0 comments
Intellectual Property

In my previous blog, I wrote about the importance of intellectual property (IP) and the ways in which small businesses can go about protecting their own.  But often many businesses fail to recognize the importance of their intangible assets, instead overlooking them in favor of more immediate concerns. But failing to recognize the value in intellectual property can lead to mistakes that put businesses at risk. Here are some of the most common causes of IP mistakes and how to avoid them.

Not doing the necessary research before starting a business

Many entrepreneurs don’t think to do research on their business idea before they set out to build the company. Others feel as though research is a waste of time and resources. Some even feel that doing research into existing intellectual property could hurt their long-term prospects if a similar product already exists, as though ignorance is a shield from market forces or an IP lawsuit.

The truth is that proper research is critical to the success of your business. You need to make sure that you are not infringing upon anyone else’s IP and that you understand what ideas belong to you. A clearer understanding of what you own and are able to protect will give you a clearer understanding of your company’s value. If you feel uncomfortable doing a thorough search yourself, you can pay to have an expert do one for you; while it’ll cost more, it is a relatively minor investment in knowing your business is on solid footing.

Not understanding how to protect intellectual property

Where entrepreneurs run into trouble is failing to understand the different types of intellectual property and the protections available for each.  By not knowing what type of intellectual property they have, businesses risk making a costly mistake by choosing the wrong type of protection for their work  and leaving it vulnerable to theft.

One common mistake is thinking that a patent is a catch-all protection for intellectual property. But the patent is just one tool in protecting your intangible assets. When evaluating your work, you need to know whether it falls under the protection of a copyright, trademark, patent, or trade secret, or even trade dress. Again, this is an area where it is a good idea to rely on the expertise of a professional. Even if you know what type of protection you need, having someone who knows the process and will avoid the mistakes of a “DIY” filing can be worth the investment.

Not creating an IP strategy

In line with overlooking key intangible assets at the outset, many startups fail to create an IP strategy. And many that do fail to look beyond the outset of the company, thinking that IP is only an early-stage concern. The truth is that your company is always creating, and with that comes new IP. And without a strategy in place, you could be failing to capture all of the value your company continues to create.

While you might not have the resources to hire someone as a full-time IP specialist, you can avail yourself of the services of a law or consulting firm that specializes in IP to help manage your company’s needs. Having either an IP specialist or outside firm as an advisor on IP matters will help you avoid costly mistakes as well as identify all of your innovation. Knowing what you have and the importance of protecting it is a good start towards growing your business and ensuring the future of your company.    

Learn more about Traklight.

Mary Juetten
Founder and CEO
Traklight

Mary Juetten, founder and CEO of Traklight, has dedicated her more-than-25-year career to helping businesses achieve and protect their success. Using her extensive education including Bachelor of Commerce degree from McGill and a Juris Doctorate from Arizona State, as well as her US and Canadian accounting and public accountant certifications, Mary created the only self-guided software platform that creates your custom intellectual property (IP) strategy.
www.traklight.com | @Traklight | FacebookMore from Mary

// by Rieva Lesonsky / Aug. 25, 2015 0 comments
Target Troll

By now you’ve probably read about the “Target troll” who created a fake Target Customer Service account on Facebook, complete with the company’s bulls-eye logo. Inspired by angry customers complaining about the company’s plan to remove “Boy’s” and “Girl’s” labels in its toy section in favor of gender-neutral labeling, Mike Melgaard took to social media to make fun of them with snarky responses.

For 16 hours, Melgaard replied to some 50 posts before the fake account was shut down, fanning the flames by claiming that Target also plans to eliminate gender labels on its clothing departments and even institute unisex bathrooms.

While the Internet is abuzz with the humor of it all, for a small business (or any business) who finds their social media persona hijacked by an outsider, the story is no laughing matter. Sure, Target is big enough to weather any negativity the incident may engender (no pun intended), but what about a small business with a smaller customer base?

The Target troll incident points out the importance of vigilance when it comes to your social media accounts. Here are some steps you can take to ensure something like this doesn’t happen to your business.

Limit access. Be cautious about who you allow to post on your social media accounts. Only trusted employees should have this privilege. If anyone leaves the company, make sure their social media username and login are closed down.

Create and use strong passwords. Don’t share the same username and password for everyone in your business who posts on social media. Require each person to create their own (or generate one for them) and make them complex with symbols, numbers and capitalization. Change passwords once a quarter.

Customize privacy settings. Don’t just go with the default options. Use the maximum possible privacy settings in each social media account to protect your business.

Log out. Make sure employees log in and out as they use social media. Staying constantly logged in is just asking for trouble. Password management tools can make this easier by enabling employees to log in quickly while still maintaining security via complex passwords.

Pay attention. Lots of small business owners get so busy scheduling and posting social content they forget to keep an eye on what users are saying in return. It’s vital to monitor the status of your social media accounts at all times. The good news is, this is actually an area where a small company may have an edge over a big one. With fewer accounts and interactions happening, it should be easier to see when something unusual pops up. Using social media tools such as Hootsuite, SproutSocial or Mention, which show you all your social media accounts in one place and provide real-time alerts, will help you stay on top of things.

Make it easy for customers to contact you. Posting several ways to contact your business on your website—email, chat, phone, etc.—means customers can contact you directly if anything seems wrong on your social media page.

Respond quickly. If you see something odd on one of your company’s social media accounts, take charge to edit, remove or reply to the post or tweet—whichever is most appropriate.

If the worst does happen and your social media accounts get hacked, take steps to control the damage by letting customers know what is going on and how you’re handling the situation.

Your SCORE mentor can help you make sure you’re using social media wisely. Visit www.score.org today to get matched with a mentor. 

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 Rochelle Robinson / Aug. 24, 2015 0 comments
Reputation Managerment

Do you know what current and potential customers will find when they do an online search for your business name? As much as the Internet can help build your small business, it can also cause irrevocable harm if you’re not actively taking the steps to protect your online reputation. 

Secure Your Online Brand

Part of establishing your brand requires securing your online entities. Securing your business name on multiple platforms can prevent brand confusion.

Website URL
Secure your domain name as soon as possible. Select a domain name that is directly related to your business trade name. While the .com should be your primary domain extension, consider securing multiple domain extensions like .net or .org. You may want to further protect your business brand by trademark registration. Purchase variations of your domain name. For example, if you’ve got a music business named Three Phase Beats, consider purchasing 3PhaseBeats, 3PhaseBeat, or 3FazeBeats. You can redirect the traffic to your primary domain name to avoid losing valuable web traffic and potential customers.

Social Media 
Secure your username on popular social media websites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, and LinkedIn immediately. Even if you aren’t fully prepared to utilize the service, secure the appropriate name before someone with ill-intent does. Use an e-mail address designed specifically for social media and a secure, hard-to-guess password to protect your accounts in case an employee’s e-mail address is hacked or the person responsible for social media leaves. Services like KnowEm and NameChk can help you identify available names on multiple social media platforms.

Business Listings

If you’ve been in business a decent amount of time, your business is probably listed in an online directory waiting for you to claim it. Popular search engines offer business directory listings that allow you to claim your business information, ensuring it appears on maps and search engine result pages. Google, Bing, Yahoo, Yelp, YellowPages, and TripAdvisor are a few popular sites that allow you to claim and edit your online business profile.

Monitor Your Online Brand

Monitoring your brand is an essential part of protecting your reputation. You should always know what people are saying about your business online. You can hire a company to manage your online reputation or you can do it yourself.

Search Engine Results

Monitoring the online reputation of your small business should become a routine task that you perform on a regular basis to provide quick damage control and address customer concerns. Set up Google Alerts to receive e-mails each time your business name is mentioned online. Perform an online search for your business name on a routine basis to monitor the results. Use tools like Topsy, Trackur, and Social Mention to monitor references to your business.

Social Media Tracking
Using Twitter’s search feature, perform a search on your username (@Username) and relevant hashtags. According to Twitter, if someone sends you a reply and you are not following them, the reply will not appear in your Home timeline. Instead, the reply will appear in your Notifications tab. In other social media sites like Facebook, YouTube, and Pinterest, perform a search of your business name and bookmark the results page to make it easier.

Be Ready for Damage Control

Establish a plan to address comments or answer customer questions and concerns.

Negative Comments or Reviews
Most customers will go online when they have a negative experience. Monitoring your online brand regularly can prevent negative comments from lingering, and demonstrates that you value your brand and customers. Be prepared to address their concerns, offer an explanation and possible compensation, and avoid being angry and defensive. Be authentic and helpful in your response.

Positive Comments or Reviews

Show appreciation for people who leave a positive review or comment. Acknowledge any favorable mentions by responding and thanking the user for taking the time to share an experience. Encourage more customers to leave positive comments on your online profiles to show the value of your business.

Monitoring your online reputation is critical to the success of your business. Customers search the Internet with regularity and a review -- negative or positive -- can impact your business. Creating a strong and consistent online presence and regularly monitoring it can help ensure accurate online mentions, counteract negative comments, and encourage positive reviews.

Rochelle Robinson
Digital Business Strategist
ConsultRochelle.com
Rochelle L. Robinson is a digital business strategist focused on helping small businesses develop a strong digital strategy, improve business development efforts, and implement innovative online marketing solutions.
// by Shashi Bellamkonda / Aug. 21, 2015 0 comments
Google

Google co-founder Larry Page recently announced a new parent company for many of its projects, named Alphabet. Google’s core online technology business, which includes tools like Gmail, Google Search, Android, and Maps will remain the focus of the Google brand, while its scientific research projects, X Labs (where Google Glass, drone project Wing, and Google’s driverless cars were developed) and investment projects like Google Ventures will be housed under Alphabet’s umbrella. Page will serve as CEO of Alphabet.

Although Google has been around for 17 years and is a household name, the announcement was still surprising. As the commotion settles, there are some lessons from Alphabet’s introduction that can be applied to small businesses.

1. Aspire to become the advisor: Your growth may develop in the same line of business as your original focus, or you may decide to work on other big ideas — “moonshots,” as Google calls its forays into medical research, drones, and more. You cannot follow through on every idea if your business is fully dependent on you. You may need to hire someone to handle day-to-day operations, while you step aside to work on the company’s big-picture innovation efforts.
 

2. Never name the business after you: I learned this early on from a friend of mine, Alan Glazier, who decided to call his business Shady Grove Eye and Vision instead of Glazier Eye Clinic. His business has grown to include several doctors, and he works as the CEO, complete with his own version of “moonshot” projects. Imagine a search engine called PageBrin after Google’s founders? We’d use it, but who wants to think about the company’s founders every time they perform an online search?
 

3. Succession takes time: Google kept its plans under wraps for four years. CEO Larry Page spent the time to slowly move away from operations to groom his successor, Sundar Pichai. It’s worth implementing changes over a longer period of time if your business will be more stable in the long run.
 

4. Different lines of business need different types of focus: The press has compared the Google restructuring to that of Berkshire Hathaway, in which Warren Buffet invested in a variety of completely different businesses. In that case, the companies did not merge together, but instead run independently with their own CEOs. If you decide to diversify your business goals, you may be better off starting a new line of business as a separate company.

Are you thinking about restructuring your business? SCORE mentors can help you build, expand, and enhance your business. Making plans for your business now can ensure success as you grow.


On August 27, Surefire Social will co-host an exclusive webinar with Google experts, who will discuss online marketing strategies for small business contractors and home service businesses. Register here: www2.surefiresocial.com/scoreeducation.

Shashi Bellamkonda
Chief Marketing Officer
Surefire Social

Shashi Bellamkonda is Surefire Social’s Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). He also serves as an Adjunct faculty member at Georgetown University teaching Marketing Analytics & Digital, Social Media and Mobile Marketing. Bellamkonda is passionate about helping small business and speaks at conferences on multi-location digital marketing and online lead generation.
Surefire Social | Facebook | @SurefireSocial | @ShashiB

// by Gregg Schwartz / Aug. 20, 2015 0 comments
Sales People

Lots of small business owners like to give themselves the job title of “CEO” or “President,” but the truth is, as a small business owner, your first job title at your company needs to be “sales person.” If you don’t feel comfortable doing sales, it’s hard to really get your business off the ground. Making sales is the most important thing your company does, and it’s crucial for entrepreneurs and founders to take an active role in the sales process. Even if you don’t have prior sales experience, it’s not too late to learn.

Here are a few key tips for small business owners and startup founders for how to be better “sales people” for your company:

Create a formal sales process

Put a rigorous, methodical, repeatable process in place for how to work with clients at every stage of the buying process – from the first phone call to the first conversation to the final deal closing. Map out your sales process in a way that’s relevant to what you sell. What are the steps involved? And at each step of the sales process, what is the “next step” that you need to ask your buyer to agree to?

Here is a simplified example of what your sales process might look like:

1. Initial contact with prospect (inbound, where the prospect contacts you – email, phone inquiry, PPC response; or outbound, where you contact the prospect – cold call, trade show, referral) – ask the prospect to agree to set up an initial sales presentation or product demo.

2. Initial presentation/product demo (online or in person) – demo the product, then ask to meet with other stakeholders/decision-makers at the prospect’s company.

3. Stakeholder meeting – show your solution to other people within the company who help with the purchase decision – other departments, teams, etc. Ask the prospect to agree to an ROI demonstration.

4. ROI demonstration – create a document to show the prospect how much Return on Investment they can expect from buying your solution. Ask for a final sales presentation.

5. Final sales presentation: Sum up the ROI information, answer questions, discuss implementation timeline, and ask to close the sale.

Not every sale will go through every step – some customers are more immediately ready to buy than others, while other customers need time and nurturing to build a relationship before they’re ready to buy – but it’s good to have a road map for what to expect so you can work through the steps with your clients. Every individual sale can be unpredictable – some deals might fall through with no real reason given; some opportunities will materialize when you least expect it. But by creating a formal sales process, you are helping to impose some consistency and structure on the overall work of building relationships with new prospective customers. You’re helping to control more of what’s within your control -  

Write an elevator pitch

Every sales person needs a concise “elevator pitch” that can articulate the key selling points of your product or company within the short timeframe of a single elevator ride. Unfortunately, many small business owners struggle with this – you might not have a clear enough idea of what your company’s key selling points really are. Too many small business owners want their businesses to be all things to all people, but you really need to focus and differentiate. What do you do best – better than any of your competitors? Can you clearly, concisely explain what your company does and why it’s important? Can you say all of it in 30 seconds or less in a way that makes people want to learn more? If not, chances are your customers are feeling confused by your sales pitch. You need a tight, focused value proposition. Spend time writing, editing, and rehearsing in front of the bathroom mirror if needed. Practice with a friend. Ruthlessly edit – make sure you’re clear in your own mind about why people should buy from you, and then it will become clearer in your customers’ minds as well.

Cultivate a sales mentality

The best sales people have a certain energy about them that is uniquely focused on building relationships and closing sales. They’re great at working with customers and solving problems and establishing trust. And this sales mentality permeates everything that they do – you can often tell that the best sales people work in sales before you even see their business card. Even if you consider yourself to be more of a “technology” person who understands the nuts and bolts of your solution, or more of an “executive” who sees the big picture of your company, or more of an “artisan” who relishes the details of creating new products, you need to put “sales person” at the top of your list of roles as a business owner.

Sales cannot be an afterthought. Sales needs to be at the center of everything that happens at your company. If you get more comfortable and proficient at selling your product, your business will grow much faster. Even when your business grows to the point that you start hiring full-time sales staff, it’s still a good idea to stay in touch with the daily work of selling – because that will keep you in touch with the fundamentals of what makes your company succeed.

Gregg Schwartz
VP of Sales and Marketing
Strategic Sales & Marketing
Gregg Schwartz is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Strategic Sales & Marketing, an industry-founding lead generation firm based in Connecticut. His company helps technology companies and various startups and small-to-mid-size businesses in the B2B sales category generate sales leads and improve their sales processes.
// by Mary Juetten / Aug. 19, 2015 0 comments
Intellectual Property

If you have a small business, you might think that your assets are limited to what you have on hand or can see. But the reality is that intangible assets are tied up in your business that you haven’t considered. Even if your business is just getting started, the overwhelming majority of your company’s value comes from your intellectual property (IP). But despite their importance, most small businesses don’t do enough to protect their IP because they don’t know enough about it or in some cases, what IP even is. Here are a few basics to help you get started.

Copyright protection

Copyright extends to words or images that have been created by you or your company.  Copyright can prove especially important if you work in a creative field, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter for the average business. Chances are you have a company blog, or even marketing emails or print collateral that you use in your business. When considering the copy, pictures, or videos that were created by you, or that you own the rights to, remember to be vigilant against potential infringers taking those materials off your site for their own use without permission.

Trademark protection

Your trademarks are the words, symbols, or designs that you use to identify your business and distinguish yourself from the competition. When looking to protect your trademarks, there are two ways you can go about it. If you have a mark that you’d like to trademark, you can use the TM symbol to claim an unregistered or common law trademark. Once you’ve federally registered your mark with the USPTO, you can begin using the ® symbol to indicate that it is a registered trademark. Having a registered trademark makes protecting it easier should you have to take legal action to do so.

Patent protection

A patent is the type of protection that is most often thought about as IP, as it is associated with inventions and innovative products. When you patent something, you are granted exclusive rights to that creation by the government for a period of time (usually 20 years.) An important distinction to note is that a patent isn’t the right to produce or sell an invention, but rather the right to exclude others from doing so. This right allows you to take legal action against companies that are infringing upon your patent. Also noteworthy is the fact that for an invention to be patentable, it has to be both new as well as non-obvious to someone of an average level of skill and ability in that field.

Trade secret protection

Trade secrets are the special processes and know-how that set your products and company apart from your competitors. A trade secret differs from other types of IP protection in that you do not register a trade secret. Quite the opposite, actually — in order to maintain a trade secret, it has to stay secret. That means keeping it under lock and key and restricting access to those who need to know.  If you’re looking to take legal action against someone who has stolen your trade secret, you’ll need to prove that you took great care to protect it.

Being aware of your own intellectual property and what you can do to protect it will allow you to create even greater value for your company. It will also help you protect against those who would try to exploit your hard work for their own gain.

Learn more about Traklight.

Mary Juetten
Founder and CEO
Traklight

Mary Juetten, founder and CEO of Traklight, has dedicated her more-than-25-year career to helping businesses achieve and protect their success. Using her extensive education including Bachelor of Commerce degree from McGill and a Juris Doctorate from Arizona State, as well as her US and Canadian accounting and public accountant certifications, Mary created the only self-guided software platform that creates your custom intellectual property (IP) strategy.
www.traklight.com | @Traklight | FacebookMore from Mary

// by Rieva Lesonsky / Aug. 18, 2015 0 comments
CRM, Customer Relationship Management

Customer relationships have long been one area where small businesses have an edge over their larger counterparts. The friendly neighborhood shopkeeper or restaurateur has always had a place in Americans’ hearts. But like everything else, customer relationships are becoming automated—in this case, by customer relationship management (CRM) software—and that’s giving bigger companies a chance to eat your lunch.

The good news, though, is that small companies, too, can benefit from CRM tools that enable you to streamline the customer relationship-building process and create stronger bonds with customers by collecting and using more detailed information about them. A survey by Capterra took a close look at CRM users and here’s some of what it found.

CRM, now the single fastest-growing type of business software, can benefit businesses of any size. (“If you have any customers, chances are that your business can benefit from CRM software,” is how the report puts it). According to the report, over half of both B2B and B2C companies use CRM software. While CRM started out at the enterprise level, it’s now becoming widely adopted by small and midsized businesses, which make up the fastest-growing group of users. The majority of companies adopt CRM software within two years of launch.

Though CRM can work for every business, certain industries seem to benefit from it the most. Retailers are the number-one user of CRM tools, which enable them to track purchasing behavior over time, suggest related products customers could buy and maintaining loyalty points in customers' accounts, among other things.

However, CRM is also very useful if your business sells products or services that are complex and/or have a long sales cycle. Business services, technology businesses and financial services-related companies are top users of CRM. For industries such as accounting, consulting, insurance and IT services, CRM can help record customer interactions over the months and months required to make the sale and keep track of all the different decision-makers involved in the purchase. After the sale, CRM helps keep track of contracts, invoices, communications with customers, and more.

Obviously, the bigger your business gets, the more use you have for CRM. Two-thirds of companies in the survey adopted CRM after they hit 100 employees. However, as your customer list grows, using CRM could make sense even if there are only a few of you. By enabling you to keep track of customer interactions better, faster and more easily, CRM lets you do more with fewer workers.

Curious yet? There are lots of CRM products out there for even the smallest businesses (Capterra lists its picks for best small-business CRM software). If you think CRM can help you manage customer relationships, improve your marketing results and boost sales, it’s worth looking into the options available.

Your SCORE mentor can help you decide if CRM is right for you and which product will best fit your needs. Visit www.score.org to get matched with a mentor if you don’t already have one. 

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 / Aug. 17, 2015 0 comments
Small Business

“Although the economy as seen through the eyes of America's small businesses has improved over the last year, recent trends show that small businesses overall are feeling less optimistic about the future," said Thumbtack’s Chief Economist Jon Lieber. “Expectations about future economic conditions have been on a five-month decline, and hiring expectations have declined slightly since March.”

Thumbtack recently released an update of their monthly survey of U.S. Small Business Economic Sentiment, based on the responses from more than 11,000 small businesses nationwide who are active on Thumbtack.

This survey tends to focus on sole proprietorships with less than 5 employees who make up the majority of small businesses in the U.S. but are typically underrepresented in studies. 

This month’s results show a further decline in how small businesses are feeling about the economy, driven primarily by a decline in their expectations about the future:

  • July saw a continuation of the deterioration in small business sentiment that began at the end of 2014.
  • Small businesses have reported increased pessimism about future economic conditions, after optimism peaked in December of 2014.
  • Expectations for hiring new workers has declined from a high in March of 2015.

The top five problems cited by owners are:

  • Access to credit (17.2%)
  • Uncertain economic conditions (16.7%)
  • Cost/quality of labor (11.9%)
  • Taxes (10.3%)
  • Competition from big business or overseas (9.7%)

To see more details by state and city, see the interactive map.

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