We need more brains!

brains, not just for zombies any moreNo, this is not a post about zombies. Sorry if you thought that!

Have you ever had a great idea, but after pondering it for a little while, you are not quite sure if it will fly or not? It happens to me all of the time. I get all excited about some business or plan and then once I think about it for a day or two, I lose my momentum. Instead of letting great ideas fall by the wayside, why not bounce ideas off of another person and see what they think about it?

Brainstorming sessions are valuable in business. If you have someone you can trust with your secret business ideas, ask to have lunch, dinner or even coffee with them. Let them hear your idea and come up with ways it might work, or reasons why it won’t. Either way, you should take advantage of this significant resource.

The name Social Squids, came from such a meeting. My friend and I got together for coffee and I told her that I needed to come up with a name. She’s an illustrator, very talented and creative in her own right.

The starting point was the fact that I like animals, so we decided the name would have something animal-related in it. We brainstormed great name ideas, terrible ones, silly ones and eventually one of us – I’m not even sure which one of us it was – came up with Social Squids.

I kept doing this thing with my hands, wiggling my fingers and moving my arms outward. I was thinking about how social media reaches out into cyberspace. Not only did we come up with the name, we came up with the tag line too – We have far-reaching tentacles.

Paying someone for their opinion has its value, but brainstorming with one, two or a small group of people, will help you find problems, solutions, more in-depth ideas or sometimes cheer you on for your amazing business proposition.

So, find more brains. Bounce ideas off of your friends in the business community. Sometimes these ideas might seem impossible, but give it a try anyway. It can be an incredibly valuable tool for your business. Just be careful you share your ideas with people you trust and who are not going to take your idea and use it for their own.

Is your web contest too complicated?

I received an email from a company the other day about their upcoming contest. I’m going to show the actual steps you need to take to enter the contest, but also change any identifying information.

  1. From DATES OF CONTEST visit our COMPANY Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts to gather a daily clue
  2. Use your clue to find the hidden ITEM on our website
  3. Click the ITEM to receive the secret words
  4. Collect the words of the day for all 5 days to create the winning phrase
  5. Enter your submission on our website between DATES OF CONTEST for your chance to win 1 of 10 prizes!

contest too confusing?

I don’t know about you, but by the time I got to step three, my eyes glazed over and that was the end. I understand that this contest was developed to get people to engage in the company’s website and social media sites, however, most people are not going to spend that much time trying to win something. Maybe if the prize was a couple million bucks, people might do it. But this was for a basket of products that are worth a few hundred dollars at best.

Many companies use the “find the hidden item” idea on their website in order to get people to look at the entire site. That’s a great idea in itself, but adding all of the other rules of this particular contest makes it a little too complex for the average person. You would have to be totally devoted to the product in order to do this. And those people are already customers!

People may click on the first link and then lose interest. Once you complete all of the steps, you still only have a small chance of winning. Website visitors might find this scavenger hunt frustrating. That is not an emotion you want prospective customers to feel.

Sure, have a contest! That is a fantastic way to get people interested in your site and products. Intriguing people is the name of the game for online sales. But, when designing the contest, try to engage without annoying your page viewers.

Common bonds and business growth

common bondsI met a prospective new client last week and we found out we had a lot in common in our personal lives. That can make a deeper connection with a client, better than simply making a sales pitch. And, she hired me on the spot. That does not always happen.

Finding a niche market might for your business could incorporate discovering new business associates with common interests. As an entrepreneur, you should always think about any social occasion as a networking occasion. Without being “salesy” or pushy about it, you can talk about what your business does with people anywhere at any time. You might find new avenues to marketing your business.

Certainly, there are times when you walk in the door, present your information and the client will either hire you or not. But when making a deeper connection with the person, you feel more like friends and less like business associates.

According to some business coaches, you need to make the prospective client know and like you before they will hire you or buy your products. Finding common ground is a great way to persuade them that you are worth hiring.

Personally, I prefer to work with clients whom I like as people. It is only natural to feel that way. I’m an animal lover, other animal lovers make good clients for me because there is an understanding that goes beneath the surface of the business relationship.

Does that mean you should never work with individuals or companies that share nothing with you? Of course not, common ground just makes the relationship easier.

I have many clients whom I have never met. We communicate solely through email and I know nothing about their personal lives. I get along with them just fine, however we do not share a deep connection. If they found a better deal, they would probably drop me in a heartbeat. Not so for people with whom I have a more personal connection.

Get to know a little bit more about your prospective clients and you just might end up with more business.

To trade or not to trade

I am currently trading services with a client and considering doing it with another. Over the 26+ years of being in business, I have had the opportunity to trade with a lot of people. It does not always work out to be an even trade, and it doesn’t always end well.

So, trade or no trade?

Personally, there have been things that I could not afford that I really wanted. Every now and then, I found a situation where I could do work in exchange for whatever it was. Sometimes my clients had the same issue. They needed someone to write a newsletter or create a logo or for their company, but didn’t have the money to pay for the service. Usually, these were fledgling companies, like my own at the time.

Back when I first started my freelance business, I could almost always work a trade to my advantage. I traded for veterinary services, pet supplies, baseball tickets and plumbing work. Once I traded for maid services for about a year. That was beautiful, except the woman was always complaining that my house was dirty. Really? Isn’t that why you need a maid? I admit, I definitely got the better end of that deal!

Once I traded typesetting work for restaurant gift certificates. I used one gift certificate to take out a friend for her birthday. I used another to take another friend out to dinner. In exchange, she gave me a tv, a garden hose caddy and a tetanus! Yes, she was fully qualified to administer a shot (I had no insurance at the time). Things were a lot simpler back then. Ah, those were the days…

Not sure if trading organizations still exist, but I was a member of a one in the early ‘90s. The problem was, the monthly fees were due in cash and there was a cash charge for each transaction. I never did very well within that organization. I had hoped to trade for a chain link fence, but that didn’t work out for me. Direct trades worked better for me. The IRS says you have to pay taxes on any income, including trades. You are supposed to declare the value of the traded item.

Trading is a little different for me now. I rarely do it and only do it when I really want or need something. You might considering trading for your business, it can be a way to buy something when there is no cash handy.

Social media for business in 2014

what's new this year in social mediaOne of the biggest changes in the past year in social media has been advertising. Now there will be video ads on Facebook, ads and sponsored tweets on Twitter and sponsored posts on Instagram. Many apps, like ESPN, have added small banner ads across their pages.

People, especially the 18-35 demographic, are using their cell phones more and computers less. Ads are showing up everywhere in the mobile realm.

Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Instagram are leading the pack for social media right now. Of course, that can change almost overnight with social media. Because of the nature of the beast, things happen in an instant.

To keep your business on the cutting edge of the social media revolution, you need to be active. Whether or not you advertise on social media sites is up to you, but you should get involved in some way if you are going to keep up with your competitors.

What will happen in the coming months? No one really knows. Little apps or sites that no one uses now, might just be the biggest thing since Facebook. Social media users are fickle.

Check your Klout.com score. See how you stack up against your competition. Get analytics for your website and see if your clients are coming from social media sites and whether they are using computers or phones to reach you. Look at your website on a mobile phone and see if it looks the same as on your computer.

Let’s say goodbye to 2013 and welcome faster, more sleek apps, social media and mobile sites in the coming year.

Use images to your advantage

social media image is everythingIn cyberspace, much like real life, image is everything. Do you have your logo or a photo on all of your social media pages? The black silhouette on LinkedIn or Facebook and the empty egg on Twitter give people the impression that you are either new to the site or inactive.

A professional studio photo is best, but really just having some kind of image is better than nothing. Put your business logo if you do not want to show your face. If you do not have a logo, use a photo, illustration or icon of something that relates to your business.

If you repair cars, you could have a photo of a car. A chiropractor could show an image of a spine. Computer programmers can have an image of a computer. You get the idea.

Let your clients and prospective clients see that you are an active business and post on your page often. People love photos, videos and infographics. Instead of posting a statement, add an image to pique the interest of your audience. These images help to shape your brand. This is not just for your Facebook page, your website should have images as well.

You have only a few seconds to get the attention of your prospective client. Photos work really well to help grab people and keep them on your page.

Do you have Google Analytics? We’ve talked about this before. If you do, check out your website’s bounce rate. That is when a person only looks at your main page and “bounces” rather than looking at other pages on your site. In print media, this is the equivalent of someone reading a front page news story and then going to the page where it is continued. If they “bounced,” they would only read what is on the front page.

Are you grabbing people’s attention? If you are, you will have a low bounce rate. If not, you need to figure out what your prospective clients want to see and give it to them. Add images that relate and add them often to get the best response to your website, social media pages and blog.

Making the most of trending topics

make the most of trending topicsWith a Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+, Vine or other social media page to help grow your business, you should take note of what is trending. Try to connect something from the topics to your business. Many times social media is trending. Everyone who has a social media account can relate to that.

Other times there are sports figures, politicians, criminals, natural disasters or other current events trending. Anniversaries of big news stories often make the list.

What are trending topics? These are the most popular topics on social media right now. They change, usually many times per day. But the big stories always are on the list. Search engines also list trending topics so you can find them on Bing or Google.

By using the hashtag (#) and a trending topic on Twitter, your term becomes searchable. So, if wild fires are trending and you put #wildfires in your post, people who search for that hashtag will find your information. You need to stick to the topic for this to be effective. You can send good wishes to people who are in danger of losing their homes from the wildfires. If you have a product, say smoke detectors, that have a natural connection with the trending topic it works best. You can use that to your advantage and help funnel traffic to your social media pages and your website.

Make sure it is a natural fit. If you check trending topics every day, you will find something every now and then that works with your business. You cannot force the issue. It can backfire and result in people making negative comments.

Keep posting on your social media pages. Make it a daily habit. You will find that you gain new followers, likes and connections.

Create content that gets attention

Frequent social media posts are recommendedOne way to attract people to your business is to create great content on your social media sites. Whether it is a silly meme or a serious article, you need to do things that bring awareness to your brand. The difficulty lies in making statements that get you noticed by your target audience.

Is it funny? People love looking at funny pictures and anecdotes. There is plenty of funny material out there, just make sure that you use something that is not copyright protected. There is nothing funny about taking someone else’s work and using it as your own. Silly situations that are highly unlikely or even impossible, make the viewer smile, which helps them to like you.

Inspire your target market. Sometimes the post can be a statement or blog that gives your audience something to ponder. Inspirational quotes are popular ways to get attention. Maybe the quote hits home with someone you know and want as a client.

Does your status update have the wow factor? If you post information that some people find unbelievable, but yet is true, you can attract a lot of attention. People, some of whom are potential clients, like to make comments on and forward posts that contain impressive information.

Other posts pull at your heartstrings. Sad puppies than need homes, veterans who are out of work or homeless people are issues that bring up emotions in most people. Those deep feelings bring attention to your post.

If your comments are not politically correct, you may end up with the wrong kind of attention. You want to make people smile or think, not incite a riot. Stay away from religion, politics and current events that are highly polarized. You can certainly post that information on your personal pages, but you do not want to alienate any group on your business pages.

All in all, people respond to content that pertains to them. If it is interesting, funny or emotional to your friends, connections, followers or people who like you, the relationship is there. Try to correspond with your audience as often as possible, daily if you can manage it.

Which social media sites are best for your business?

social media with social squidsIt seems that every day a new social media platform arrives on the scene. Trying to figure out which ones work best for your business can be confusing. It does not matter whether your business is business-to-business or business-to-consumer. Here are some clues to help with the decisions.

Everyone can benefit from the mass appeal of Facebook and Twitter. There are so many people on these sites that you can use the shotgun approach to finding business. That is when you send you message to so many people, a percentage of them must be interested. You Tube also has a wide appeal, but you have to have to create interesting videos that people want to see.

If your business can show before and after” photos like home improvements, makeovers, dog grooming, etc., the more visually oriented platforms will work great. Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube and Vine are excellent ways to let the visuals do the talking. For businesses that are creative, like illustrators, photographers and web designers, the visually oriented apps are your best bet. Show off your work!

An accountant, lawyer or medical practice can benefit from using blogs. A blog can be more targeted, especially if you use appropriate bookmarking sites to spread the word. Blogs can have a mass appeal as well, especially if you have a topic that is appropriate for a wide audience. By offering tips, you let readers know you are an expert in your field.

All social media helps you get your business name in front of an audience every time you post. Conversely, if you only post occasionally, you are losing that audience. By using the right social media platforms, you will become a household name. Once that happens, people will begin to think of your business when they need to hire someone in your field or make a purchase.

11 ways to make the most of QR codes

QR code business facebook pagesoQR codes are popping up in all sorts of places. These weird, little, square symbols are the new way to take smart phone users to any web page. How can you use QR codes to help with marketing your business? Here is a list of ways you can make these scannable codes work for you.

Signage: There is only so much space on a sign. QR codes are found on large posters or signs in bus shelters, in bathroom stalls, on public transportation, schools, sporting events or other places where people walk past. Get more traffic by adding a QR code to your sign.

Advertising: Magazine and newspaper ads are using QR codes more and more to encourage people to go to the website of the business to get special offers and company information.

Borchures and flyers: Brochures and flyers can be found on retail counters, left under windshields, in doctor’s offices or handed to people. A QR code can give much more information or take potential clients to a video or slide show.

Packaging: This is a great way to go from someone purchasing your product to someone learning more about the business that produces the product. Get people to go from purchaser to devoted fan.

Name tags at events: Scan in business information about a person on the spot.

Business cards: There is barely any room to write much of a message on a business card. A QR code will let people read the whole company mission.

Real estate for sale signs: As potential buyers see a house for sale, they can stop and scan your QR code, which can take them to a virtual tour or lots of pictures of the interior before they decide to call the agent about the house.

Subscription links: If you have a brochure, sign or flyer and want people to sign up to be on your mailing list. A QR code will quickly get them to the right page.

On an interactive map: A map of an area can add QR codes for readers to get details about interesting landmarks.

On giveaway marketing materials: Key chains, refrigerator magnets, nail files and even pens have little space for more than a logo. Adding a QR code will take them to your site to see details about your business.

RSVP on invitations: Make it easier for people to let you know whether or not they will attend your event with a QR code for yes and another for no.

I need a QR code for my business if you need a QR code for your business.