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.

Retail Store Design: Avoiding the “Tchotchke Effect”

As a retailer, the last thing one wants is for their merchandise to be associated with the terms like worthless, disposable, or tacky. Yet, if it looks like tchotchke because of the manner in which it is presented, that is exactly what is communicated.

The primary remedy for the tchotchke effect is to recognize that the problem exists in the first place. I have seen business savvy start ups and experienced retailers alike end up with stores resembling tourist traps. The effect has many causes. Things like high inventory levels, lack of storage, and mixed product lines are physical issues that, in my experience, are easy to fix. Psychological blocks, though, resulting in denial, can undermine store performance. Causes aside, if the symptoms are not completely evident from the photo above, here are a few main ones: over crowded merchandise, no departmental definition, no visual focus, mixed and non matching store fixtures, cheap lighting, exposed equipment… the list goes on.

Restraint is the operative word when it comes to avoiding the tchotchke effect. After that, there a few visual rules for effective retail store design that work.

1. Create a design concept.

2. Use only store fixtures that stick to the concept.

4. Place key merchandise at eye level.

3. Vary the scale.

4. Leave some empty space.

5. Create a feature.

6. Repeat in an organized way.

7. Color coordinate.

8. Use props and graphics to visually reinforce your product.

Bridget Gaddis of Gaddis Architect is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

My big secret…

my big productivity secret small businessMy Big Secret is…

Whenever I go away from my office for an extended time (such as vacation or illness), I come back two to several days earlier than when I let everyone know I’m back to work.

Okay, there; I said it. What a relief?! Now, why would I tell you that? Because there’s something about being productivity as a Small Business owner that evades many and being productive makes my heart sing. And, I want you to have that feeling too. If you get back a few days earlier than everyone thinks you’re back, you have time to stabilize your home life and then triage your work projects before the onslaught of communication and so forth swings into action when you are publicly back to work.

One the many great benefits of doing this over the years is that my time away from the office is purposeful no matter if it’s vacation or illness. If it’s vacation, I can spend it with the people I care about that I’m with, knowing that I will return to work with the time needed to get caught up and back on track. No need to do those things while I’m on vacation. Further, if I am on vacation and the urge compels me to do something, it’s usually in a creative capacity and I can capture the ideas and know that I will have a time and place to map out a realistic, strategic goal when I get back from my time away.

Why not just tell everyone that you’re back a few days early?

If I did that, the staff (including my colleagues and clients) would start to anticipate and that’s the death knell of the strategy. Keeping employees and independent contractors on their toes–not to be sneaking up on them, mind you, as I trust the people I work with and so should you–is about not allowing you nor them to settle into well-worn business paths that start disable passionate effort. There are many other ways to “keep honest people honest”; financial fail-safes and team-building activities. I do not return to work usually by going into the office so it’s not a matter of looking over anyone’s shoulder. I’m trying to get my work life in order, not theirs! We can all argue over the finer points of this, but you don’t have that kind of time. You’re an active (as I don’t like the word “busy”) entrepreneur! However, I believe that when people become too used to norm, they become complacent and you are their leader; they need you to keep the passion burning and your ability to prepare, triage and excite them are all inherent in this strategy.

Why not prepare before for your departure?

Actually, I do in a way. I am always preparing for the inevitable time when I may be from the office expectedly or otherwise. And, I recommend that you do so as well. There is a rate of diminishing productivity return on investment when you cram. Hopefully you learned the lack of value of this tactic in secondary or undergraduate education. Also, my staff and colleagues and clients are already well-poised to deal with my absence. Why? Because I have trained them to stand in my stead in different capacities along the way. You can do the same thing and watch the stress melt away. It’s usually your “feeling” that I might be letting them down that would makes you want to do more than is reasonable before you leave. Resist the urge, plan and implement everyday continuity plans for your business operations.

Sometimes I don’t know I’m going to be away for an extended period and so I treat everything as my esteemed colleague, Lou Kastelic of Jordan Crandus, would say about business. “Run your business as though you were going to leave it tomorrow,” he once told an audience of young entrepreneurs (with myself in the crowd). Be it by sale, by dissolution, or death. You’ll quickly see that your business leaps to great heights of both efficiency and effectiveness when you run your business day as though it were your last…every day. This seems to stand true for my personal and work projects as well. If I work from the perspective that I only have now I will achieve more, notwithstanding the great hope and good certainty that I will live to work another day!

A couple of guidelines.

Yes, some people in your organization may need to know about your big secret. For example, my assistant knows when I’ll be back…for real. And, usually one family member knows my real travel itinerary in case of medical emergency and/or safety concerns. At the very least, someone who can take action to save your life in such an unfortunate circumstance needs to know. Additionally, prepare for what you are going to tackle when you get back. Is it your email that always has you crazed? Plan to come back and tackle your email by sifting through it for however long you determine you need to read, reply (in draft without hitting “Send” until people know you have returned) and digesting and planning the action steps from the email messages that require your movement on projects or tasks. Or, perhaps you need to catch up on your blogging while you have been away from the office or store? Well, plan chunks of your time when you get back to focus on writing, editing and scheduling to publish those forthcoming nuggets of insight and wisdom for your target audience. Finally, make the amount of time match the amount of time you need to get your personal and work life back in order. If you need three days, then don’t come back to the office for three days. If you need only one day, make it one day. If you standardize it to always two days, then your mind will start to tolerate the buffer and it will become ineffective.

If we are living life to the fullest, and living our dreams as entrepreneurs, we must face a few realities with poise and excitement. By buffering days to catch up without typical interruptions, you can come back with ease and stability. Have you tried this technique? Has it worked? Do you have unique challenges you would like clarification on to carry out this strategy in your business? Comment and I’ll be happy to discuss!

Visual Synergy

From http://fixturescloseup.com by fellow blogger Tony Kadysewski

From http://fixturescloseup.com by fellow blogger Tony Kadysewski

Wow! What a great example of what can be done with the most simple and inexpensive props. This photo, from a post by a fellow blogger about how it is easier to sell the idea of color rather than the idea of painting a wall, does a whole lot more than that. It does such a good job of attracting visual attention that even a guy living out of a suitcase might think about looking for something to decorate.

So, let’s consider what makes this work? Not only do the bold colored stools do a great job of counteracting visual noise on the glass, they are at a very recognizable “human” scale. Every one knows what the table in their living room looks like. Also the tables, size wise the biggest elements in the window, are repeated at a smaller scale in the colored boxes and paint samples in the background. These not only have the effect of drawing the passerby directly into the shop, but are also made more interesting because of the suggestive graphic used as a backdrop in the window. The synergy between the window display and the store interior is very successful in this project. The message is clearly that the interior of the store is as dynamic as the exterior. It is a message that is often overlooked by specialty retailers.

Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

Growth Tips: Networking for 2014

Shaking hands symbol
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You can hardly open your browser or a business publication without seeing something about networking. Why? Studies show regular networkers are more successful in business and in life. True for introverts and extroverts incidentally.

Tip 1. Plan your networking

Yes, really. Think about what you want to get from your networking efforts and how they relate to growing your business. Look at what you have done. What has been most effective? Less so? What else do you need to do? Where and how?

Here is your ‘cheat sheet’ of categories – fill each part in with your personal list:
* Professional groups’ meetings
* Individual meetings – specific people in your field and outside it
* Developmental events – seminars, conferences
* Special events
* Potentially valuable groups – research/try new options
* Reconnect – with people you value
* Online activities – LinkedIn, MeetUp, etc.

Tip 2. Define your goals

Don’t just go to events or have coffee with friends and call it networking. Define what you need, what you offer, and what you will do in fairly specific terms. Numbers alone are not worth much.

Consider:
* What do you want to share with others? What do you want to learn?
* Who do you know you might introduce to others?
* Who will you ask for introductions and to whom?

Tip 3. Make it Easy

Never go to an event without a plan. It could be to meet specific people or to learn something valuable talking with many people there. I find it easier to go to events with a ‘wingman’ – introducing him to others helps me meet people too. What works well for you?

Have a goal when you meet with an individual or small group too. What do you want out of the meeting? What are you offering in return?

Keep going! Networking builds on itself.  You need to find ways to maintain your network consistently over time. Pick a process, make a plan and execute it for your success in 2014.

Patricia A. Frame is an experienced management consultant, HR executive, speaker, and author on human capital issues. She is known for her ability to address organizational goals and issues effectively and to create human resource management practices which support these goals without excessive administrivia. Patricia has advised executives and boards on a wide range of human capital and strategic planning issues. She has expertise in organization development, talent management, process restructuring, compensation, and training. She has worked with technology-based companies, government contractors, non-profits, associations, and retail operations. She advises small to mid-size organizations on ways to succeed and to help their employees thrive. Ms. Frame has given seminars for SBDC in recent years on the basic processes of HR management. Additionally, she generously provides one-to-one HR counseling once a month through Alexandria SBDC.

Small Business Webinar: Creation, Collaboration, Sharing and Storage in the Cloud

Beyond Google – Marketing and Managing on the Web Webinar Series

Creation, Collaboration, Sharing and Storage in the Cloud

Cloud storage: a confused but evolving market
Cloud storage: a confused but evolving market (Photo credit: joe.ross)

Thursday, December 12, 2013 12:15 PM – 1:15 PM EDT

The Internet has created so many benefits for Small Business…from leveling the Web marketing playing field to offering countless free software for business productivity. But one of the strongest tools to be developed yet was the idea of “Cloud” storage and its collaborative abilities.

What is the Cloud? In practical terms to Small Business, the Cloud allows you to create, co-edit, share and store almost anything on the Web, so that you and your team can access it from anywhere you have Internet access. In this Webinar, Ray Sidney-Smith, Web & Mobile Strategist and President of W3 Consulting, will take us through the in’s and out’s of using Cloud storage and their major features. We will cover the basics, but also discuss some of the more intermediate concepts in Cloud solutions.

What we will discuss in this Webinar:

  • What is the “Cloud?”
  • How is the Cloud beneficial to Small Business?
  • Overview of some tools to create, collaborate, share and store documents with your team from anywhere in the world connected to the Internet.
  • Guidelines for effectively using Cloud storage and collaboration tools.

Who should attend:

  • Small business owners, professionals, solopreneurs, micropreneurs and entrepreneurs
  • Office managers
  • Marketing Directors and Sales Executives
  • Executive assistants, administrative assistants and secretaries

Register

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Four Tips to Build Your Business

Wordle Cloud of the Internet Marketing Blog - ...

Once upon a boot camp, the young entrepreneur with the growing company and the old advisor with many entrepreneurs as clients came together to talk about building a business successfully. Here’s what you can learn from them to build your business.

Blunder #1: Being too cheap in early stages.

Whether you are a solopreneur or run a company, you need expert advice early to set your business up successfully. A small amount of guidance can save you time and help avoid major problems later. Talk to a CPA, an attorney, your local SBDC and the SBA, and learn the basics. Don’t wait until the government is after you or you are facing your first lawsuit. Being a business owner can be downright scary. Spend a little upfront to reduce your risks – and raise your comfort level.

Blunder #2: Not learning all you can about marketing, branding, and selling.

Selling scares a lot of us. Marketing sounds expensive and branding a little too hyped to be real. Yet every solopreneur and entrepreneur needs to know how to use each of these effectively for their own work and success. Fortunately, the resources to learn about these aspects of promoting your business effectively are easily available. Start with some self-education. There are a lot of great tools online, at your local library and via our services. Once you have a basic understanding, decide what is most likely to work well for you. Define your needs and goals. Create a plan. Develop your materials. Hire those services you need for support.

Blunder #3: Not networking.

Each of them told their friends about their new businesses. But that is not enough! You need to be actively engaging your network. Take all that you learned in marketing and branding above and start actually talking to people about your brand and your new ideas. Ask for their ideas and suggestions. As you build, you can also ask for specific contacts and then referrals.

Get out there to relevant professional meetings and events. Ask questions. Make connections. Go to local business events where your target clients are likely to be and do the same.

Learn about social media and how to use it effectively. This is a great way to build and maintain your networks while also enhancing your marketing. Develop a plan so it doesn’t become a time sink though.

Blunder #4: Not Knowing Your Full Value.

One realized her clients were frequently surprised at her business acumen – somehow they expect her to only know one type of thing. And so she realized she was not effectively conveying her full value to potential clients. The other’s staff recognized before she did what a great evangelist she was and how responsive potential clients were to her ideas.

It is vital that you figure out what makes you different and what added value you offer. Talk with friends, past mentors, and others who know you well. Ask them for the 5-6 words that describe you and see which you can weave into your branding. Research what your potential clients are seeking. Better yet, tap into your strengths and present them as solutions to issues clients face.

These tips are only the top of our list of unforced errors. But they are among the most dangerous to your future success – and the most common!   If you are starting out, you can avoid them. If you are just going along or rebuilding your business, take 30 minutes a day for the next six weeks and start tackling them!

Patricia A. Frame is an experienced management consultant, HR executive, speaker, and author on human capital issues. She is known for her ability to address organizational goals and issues effectively and to create human resource management practices which support these goals without excessive administrivia. Patricia has advised executives and boards on a wide range of human capital and strategic planning issues. She has expertise in organization development, talent management, process restructuring, compensation, and training. She has worked with technology-based companies, government contractors, non-profits, associations, and retail operations. She advises small to mid-size organizations on ways to succeed and to help their employees thrive. Ms. Frame has given seminars for SBDC in recent years on the basic processes of HR management. Additionally, she generously provides one-to-one HR counseling once a month through Alexandria SBDC.

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In Search of the Perfect Daytime Storefront: VI. Donating High Cost Display Space

Blossoming Backdrop

I am always surprised when companies with large store planning and marketing resources, not to mention budgets, create and then miss visual display opportunities. It is hardly necessary to comment on the problem here. Any student of this blog can see that the white cut work backdrop forms a high contrast and visually compelling pattern against the black storefront surround and dark interior. It had my attention from across the mall, leading me closer, to be captivated by the interesting pattern. I actually found my self trying to see, snow flakes, flowers, even lace.

So the real question is what did I not see. Of course the main event absolutely disappears. The fix here is too easy to be missed. Just imagine what a great display this would have been had the mannequin been dressed in bold color blocked garments. I almost went in the store to see if they had a suggestion box. Also, on a more serious business note, this is some very expensive real estate. To expensive to be donated as a public service gallery when it should be selling a product.

I see and additional flaw in this display, which may be personal preference and pales in comparison to the aforementioned larger issue, but is, nevertheless, worth a mention here. I have a problem with headless mannequins in storefront displays. I find them unnatural and too cheap for all but limited use.

Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.