Friday, June 27, 2014

How to: creating a business plan

Are you thinking about starting your own business? If so, the first typically involves writing a business plan. There are a few different ways to start - so ask yourself these two questions questions to decide how detailed your plan needs to be:
Who is the plan for? and  What time frame are you looking to cover?
If you answered:
The plan is for your reference, short time frame (i.e., one year): Then you may only need a lightweight document that outlines your high-level goals to get the business off the ground and increase revenue to breakeven.
The plan is for external use: Then your business document should be longer term (think 3-5 years) and include project financial information and other nitty gritty details. Business plans for external reference are often used to gain interest from investors or secure loans.
Today, we’ll cover the business plan for reference or internal use, which can also be used as a great starting point to gain external funds when that time comes. Here are the three main bases you should cover:
1. Industry information: This is the very first step to writing a successful business plan. Before you can define your business and how you’ll be successful, you have to understand the industry that you plan to launch a company in. Specifically, outline each of these:
a. An overview of the industry (past, present and future)
b. An in-depth analysis of the market.
c. Where your product fits into the current market.
2. Competitive information: Some business owners don’t start by peeking at the competition for fear of being intimidated or due to the desire to be original. While I understand this logic, not looking at the competition is a mistake. You should understand who is selling similar products or services, what their presence looks like locally and online, and have a full understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. A SWOT analysis of main competitors is an easy way to start.

3. Your plan. This includes an overview of your business and how you are planning for success. What will you sell? Where will you sell? How will you sell? How will you compete with similar businesses? Why is your product or service different or better than anyone else in the space? If there are no true competitors, why will your company be a success? How will you create the need?

Be sure to include both high-level overviews and an appropriate level of detail in each of these sections and you’re well on your way to having a comprehensive business plan. If you plan to use this document externally, be sure to consider financial information as well.

Have any questions or comments? Feel free to drop me a line at or leave a comment below!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

3 ways to create event awareness online

Does your business plan events for yourself or other businesses? If so, you know that getting bodies in the door is one of the most important pieces of planning an event. This task may seem daunting - it’s hard to know who will show up and who won’t. The best solution is to promote the event in the places where you can reach a large number of people, online. Here are three ways to amplify your reach and ensure your event is a success:

1. Promote your event on social media. Which social media platforms are you using? Make sure you’re promoting on all of them. Feel free to start as soon as your event is planned and information available online is. If you’re more than four weeks out from the event, mentioning it once or twice a week will suffice.

As the event gets closer, post on each platform as much as you feel is appropriate. My personal promotion rule is 2-3 times per week on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and similar platforms, and up to once per day on Twitter. Make sure you get creative! Post photos of the venue, create online flyers to be distributed, post event links - and remember, images typically get more interaction than simple text posts.

2. Create shareable content - then share it. Do you have a place where you write regularly online, such as a blog? Make sure you drop in mentions of your event when it make sense as you’re writing. Then, write blogs specifically for certain milestones in the event planning process, such as date/venue/topic chosen, early bird registration, end of early bird registration, registration closing, etc.

The key piece of this strategy is sharing your blog, also known as seeding. Seeding is essentially distributing your blog link as much as possible across the web. Here are a few free places to consider submitting your blog: Alltop, Pinterest, Scoop.It, and some paid options: Outbrain, social advertising on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

3. Leverage sponsors, speakers and your audience. Will you have sponsors or speakers at your event? If so, they almost certainly have a dedicated audience that pays attention to what they say. Make sure sponsors and speakers are doing their part to sell tickets or fill seats at your event. Give them a checklist of ways to promote the event (this blog is a great start!) and, if you’re skeptical about follow through, offer sample content for them to use for promotion.

Leveraging your audience can be equally successful. Run a contest; give away tickets to the event, backstage passes, a signed speaker giveaway - whatever you can come up with. Then promote the contest on social media. Make sure you ask participants to share your photos and posts to enter, thus promoting your event to their audiences as well.

What strategies do you use to ensure your event goes off without a hitch? I’d love to hear more about them. Drop me a line at or leave a comment below.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Why should I hire a social media expert?

As a small business owner, you do it all. You are your own marketer, accountant, salesperson, web designer, and probably a whole host of other positions. However, there are a few positions in small companies that should only be handled by the experts - and today, I’ll make the case that social media is one of them.

There are a lot of ways to go wrong on social media. Maybe you put up a page and don’t post enough, don’t respond to questions or complaints, don’t share cohesive content, don’t create content yourself, don’t post at the right times… you see where I’m going. The list goes on.

Bringing in outside help for social media is becoming more common as small business owners realize the true power of each platform. Done right, social media can bring you brand awareness, brand advocates, customers and much more. Here’s why you should consider outsourcing it:

1. Social media experts can choose where you should have a presence in a fraction of the time. If you’re just getting started in social media, this point is key. A social expert can take a look at your business and have a good understanding of what platforms you need, and which you skip, fairly quickly. One of the biggest mistakes I see made by small businesses is thinking they need to be on platforms that aren’t right for them.

2. You can get an experienced social media manager for entry-level money. This is something I’ve already discussed once in my blog about outsourcing your marketing. If you’re thinking about hiring someone entry level to run your social media accounts, halt, and think about it for a few minutes. Do you really need someone full time running your social presence? If you’re a small business, the answer is probably not. Take the money that you would allocate toward hiring someone and pay more for an expert that already knows the tips and tricks to do it in half (or a quarter, or a tenth…) of the time. You won’t regret it.

3. An outside perspective will help you gain an audience (and keep it fun). As fun as social media can be, when you’re too close to the company, it can be hard to focus on what your audience wants. If you developed the software, you might be too technical for the job. And if your business is your baby, you’ll probably take criticism way more harshly than it’s intended. (Don’t worry, I do it too). Outsourcing your social management allows your presence to stay objective, positive, focused, and your audience will appreciate the creativity that’s put in by a professional.

4. It’s not an expense. It’s an investment. Probably the most important point is this: social media should bring you so much ROI that outsourcing it pays for itself. Be it in new clients, products sold, local awareness, or in place of other marketing initiatives, outsourcing social media to a quality, qualified professional will truly pay off in the long run.

Check out this article to see how some top social brands look at ROI. A social media expert will be able to understand how to get a return on your investment and show you the value they bring to your business.

So, are you convinced? Leave a comment and let me know why you will or won’t outsource your social media. As always, questions are welcome.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Finding your social media voice

How you speak to your audience on social media is a direct reflection of your company, and you will be judged by it. But how do you find your social media voice? Should it be playful (see: Taco Bell), educational (see: Intel), motivational (see: Nike)?

There are many different ways to choose a social media voice, but first, some considerations:

1. What are you trying to accomplish on social media? For companies that are looking to build brand awareness, a more casual voice may do the trick. But for those who would like to be seen as inspirational thought leaders, keep it professional.

2. How do you describe your company? If you already have descriptors in your tagline, on your website, or woven throughout your business in any way, it could be fairly easy to choose a social media voice. Are you a crafty company? Trendy? Any of these words could be used to form your social voice.

3. Who is your audience? For companies that sell into a specific niche or serve a specific need, speaking directly to the interests and personalities of your audience may be best. For example, Tiffany & Co. is known to be very classic and refined - and so is their Twitter presence. On the other hand, Lululemon knows its audience is interested in health and fitness, so they simply keep to those topics.

Choose a voice
Write down your answers to the questions above. Are there any common themes? If you’re looking to build company and brand awareness, have a casual vibe and your audience is young professionals, then a casual voice is probably for you.

But don’t go too far. It can be tempting to forge bonds with your audience by being uber-casual, but use your best judgement and as always, keep controversial opinions to yourself.

Document your social persona
After you choose to be more casual or more serious, there are many other factors that can come into play. Your company can be serious and informative or casual and informative, and the list goes on. Here is a comprehensive list of the characteristics your social media voice should have by Social Media Today. Make sure you write this list down and distribute your social media goals to other employees, especially those that may ever touch the sites.

For small businesses that are just getting started, keep in mind that your social media voice will evolve over time. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from your followers, customers or friends to tweak your strategy.

How did you choose your social voice? Leave a comment below to discuss further.

Friday, March 7, 2014

YouTube Advanced Techniques

A few weeks ago, we took a look at YouTube - the most popular video posting and sharing social platform on the market today. We discussed how to sign up, creating and testing videos and touched briefly on content optimization. Today, we’ll dive deeper into that topic and other advanced techniques.

Optimizing your YouTube content
There are a few steps that you can take to optimize your content that will really have an impact on the number of people that see it:

Include keywords in the video title. To optimize the title for Google search, keep your title under 66 characters. Use the same keyword research you probably did for your website in the video titles. Make sure you include the word “video” in the title. Finally, if you include the name of your company, make sure it’s last.

Write a description full of keywords - but make sure it sounds natural. There’s no worse video description than one that’s packed full of keywords for search optimization that make absolutely no sense. Layer in the same keywords that you considered for your title throughout a short description, but keep it natural sounding. When in doubt, nix the keyword in question in favor of correct grammar and keeping with your brand voice.

Transcribe your videos. Including a script of your video within the description (or even an abbreviated one) will help users that are searching the YouTube platform find your content. And, it’s becoming increasingly popular that users want to see a transcription to know what they’re watching before they dive in.

Other ways to get the most out of YouTube

1. Cross-promote your content everywhere. And I mean everywhere. With YouTube, this is extremely easy to do - when you post a new video on your channel, also post it on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, wherever you have a presence. Driving traffic between your social media sites will help potential customers learn about and eventually trust your brand.

2. Partner with an established YouTuber. This is one of my favorite ways to market, whatever the social site. Find a YouTube users that shines in your business area or in a complementary one. In fact, find at least ten of these desired partners, because the first one almost never says yes.

Don’t just ask for them to promote your business; create a lite co-marketing agreement where you’ll repost a certain amount of their videos, comment, promote their content on other sites and more. In return, the established YouTube user will promote your content, activating their audience and placing eyeballs on your channel or website.

3. Direct traffic to your website. At the end of the day, you use social media to build your brand, interact with current and potential customers, gain trust and drive traffic to your website. This is something that marketers sometimes forget. Don’t get too caught up in being a thought leader that you don’t take advantage of the 10-20% of the time that you can and should be talking about yourself on social media.

It doesn’t have to be overly pushy or blatant advertising. Doing things like placing your website at the end of your YouTube video, pointing viewers to related content that’s housed on your site and other soft techniques can boost your web traffic, leading to brand awareness and ultimately sales.

Are you currently using YouTube for business? I’d love to hear about the challenges you’re facing and successes you’ve achieved. Leave a comment below or shoot me a note at

Sunday, February 16, 2014

3 ways to get more out of Instagram

In my last post about Instagram, we looked at a few case studies of exceptional Instagram use:
  • Oracle uses Instagram to build community behind their brand. They showcase events they attend, volunteer opportunities and more to give their business a personal voice.
  • General Electric posts about their research to pique interest in the company.
  • Oreo posts mostly about their brand and products (which is not a best practice) but keeps a strong following by incorporating tips and recipes.

Today, we’re going to dig into these companies’ strategies even more - to discover the real reasons for their phenomenal Instagram success. Then, we’ll discuss how you can employ their common strategies to get the most brand interaction on Instagram.

What do Oracle, GE and Oreo have in common?
At first glance, it seems like these Instagram pages don’t have all that much in common. Oracle features mostly images of the the company’s events, GE’s entire feed is about their research and innovation, Oreo shares product photos and recipes. At first glance, even I was looking at these pages thinking, “huh?”

But there are a few commonalities that make these pages some of the more successful business uses of Instagram:

1. They use hashtags. Yes - this one is kind of a no-brainer. But the key on Instagram isn’t just to slap a few hashtags on your post, it’s to use the right kind and the right number of hashtags.

Kind: The best way I can think to describe the kind of hashtags to use is K.I.S.S. Keep it super simple (or, keep it simple, stupid, if you prefer that version). Tag your photos with either branded hashtags that are coined by your business (ex: #GEInstaWalk), or terms that others are searching for (ex: #GivingTuesday).

Number: If you look around the page, you’ll notice that most of their posts use 3-5 hashtags to categorize the post. This is totally appropriate for Instagram. I beg you: please, please, please do not tag your photo 15 times. There’s truly no better way to lose your audience than to overwhelm them with hashtags.

2. They’re engaging. No, they’re really engaging. I was recently reading about the “Facebook test.” Basically, this means that people want to be viewed as cool, witty, or clever on their personal Facebook pages, so they only post photos, links or statuses that portray them in that light. Use the Facebook test on Instagram. Is your content witty or informative? Does it make people say, “cool!” or “aww” or something of the like? If not, don’t post.

3. They offer followers deeper brand insight. This theme shines through on all three of the pages we’re examining today. Your followers should feel like they’re part of a secret, VIP club, where you let them peek behind the curtain. GE posts behind-the-scenes research photos that followers would otherwise never see - so take a page from their book. Are your products handmade? Post a photo of you making them. Humanize your brand through photos that are more personal than what you post on, say, LinkedIn.

Have you found success marketing your brand on Instagram? I’d love to hear more. Leave a comment or shoot me a note on

LinkedIn Advanced Techniques

In my last post about LinkedIn, we discussed how to build your company page and touched on content scheduling and LinkedIn ads - and the last two items definitely deserve a deeper look. For companies that sell B2B, posting content and advertising on LinkedIn is the perfect way to reach executives and other decision makers. Raising awareness of your business on LinkedIn can be cost effective, and it shortens your sales cycle by delivering warmer leads.

3 ways to make your content count
Posting the right content on LinkedIn can have a powerful impact; this social media platform has an audience of 65 million business professionals - and nearly 50% of them have decision-making authority at their companies. There’s no better way to get in front of the right audience, especially if you sell products or services to other businesses. Here’s how to make your content count:

1. Don’t just think about your strategy. Write it down. Just like your business plan, your marketing strategy, your new years resolutions and really any other goal, it’s important to outline what you’d like to accomplish and document it. How would you like to portray your business on LinkedIn? Because it’s more professional than other social networking sites, it’s important to keep your content professional, too. Be sure to add your opinion to spice up the content a little bit.

2. Employ some tools to feed you content. Just like on every other social media site, the easiest way to find content is to make it come to you. Set up a feedly account and search for relevant blogs and news sources with content you like. Repost content from LinkedIn News. Connect with industry experts and other content curators that you like and share their content. Chances are, they’ll interact with your content as well - a win-win for both of you.

3. Sick of curating? Create content, too. I know, I know - it’s easier said than done. However, most marketers today are curating content. Not all of them are creating original content themselves. Start slow - set up a blog and vow to write every week or two. It doesn’t have to be often to be extremely powerful. Not sure where to start? This article on A Beautiful Mess is a fantastic place to start.

Advertising on LinkedIn
Just like Facebook ads, advertising on LinkedIn is both precise and flexible. Rather than using mined information to target an audience, LinkedIn takes advantage of user-provided data, making the tool that much more powerful. Here are a few quick tips to get started:

- Decide who to target. Are you looking for C-level executives or someone else? LinkedIn allows advertisers to target by job title and function, industry and company size, and seniority.
- Choose whether you want to pay per click or impression. There are strong arguments for both; it may make the most sense to test both to see which is most budget-friendly for you.
- Figure out how you’d like to advertise. Of course, this will depend on your resources - but ads with photos are often more effective. LinkedIn allows advertising with a combination of text and images, text only and even videos.

Read all the details on LinkedIn advertising in this Social Media Examiner article.

Do you feel ready to get amp up your LinkedIn marketing presence? Are there any other advanced techniques you’d like to share? If so, feel free to comment below or reach out to me via email at