How to Promote Your Small Business Blog

    How to Promote Your Small Business Blog

    “If you write it, they will come.” Well at least that’s what all those small businesses that start a blog in the hope of driving hoards of potential customers to their site anticipate will happen.

    While writing a regular blog is a great way to establish yourself as an expert in your industry and help potential customers get the information they need about your company, the next hurdle is actually getting people to read it.

    That’s where social bookmarking sites like Reddit, Digg, Delicious and StumbleUpon come in. Used properly, they have the power to bring eyeballs to your well-written prose.

    One important distinction to make is that unlike social networking sites such as Facebook or LinkedIn — where the content is secondary — people participate within social bookmarking sites for the purpose of finding specific web content. So researching each site and knowing what types of content do the best for that audience will help increase your success.

    Here then are just a few best practices for using social bookmarking to promote your small businesses blog:

    Bookmark your best, but not every post

    More than likely, your current blogging platform makes it easy to share your blog posts with social bookmarking sites to which you already belong. By loading the login information for each social bookmarking site onto your blogging software, you can quickly and easily share your selected posts. For example, after writing a particularly powerful blog post that you feel fits with the content needs of a site, you can tag it to your business Facebook page, to Digg, to StumbleUpon and to any other social bookmarking sites you choose.
    Have social bookmarking icons available at the end of each post

    To really maximize the effectiveness of social bookmarking, place icons such as ShareThis at the end of every blog post on your website. This makes it easy for visitors who belong to sites to share the posts they find useful as well. Here are a few of the most popular sites and where their share button codes can be found:

    Facebook
    Twitter
    LinkedIn
    Delicious
    ShareThis

    Pay attention to both the big players and the up and coming. Robert Farrington says that creating backlinks to your blog via social bookmarking is a key strategy for increasing traffic to your site. Farrington makes the point, however, that while the big players (Facebook, Twitter, Digg, StumbleUpon and Reddit) tend to dominate, newer sites such as Y Combinator are worth a try. Best known as the venture capital muscle behind many of today’s social media players, this site’s readers are looking for hot new content that is targeted toward the Internet and finance. Similar to Reddit, users submit posts, which are then voted up or down.

    Research your keywords.
    As with most things Internet marketing, keywords are critical. Lea Richards, owner of mail-order barbeque company Pigofthemonth, says that before submitting to social media sites, she takes some time to optimize the tags for whom she is targeting. “I do a quick Google search for my post and see what else is out there to get a better idea of what keywords I should be hitting on,” says Richards.

    Add images whenever possible. Posts that have video, photos or infographics are always more likely to go viral in today’s visually oriented world.

    How have you been using social bookmarking to drive traffic to your blog? We would love to hear your comments.

    This post was originally published at Karen Leland’s Featured Small Business column on The Huffington Post.

    How to Craft a Small Business Sound Bite

    How to Craft a Small Business Sound Bite

    If you think sound bites are just for movie stars, politicians and the pundits on TV, think again. In today’s get-to-the-point-centric world, your small business spin has power.

    I was reminded of the importance of this during a coaching session I had last week with a group of women entrepreneurs.

    As each business owner was going around the table telling us what their companies did, I noticed that some of the stories just went “clunk” — in a good way. I got an instant idea of the business these people were in and how it might help me or someone else. Others, however, were more vague and rambling in their descriptions — or just plain boring and run of the mill.

    Being able to distill who you are and what your business offers down to a single scintillating sentence (or two) — in other words, a sound bite — has practical applications, not just at a cocktail party but in the online universe.

    For more enlightenment on this topic, I interviewed sound bite expert and media coach Susan Harrow. “The problem that most small businesses have isn’t that they don’t have enough to say about what they do,” says Harrow. “It’s that they have too much to say.”

    Harrow says that well-crafted small business sound bites are nothing like normal conversation and are in fact a whole different kind of speaking process. She likens them to the way language is used in novels and film.

    “What makes great dialogue in movies and books is that it’s a highly condensed version of conversation that resonates. In just a few words, the language has more meaning than simply what is being said. There are layers beneath that show a bigger story,” says Harrow.

    Harrow suggests creating small business sound bites that connect with your ideal audience by crafting a variety that cover the following areas:

    Story: Kristen Scheurlein left a multi-million-dollar business as a graphic designer to become what she calls The Blanket Lady.

    “I didn’t want to become an entrepreneur, but it’s in my blood. My grandfather was a shoemaker. In the Depression, he saw that many people couldn’t afford shoes. He traded chickens for shoes to make sure that none of the children in the village went shoeless. I didn’t realize that I was following in his footsteps when I began my business, which will become a complete non-profit in five years, but I am. We give away blankets to churches, charities, homeless. In essence, I’m trading chickens for shoes.”

    Statistic: In 1999, the Institute of Medicine estimated that between 44,000 and 98,000 Americans die each year as a result of medical errors.

    Fact: “I did not have three thousand pairs of shoes; I had one thousand and sixty.” Imelda Marcos

    Vignette: Laura Bell Bundy, who is starring in the musical “Legally Blonde,” said in an interview, “There’s some really hilarious things that happen on stage with the cast. I lost my shoe once in the middle of a number. It flew out into the audience, and I kicked the other one off and ended the show in bare feet. I love when things like that happen. I love when things go wrong.”

    Anecdote: “When a man says ‘no,’ it is the end of a conversation. When a woman says ‘no,’ it is the beginning of a negotiation.” Gavin De Becker

    Analogy: Speaking in sound bite is like taking the novel “War and Peace” and turning it into haiku poetry.

    Aphorism: “In the business world, the rearview mirror is always clearer than the windshield.” Warren Buffett

    Acronym: F.A.S.T. equals Fix American Schools Today

    The trick is to pepper these into the conversations you have with potential clients, media or anyone else you want to have a powerful experience of your business. This can happen at meetings, conferences, interviews, lunches, online and just about anywhere you talk about what you do.

    “I have one client who was standing in line waiting to buy an iPad 2 when she spoke about her small business in sound bites to the person in front of her in line,” says Harrow. “As a result, she sold over 200 books and closed a speaking engagement.”

    What is your small business sound bite? We would love to hear your comments.

    This post was originally published at Karen Leland’s Featured Small Business column on The Huffington Post.

    Bring Social Media Sanity To Your Small Business

    Bring Social Media Sanity To Your Small Business

    Every morning, I walk across the street from my townhouse and take a stroll by the San Francisco Bay. The paved pathway I amble down is a flurry of bike riders, power walkers, and locals taking their dogs out for a morning stretch.

    Earlier this week, I came across a springy King Charles spaniel happily chewing on a tennis ball, when he suddenly became aware of his owner filling up his water bowl at the drinking fountain.

    The dog — who had previously been in a state of single focus bliss — began to nervously shift his attention from the ball, to the bowl and back again. Then a bicycle blew by and the confused canine whipped around to take a look. Not sure which of these things was the most deserving of his attention, clearly stressed, and unable to make a choice, his head went from bike, to bowl, to ball and back again, over and over.

    I know just how that dog feels.

    And so does any small business owner or entrepreneur, who is confronted with crafting a modern marketing strategy out of the vast array of choices presented by today’s social media landscape.

    “I think small businesses are confused about what they should do and how they should do it,” says Brian Halligan, CEO of HubSpot. “They stick their toe in the water by tweeting once a week or creating a page on Facebook, but that really doesn’t work. What they need to do is jump in, ask questions, learn and fully engage.”

    In fact, the recent 2011 Social Media Marketing Industry Report , which surveyed 3,342 marketers, found that 48 percent of small business owners, who did engage, saw improved sales as a direct result of their social media efforts.

    Mike Schultz, author of Rainmaking Conversations: Influence, Persuade, and Sell in Any Situation, says that there are benefits to marketing online but cautions that there are two social media paths a small business can pursue.

    “Some people focus on the path of acquiring as many followers as they can,” says Schultz. “But the other path, which is much less sexy, but leads to more money, is to focus on finding people that you could not easily find in the past and reaching out to them in the right way.”

    Just what is that right way? While social media mastery has many layers, the experts all agree that following five core steps is a good start to bringing social media sanity to your small business.

    1. Generate an abundance of high-quality content. Be it blog posts, podcasts, ebooks, web pages, videos or webinars. The more substantial, unique and useful your content is, the more your potential customers will find you. Stuck on what kind of content to create? Ask yourself: What questions are my clients always asking me? Then write your answers to those.

    2. Optimize that content for social media. Research the keywords your potential clients would use to find you and integrate those into your blog posts, page titles, blog headings, website text and any other content on your site. Google Keyword Tool provides easy research.

    3. Integrate your website/blog with your social media. Publish your posts on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. In addition, post links on your social media back to your website offering free downloadable content. Blog buttons such as LinkedIn Share and TweetMeme help integrate social media.

    4. Use alerts to monitor the conversation. Google Alerts notifies you when your business appears online but also helps you find journalists and bloggers in your field. Schultz suggests using Twitter Alerts as well. “One company I know of got a $250,000 sale by following up with a potential client who tweeted a general industry question,” he says.

    5. Measure social media marketing. Google Analytics can give you instant access to where your Web traffic is coming from, how long people are staying on your site, which pages are the most popular and whether your overall website visits are going up or down.

    In an era where participating in social media has gone from being nice to necessary, it’s critical to outline an overall plan for integrating social media into your marketing mix. Just remember to keep your eye on the tennis ball.

    Take our quick poll: What is your biggest social media pain?

    What are your greatest social media challenges? We would love to hear your comments and questions.

    This post was originally published at Karen Leland’s Featured Small Business column on The Huffington Post.

    Use An eBook To Build Your Brand

    Use An eBook To Build Your Brand

    Amanda Hocking, the 26-year-old current indie queen of eBooks, was rejected by so many New York publishing houses that she decided to go the entrepreneurial route and put out an eBook instead. To date, she’s sold more than 500,000 books and made more than $1 million dollars. The movie rights to her popular “Trylle Trilogy” series have been acquired and, a few weeks ago, she closed a US$2 million deal for her four-book “Watersong” series with (yes, you guessed it) St. Martin’s Press — a traditional publishing house.

    While Hocking’s paranormal romance novels are probably not what the typical entrepreneur is looking to publish, the best-practice business point is that eBooks are now a viable way of building your brand and getting word out about your company and expertise.

    Here are the basics: An eBook (electronic book) is an electronic document that can contain text, images, audio and video. They can be viewed on a personal computer, smart phone, PDA and eBook reader, such as a Kindle, and are sold through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and dozens of other outlets.

    Depending on the length and content of the eBook, they sell from between 99 cents and $99. But the current rage is pricing eBooks at the lower end of the spectrum for around $2.99, or even giving them away for free as a promotion.

    The five best reasons why you should be writing an eBook, beyond the immediate financial return of book sales, include:

    • Increases name recognition for your company and personal brand, as well as drives traffic to your Web site via links from book excerpts, free samples, reviews, newsletter distribution and blog mentions.

    • Introduces you to potential customers looking for what you offer via press releases about the book, an Amazon listing and book reviews from bloggers.

    • Provides a perfect free, downloadable giveaway on your blog to entice visitors to sign up and give you their contact information.

    • Makes a great calling card to send before you meet with a potential client to show your knowledge, expertise and point of view.

    • Forces you to develop content you can then repurpose for marketing collateral and turn into podcasts and Webcasts.

    Oddly enough, the easiest part of eBook publishing is getting the finished product up and running for distribution. Many can be uploaded with just a click of a few buttons. But where most entrepreneurs face a challenge is in finding the time, or having the writing chops, to craft the eBook in the first place. Even if that’s the case, it’s no excuse, since there are scads of eBook-savvy small businesses whose sole purpose is to ghost write, edit, design and publish your eBook.

    Still not convinced? Consider this: According to the Association of American Publishers, Americans spent US$440 million dollars on eBooks in the first quarter of 2011, and the Book Industry Study Group found that one in four Americans reads eBooks — and that’s a whole lota brand to be built.

    This post was originally published at Karen Leland’s Featured Small Business column on The Huffington Post.

    6 Ways To Keep Your Computer Healthy

    6 Ways To Keep Your Computer Healthy

    I’ve experienced a week that can only be described as computer hell. A Malware invasion that crashed my WordPress site – yup. An Email program snafu that banished over 200 of my messages to never, never land – you bet. A freaky bug that wouldn’t let me delete an errant email – of course. Top this all off with the fact that my last back up was over a week ago (I know, I know) and you have a recipe for technology turmoil. It seems like everyone from small business owners to multinational moguls to working moms, spend as much time fixing issues on their computer as they do working on them.

    “Malware, viruses, identity theft and spyware account for about 80% of all computer issues resulting in downtime,” reveals IT expert Chip Reaves. “It is estimated that the lost-productivity cost due to these alone is around $50 billion, and the associated IT costs of dealing with it has skyrocketed from $20 billion to $198 billion in the last five years.”

    Depending on the degree to which you rely on your computer, an interruption of service can be a mere inconvenience, or can add up to thousands of dollars in lost downtime or data.

    Although the mere thought of trying to ‘fix’ a computer can cause most of us to break out in a cold sweat, Reaves, the National Director of Computer Troubleshooters, says there are some simple tips everyone can use to keep their computers in tip-top shape.

    1. Old Hardware. Studies have shown that the likelihood of physical problems with computer equipment goes up significantly after 24 to 36 months,” says Reaves. Consider replacing computer systems every three years – considering how inexpensive computers have become, one major repair bill could easily cost more than purchasing an entire new system.

    2. Power Protection. Surges and power drops can cause data loss and are always damaging to sensitive components, reducing their lifespan. Most people do use surge protectors, but what many don’t realize is that surge protection wears off over time. For the best protection make sure that the surge protectors for all your computer equipment are replaced every 2 to 3 years.

    3. Training. Having to spend money training your staff might sound like a waste, but most employees understand less than 20% of the software packages they use. The gain in productivity far outweighs the training costs.

    4. Firewall and Security. The internet is full of hackers who regularly try to access computers for nefarious purposes. If they get in (either directly, or with the help of exploits from malware or viruses) the list of problems they can cause is pretty big; including stealing files or customer records, and deleting important data. It’s important to be sure that all computers in your organization are updated with the latest security patches from Microsoft or Apple, and that firewalls are installed and maintained properly.

    5. Backup Data. It sounds so obvious but most companies fail to keep 100% of their important data backed up 100% of the time – there are often gaps in what’s being backed up which are only discovered when it’s too late. The consequences of lost data can put a company out of business on the spot, and data retrieval is frighteningly expensive.

    6. Spam, Viruses and Spyware.
    80% of all Computer Troubleshooters’ service calls worldwide are from people with problems directly linked to these issues. You should consider good virus protection, spam filters and anti-spyware programs as mandatory if you want a trouble-free computer.

    With a small amount of common sense and a minimum weekly maintenance (much of which you can do yourself), you can look forward to more trouble-free workdays.

    This post was originally published at Karen Leland’s Featured Small Business column on The Huffington Post.

    I’m All A Twitter: 7 Tips To Manage Your Twime

    I’m All A Twitter: 7 Tips To Manage Your Twime

    Gosh, my thumbs are tired. All that texting, typing and tweeting has given my digits an Olympic-size work out.

    With the past few weeks bringing on a torrent of Twitters about Michael Jackson, Iran and Sarah Palin, there can be no doubt that social media has left its mark on mainstream media. When CNN starts showing the URL to its Twitter stream — the world as we know it has changed.

    But revolutions, celebrity passings and political head-scratchers aside, left unchecked, social media can become a big, huge gaping black hole worthy of a scene in the latest “Start Trek” movie. “Step away from the iPhone, Mr. Spock; just step away.”

    The down, dark side to all this Twitter activity — all the time — is that it can really bring out one’s obsessive-compulsive personality tendencies. And I speak from experience here. Twitter-aholics, Facebook fanatics and LinkedIn mainliners — not a pretty story, but one that must be told.

    If you want to get the Twitter monkey off your back, but still buy an e-ticket to the social media wild ride, try these seven smart strategies:

    1. “I save time by syndicating my content automatically to all my social networking profiles: Twitterfeed.com sends my posts to my Twitter stream; the Notes application on Facebook feeds my Facebook profile; the Blog Link app on LinkedIn updates that site. I also use Ping.fm to update my status on multiple social networking sites as well.” Denise Wakeman, www.BizTipsBlog.com

    2. “I practice batch tweeting — setting aside certain batches of time for Twitter, rather than just dropping into it at random times during the day. Ten intentional minutes on Twitter can help a lot.” Darren Rowse, www.problogger.net

    3. “Look for timesaving tools and applications, but don’t waste time playing with ‘gee whiz’ applications that don’t improve your productivity,” says Dana Lynn Smith, author of Get Connected: Build Your Business With Online Networking. “Some useful productivity tools include applications such as TweetDeck.com and twitterfeed.com that make Twitter easier to use.”

    4. “HootSuite.com has a toolbar button that makes it easy to tweet a link. When you run across an interesting blog post or other resource, you can send it out to your followers with a couple of clicks. You can also schedule it to appear at a later time.” Cathy Stucker, www.BloggerLinkUp.com

    5. “Saving time on social media is not only about tools, but more importantly, it’s about knowing whom you want to connect with (your ideal audiences) and connecting with them instantly when they visit your profile,” says George Kao, social media expert. Make sure your one-line bio on Twitter resonates with that audience instantly by (a) telling them who they are, and (b) stating what results you can deliver for them or why you’re someone they’d want to follow.

    6. “I am easily distracted by various social media sites, and will lose track of time quickly! So, I’ve scheduled times during the day to go on the sites and make posts and respond. I even put these times on my calendar to remind me. When I get on, I have a set time limit; then I get off! If you have trouble getting off, set a timer to remind you.” Gladys Strickland, GS Business Resources

    7. “You want to follow and be followed by people who are following less than 100 people themselves. Otherwise it becomes a ‘follow-fest,’ and nobody is listening. But … the people who are following less than 100 Twitterers are the people who are being very selective … and are the people who are listening. So, here’s the lesson … don’t build for quantity, build for quality … follow and be followed by people who care, not by people trying to build a list.” Mike Michalowicz, blogger and Author of “The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur.”

    Bonus Tip: And here’s my hot tip… If I have a topic I’m hot to write about and want to do a series of tweets on it, I use http://www.tweetlater.com/ I find that by picking a topic and focusing on it for ten minutes or so, I am able to come up with a series of tweets that link together and build on one another. I usually schd. them to be tweeted once an hour or one a day for a period of days, set them up in tweetlater and move onto the next item! Karen Leland, author Time Management In An Instant:60 Ways to Make the Most of Your Day.

    This post was originally published at Karen Leland’s Featured Small Business column on The Huffington Post.