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

Just Listen

Listening in Small BusinessI work with business people of all stripes who want to communicate more clearly and effectively. I help them streamline their writing and deliver presentations that stick. Sometimes clients want “shortcuts” or need solutions NOW. For these people I do my best, but I can’t work miracles! Good communications skills cannot be acquired with a wave of my wand or a snap of your fingers.

However, you can easily absorb some lessons as you go about your daily routine. Every day you have the opportunity to learn about speaking by listening. Earlier this spring the TED Radio Hour on NPR featured an interview with Julian Treasure, a sound expert who says we are “losing our listening.” As someone who preaches that you can’t be a good speaker unless you are a better listener, I was intrigued enough by his interview with host Guy Raz to watch Treasure’s original TED Talk. In it, he describes the ways we have trained our ears for listening: how we recognize our names amid the din of a noisy party, for example, or tune out continuous “background” sound. But, he adds, our listening is also affected by many filters we subconsciously impose on what we hear: culture, language, values, beliefs, attitudes, expectations, intentions.

All in all, listening is a tricky business. And we need to practice doing it more mindfully. Fortunately, Treasure shares some clever exercises for improving our listening–indeed, the title of his TED talk is “5 Ways to Listen Better.” He ends by making a plea for teaching listening to children. Because unless we collectively break this habit of shutting out sound, we are headed toward a totally dysfunctional, disconnected future where we block out the incessant, exhausting noise of everyday life by isolating ourselves under headphones. We need to learn how to listen, because listening is essential to human connection. “Conscious listening always creates understanding,” Treasure observes.

Likewise, if we want to be understood when we speak, we must become better listeners first. We need to reconnect with each other in conversation–and stop performing dueling monologues. I often advise my clients that one way to improve as public speakers (i.e., when they engage in any speech not specifically “private”) is to become better public listeners. This means being less impatient as listeners, exercising critical thinking skills, and not responding reflexively to contextual filters (see above). Then they can achieve a far better connection with the speaker and her/his message. And learn how to recreate that same connection when they are speaking. Only in that mental space is the act of true communication possible.

“Every human being needs to listen consciously in order to live fully. Connected in space and in time to the physical world around us. Connected to each other.” Treasure is right. And why would we want to live any other way?

As a Communications Artist Ann Timmons ( uses her background as an actor, director, and playwright to share unique perspectives on all facets of speaking professionally. Whether you’re the face and voice of your company, or someone who needs to communicate complex ideas, together we’ll discover your presence. And then you’ll be able to connect with your listeners–clearly, dynamically–every time.
Image Source: Wikipedia

Weaving the Safety Net of Trust


Communication (Photo credit: P Shanks)

Walking the tightrope without a net. That’s what it feels like for so many of us solo practitioners, solopreneurs and small business owners. There is just so much we have to do before we can settle down to getting the job done. We need to pitch, present, propose, negotiate. Eventually, when we are successful at these steps, we get to do what we actually love. “The thing itself” is what interests us. Our vision of it is strong enough push us out on that tightrope every time.


But we will never make that vision a reality if we can’t communicate.

As you doubtless already know, the first step is to listen to what prospective clients want. Completely. Give them your undivided attention. But don’t forget the next step: tell them what you understood them to say. This eliminates initial misunderstandings that could set you off on the wrong path. And from a relationship-building standpoint, this step is crucial. People need to be heard. If they are considering hiring you for your expertise, they want to know that you will listen to what they are telling you. And to be sure that what you heard is actually what they said.

So you have heard what they want. Good. But what happens when your expertise tells you that what they want isn’t really what they need? This can be tricky, but again, you have to articulate what it is they have told you, then share how your solution will solve the problem. It may be a slightly different way than they had expected, but if you approach it as a joint effort, rather than telegraphing “I am the expert so I know better,” you will get down to work much sooner. This is something like the “pivot” tactic used in political communication. And this technique is known in improv world as “yes . . . and” (as opposed to “no . . . but,” a counter-productive blocking tactic). Even if you absolutely know from the start that what the clients want will never solve their problem, you need to hear them out. Your willingness (or lack thereof) to engage on this level will tell them a lot about how you will communicate going forward.

In our wildest dreams we will be as successful as (fill in the name of the top practitioner in your field). When we have that stellar reputation for excellence we will be able to ask for–and often get–free rein when we work. But until then we are in the position of asking our clients to trust us, to have faith that ultimately we will give them what they really need. We need to work to establish a bond of trust. And hold onto it. It is never a given. It is a gift, an important connection that we need to reinforce with every interaction. It is our  safety net. So never, ever stop listening!

As a Communications Artist Ann Timmons ( uses her background as an actor, director, and playwright to share unique perspectives on all facets of speaking professionally. Whether you’re the face and voice of your company, or someone who needs to communicate complex ideas, together we’ll discover your presence. And then you’ll be able to connect with your listeners–clearly, dynamically–every time.
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Managing Email Overload! [webinar]

Managing Email Overload

Are you overwhelmed by the amount of email messages you receive? Do you have an overflowing email inbox? Are you losing potential business because it takes too long for you to respond to email messages? You are not alone!

In our next Beyond Google – Marketing and Managing on the Web Webinar Series, Virginia SBDC brought Ray Sidney-Smith, President and Web Strategist at W3 Consulting (and productivity geek!), to show you how to manage email overload! Watch and learn how to quickly and effectively triage your email inbox, maintain a responsive strategy for business email and build an email culture that fosters productivity…so you can get back to your business and not just “busy-ness!”

You will learn:

  • how to get your inbox to empty on a regular basis;
  • how to manage email responses that are important/urgent and important/not-urgent; and,
  • how to develop an email culture around your business that respects good email culture.
Ray Sidney-Smith

Small Business Evangelist. Web & Digital Technology Strategist. Business Management Consultant. Presenter | Speaker | Trainer. Evernote Certified Consultant. Google Small Business Advisor, Productivity. Productivity, Technology & GTD Enthusiast, Coach & Podcaster.

Small Business Webinar: Small Business Telecommuting

With all the technology available to businesses today, it’s easy to overlook the opportunities that bring efficiency and effectiveness to our day-to-day lives for ourselves but also our employees and contractors. One of those opportunities is telecommuting, the ability to remotely work from anywhere in the world. Many people associate telecommuting as working in your pajamas in bed or from a beach in San Juan! Remote working is so much more and we, as business owners, need to understand the positives and negatives that come from giving this great benefit and responsibility to our employees and contractors. In this Web seminar, Ray Sidney-Smith of W3 Consulting takes a Small Business through an overview of planning, implementation, review and maintenance of a telecommuting program for your organization.

What we will discuss in this Webinar:

  • Why telecommuting works? And, when it doesn’t? And, why Marissa Mayer of Yahoo! pulled the plug on their telecommuting program?
  • What does your telecommuting / remote working program need for it be effective?
  • What tools can help you make telecommuting manageable and, perhaps even, fun?
Ray Sidney-Smith

Small Business Evangelist. Web & Digital Technology Strategist. Business Management Consultant. Presenter | Speaker | Trainer. Evernote Certified Consultant. Google Small Business Advisor, Productivity. Productivity, Technology & GTD Enthusiast, Coach & Podcaster.

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!

Ray Sidney-Smith

Small Business Evangelist. Web & Digital Technology Strategist. Business Management Consultant. Presenter | Speaker | Trainer. Evernote Certified Consultant. Google Small Business Advisor, Productivity. Productivity, Technology & GTD Enthusiast, Coach & Podcaster.

Follow the Trend – Increase Your Audience Using Social Media

20-social-media-iconsToday, staying connected to the latest social media outlets is almost the equivalent of staying in touch with the world; especially when it comes to business. Each day, as a business owner, you ask the question, “How do I expand my audience or clientele?” In order to generate revenue it is important to stay relevant. In order to stay relevant, you have to communicate to your audience by means of significant resources.  Some of the most relevant ways to stay connected to your audience include: Newsletters, Blogs, Mobile Applications, Media Blasts and Text Alerts. For all of the mentioned, there are many resources out there that will provide time efficient ways for you to stay connected to your audience using very few clicks and very little time and effort.

Speaking of time, you might argue that you do not have time to keep up with all of the various forms of social media and perhaps even figure out which ones work best for your business agenda. The purpose of new innovative social media resources is to help make things easier for end users (consumers or businesses). If you choose to go at this alone, there are many resources out there that will allow you to stay in the loop and make it easy for you to post items to more than one social media outlet by logging into one or few resources.

To stay in the loop, use RSS Feed Readers. If you need to know what to write about and where to post it, this resource will allow you to stay on top of updates made on various sites including but not limited to social media helping you stay relevant to your audience. RSS Owl is one of the best because it covers a long list of platforms; however, there are many others out there. RSS Feed Readers will at least give you solid clues on where to post content and what topics to include in your newsletters, blog posts and media blasts.

Now that you know where to go to keep up with what’s trending, you want to figure out a way to post your content on more than one social media platform at a time. I think most of us have heard about Hootsuite by now, but if you have not, this is a great tool that integrates the most relevant social media used by businesses today. If you can at least post to a handful of your social media platforms at once, having to log into one or two others is not bad. It is better than having to log into 5 or more individually.

At this point you might be saying, “what if I don’t want to manage my own social media at all?” Well, you are in luck because there are many businesses out there just like KQ Associates that are here to assist you. We understand that managing your social media can be a real chore.  However, we enjoy it! Managing social media and using it to grow your client base is like a game and although it can be challenging at times, it is fun for us! We all know when work is fun we can accomplish more. So, do some research and hire a company that will take this responsibility off of you at a rate you can afford so that you can focus on the things you do best regarding your business.

Lydia D. Washington, CEO

KQ Associates  – Your professional source for trusted administrative support that keeps you safe and moving forward.

4 Lessons on Writing for Your Business’s Website or Blog

For a business looking to try something new or different on its website, it’s never been easier than right now.

Adding streaming video, real-time social media feeds and attractive design effects can be simple. And users have the bandwidth and savvy to handle it when they land on a more complex site. There’s never been a better time to experiment.

That said, the simplest element of every website has not lost its importance as web pages have gotten more sophisticated. That element is the text.

I’d like to think that the words you publish on your business website are the most important part of the site (although I understand that some photographers and designers might beg to differ). There’s no doubt that the words play a big part in the impression you make on potential customers and clients, not to mention the search engine spiders that crawl and classify your site.

With that in mind, here are four lessons about writing I have learned over the years. Keep them in mind them when you’re writing for your site — whether it’s the text on your homepage, the staff  bios on your “About Us” page or posts on your company blog. I think they’ll help you make just the right impression.

1. Write the Way You Talk

This is the foundation of all the writing and editing I have done since high school. I learned it from my mom, who suggested this approach as I worked on a term paper.

This lesson does not mean that all of your writing needs to be conversational — although on the web, less formal often works better than more formal.

What it means is you should read the words you are writing as if they are being spoken, and if they don’t sound like something anyone would ever say, try again. Depending on your audience and your goal, the voice you imagine speaking your words could be casual or formal. But make sure the words match the voice and sound natural.

2. Less Is More

There are very few sentences that cannot be improved by making them shorter. (In fact, the previous sentence is probably better written as “Almost every sentence is better when it’s shorter.” That edit cuts out five words — a 38 percent reduction).

This lesson applies doubly on the web, where attention spans are short and competition for information and entertainment is a click away.

In a way, this lesson conflicts a bit with Lesson 1. When we speak, we often use extraneous words — understandably, since we are turning thoughts and feelings into words on the fly. Perhaps Lesson 1 should be, “Write the Way You Wish You Talked.” That’s only two more words.


3. A Second Set of Eyes Always Helps

Reporters and writers have editors. Entrepreneurs who are writing blog posts about their business don’t always have that luxury.

But if you can get someone — anyone — to read what you’ve written for your site, either before you publish or after it’s live, it can save you headaches and embarrassment.

Whether you realize it or not, you will have blind spots about anything you write yourself. Readers notice the errors, typos and faulty logic that you miss — so why not have the first reader report them back to you?

If you’re in a pinch and can’t get a second set of eyes, I suggest you read your copy in a different way. Print it out and take a red pen to it. Load it on to your tablet (if you wrote on a PC or laptop) and read it there. Read it backwards (really, this works — you’ll pick up spelling errors you would have glossed over going forward).

4. Don’t Believe in Writer’s Block

You have limited time to write for your site or blog. If you stare at a blank page for long, you might convince yourself you have “writer’s block” and it will take too long. You’ll move on to other things — hey, you have a business to run — and you may never come back to the writing.

There’s no such thing as writer’s block. I know, because every time I faced a newspaper deadline, somehow I found a way to get all the words written in time. If you make yourself write, you will write.

If you’re having trouble getting started, I suggest putting yourself on the clock. Tell yourself, “I have to have six paragraphs written in 30 minutes,” or something like that. It will happen.

You can also avoid the mythical “writer’s block” by collecting ideas. Start a notebook or file on one of your devices where you jot down ideas for good material for your business site. Then when it’s time to write, you have a place to start.

So there they are, four lessons that should help you write for your business site. As good content becomes more and more important on the web, I hope these tips help you make the right impression and explain your business to customers and clients.

I’ve written it before — a website can be beautifully designed, SEO-friendly and quick as Usain Bolt, but if the actual words on the page are sloppy, unprofessional or indecipherable, you’re losing readers (and business).

Jon DeNunzio worked in the Washington Post newsroom for nearly 20 years and now runs Squarely Digital, a consulting firm that aims to make the internet a little bit easier and a lot more profitable for your company. Contact him at [email protected].

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Jon DeNunzio runs Squarely Digital, a consulting company aimed at helping other organizations get more out of their efforts online.

Specifically, we can help with editorial content, search advertising, SEO, analytics, social media and other customer/user engagement efforts.

I started this company after nearly 20 years working in the newsroom at the Washington Post — both on its print edition and website.