The Front Porch of Life- Living and Doing Business in Small Towns

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“Too often we forget about the 120-million Americans building their homes, their businesses, and their lives in small towns far from the limelight” — not my words but those of successful entrepreneur and Shark Tank investor Robert Herjavic reflecting on the plight of small towns and small businesses decaying away.

And that is unfortunate because statistics indicate more than 50% of the employed population works at a small business.

A nationwide contest was held among small towns to find the one that could best improve upon itself by the community.

Small towns like Wabash, Indiana.

And that is how the Small Business Revolution project and web series came to be, and I have the first episode here.

As explained and described on their website:

“Amanda Brinkman, chief brand and communications officer at Deluxe, along with Shark Tank star Robert Herjavec, employed their marketing and business expertise to help six small businesses learn more about what it takes to compete in their local and regional markets. The entire Wabash journey is captured in this eight-part web series. The opening episode provides a glimpse into the community, the businesses and the town leaders.”

Whether you are a small business in a small town such as Belfast ME where I have lived or in a big city like Boston where I have also resided, you will view the series seeing familiar problems, then hopefully say “aha there is a solution.”

( Anthony M. Scialis is an experienced print & broadcast writer who coordinates blog, Twitter & Facebook social media content to create a focused & powerful customer engagement effort which will bridge the gap between the wants of your small business to grow and the needs of your customers to be satisfied. Follow https://twitter.com/amssvs)

Why Use Video for a Small Business Account

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Social Media is a visual medium. Yes, we fill it with words. But pictures, graphics and videos can capture your customer’s attention and drive them to your words on Facebook and website.

Don’t believe me? This is data from “31 Must Know Video Marketing Stats” article that appeared in a recent Social Media Today posting.

Video statsI think the numbers speak for themselves. You can see the entire Infographic on the linked website page.

If you’re handling social media in-house for your small business, not only is quality writing a concern as I have stated in previous blogs, but equally of value is a serious concentration on visuals that connect with where your customer “is” or “will be” when you wish to reach out.

According to the stats, 22% of US Small Biz plan to post a video in the next 12 months. Will you be watching your competition?

( Anthony M. Scialis is an experienced print & broadcast writer who coordinates blog, Twitter & Facebook social media content to create a focused & powerful customer engagement effort which will bridge the gap between the wants of your small business to grow and the needs of your customers to be satisfied. Follow https://twitter.com/amssvs)

Your Blog Intro Paragraph, Setting the Correct Hook

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Introductory paragraphs are fishing trips ripe for disaster; launch yourself using the wrong hooks and lures, and you’ll lose all the fish before you get to the end paragraph.

reelingAn early blog of mine covered this topic and I thought it was time to repeat it for those of you small business owners who are piloting your own blog along the internet waters.

Noted social media influencer Jeff Bullas had recently outlined several literary devices to enhance the enticement and engagement levels of a blog’s first paragraph. I, in turn, shared insights on three of them, based upon my own over 30 years of experience as a print & broadcast writer.

Why not start with a question?

  • I’ve found asking a question to be among the most intriguing openings. By posing a question right away, you drive readers to start thinking; you challenge them to come up with an answer, an answer that lies beneath the waves of paragraphs to come.

Just the facts ma’am

  • On the other hand, years of writing experience have led me to accept statistics and percentages as the most difficult hook, because if done improperly you turn off readers and they swim away. (Bullas dressed this up by suggesting you attribute the facts to a person, thus making the numbers come alive).

To “quote or not to quote”

  • I’ve used quotes as teaser openers in my blogs, articles and columns many times over the years. Find something catchy that your interviewee recounted or advised that relates to your topic in such a way to set the mood, while at the same time “giving away” the sense of what story you are about to tell.

Metaphor.

  • This is an additional option I would suggest; in fact I employed it to kick off this blog. It is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.

This option, as do all the others mentioned, set the readers off into a thinking mode, anxious to read on.

And that is the goal of the first paragraph, isn’t it?

(Anthony M. Scialis is a social media strategist focusing on blogging & tweeting as a two-step customer service effort in bridging the gap between the wants of your small business to grow and the needs of your customers to be satisfied. Follow https://twitter.com/amssvs)

Customer Retention Does Not Always Benefit from DIY Approach of Small Businesses

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Small & medium business owners (SMB), what are you doing? A new Local Search Association study indicates that 71% of you that manage digital marketing do it internally!!! Where do you find the time to do it yourself— and do it correctly?

(The LSA is an international not-for-profit industry association of media companies, agencies and technology providers that helps businesses market to local consumers.)

I say “do it correctly” because in an accompanying Infographic for that LSA study, there are not one, not two, but three other fact-sets which indicate you most certainly do require assistance in retaining customers. Customer retention is one of your primary goals for participating in social media, correct?

SMB state of marketingThen why is it that the LSA study shows only 44% of you monitor social media feedback about your businesses? You talk to customers, but aren’t interested in hearing customer responses?

Why bother dealing so up close & personal with customers if you’re not interested in keeping them?

And you do wish to keep them. They are money in the bank.

In a Bain & Company Customer Loyalty Study it was determined that, for example, in apparel, ”the average repeat customer spent 67% more in months 31-36 of his or her shopping relationship than in months zero-to-six.”

And that is not a one market segment aberration. In groceries, “customers spent 23% more in months 31-36 than in months zero-to-six.”

Customers want, for lack of a better term, a business partnership with you. They want to feel like part of the team. To know what is going on. To be asked for opinions. And the reward is sales.

You need to optimize social media properly to engage with these customers.

That brings me to the 2nd LSA fact-set item: small businesses use 7.8 marketing channels to promote themselves. Let’s repeat that, 7.8? Not every platform is right for every business. Again, where do you find the time to properly manage 7.8 marketing channels?

This study & Infographic from the Local Search Association indicates that obviously not all SMBs “get it.” And that is distressing, given one of LSA’s key conclusions is that “marketing is a critical component to success for SMBs given consumer behavior and adoption of digital tech.”

One wonders then, why the LSA study shows only 48% of small biz websites are mobile ready? Any Social Media Manager, Strategist, Guru would advise those of you in the non-mobile remaining 52% that because a cell phone is now the preferred online searching and communication digital tech device, your social media messages are therefore not going where your customers are.

Customer retention obviously does not always benefit from the do it yourself approach of small business owners. The smarter move is to let a social media manager or consultant do what he or she does best: devise a targeted engagement package which will make customers feel like partners and drive retention levels up.

This leaves you to time to focus on core areas of your business. Considering the survey also indicates that 54% of US sales happen at a Small Business, you would want to personally make sure your company is producing the best product or service it can, in order to give consumers a reason to be your customers in the first place.

(Anthony M. Scialis is an experienced print & broadcast writer who coordinates blog, Twitter & Facebook social media content to create a focused & powerful customer engagement effort which will bridge the gap between the wants of your small business to grow and the needs of your customers to be satisfied. Follow https://twitter.com/amssvs)

Why Your Small Business Needs Blogs— And Me

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BlogsB2C companies which feature blogs on their websites generate 88% more leads per month than those that do not. This is according to HubSpot, the world’s leading inbound marketing and sales platform. Let that settle in. Businesses which generate blogs about interesting things (along with their services or products) generate 88% more leads per month than competitors that don’t.

Well-thought-out, well-written blogs work because storytelling is a powerful way to attract readers, share information, open the lines of communication to foster engagement, build understanding of potential customer needs and convert these followers into loyal brand ambassadors.

More people looking at your store shelves. More people walking into your restaurant or bar. More potential income.

When I saw that 88% statistic I had a flashback to this line from Independence Day:

10 Years Social(Copyright © 1996 by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation)

Over the years, I’ve worked in print & broadcast media. People do not buy newspapers for the ads. They buy for the news. People do not listen to radio for the ads. They listen for the music.

In other words, people seek out something that will emotionally engage them.

And I have been saying for years that people are not on social media for the ads. They are there to share and engage, because they want to be emotionally connected. Repeatedly telling them what special you have for today is a disconnect— they may come in, but they are just as likely not to come back. You may have made a sale, but you didn’t convert them into loyal customers and certainly not created an emotional connection to recruit them as ambassadors for your business.

Granted, you want to keep using Twitter as a way of driving people to your website and Facebook pages. Equally so, you need to keep pace with competitors in the Facebook auction space for ads.

But, once you have funneled prospects to your website, then what? A few seconds of looking at ads or a contest. Maybe you hook them, maybe you don’t.

Consider generating two or three blogs a week to balance out your Facebook and Twitter self promotions. Give followers a reason to check back to your website several times a week. Provide some insight on how you do something. Recall a funny incident. Promote a survey. Give some free tips. Comment about something going on in the community.

Convinced, but you don’t have the time to write blogs? You don’t have the editorial skills to cultivate content? That’s where writers (such as myself— full disclosure) can assist you. Prices being charged on various websites range from as little as $5 for a simple blog up to and beyond $1000 for a complex blog.

As a veteran community writer, I’m on the more affordable side of that price bar. If you’re interested let’s talk. Let me help you SHARE information, so you can ENGAGE your readers, UNDERSTAND their needs and CONVERT them into customers.

It’s not about you anymore. It’s about them.

(Anthony M. Scialis is a social media strategist focusing on blogging & tweeting as a two-step customer service effort in bridging the gap between the wants of your small business to grow and the needs of your customers to be satisfied. Follow https://twitter.com/amssvs)

Small Biz Set to Deliver Valentine Love to Customers

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How do you service & entice customers to visit your small business during a slow Winter month? By giving them some “Valentine love.”

Salem’s So Sweet Chocolate & Ice Sculpture Festival is a Feb.5-7th Valentine’s Day-themed promotion that offers “a decadent tradition of delectable chocolate, sparkling ice sculptures, and Valentine’s Day shopping” which has been successfully employed in Salem MA for the past 13 years to accomplish those goals.

“February is truly one of the hardest months for our local businesses,” points our Kylie Sullivan, Executive Director of  Salem Main Streets, an initiative whose goal is to promote the merchants, small businesses and life in the Downtown District of Salem MA.

She continues, “Our downtown relies heavily on foot traffic, and it’s a really unappealing time of year to walk around and shop without a specific purpose. This Salem’s So Sweet Chocolate & Ice Sculpture Festival makes the idea of exploring the downtown exciting despite the weather, and honestly, people are usually looking for a good excuse to get out of the house.”

For example, Salem Main Streets, along with partners the Salem Chamber of Commerce and Destination Salem have produced a discount cross promotion.

Sullivan explains, “We’re quite excited to introduce the ‘Sweet 10%’ Promotion this year. With each full-price purchase at a participating business on 2/6 and 2/7, shoppers will get 10% off at the next participating business.”

That would give your customers something to tweet and post about. Buy something for your sweetie at one store and get 10% off for him/her at the next store.

Salem’s So Sweet also presents for local & tourist viewing pleasure during this festival, merchant sponsored Ice Sculptures situated throughout the Downtown District.

Sullivan advises, “This year, we have over 20 beautiful ice sculptures- – a record-breaking number– that will grace downtown Salem starting February 6th! This year’s themes will include The Friendship, the Mad Hatter, an alpaca, and more.”

Enchanting, entertaining and then enticing customers with a cute or, for example, a locally-themed (sports team) Ice Sculpture is also something very worthy of fan tweets, blogs, Facebook likes, Instagram shots, Pinterest pages, etc. to promote your brand. Customers servicing your small business by way of social media.

For this writer, the highlight has always been the kick-off, a Chocolate and Wine Tasting (this year on Friday, February 5th from 6:30 – 8:30 pm, at Colonial Hall at Rockafellas, 227 Essex Street.) This tasting event features wine and chocolate samplings from premier Salem restaurants, stores, and sweet shops.

chocoChocolate covered strawberries, chocolate covered pretzels, chocolate covered this and that. Plus wine. As many and as much as you want for $25.

Any dining establishment or store that makes/sells something to do with chocolate or wine takes part, sharing centerstage with competitors and non-competitors as the community samples from table after table after table.

Happy customers, with an excuse (free) to sample what you offer. And then they will tweet or issue posts and pictures promoting your brand.

Whether you sell anything with chocolate or not, the “So Sweet” promotion is flexible enough with the “Sweet 10%” and Ice Sculptures to provide several points of entry for your business to participate.

What do you do in your community to entice foot traffic during first week of February?

For more info on this or any other Salem Main Streets event, please call Kylie Sullivan at 978-744-0004  x15.

(Anthony M. Scialis is a social media strategist focusing on blogging & tweeting as a two-step customer service effort in bridging the gap between the wants of your small business to grow and the needs of your customers to be satisfied. Follow https://twitter.com/amssvs)

Business Plan Competition & Intro Session

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Planning to start a small business? Take every bit of advice you can get — you don’t have to use it — just have it all standing by as resource material. And a great place for resource material is an Enterprise Center. Does your community have one? We do in Essex County, MA at Salem State University.

Biz PlanNot only does an Enterprise Center offer seminars and inform you of useful business programs, it brings in guest speakers — and ours even “puts its money where its mouth is” by way of a North of Boston Business Plan Competition.

Doesn’t matter whether it is just a business idea, or your company is already up & running  (less than three years old or an established business with a new strategic direction). As long as you are located on the North Shore, consider entering this annual competition.

  • Cash prizes – $10,000 for first place! Second place, $5,000. Third place, $3,000
  • Advice – Valuable feedback and suggestions. Judges are experienced entrepreneurs, business owners and leaders and capital investors.
  • Focus – Entering the BPC can provide the discipline and focus you need to develop and fine-tune a winning business strategy.

Participants submit a 5-part application that is reviewed by an expert judging panel and evaluated according to established criteria. Six semi-finalists are selected to present their plan in person to the judges. Three finalists go on to present their plan publicly at a grand finale at which the judges determine the first, second and third place winners.

All participants receive written comments on their submission; the semi-finalists and finalists have the option of working with a presentation coach to fine-tune their plan for the judges.

Competition deadline is 2/24/16.

But — and this is an excellent helping hand by the Enterprise Center — on Dec. 4th from 8-10am there will be a FREE How to Write a Competition-Level Business Plan introduction session. You are not just floating in the wind for this competition. Sponsored by the MA Small Business Development Center and co-sponsored by the North Shore Alliance for Economic Development, there will be tips on what’s involved in preparing the components of your application.

Bring your questions too because — yes this gets better — the Enterprise Center will provide a real pro for individual coaching: Margaret Somer, Former Regional Director, MA Small Business Development Center Network.

Need more incentive to sign up right now? Read her bio. She’s been in economic & development, a fund manager, operated home-based businesses, been a consultant and has exhibited a strong record of participation in the development of new business products and programs, community development initiatives, and public affairs and government relations.

You can’t put a price on the guidance you will receive at the How to Write a Competition-Level Business Plan introduction session. To register click here.

The Enterprise Center at Salem State University is located at 121 Loring Ave in Salem, MA. For more info call 978-542-7528 or email Lorie Skolski at lskolski@enterprisectr.org

( Photo courtesy of KROMKRATHOG from FreeDigitalPhotos.net )