Beyond the Front Door, Working with Competitors to Benefit Community

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Dynamic partnerships await small business merchants (and their Social Media Managers) who venture beyond their front door and reach out to fellow merchants, be they competitors or not. Usually the driving force is not profit but to do something beneficial for the community. For in displaying a genuine give a damn attitude about their customers, so do these businesses develop a loyalty from those shoppers.

Take Salem, Ma for example. During October, everybody is knee deep in Halloween-based customers; but come January, they live or die on local patronage.

So, it comes as no surprise that when the call was issued for participants in the upcoming annual Salem Arts Festival Fashion Show, which in itself is a fundraiser for our Salem Arts Festival, the response from local biz was not “I can’t afford the time, or the money, or the merchandise.” It was more so “What do you need?”

I am lifting a paragraph from the Salem Main Streets blog (which I write, so I won’t have to worry about plagiarism…)

The Fashion Show annually highlights a growing number of local boutiques – including Avalanche, Beach Bride Baubles, The Boutique, Curtsy, Emporium 32, J. Mode, Lifebridge’s Second Chance Thrift Shop, Modern Millie Vintage & Consignments, Ocean Chic Boutique & Waterbar, the Peabody Essex Museum Shop, re-find and re-find men’s, and RJ Coins & Jewelry, with professional stylist Lisa Ann Schraffa Santin on hand. Make up will be provided by the fabulous artists from Laura Lanes Skin Care, Rouge Cosmetics, Radiance Aveda, Arbonne by Roz, and Victoria Crisp, with hair styling by Bella Hair Studios and My Barber Shop.”

Those are a lot of stores, giving a lot of time, products, services, and employee hours for a fashion show where they aren’t making a dime. That day.

Take a look at the posted picture again. Where do you think those audience members will go when they need an outfit or accessories, a hair-do or makeup? The mall in another town? I think not.

Modern consumers are no longer blind sheep to be swayed by a clever TV ad. Savvy shoppers are adept at surfing the internet to look at small business Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts to see what’s hot and what’s not— and where they want to spend their loyalty to buy it.

By developing partnerships with “competitors” and other local biz, merchants can do more for the community— and themselves — than they could do alone.

I challenge your business, or clients (if you are a social media manager) to seek out or even initiate opportunities with fellow merchants to invest in your community’s social environment. The rewards are sufficient to be shared among many partners.

(Photo credit to Creative Salem)

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Social Media By the Numbers at Enterprise Center

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One of the major problems that Social Media Managers have when dealing with their clients is the distorted levels of expectations about ROI (return on investment… of time and money) by the clients. Social Media is not an over night wonder pill. If only the merchants of Main Street USA could understand the statistics, or as we call them the analytics, by which SMM gauge progress, engagement, results, and forecast “their next move.”

We on the North Shore are fortunate to have an organization such as the Enterprise Center at Salem State University which plays a pivotal role in helping foster the growth of small business by offering an interactive speaker series, not by teachers but by individuals who are in the trenches living the subject matter everyday. Case in point, this Tuesday I attended a session driven by Justin Miller on Understanding Social Media Analytics.

Miller, the guiding force behind the dynamic InnoNorth community start up, brought his expertise to a packed room of the curious and functioning business owners who want to understand social media from the numbers angle.

Miller was ready from the start to give everyone pause:

“Understanding your social media analytics is essential for businesses today, but it isn’t easy when no two platforms are measured in the same way.

There’s a difference between knowing what metrics mean and knowing which metrics are meaningful.”

I won’t go into the class particulars; Miller did it a lot better than I could explaining where to find data and how to understand it before applying it. Another class will be given in the fall. You can sign up for it then.

My point is whether you handle the social media campaign for your small biz or you hand it over to a “big” firm or local boutique social media manager (those are the ones I write blogs, posts and tweets for), it’s in your best interests to understand that the numbers by themselves don’t represent the picture of your business.

You may not have the time or skill to do A/B testing, or know the difference between impressions and likes, but taking a class or two at an educational presence such as the Enterprise Center which brings in top notch lecturers like Justin Miller is a way to understand and be able to work with the SMM to help your small business better engage with your target market community.

(And a personal P.S.to Abby Grant at the Enterprise Center, thanks for the excellent customer service in squeezing me into the class at the last minute!)

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)

Small Biz 2016 Resolution: Improving Customer Communications

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“As 2015 comes to a close, small businesses look to 2016 as a new year for growth and opportunity. Budgets and plans are in the process of being finalized. Communicating and connecting with customers are paramount. And small businesses should always be looking for ways to improve those lines of communications and customer service.”

Customer profile

Wow! Ann Marie Van Den Hurk, Contributing Columnist at Kentucky.com phrased that so succinctly (“In the new year, small businesses should focus on the customer”) that I won’t even bother with rewriting or paraphrasing. Read the article, it may have appeared in the Lexington KY Herald-Leader but it is applicable to Salem, the North Shore and anywhere.

She writes, “Organizations need to use all tools and channels available to customize the customer experience based on what the customer needs as well as wants and not just what the organization wants.”

Key areas she focuses upon are Millennials (an oft-reported upon topic here, because, well, they are important to small biz) and mobile.

For example, did you know that the oldest segment of the Millennial group will be 34 in 2016? They are not just kids. And they are not just making entry-level income. Spending power is theirs now. Just as the Baby Boomers were the elephant in the room during the 70s and 80s, the Millennials — with the added aid of social media — control the commerce conversation.

Blab, Meerkat, Periscope could very well be the wave of future methods of conversation with customers. As is mobile now. Your websites need to be mobilized! Over 50 percent of searches are now from mobile devices.

Van Den Hurk also discusses how “culture” has come into play in trying to reach your customers.

As I’ve stated often enough, if you operate a small business in the 21st century, you need to not only ‘be’ on Social Media, but also provide ‘value’ through well-written content. That value could be in how you appeal to the cultural needs of your customers.

Content on blogs and Twitter need to be well-researched and well written — and not left to a family member, intern or an employee whose only qualification is that he/she has a Facebook page. You can hire a professional social media strategist full time, on a part time basis, or on an as-needed basis (but you’ll find you need it more and more as the lines of communication with customers successfully — and profitably — begin to open wider).

Social media is THE way to not only reach customers but is the new way to provide immediate customer service, if you take the time and effort to do it the right way.

Resolve to make 2016 your year of the customer.

(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.)

Be Creative with Your Holiday Giving — Help Salem Area Teens

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It is more blessed to give than to receive. With that as a starting point, there are many creative ways for small businesses to make holiday giving more impacting on people’s lives – especially and most importantly for teenagers. Consider assisting in the work of the Salvation Army Of The North Shore if your business is located in our area.

Yes, the ringers of the bells and the guardians of the Red Kettles.

Captain Dennis Knight, Corps Officer of the North Shore Corps Community Center explains “The Salvation Army of the North Shore assists all in need in Salem, Marblehead, Beverly, Peabody, and Danvers. Each person who expresses a need and is able to share some financial information that allows us to determine the scope of need will receive holiday assistance.”

Angeltree-1The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program provides new clothing or toys for children of needy families through the support of donors. Found at local companies and corporations, Angel Trees are decorated with numbered paper angel tags with the first name, age and gender of a child in need of presents. Contributors remove one or more tags from the tree and purchase appropriate gifts for the child or children described on the tags.

But there is a specific need manifesting itself in recent years— gifts for teenagers. Apparently people just automatically donate toys for pre-teens and don’t follow through to older kids.

And this is where your small business can come to the rescue. Adopt a teen. Invest in the community’s future, whether your business is in Salem or elsewhere.

“I think people believe that Christmas is more for younger kids and that older kids understand the family’s situation and accept that there is nothing for Christmas. While that may be true, it’s nice to provide a gift or two for them as well,” states Captain Knight.

For teens, he suggests donors purchase gifts that teenagers may want such as itunes cards, clothing, basketballs, etc.

“In terms of gifts for kids, we allow the parents to list a few ideas as sort of a ‘wish-list’. The gifts are to be around $30 or less.”

He adds, “Our philosophy is such that we see Christmas assistance as two fold. It is a joy to be the agency that the community trusts to ensure that kids / families have a good Christmas and to see the community taking ownership and a role in shopping for specific kids. We are in a privileged position to see the kids receive some great gifts and also to see those that ‘adopt’ a child take great pleasure in being the vehicle that provides that child with a nice gift.”

You can also call to ask about the Angel Tree program in respect to bringing a small group to help with distribution in December. Or volunteer to have staff stand at the Red Kettle for a Saturday (it is recommended that groups take a full day, with team members signing up for 1-2 hour shifts).

Deadline for Angel Tree program on the North Shore is Dec. 17th. Check with your local Salvation Army for deadlines in your community.

The Salvation Army, an evangelical part of the universal Christian church, is a non-profit organization wholly funded by private and public donations.

You can drop off toys at 93 North St. Salem MA. Mailing address for donations is PO Box 408 Salem, MA 01970. And for additional info, call 978-744-5181.

Younger kids are obviously easier to buy for, as gifts are less expensive, but teens are still kids at heart during the holidays.

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 )