The Value of Local Small Business Partnerships

  • “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” — Henry Ford

Alexandria is home to countless diverse, dynamic and successful small businesses. This is the story of how two of small businesses partnered up and were able to create a unique professional development opportunity for many others.

by Reggie Holmes of Enthuse Creative and Beth Lawton of Canoe Media Services

We met at an Alexandria Small Business Development Center Small Business Roundtable in April 2014. The roundtable provides a monthly, facilitated topical forum that allows small business owners and leaders to gather and discuss a range of issues related to small businesses in the Alexandria area. It provides a free networking opportunity, as well.

Neither of us had attended an ASBDC roundtable event before, and we had no idea how valuable it would be or who we would meet.

Meeting for the first time ever at that roundtable was serendipitous. It turns out we lived in close proximity to each other on Alexandria’s west end, so we met at a local Starbucks and got to know each others’ businesses. Through our talk that day, we recognized the synergy of our industries and discussed how we could work together.

A desire we both had was to be recognized as thought leaders and resources in our respective industries. One way to do this is to provide workshops and presentations that add value to clients and the community. Doing a Lunch and Learn workshop had been on both of our minds, but having a partner at the ready pushed both of us forward quickly.

Our encounter at the ASBDC provided an opportunity for our organizations to connect and we were able to follow up on that with additional meetings, capitalizing on the opportunity to do together what we could not do independently — or at least not as easily or effectively or inexpensively. We needed to leverage each others’ knowledge, relationships and skill sets to make all the moving parts of the event come together smoothly. Important business connections would continue to play a huge role in getting the workshop from idea to reality.

As solopreneurs, finding partners to motivate you, bounce ideas off of and encourage you is critical to success. By motivating and relying on each other equally and focusing on each other’s strengths, we made huge progress in a short time with finding space and time, collaborating on marketing and outreach and preparing the presentation.

We were fortunate to have Jay Thomas from Alphagraphics print up marketing postcards for us — another person we met through ASBDC — and Mark Whitaker of Intelligent Office provided us with space and additional marketing support.

In the end, that room at Intelligent Office Alexandria was nearly filled to capacity. We had 17 small business owners and professionals attend, from several different industries and backgrounds, including real estate, consultants, finance and health services.

Some new relationships started in that room, too. Those have led to new collaborations and business opportunities for both of us, and the feeling of community in that room made us feel proud to be members of such a supportive business community in Alexandria.

It was in many ways a team effort, and a testament to the collaborative spirit of small businesses in this region. The Lunch and Learn was a very rewarding experience. One of the main lessons we learned is that working collaboratively and creatively, we strengthen the economy by strengthening small businesses in Alexandria and beyond. The workload was shared among many and so too was the benefit. The acronym TEAM, “Together Everyone Achieves More” is true in this case.

How Businesses are Using the Yo App

The Yo app was initially ridiculed by media as being the simplest and most pointless social app ever.

But Yo app inventor Or Abel is laughing all the way to bank, as businesses have found ways to use it effectively and investors have sent millions in funding.

The Yo app, when launched, did one thing: Sent the message “Yo” to a contact’s cell phone.

Really – that was it.

But even at that primitive stage, a handful of restaurants realized the Yo app could be a replacement for those large “puck” pagers used to tell people when their tables are ready. And, the Yo app’s open API meant developers could start playing with integrating Yo into other services, like Instagram, Forbes reported.

Even though the “hype” around the app has faded, the app is continuing to develop. Now, a business or an individual can send a Yo with a link or a hashtag. The Washington Post is using it to send out breaking news alerts to Yo users. And some businesses are reportedly sending Yos and links to customers with special, limited-time deals or offers.

In late September, a featured launched allowing users to Yo their location to other Yo users, Business Insider reported. With the location based featured enabled, “if a user Yos his or her location to a service, they’ll receive recommendations, weather updates, news or other offerings from the partnering recipient,” according to BI. It would be nice to be the restaurant that gets recommended based on a geo-targeted Yo, wouldn’t it?

Before you dismiss an app out of hand, think about any possible way a business could take advantage of it.

Future Watch: What is Ello?

Next up on the social media hype wagon – Ello.

The social network was still by-invite-only at the time of this writing, but it’s getting plenty of attention for the promise of having no ads and no data-mining. Like other social networks, users can add friends and post status updates and photos to the network. Unlike Facebook and some other social networks, is has very little in terms of privacy controls, and warns users that almost anything they put on the social network can be seen by others, including search engines.

It doesn’t look like there’s any reason a business couldn’t create an Ello account and start posting photos, sales and useful information for customers and potential customers – but we haven’t heard of any businesses jumping on just yet. Still, it may be a network to watch the remainder of this year.

Setting Up Your Business — Correctly — on Facebook

A few weeks ago I sat down with an Alexandria business owner to look at his business presence on Facebook.

“Hang on,” he said. “I need to log out from my personal account and log in with my business account.”

Does that sound like you?

A lot of business owners, concerned about personal privacy, create entirely separate logins for their business.

There’s good news: That’s not necessary!

Facebook allows business owners to set up business pages that are entirely separate from the business owners’ personal Facebook presence without having to create a new Facebook account. This set-up makes it quick and easy to switch between personal and professional Facebook identities and allows business owners to designate other page administrators and editors to help lighten the workload involved in social media marketing.

Unfortunately, this business owner’s son – in addition to the separate login issue – had set up the business as a person on Facebook, not as a proper business.

Combined, the drawbacks and consequences of these two errors are significant. In addition to violating Facebook’s terms of service and putting your businesses’ presence on Facebook at risk (yes, Facebook can and has deleted business profiles for being improperly set up), you may be losing out on a valuable suite of online services Facebook offers to businesses. These include Facebook Insights, Facebook ads, boosted posts, administrative ease and more.

Here are two ways to tell if your business is set up correctly on Facebook:

You should not have to log out and log in with a different account.

If you are logging out and logging in to control your business’ Facebook presence, you don’t have to do that anymore.

Facebook allows you to just log in with your personal Facebook account and be an administrator or an editor of any Facebook business page. One of the benefits is that this allows you to switch easily between your two identities (personal and business) without compromising your personal privacy – fans of your business page will not be able to see photos of your kids unless you allow them to do so.

Further, Facebook allows you to designate admins or editors for your Facebook page without having to share a username and password. That means if you’re too busy to post to your Facebook business page, someone else can help you out.

On a less happy note, if you have to fire or lay off an employee who had access to your Facebook business page, it’s very quick and easy to remove their access to that page without having to change and redistribute your Facebook business password like you would with a separate login.

Your business should not be masquerading as a “person” on Facebook.

What’s the difference? If a business is set up correctly as a business page and you have more than 30 fans, you’ll have access to Facebook Insights (in the upper left portion of your Facebook page), a valuable tool that can help you reach more of your businesses’ fans.

Also, a person can become “friends” with people on Facebook – a business should not be able to do that. (If you get a “friend” request from a business, it’s a telltale sign that the business is set up incorrectly.)

Fortunately, there is a quick and easy way to switch your business from being a “person” on Facebook to being an actual business. Facebook simply turns your businesses’ friends into fans – no questions asked. The conversion is free.

Need help getting your business set up properly on Facebook? Contact me at [email protected] and I’ll be happy to walk you through the process.

Beth Lawton is founder and CMO of Canoe Media Services, an Alexandria-based business that helps entrepreneurs and small businesses shine online with smart social media marketing, blog content and more. More information is available at www.canoemediaservices.com.

Making Sure Twitter Helps Your Business

Twitter has more than 271 million monthly active users, and 94 percent of users who follow businesses are on the lookout for discounts and special deals. Hashtags routinely appear on Super Bowl commercials.

But, it’s a medium that needs daily attention and quick responsiveness, particularly if your customers decide to use it as a customer service platform. (Twitter offers good tips and information at business.twitter.com.)

But once your business is on Twitter, how do you know if your tweets are helping boost your business?

Making sure Twitter works for your business starts with your goals:

  • Do you want to be seen as an expert in your field? Drive sales? Push website traffic? Your goal will define what you post, and when you post it. After a few weeks of consistent tweeting (at least once a day – preferably more – every day), analyze your tweets against your initial goal.
  • Are you gaining followers, and are they the type of followers you want?  (Are they your local customers, or an international audience?)
  • Are your customers or other people retweeting you, or mentioning you in Tweets?

Check Out Your Data

Figuring out if Twitter is working for your business starts with looking at your data.

In July, Twitter released a new analytics service – a significant upgrade over what was previously available to Twitter users. The information is free for verified accounts (mostly celebrities and accounts with 100,000 followers or more), websites that have implemented Twitter cards (ask your web developer about enabling those) and/or those who have advertised with Twitter.

To see if you have access to the new data, sign into Twitter and go to analytics.twitter.com.

The data includes number of impressions your tweets have gotten (that’s the number of times people have seen your tweet), and the engagement rate of every tweet (that’s the number of times people have clicked somewhere on your tweet). You can also get data on your followers – where they live, their interests, and who else they follow, among other data.

If you do have Twitter cards enabled on your website, you can also track clicks to your website, and even add rich media (videos and more) to your tweets. Twitter cards can also make your retweets even more powerful. (Learn more about Twitter cards here.)

Don’t Have Analytics? Here are Your (Free) Options

If you don’t fall into the verified, carded or advertiser categories, you still have options if you want to go beyond manually counting your retweets and favorites.

If you schedule tweets through Hootsuite, that program comes with analytics built-in. Although the information isn’t as useful as Twitter’s own analytics (unless you pay for a report), you can still get good information on which tweets have been most interacted with, retweeted most and more.

You can also check out Twitonomy or Simply Measured, both of which offer free data on your own account – or your competitors’ accounts.  (See more free options in this blog post.)

For more tips on Twitter (plus Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, content marketing and more), follow @CanoeMedia on Twitter.

Beth Lawton is founder and CMO of Canoe Media Services, an Alexandria-based business that helps entrepreneurs and small businesses shine online with smart social media marketing, blog content and more. More information is available at www.canoemediaservices.com.

Is Instagram Right for My Business?

Instagram for Small BusinessWith more than 70 million users in the United States and a user base that skews young and affluent, many businesses are taking another look at Instagram.

Instagram is a mobile app-based photo sharing network, where an individual or business can post photos of events, items or anything else with captions and clickable, searchable hashtags. The platform also has tools built in so you can make your Instagram photos appear old, faded or artistic.

Overall, the social network does best for businesses that are visual in nature – retail, art, real estate, home improvement, jewelry, tourism and restaurants. It can also be useful for event-based businesses. There are always exceptions, but those in the finance and IT sectors be better served focusing on other social networks, such as LinkedIn.

In-the-Moment Marketing

Unlike most other social networks, Instagram is really capitalizes on in-the-moment photos of events in addition to products.

Since it’s mobile app-based, you can’t take an amazing photo with your $500 camera, Photoshop it and upload it to Instagram from your laptop. You’re stuck with your iPhone or Samsung or other web-enabled camera. That’s a mixed blessing. (Technically, there are ways around this, but it goes against the spirit of the platform.)

However, nice thing about Instagram is that it interfaces easily with Facebook and Twitter, so if you take a photo with your Instagram app and caption it, then share it on Facebook and Twitter instantly, which can gain your business more followers on all three networks.

Examples and Best Practices

It always helps to look at what other businesses are doing with a platform. Here are some examples of good, effective usage of Instagram:

In the tourism and publishing industry, Outdoor Life magazine has had success with Instagram contests. The magazine asked readers to take a photo with Instagram and upload it to the network with a specific hashtag and username mentioned. (Here’s a recent contest launch post from Outdoor Life for an example of how to set up an Instagram contest.)

To drive traffic back to the publication’s website, Outdoor Life’s website did a post embedding several Instagram photos from users.

You can also buy Instagram ads – Ben & Jerry’s ice cream had some success there – and there are ways through responding to user comments to encouraging and give guidance on purchasing, even though direct links to your website in photo captions won’t work. (A&E clothing is a master at encouraging people to go online to purchase items.)

Here in Alexandria, we love @VisitAlexVA on Instagram. What are your favorite local outlets on Instagram?

Beth Lawton is founder and CMO of Canoe Media Services, an Alexandria-based business that helps entrepreneurs and small businesses shine online with smart social media marketing, blog content and more. More information is available at www.canoemediaservices.com.

Which Social Network is Right for Your Business?

so-many-social-networks
so-many-social-networks (Photo credit: socialmediahq)

Options abound when it comes to social media – there are dozens of “major” social networks (those with more than 500,000 active users) and new social platforms hit the market all the time.

With the optimism and energy behind starting your own business, many entrepreneurs create business profiles on several social networks, only to find they don’t have the time to manage all of them. A social profile that’s neglected can negatively affect how customers perceive your brand.

So how do you decide where to put your social media marketing energy? First, think about why people visit different social networks.

A recent study by IPG Media and 140Proof showed more than 107 million U.S. adults belong to more than one social network. Of those, more than 78 million belong to three social networks and almost 60 million belong to four or more.

The reason, users say, is because different platforms are better suited to different interests. (In other words, your customers probably are not going to the business-oriented professional network LinkedIn to find the latest viral cat video.)

Here are a few questions to consider when choosing your social presence:

  • Who is your target audience?
  • Is your business inherently visual in nature (like fashion or real estate) or is your business based more on information?
  • How much time can you dedicate to maintaining your social presence? Some networks require more work than others.
  • What’s your goal for your social media marketing efforts? Do you want to be thought of as an expert among other industry leaders, or do you want to increase the number of people buying a product from you?
  • What’s your brand’s personality?

IPG also has a great chart showing topic areas and what performs best on which social network – you can see the chart here.

The best advice for businesses on social media, no matter the platform: Be yourself, engage with your customers and clients (respond to their inquiries quickly and thank them for their contributions) and keep your social media presence fresh and updated.

Beth Lawton is founder and CMO of Canoe Media Services, an Alexandria-based business that helps entrepreneurs and small businesses shine online with smart social media marketing, blog content and more. More information is available at www.canoemediaservices.com.