Meetup — The Small Business Marketer’s Paradise

Meetup logo

If you’re a Small Business owner or marketing professional in a small business, you undoubtedly find yourself at a point where you go to networking events and keep running into the same people over and over again. The monotony is not only mind-numbing but it’s also bad for sales as you’re not building new leads for your “trusted referral partner” network by seeing the same folks all the time. Well, worry no further as Meetup™ is here! Er, they’ve been here for more than a decade, but we won’t mind that little detail. So, what is Meetup and why does it matter to Small Business marketing?

 

 

MEETUP, THE MOVEMENT

September 11th changed the world; strangers helped strangers that day in remarkable ways Scott Heiferman recognized. He wanted to keep that momentum going and it became the inspiration for Meetup.com. Meetup, according to their own website, is:

Meetup is the world’s largest network of local groups. Meetup makes it easy for anyone to organize a local group or find one of the thousands already meeting up face-to-face. More than 2,000 groups get together in local communities each day, each one with the goal of improving themselves or their communities.

Meetup’s mission is to revitalize local community and help people around the world self-organize. Meetup believes that people can change their personal world, or the whole world, by organizing themselves into groups that are powerful enough to make a difference.

I enjoy seeing the “Do something • Learn something • Share something • Change something” motto when you visit Meetup.com before logging in, and that’s the essence of what makes the platform so versatile. I feel like they should add “in real life!” to that message because that’s the key component to what I think Meetup does. It bridges the digital-analog divide so many of us face today with digital (email, phone and text message) and Social Media communications as our primary business contact throughout the workday (and perhaps even more so in our personal lives, trying to stay in touch with family and friends with ever-increasing work hours and workloads). All the Meetups are live, in-person group meetings coalesced around a shared interest. And, what does this have to do with your Small Business marketing efforts you ask? Read on!

 

SMALL BUSINESS MARKETING ON MEETUP

Whether you’re trying to build your Small Business brand, increase sales to your local boutique or retail shop, or want to learn how to build a smartphone app, there’s a community of not only your target audience on Meetup but also like-minded small business entrepreneurs getting together to help you! That’s the power of Meetup! These meetings are usually free (though I believe in the give-what-you-can model since it does cost Meetup Organizers to create a Meetup group on Meetup.com and other administrative costs, plus the value of their time), you can see who’s going, and you can ask questions, share and collaborate before and after the get-together through Meetup.com.

I know that today with the proliferation of Web marketing, it’s easy to think that focusing as much of your resources on your Web presence is important but even I (a Web and digital business strategist) think that all the Web has to offer is worth nothing if it doesn’t make our physical, real world lives better! So, sign up for a Meetup account today, type in your industry, professional, service or product (or a current challenge facing your business), and RSVP for a Meetup in your community soon! You’ll be glad you did.

Healthy Employees are Productive Employees

Healthy Employees Walking TogetherAs business owners, we worry often about the health of our business, but how frequently do we worry about having healthy employees? Sure, it gets attention when an employer contributes to health care insurance. If employees are absent because of sickness or a condition such as carpal tunnel syndrome that limits their productivity that affects the bottom line, and the prosperity of the business. However, even if employees show up for work, they may be suffering from health conditions which reduce their ability to do their best.

How can a business owner help maintain the wellness and health of employees, so that everyone benefits from a healthier business, both financially and otherwise? Prevention is clearly key. This is why employee washrooms in restaurants always have the sign “All Employees Must Wash Their Hands before Returning to Work.” Maintaining a healthy workplace and encouraging employees to adopt and maintain healthy habits go a long way. Leading by example is very effective. If the boss is seen smoking — and known not to exercise — then employees may read the hidden message that it is okay for them to do the same. On the other hand, if the boss brings a gym bag to work (as she stops off at the gym either before or after work), then this sends a completely different message. If the boss discusses engaging in sports activities (and not just watching sports on the television) whether as an individual, or in family activities, then this becomes a conversation topic among coworkers.

As small business owners, we may not be able to pay for gym memberships, but we can provide incentives for employees to lead a healthy lifestyle in other ways. Large companies can organize weight loss, smoking cessation or healthy eating workshops, and encourage employees to attend, and sometimes provide incentives for doing so. Small companies can create some challenges to employees and provide some tools to get started, such as a notebook for tracking exercise routines, food intake or other measurable criteria. An inexpensive pedometer can go a long way to help track distance walked or jogged during a lunch break or outside office hours. A business owner can reward an employee who participates in a wellness workshop in their free time, or achieves individual fitness and health goals. The key is to provide motivation that appeals to the employee.

We all want to stay healthy, both on and off the job. Having healthy and productive employees is surely an indicator of a successful business. Motivating employees to maintain their New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, or whatever the individual goal might be, will send a sure signal that they are valued beyond their work performance. Hiring and training new employees is much more expensive than retaining existing staff, and so wellness encouragement reduces overhead and management time spent on these issues. A few hours or a few dollars dedicated to focusing on employee wellness now can pay dividends in the future.

For suggestions on incentives or rewards for an employee wellness program, please visit our website at www.oxfordpromos.com or call Oxford Communications at 703-922-4193.

 

Photo courtesy of USACE Europe District

Google+ for Your Small Business [event]

Google+ logo

 

Google+ for Small Business
Technology That Can Help Your Business Grow!
February 29, 2012
9 am – 12 Noon

 

With only 20 spots for this hands-on workshop, we anticipate more demand than space.  Email or call Patricia Melton if you are interested.  Slots will be filled on a first come, first served basis, and then we’ll start a standby list.  See information below.

 

Google is the well-known search engine and leader in the Web advertising world, but if you haven’t already started seeing and hearing, they have recently launched a new service platform called Google+ and its Google relations, the +1 buttonDirect Connect and Search Plus Your World. Together, Google+allows businesses share, promote and measure the building of relationships between the business brands and the people who care about them. In this seminar and workshop, you get the best of both worlds from Alexandria Small Business Development Center. First, Ray Sidney-Smith, president of W3 Consulting, a Web and digital strategy firm for Small Business, presents a strategic overview of Google+ for small businesses. Following the presentation, Ray will walk you through the steps to launch your own Google+ pages for your business. This event is not to be missed!

 

From Google+ Pages’ site:

 

Share

 

Different people are interested in different parts of your business. Whether it’s breaking news, updates, promotions, links, photos – even talking face-to-face with groups via easy-to-use video chat –Google+ lets you easily share the right things with the right customers.

 

Promote

 

Help word get around. Put the +1 button anywhere you’d like people to be able to recommend your business, products or services to friends and contacts all across the web.

 

Measure

 

How’s your page doing, and how could it do better? Google+makes it easy to learn more about how your followers’ interactions on your page affect your brand, and your business.

 

Bring your wireless-enabled laptop, netbook, or mobile tablet (e.g., iPad). The session will be held in our boardroom, located at 625 N. Washington Street, Suite 400.  Because we expect this to close out early, we ask if you register, please attend or let us know if you cannot, so others may have the opportunity!

To register, email or call Patricia Melton, SBDC Counselor, at 703-778-2960.

 

Enter the “Retail Parking” garage via Pendleton Street for free parking.

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Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Small Business Federal, State and Local Government Contracting, an Overview

Alexandria Virginia City HallMany Small Business entrepreneurs interested in growing their businesses look to government contracting to sell their goods or services to state and federal agencies.  Alexandria Small Business Development Center can help you in many areas of government contracting.  To begin, you will need to register–think of it as the driver’s license to do government contracting–at all levels of government, and the requirements are separate and distinct for each level of government (i.e., local, state and federal).  There is a great deal of information on the Alexandria SBDC website under the “Grow Your Business” heading about the registration requirements for Virginia state (eVA) and federal (CCR) registration.  These registrations are generally done online, and it is necessary to have your formation documents (LLC or Corporate registrations, local business license, EFIN, and DUNS numbers) ready before you start the process.

Once you have reviewed the registration requirements, it is wise to see if there are any certifications for which you qualify that could give your business preference in the contracting process.  At the Virginia state level, SWaM (Small, Woman-owned and Minority) certification is available for most small businesses.  The application process is easier at the state level than at the federal level, so we generally advise small business owners to begin there.  Again, there are SWaM resources on our website to that describe the process and walk you through the registration and certification.

As indicated, the federal certification process is more complicated and the requirements for preferential contracting set-asides are more onerous.  Review the various programs through links on the SBDC website for the 8(a), WOSB, and other programs, described in detail on the SBAs website at www.sba.gov.  The Alexandria SBDC is ready to assist you in determining which program works for your company, and we can assist in the certification process.

Finally, once you have completed all registration and certifications requirements, you will need to work on developing government business.  This can be a time-consuming process, but there are certain “tricks and tips” that can assist you.  The Alexandria SBDC is offering a six-part series on Federal Contracting during the winter and early spring of 2012, so visit our website events page often, connect with us however you’d prefer (email, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or AlexandriaSmallBusiness.com) or contact the SBDC for more details.  We also offer inpidual business development counseling for both federal and state contracting to City of Alexandria businesses.

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Photo courtesy of Cliff

Think. Shop. Buy. Local. Join the Movement, Small Businesses!

think. shop. buy. local: join the movement! (c) Retail Merchants AssociationIf you haven’t heard about it already, the Retail Merchants Association has launched a campaign and website, ThinkShopBuyLocal.com, to encourage consumers and businesses to join a movement to support retail business in local communities.

I can’t say it better than them on their main page, so here’s what it says about each aspect of the campaign:

Think:

  • Your local businesses give back more to the community.
  • More of your dollars stay in the community.
  • More jobs stay in the community.

Shop:

  • You can find anything you need locally.
  • You develop relationships locally.
  • You can find affordable prices in our community.

Buy:

  • For every $1 spent at local businesses, 45¢ is reinvested locally. Non-local purchases keep, at most, 15¢ in your local community.
  • Local businesses value, respect and appreciate your patronage.
  • More tax dollars go to schools and roads in your community.

Local:

Join the movement! Take the pledge to show your support: “I pledge to THINK first of my local economy, SHOP first at my local businesses, and BUY first from local companies who give back so much, in so many ways, to my community.”

So, if you know a retail small business in Alexandria that hasn’t joined, please suggest it to them and to have them spread the word to other retail small businesses. And, if you’re a small business in Alexandria, why not patronize your retail small businesses for products you need for your company? It can only help the local economy and the small business community in the City of Alexandria!

What Does the Alexandria SBDC Do – Our Services

 

Alexandria Small Business Development CenterAlexandria Small Business Development Center (SBDC) is Alexandria’s economic development program totally focused on small businesses. It’s those small businesses that comprise the largest segment of Alexandria’s economy, but we know their potential is often hindered by lack of information or expertise. When Alexandria SBDC’s services help businesses solve problem, overcome obstacles, link to resources and find new opportunities, Alexandria’s economy is strengthened. With that in mind the City of Alexandria, the U.S. Small Business Administration and a number of private sector sponsors provide funding so that all Alexandria SBDC services are provided without cost.

The services of Alexandria SBDC fall into three categories to correspond to business needs at each stage – START, MANAGE and GROW.

START

  • Instruction on steps to follow to start a business
  • Individual guidance on concept feasibility, business plan preparation and financing
  • Introduction to lenders
  • Referrals to attorneys, accountants and resources for site selection
  • Help with City and State regulatory issues

MANAGE

  • Cash flow management (every business needs to monitor!)
  • Referrals to attorneys, accountants, human resources specialists and other experts to solve problems or improve operations
  • Strategic / expansion planning
  • Tax / regulatory planning
  • Marketing / networking strategies / social media
  • Business education programs on all aspects of management, operations, human resources, marketing, branding and specialized training for retailers, restaurateurs and government contractors
  • Research resources

GROW

  • Access to loans and investors
  • Business education programs in areas of government contracting, e-commerce, international trade, and issues of fast growth
  • Introduction to key resources for expansion planning, business valuation or selling a business
  • Networking / marketing opportunities / social media
  • Research resources

With many years of experience, Alexandria SBDC staff responds quickly and can recommend solutions to problems and link businesses to the most effective resources. Savvy entrepreneurs describe Alexandria SBDC as the number they keep handy for times when they run into a problem or need an objective sounding board. They also describe the SBDC’s monthly business education programs as opportunities to pick up “nuggets of information” and continually improve their approaches.

The key message is that Alexandria SBDC offers individual and confidential assistance without cost to City of Alexandria businesses and Alexandria residents with businesses elsewhere. Get more information at www.alexandriasbdc.org or 703-778-1292.

 

Facebook, Defined for Small Business

Definition of Facebook, the social networking service (c) Dictionary.com

Facebook

 

 

 

 

 

I couldn’t believe it with my own eyes. I was looking for a way to give context to Facebook and a good overview to start developing a Social Media business marketing strategy with Facebook as one aspect of it. So, I used Google’s “define” search function for “Facebook” and, lo and behold, Dictionary.com had an entry, and as you can see from above, it’s pretty accurate for consumers. The external social networking service founded by Mark Zuckerberg in 2004 generally captures the people-spying-on-people mentality that pervades much of social networks. However, there’s more to the Social Media platform than meets the eye for businesses, and I’ll be blogging regularly about the many facets of the global social networking juggernaut. First, I’d like to just give a few definitions to cover some of the regular terms that define Facebook for small business.

PROFILES
The bottom line as to whether you use a Profile or Group for your business’ Facebook presence: never. I know that some will relent and give me all the reasons that their particular reasoning for using their Profile or a Group that they’ve set up for their business is better than setting up a Page. And, some will not that Facebook themselves made Pages as a second thought for businesses. My hope is that by explaining some key features of Pages and key disadvantages of Groups and Profiles, that you’ll go ahead and take the effort to launch your business’ Facebook Page in the not-too-distant future and then try to do away with your other Facebook presence as soon as practicable.

GROUPS
Facebook Groups are wonderful tools but for small communities within Facebook, such as committees, focus groups, boards, and groups of friends. Although it may be tempting to create a Group because you’ve heard of the few “advantages” over Pages, we highly dissuade you from thinking this is true. While you can send messages directly to members of groups, member engagement is higher in groups thanks to generally smaller size, and the discussion thread feature set, Groups are missing the core extensibility of Pages–Applications, analytics and Web coding functionality. Over time, Facebook engagement will be completely about the functionality of your Pages as much as they are about the content you offer.

PAGES
Facebook Pages are the de facto home for businesses and brands on Facebook. Every business should stake their claim to their Facebook Page (especially if you have a retail location). Facebook Ads and ad networks allow you to direct traffic to Facebook Pages, you can have unlimited fans following your Page, and users associate Pages with companies they like and trust. Every business’ marketing needs are different on Facebook, so research your target market well in a variety of Social Media before leaping in headfirst.

Facebook, no matter how you define it, is a commitment to Social Media that warrants close and careful contemplation. There’s no question that your target market is there; with 600 million users and counting, everyone’s target market in the United States is likely there. But, will they pay attention to your brand message while engaging on the platform? That’s the question you have to ask.

Still have questions? Ask them in the comments and I’ll be happy to post video responses to my Vimeo account and post them here in the Comments for you.

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Have You Resolved to Blog in 2012? Small Business Bloggers Unite in Alexandria, Virginia.

Blogging is for everyone, even small businesses.So, you’ve created a Facebook Page, updated your LinkedIn profile, and you have a Twitter profile, yet you’re not swimming in “Likes” and “Followers” in any social network. While you hear about new Social Media sites launching every month, you feel it’s a waste of time to invest in every tech start-up that hangs their shingle out. And, I agree. Well, it’s a new year and as good a time as any for a strategic marketing plan, that should include a small business blog to help plan, motivate and drive site traffic. In the meantime, I’m going to tell you what I tell every audience I talk to about the foundation of Social Media: blog. Yup, that’s it–a plain and simple strategy to jump-start your Social Media campaign in 2012. Stay tuned for a series of articles here that will cover blogging for Small Business!

If you don’t know how, and you live or run a small business in Alexandria, Virginia, you can get some great assistance by joining the Small Business Bloggers in the Alexandria Small Business .COMmunity here at AlexandriaSmallBusiness.com. It’s not only a community blog about the great things that Small Business is doing in Alexandria, but the products and services they provide, and advice to start, manage and grow your Small Business in general from the folks over at the Alexandria Small Business Development Center in Alexandria, Virginia.

 

Photo courtesy of The Library of Congress