7 Ways To Promote Your Business Online For Free

January 25, 2012

Every business needs promotion, regardless of size. This is especially true for the home and small business ventures that don’t have large box stores or sell online.  The big question: what are some effective yet cost-effective ways of marketing?  In the article, 7 Ways to Promote Your Business Online for Free, Kim Bhasin brings out several suggestions that are fairly easy and FREE.  Free does not mean cheap, ineffective or any less valuable.  To the contrary, many of Bhasin’s suggestions use the Internet as a communications media.  Using the Internet allows for potentially huge audiences and customers.  Nothing in history compares to the power and reach of the Internet as a marketing medium.


7 Ways To Promote Your Business Online For Free

By Kim Bhasin

You may not have wads of cash to spend on marketing in the early stages of your startup, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t effective ways to get your brand out there.

Before the Internet, small businesses only had a few ways to market their products cheaply, through methods like printing out fliers or sponsoring little local events. Now there are all kinds of opportunities out there on the Web—you just need to know where to look.

Here are seven ways to promote your business online that won’t cost you a dime:

1. Use the three big local listing services

Registering your business with Google Places allows it to be found more easily on Google searches and it shows up on Google Maps. All you have to do is fill out the form and register, then get your business verified through their confirmation process, which can be done either with a phone call or snail mail. Yahoo! also has a big database of businesses called Yahoo! Local. It’s free, and is certainly worth the few minutes it takes to set up. Microsoft’s Bing has a similar service that’s easy to sign up for.

2. Embrace social media

Social media isn’t just a tool to gain exposure—it has now become a necessary time investment for every business to make. You can tie in ads and offers on your Facebook page and have a direct channel with your customers on Twitter. Networking on LinkedIn—both at the personal and company level—can be another way to help your startup.

3. Start a blog

A blog not only helps your company get its name out through followers, but is a way to connect with your consumers more directly. But remember that one of the major keys of blogging is to keep your stream updated as frequently as you can. A dormant, abandoned blog is worth nothing.

4. Put up multimedia on YouTube and Flickr

YouTube provides a free way to distribute creative promotional videos, but in order to succeed you must put up content that people want to view and are relevant to your business—a simple ad will not work. A Flickr profile can also help by giving you one place to compile all the photos for your business, and allows you to link back to your website.

5. SEO your company website

Search engine optimization cannot be underestimated in the world of constant Googling. Pick up a book or head over to an online how-to-guide on SEO and make sure your site is primed for performance on search engines.

6. Press releases

Every time your business does something newsworthy, don’t hesitate to shoot off a press release—maybe folks will pick up on it. They’re a powerful media tool to use to help generate publicity, and having free distribution of them is a bonus. There are dozens of websites out there that you can use for your press releases, such as PRLog and 24/7 Press Release.

7. Join a relevant online community and contribute

Every niche has communities online that you can get involved in. But just signing up for a forum and posting every once in a while about your business isn’t beneficial for anyone, and will likely just annoy people. Actively contribute and build a rapport with the community, while keeping your business out of it. Passively promote your business by putting a link in your signature or mentioning it only when the context is appropriate.

Kim Bhasin is a reporter for the War Room section of Business Insider. Previously he worked for a financial and strategic management consulting firm.

He is also currently a graduate student in Business and Economic Reporting at New York University. Kim holds an MBA in Strategic Management from Pace University and a BSc in Business Administration from Sacred Heart University.

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Homepreneurs.  New Day.  New Opportunities.

Logos 101: Designing Your Business Identity

December 29, 2011

Creating a unique and polished logo shouldn’t be the province of only large companies with big marketing budgets or in-house creative teams. As the primary image that represents your company in the marketplace, a successful logo is the distillation of the very essence of what your company represents. It’s almost as important to your company’s identity as its name. But how do you get there? What are the key ingredients of a good logo and what identity creation tools are available to companies on a shoestring budget?


Characteristics of a good logo

Simple: Successful logos are founded in simplicity. In a marketplace filled with competitors and store shelves brimming with products, the goal is to get the consumers’ attention and convey a host of complex product or service information with clarity and speed. Refining the design down to a simple, yet memorable and unique visual statement, as discount retailer Target has done, is half the battle.

Memorable: Still, a good logo shouldn’t be so simple that it’s rendered unremarkable. Balancing simplicity with uniqueness helps to strike a chord with consumers and create a visual imprint that can be recognized later. The Apple logo is immediately recognizable due in part to its ruthless simplicity and how that simplicity is leveraged in a unique and memorable way.

Timeless: The very best logos stand the test of time and transcend the ephemeral notions of fashion and trends. Coca-Cola’s logo is an example of durable design. Since the goal of your mark is to create some equity in the marketplace, constant change and updating shouldn’t be required. As you consider and develop your logo, ask yourself, “How will this look in 20 years? Are there any elements which might not age well or could seem outdated in a decade?

Flexible: Potentially, your logo will be produced on large and small scales, in print and online. The best marks can adapt to any media and still look great. Consider FedEx, the overnight package delivery service. Its logo must be identifiable across scores of media and contexts, from Web banner ads to airplane wings. Specifically for print considerations, think about how your logo will look in a single color, in black and white, in reverse color, and reduced to thumbnail size. Can it adapt and still be clear and easily recognizable?

AdaptableWe all know businesses are dynamic and the marketplace is ever-changing. One product line might take off while another withers on the vine. Think about this phenomenon as you brainstorm your logo. The best marks communicate what your business is about today and can adapt to how it may change over time. Marks that are too specific pigeonhole businesses or become irrelevant as products and services evolve. For example, while eBay’s lowercase “e” may link the online bazaar with the early days of Internet commerce, the logo remains dynamic as ever, even as the company has grown and evolved.

Appropriate: Perhaps the strongest design-urge business owners have is to create a logo that’s too literal. A bakery owner wants a rolling pin in the logo; a law firm wants the scales of justice, etc. But great logos don’t have to be self-explanatory to be appropriate. The Starbucks logo is one of the most recognizable on the planet, but it doesn’t feature a mug or a coffee bean. Well-crafted marks use color, scale, font and image choice together to create distinction that’s appropriate without necessarily being literal.

Choosing a logo designer

For a business that wants to create or recreate its identity, there are a wide range designers and online services—like LogoMojo—available to help. Logo creation is big business and the options are as varied as the price point and the results. For the best product, choose someone who will work one-on-one with you to create a mark that’s rooted in an understanding of what makes your business unique. Here are a few things to look for when choosing a designer or an online logo development service.

Portfolio and experience: Does your designer have experience that includes a strong portfolio of work? Pay attention to the ratio of real logos to hypothetical ones. (For example, is the designer creating logos that are actually being used or is he just conceptualizing?)

Customer testimonials: Does the designer or design service offer testimonials from satisfied customers? If so, contact a few of the client companies and check on their level of satisfaction.

Awards, recognition, and affiliations: Has your designer won any awards for identity and branding work? How well-recognized are they in the industry? For talented new designers who may be just starting out, what are their professional affiliations?

Communication: As you research services or designers to work with, gauge their responsiveness and level of professionalism and communication. Do they get back to you quickly? Are they asking questions to learn more about your business and your vision for the logo? Do they protect their work and their clients through sound contracts?

Timing: Ask questions about timing to get a sense of how much effort and customization will be put into your logo. The creation and refining process typically takes three to four weeks, but can last months, depending on complexity.

Price: In identity work, as in most fields, you get what you pay for. The fee for most online logo creation services start around $175. Of course, the cost of working one-on-one with a designer varies by experience and recognition, but there are many young and hungry designers looking to create a body of work who may be flexible on price.

Take a look all around you—what marks get your attention? What labels and logos are on your clothes, on your desk and in your wallet? With a fundamental knowledge of good logo design and by exploring a few creative resources online, your company can develop a lasting mark that represents what it’s all about.

Kentin Waits is a freelance writer and marketing specialist based in Portland, Ore. His work has been featured in US Airways magazine and top-rated blogs such as Wise Bread, the Consumerist and MSN SmartMoney. When he’s not writing, Kentin runs a small online antiques business.

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Homepreneurs.  New Day.  New Opportunity

Acquisition Time? Tips on Buying a Business

December 11, 2011

Homepreneurs and small business owners don’t always need to start a business from scratch.  Another option is possible: buy an existing business.  This may require upfront money, but not necessarily.  Seller financing is possible or paying for the business by working for the owner for a pre-determined period.  This is sweat equity, basically.

The article below by Anne Field – though written during the height of the recession – still provides many tips and suggestions for buying a business in today’s shaky economic climate.  From purchase options to systems integration, Field’s experience is invaluable when considering a purchase.  Many businesses will be up for sale as the baby-boomers retire or leave for other reasons.  If you can handle the idea of a purchase, Field’s words are sage advice.


Acquisition Time? Tips on Buying a Business

By Anne Field

With the recession hammering business valuations across the board, you’d think small business owners looking to buy a company would be in the driver’s seat, able to get their pick of the litter at bargain basement prices. But, the reality is a bit more complex.

For one thing, with bank lending to small business down, potential purchasers don’t have the access to capital they might need.  Then there’s the question of supply. Quite simply, “We see a lot fewer businesses for sale than most people would think,” says Mike Handelsman, general manager of BizBuySell.com, an online marketplace for small businesses. That’s because many company owners have pulled their firms off the market, preferring to wait until they’re more likely to sell at a higher price, according to Handelsman.

That’s what Hanson Ansary, who owns Global Management Services, a 22-employee events planning company, discovered recently. In an effort to expand into other areas in the hospitality industry, he bought two companies earlier this year, including a gaming company and a travel business. . But, according to Ansary, he found far fewer options than he thought he’d have.

In fact, in the case of the travel company, he ended up buying a business that didn’t meet all his original criteria. While he’d intended to purchase a firm that worked largely with corporate clients, he had to acquire one that did mostly retail business. As a result, he figures he’s going to have to spend more resources getting the company up to speed than he’d planned at first.

Still, there are plenty of opportunities, particularly among business owners looking to retire. “Some of them don’t care if they get less for the business than they might at another time. They just want out,” says Handelsman.

If you’re shopping for a company, here are some ideas to take into consideration:

Try seller financing or earn-outs. According to Handelsman, more transactions are being funded by seller financing, through which buyers pay sellers a percentage of the purchase price up front and the rest over a specified period of time, with interest. Another approach is to use an earn-out. In that case, you set certain  parameters—usually specific gross revenue, profit margin or net income levels– that have to be met annually for a period of two to three years. Then, you pay the seller a percentage of the total price if those benchmarks are met.  Usually, the seller also has to stay on as an employee for a period of time.

Earn-outs are also useful ways to protect against risk. That’s especially important in the current environment, if you’re buying a company with declining revenues. Richard Foster, owner of Foster Construction Management, a 15-employee New Hyde Park, NY company, is in the process of buying a company that recently experienced a drop in sales. To protect himself, Foster decided to finance the transaction partially through an earn-out, through which the seller will share in a sliding scale of profits over a five year period; for the first three years, the seller will remain on staff.

Don’t overlook the importance of integration. For an acquisition to be successful, you need to make sure you can combine the two businesses without too many hiccups.  “You can’t expect to just buy another company and fold it in,”  says Domenic Rinaldi, managing partner of Sunbelt Business Brokers, a business brokerage firm in Chicago. He advises company owners to “look for the gaps”. That could include anything from different accounting procedures that might not jibe, to an inefficient sales automation system likely to create inefficiencies and slow down operations.

Make sure you thoroughly understand how the economy will affect the future growth potential.   For example, the owner of a dry cleaner might decide to buy another firm in a less affluent area, only to discover that residents have cut back on their dry cleaning to save money.   In addition, investigate previous cut backs, to ensure your seller hasn’t made significant changes that caused real damage. Similarly, if you’re buying a business that’s experienced a sales decline, “Determine it’s just because of the economy, and not something systemic in the business that has caused business to drop,” says Rinaldi.

Anne Field is a Freelance writer, Business Insider

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6 Ways To Turn Online Browsers Into Profitable Customers

December 5, 2011

Creating a website is very, very easy. You can use WordPress.comJimdo.com, Intuit Web Site Creator or dozens of other website creation tools to create your site. However, creating a website and creating a website that cause browsers to buy (or take some other action) are two different things. It’s the difference between just watching a late night advertisement on cable TV and picking up the telephone and giving your credit card to buy the cheap product that you don’t need.

Here are 10 things you can do to boost and turn browsers and tire kickers on your website into customers who are buying from you:

Ensure your website can be found

Just building a website is not good enough. You must ensure that customers are visiting your site. There are three very practical things you can do to ensure that your website is found by the right audience.

1. Don’t just build a digital brochure

Instead, have fresh and frequent content on your website. This content will ensure search engines, such as Google and Bing, will index your site more frequently.

2. Purchase low cost advertising

This will raise your visibility on search engines and other websites. When people search on a keyword important to your industry your online advertisement will show up. You can also purchase banner advertising on web sites frequented by your customers.

3. Develop a grow list of partner sites

This should be a list of sites that can promote your website and content to their audiences.

Design a great website

Building your own site might be fun, and you might even learn a few new skills. But it’s not going to look as great as it will if you hire a professional Web designer. When customers visit your website, just like when they visit your business location or your own, they want to see something pleasant looking. Don’t skimp.

Give customers a reason to engage with you

While customers will buy from you—as you have the cheapest price or your website looks nice—it’s also advantageous to consider giving your customers a reason to further engage. For example, maybe you are selling cosmetics. Why not enable customers to upload a photo of themselves and apply a variety of skin tones or makeup? Customers could then e-mail the revisions to themselves and friends. This will boost your e-mail newsletter readership, and boost customer engagement.

Respond quickly to customer questions, queries

Your customers are only a mouse click away. Never forget this. If you are not responding to customers and responding to them quickly, then you will eventually lose them. When customers e-mail you at 10 p.m. on Monday evening, they are most likely ready to purchase. By not getting back to them quickly, you’re pushing them right into the hands of your competition. Answering all custom questions—be they through e-mail or social media—is an easy way to build trust and loyalty with customers and prospective customers.

Have great navigation

Part of having a well-designed website is to ensure the navigation is easy for customers to follow. When customers visit your site they’re not coming (most likely) to take their time and browse around. Instead they want to get in, do what they need to do, and get out. The best way to make this happen is to ensure they can easily find what they need to find. A part of good navigation is to have a good search engine so customers can find, through search, what they might not be able to find through the web site menus or other navigation elements.

Use analytics to better know your customers

Regularly analyzing your analytics will help you not only know how much traffic is coming to your website, but it will also help you understand more about your visitors and what content they like. For example, knowing the time of most activity on your site might help guide you into what hours your customer service should be. Knowing which articles or products are clicked on the most will help you know what products your customers are most interesting in.

Like I said, building website is easy. But building a site that is profitable to your business can only be done with strategic thinking, planning and execution.

By Ramon Ray

Ramon Ray is Editor and Technology Evangelist, Smallbiztechnology, Smallbiztechnology.com

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10 Creative Ways To Get Your Business Funded

November 3, 2011

Forget applying to banks to get a loan for your business. Most of them stopped being in the “give a loan to a small company who has no collateral” business in 2007. This does not, however, mean that you are out of options to fund the growth of your company.

In his new book, Get Your Business Funded, author Steve Strauss discusses creative ways to get the money that you need. Here are 10 options to try:

1. Factoring

This method allows you to sell your accounts receivable to a third party (i.e. The Receivables Exchange) for immediate cash. It’s a $150 billion industry and goes back to the ancient time of Babylonia. Remember: Factoring is expensive since it can cost up to 15 percent of the receivable. This may work for a growing company, but is not a method of financing for a company that is shrinking or losing money.

2. Retirement accounts

Borrowing money from your IRA or 401(k) can be tempting. First consider a 60 day interest free loan from it. There are no fees if it is paid back in this time frame. Remember: This is your retirement money, so using it is risky and potentially devastating if you lose your business.

3. Government grants

These programs require research at local, state and federal levels. According to Steve, these agencies include the USDA, the Department of Commerce, and the Treasury Department. They come with names like SBIR, STTR and SBIC. Remember: Typically they are very specific and technical in nature and come with reporting strings attached.

4. Peer to peer lending (P2P)

It is now possible to go online and get funding from people you do not know at sites such as Prosper.com and Lending Club. The amount paid for the loan depends on your credit score, the economy, the length of the loan and “your story.” Remember: P2P loans are not easy to get and the interest rates can be very high.

5. Crowdfunding

A sister method to P2P, you can now get people to invest in “your cause” in exchange for something (other than money). This is a different source of funding since the money is not repaid. The rewards for donors range from receiving your first products to having a product named after them. Popular sites that facilitate crowdfunding include IndieGoGo and Kickstarter. Remember: Crowdfunding is very emotional and its success is based on the appeal of your idea.

6. Microfinancing

While this is relatively new in the United States, these small loans up to $10,000 are gaining popularity. Loans are based on your experience, passion, market opportunity and sales. Organizations include Accion USA, Grameen Bank and Kiva. Remember: It is a good alternative if you have an appealing idea and need a small about of money.

7. Supplier or wholesaler financing

This method works with your supply chain to get the money that you need. It usually works best with a smaller, local supplier who really wants your business and is willing to work with you. Tony Hsieh, CEO at Zappos said this type of financing was critical to the company’s growth. Remember: Don’t personally guarantee this loan.

8. Business plan competitions or other contests

When all else fails, try to win the money! There are a lot of regional and national competitions giving away substantial amounts of money. These include the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Challenge, The GE Ecomagination Challenge and the Amazon Web Services Start Up Challenge. Remember: This is really show business that loves a great idea and very competent team. You also need to be a good presenter.

9. Business incubators

If your business is new, it can get seed money, mentorship and other similar services to get started. These types of organizations have a great track record of success which include Excelerate Labs and TechStars. Remember: There is a lot of competition to become part of an incubator these days so focus on a handful of organizations which match up best with your goals.

10. Barter

Swap products or services, not money. Before there was currency, there was only barter (trading). The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that 25 percent of the world’s trade is still done this way. Barter can save money, move unused inventory and find new customers. Bartering can be done directly with another business or through a barter exchange like IMS Barter. Remember: Barter selective goods and services. You still typically can’t pay your employees or rent without cash.

By Barry Moltz

Barry Moltz is a Small Business Speaker, Consultant, and Author

13 Marketing Activities You Can Do For Less Than $20 A Day

October 18, 2011

All businesses need marketing to create a brand, sales – and hopefully – profits.  A marketing campaign can be expensive and not in a home or small business budget.  Other ways exist though, to market your business for less than $20 per day as described by Ivana Taylor.  Some of these activities need only time and effort such as blogging or commenting on other blogs.  Others require hiring an SEO professional or designer for a logo or image.  All are solid suggestions describing inexpensive ways of promoting your business.


13 Marketing Activities You Can Do For Less Than $20 A Day

By Ivana Taylor

There really is no better, easier and more fun time to market your business than today. Granted, the economy isn’t participating, and dollars are tight, but that shouldn’t stop you from creating a marketing plan that will start generating new business.

I’ve pulled together some marketing activities that you can do when you have more time than money, and then as your business grows, I’ve got marketing activities you can do when you’ve got more money than time!

When you have time

1. Develop your message and an offering

Resist the temptation to get out there and sell without having a clear marketing message and an offer. You will look desperate and people will run away from you instead of running toward you. Take time to identify specifically who your ideal customers are, what’s important to them, and the frustrations that they encounter when they are thinking about what you’re selling. Then create an offer based on solving their specific frustrations.

If it helps, create a marketing kit that serves as a new customers’ startup kit. Once your offer is more concrete and exists outside your head, you will feel more confident and your customers will be able to experience what it will be like to work with you and buy from you.

2. Write a blog article at least twice a week

I’m not advocating writing a blog because it’s hip and cool. I’m encouraging you to do it because it’s a full page, keyword-rich advertisement for your product or service. Tip: Be sure to have a place for readers to give you their e-mail addresses in exchange for information that will help them be better consumers.

3. Comment on blog articles written by your customers or industry experts

Take the time to visit industry sites and blogs and leave intelligent and informed comments on their posts. Leaving a comment is like a mini blog post and encourages interaction and communication. Ask a question of the author or contact them via e-mail. Get a conversation started about your industry, product or service. Look for ways to help the author.

4. Write endorsements for customers, suppliers and experts on LinkedIn

Reciprocity is a powerful trigger. Leave endorsements and testimonials on the profiles of customers and suppliers. This will prompt them to do the same for you. Use the opportunity to start a conversation about them and what they have been up to. Always lead with asking how you can help—they will respond in kind. And this is when it pays to reference the offer you developed earlier.

5. Answer questions on Quora and Focus.com

Everyone is familiar with LinkedIn questions and answers, but I love Quora and Focus.com as well. Simply click over to either of these sites and search on a topic of your interest. Take the time to form a great answer and follow up with the person asking the question. These sites are also a wonderful source of content that you can use on your blog. Simply collect the answers to a question and include them in your article along with links to the people who answered the question. They will be honored that you referred to them.

6. Look for industry sites, magazines or blogs where you can become a contributor

This is an ideal activity when you have more time than dollars. You will reap the benefits after you are busy with clients. In the meantime, connect with editors and journalists from industry press and see what ways you can contribute and help. Most publishers are starving for good content and will be open to chatting with you. Once your business grows, they will be a valuable PR asset.

7. Get listed on outsourcing sites

If you are in a service business, consider putting your company on oDeskeLanceGuru—or if your business is a retail location consider the new site, Thumbtack.com. These sites aren’t just for individual freelancers, a wide variety of organizations and teams participate as service providers. These sites serve as referring directories who match you and your company with customers who are looking for someone just like you.

When you have money

8. Conduct webinars/teleseminars

Leverage your connections to create an audience and a referral stream for webinars and teleseminars. You can provide free content and use the Webinars as a lead generator or actually charge for content and make it a revenue generator. If you’ve ever given a speech or presentation—or trained someone how to do something—then you have all the skills you need to do webinars.

9. Do Pay Per Click advertising

Most SEO experts will tell you that generating leads and traffic comes from a balanced approach between organic search (that you create with your blog) and pay per click advertising that targets and attracts customers that are most interested in what you have to offer.

10. Get Pro versions of automation tools

If you’re already using tools like HootSuiteMarketMe Suite or SocialOomph, then now might be the time to invest in the professional versions of these tools to help you manage your social media accounts in one place.

11. Invest in image and design

Design and image matter. Customers will form opinions about your company based on how professional you look. (Check out 99Designs.) For a fixed price, you post your projects and designers submit their design concepts.

12. Hire SEO professional

If you have less than 5 percent of your audience signing up for whatever you’re offering, it’s time for getting help from an SEO professional. Before you talk to a pro, be sure to have a clear call to action on your site that leads to a sale so that you can get the most from their advice.

13. Outsource the administration and management

If you’ve used the outsourcing sites to get customers, now you can use them to keep customers. If you’ve followed this checklist, you will have developed a system for getting it done right. Now you can transform these tasks into instructions and delegate them to virtual assistants, writers and SEO experts.

Don’t be afraid to invest in the time intensive activities. It’s the old “sharpen the saw” philosophy. By investing the effort up front, you’ll gather data and experience what strategies and tactics are most effective for your business. In the end, both your time and your money will be well spent.

Ivana Taylor is the president of the strategic marketing firm, Third Force and the publisher DIYMarketers.com. Ivana is the Book editor and contributing marketing expert for Small Business Trends (www.smallbiztrends.com). She writes the popular blog Strategy Stew (www.strategystew.com).

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