12 Sites for Promoting Your Local Business

Entrepreneur;

Want to get your name out to locals and visitors alike? Take advantage of these online marketing sites and watch your business grow.

The advertising of the future is going online–and going local.

There’s no question that consumers are using the internet to navigate their way to local brick-and-mortar retailers. A recent study by ROI Research Inc. and Performics shows that online searches influence 20 to 30 percent of purchases made at retail locations–and that number is only increasing. More and more sites, like Local.com, are making their presence known by competing against major search engines like Google and Yahoo!. So study up, plan your budget and get in on the online advertising game.

1. Website: Google AdWords
How It Will Help You:
AdWords helps you target local online customers by setting your pay-per-click ads to appear only when people search a particular city, state or region. There’s no minimum spending requirement–your daily budget is up to you.

2. Website: Yahoo! Local Listings
How It Will Help You:
Local Listings will promote your business to customers looking for information in Yahoo! Local. Choose from three different plans (one is free) to meet your company’s needs.

3. Website: CitySearch
How It Will Help You:
CitySearch offers online advertising tools to easily open your account, manage your daily results and receive ad placement on MSN, Yahoo!, Google and Ask.com. Similar to the idea of pay-per-click advertising, CitySearch offers two paid plans, “Web Connect” and “Call Connect.”

4. Website: Ask.com’s AskCity
How It Will Help You:
Ask.com launched AskCity, a new local search application that’s a one-stop destination for making plans. In one screen, consumers can map a route, make dinner reservations, purchase movie tickets and e-mail plans to others. Pricing for advertising on Ask.com varies.

5. Website: AOL’s CityGuide
How It Will Help You:
AOL’s CityGuide specializes in providing local entertainment information to AOL service members. Advertising with AOL allows marketers to target consumers specifically by lifestyle and market.

6. Website: Craigslist
How It Will Help You:
Craigslist gets an estimated 10 million unique visitors per day. With an online classified ad format organized by region or city, Craigslist connects buyers and sellers in more than 300 communities; for the most part, posting on the site is free.

7. Website: MerchantCircle.com
How It Will Help You:
This free site offers a local business listing service that allows you to better manage your online reputation and become more visible in search engine results.

8. Website: Local.com
How It Will Help You:
Advertising on Local.com will give you access to their 10 million-plus monthly customers. Choose from a free basic listing or pay-per-click options.

9. Website: Froogle Local
How It Will Help You:
Google’s shopping search engine allows users to search for specific products by location. It’s a great way for users to find retail stores regardless of whether you use e-commerce.

10. Website:ReachLocal
How It Will Help You:
This site provides a central location for businesses to set-up, maintain and track local search advertising campaigns. Pricing varies.

11. Website: TrueLocal
How It Will Help You:
This local search engine features full-text searching and offers advertising opportunities for businesses. Currently indexing more than 13 million local businesses, TrueLocal starts at just $1 per month.

12. Website: YellowPages.com
How It Will Help You:
YellowPages.com is a large online local directory site featuring city guides and advertising solutions. Basic listings are free.

The New Social Shopping Trend Can Help You Build Buzz

Entrepreneur;

“With the vast majority of Americans researching products on the internet before they purchase them in stores or on the web, it’s no surprise that a whole new form of shopping is emerging. “Social shopping? is the intriguing offspring of social networking and online shopping, and it can offer your growing business just the marketing leg up it needs.

Unlike the many retail sites that display products for sale, many increasingly popular social shopping sites (some still in beta testing stages) consist of product listings from site users who recommend their favorites, often with a strong emphasis on what’s hot, new and exciting. And insiders know that listing their own products on the right social shopping sites can build buzz that leads to sales.

This accessible form of word-of-mouth marketing offers a wealth of opportunities for entrepreneurs with limited budgets. To help you navigate these new waters, let’s take a look at why and how social shopping works.

1. Online research leads to sales. Almost 90 percent of respondents to a BIGresearch “Consumer Intentions and Actions? survey conducted in June 2006 said they occasionally or regularly research products online before buying them in a store. When it comes to online purchasing, a study released by Yahoo! and OMD found that nearly three-quarters of the people surveyed use trusted, familiar websites when purchasing online, and the majority (54 percent) say the internet is their most trusted shopping information source. So no matter whether you sell exclusively online, through a brick-and-mortar store or both, influencing online shoppers can have a profound effect on sales.

2. Peer-to-peer recommendations deliver credibility. Social shopping websites allow for word-of-mouth marketing at its best. The internet empowers consumers and accelerates the flow of information. Product recommendations that come from peers may be more trusted, so site visitors may return more often and be more likely to spread the good word and purchase the products they learn about on the sites. Social shopping sites reflect users’ personal tastes and allow for online conversation. Visitors can learn what’s popular, get shopping ideas and follow links to products they wouldn’t necessarily find on their own.

3. Sites have distinct personalities. Here’s a sampling of the hottest social shopping sites.

  • ThisNext.com: Users can browse recommended products, add them to their wish lists, recommend or find out where to buy them, and create themed lists of their own.
  • Crowdstorm.com: This site measures the buzz around products based on user recommendations. Popular items go to the top of the list.
  • Kaboodle.com: Users create wish lists with photos and links to products for sale online. It’s easy to post a summary of anything found on the internet.
  • Stylehive.com: This is the hot site for women’s fashions and interests.
  • Wists.com: Users tend to focus on interesting new products and share links to the ones they want to buy.

4. Social shopping sites are An open door for entrepreneurs. Right now, any business owner can use them to build positive word-of-mouth that leads to sales. But you’d better move quickly. Some sites are testing free-use models as they build traffic and will likely adopt paid structures as they reach critical mass, perhaps through revenue generated by marketing agreements with vendors and retailers or by selling the trend information generated by users.

As with any marketing campaign, your first step is to get to know the media. Bookmark your favorite social shopping sites and learn how they work. Test the waters by posting one or two products with their URLs, taking special care to send your click-throughs to specialized landing pages so you can measure your results. Then have fun and stay active–and keep your postings interesting by sharing products others will want to buzz about.

Let Customers Know Exactly Why They Need Your Business

Entrepreneur;

“You know your product is the best around, but if you’re not selling obvious necessities, your customers will need some education on why they need your product or service.

Marketing really is an education process,? says Michael J. Makropoulos, managing partner at Ntrinsic Inc., a strategic marketing firm in Atlanta. You might educate consumers one-on-one, for example, with an in-store demonstration of your product. Or you could use educational brochures, point-of-purchase materials and direct-mail postcards.

Linking yourself with respected members of your target market’s community can be an especially effective education tactic.

Faith Smith, founder of Eyes Cream Shades Inc., collaborated with eye doctors to educate customers about why they need her high-quality sunglasses for kids. Smith, 40, took her Irvine, California, company full time in 2003 after noticing the dearth of quality eyewear for children. Learning that most eye damage comes from sun exposure before age 18, Smith designed her shatterproof polycarbonate lenses to offer 100 percent UVA and UVB protection in fun and funky colors. “I have a point-of-purchase pamphlet that speaks directly to a parent or grandparent in simple terms [about] protecting kids’ eyes, and that’s been a really important part of building my business,? says Smith. Printing the doctor’s name on the pamphlet lends credibility to her product and helps doctors sell her product in their offices.

Another way to gain credibility is to market to the media. “External validation is really important for prospects,? says Makropoulos. Pitching from the angle of protecting children’s eyes, Smith got reporters to cover her Eyes Cream Shades in many publications, which helped boost her annual sales to six figures.

You can also educate consumers by participating in community activities. Donate time or resources to local community services, advises Makropoulos. Smith, for instance, does charity work with organizations including the Blind Baby Fund and the Boys & Girls Club, building her reputation as a good-for-kids company. Says Smith, “Marketing and education are the ways a company is able to stay in business and grow.?

Testing Local Online Advertising Approach

IMediaConnection;

Maybe it’s because Google and others have demonstrated there’s money to be made at the local level through self-serve, but it seems as if there are a lot of online opportunities that can work for local businesses. The key to prioritizing these opportunities and making the call on which might be right for a specific business is what I call spill tolerance.

If I’m a restaurant within ZIP code 11792, and some of my media spills over into adjacent ZIP code 11786, giving me some customers from slightly outside my geography, it doesn’t much matter to me. My business is fairly spill tolerant. Read the rest »

Get Top Talent With Creative Bonus Pay

AdvertisingAge;

Sharp Companies Will Do More Than Dangle End-of-Year Carrots in Effort to Retain Employees.

Salary increases aren’t the only reason why someone stays in or leaves a job. Still, bonuses are much-anticipated additions to regular compensation. In a candidate-driven market, companies that think big, think differently and listen to what their employees want will find themselves poised to win the talent war.Here’s how to craft a bonus plan that keeps your top talent sticking around:

1. Pay Quarterly or Monthly
The typical once-a-year carrot can cause employees to “eat and run” if they are planning to look elsewhere. Some new-media and interactive advertising companies have used a structure of rewarding people throughout the year by offering quarterly bonuses, both monetary and nontraditional. By rewarding employees consistently, employers demonstrate their appreciation, thereby raising morale and driving higher-level performance.

2. Make Bonuses Performance-Based
As the digital, online and new-media spaces diversify the advertising industry’s demands, bonuses based on overall performance can encourage employees to learn the necessary skill sets quickly in order to be successful. With a performance-based bonus on the line, employees know that the value of their work and the revenue it ultimately generates will directly affect the amount. This action not only motivates employees to produce their best work, it encourages their co-workers to do the same.

3. Explain the Bonus Structure
Be sure to communicate changes early and often so employees feel they are a part of the process and understand what they are working toward. Additionally, in order to generate excitement and allow people to connect their rewards with visible numbers that represent their hard work and success, some companies might consider releasing performance figures to employees.

4. Offer Nontraditional Rewards
While most think of bonuses as monetary rewards, companies can also provide other perks or incentives to “keep up the good work.” Some new-media and interactive advertising agencies give tickets to local events, stock options, prepaid tax cash bonuses, or even awards and prizes for meeting short- or long-term goals. Additionally, extra time off or, in some cases, all-expenses-paid vacations are given to employees on significant anniversaries. Staggering these bonuses throughout the year, and having a mixture of quantitative and qualitative rewards, may increase retention as employees work toward receiving specific bonuses.

5. Create a ‘Best-Fit’ Practice
Allowing employees to pick and choose from a variety of options for their bonuses can increase employee job satisfaction. Younger employees who have not settled down may value more time off or tangible incentives such as sporting tickets. Employees with families may value more flexible work schedules and regular monetary bonuses that allow them to spend more quality time with their families and help with added financial demands. If it isn’t possible to tailor every bonus to their liking, offering options in the form of a “bonus buffet” can help employees feel like the company is meeting their individual needs and keep them dedicated longer.

Sign Spinners … Good for Marketing?

Entrepreneur;

In pockets of the country, at city street corners, a curious thing can be seen among the motion of jackhammers, honking of cars and throngs of people passing by: sign spinners.

It’s not what it may sound like–that is, a neon or wooden sign, spinning around and around, thanks to an extension cord plugged in somewhere. Sign spinners are people holding signs, usually in the shape of an arrow, with a company’s name and logo emblazoned on it. At first, that may not seem like an improvement over a neon sign or a person walking around in a sandwich-shaped billboard, but these sign spinners take it up a notch with tricks, dancing and other acrobatics. It’s advertising, but it’s also something of a sport–even a performance art.

Sign spinners are quickly gaining status in the corporate world as a reputable and innovative way to promote a business. “We’ve used them for grand openings,” says Tyler L. Barnett, co-owner of Barnett Ellman LLC, a public relations and marketing firm in Los Angeles. Barnett has been hiring sign spinners to celebrate the opening of Cefiore, a nonfat yogurt restaurant chain that has been rapidly growing in Southern California. “The cars stop, they honk, they slow down. They really get a lot of attention. It’s a traffic stopper.”

Reason Why Many Online Businesses Fail

Entrepreneur;

Businesses perish in untimely ways, many of which are largely out of an entrepreneur’s control: There’s too much competition. The public is no longer interested in your product or service. You’re a victim of bad luck–you opened a business on the Gulf Coast a few weeks before Hurricane Katrina hit. Maybe a trusted employee has been cooking the books, or a family crisis is dragging you down.

But sometimes, the painful reality is that a business falls apart for one reason: you. In the end, when any company is suffering, there is a question every entrepreneur must ask when he or she looks in the mirror: Am I killing my own business?

We asked a number of experts for their thoughts on how we most commonly shoot ourselves in the foot. Although there are probably 500 or more methods to murder a multinational or strangle an S corporation in the dead of night, we agree that there are five ways it’s most likely to happen.

Micromanaging
As the saying goes, the first step is recognizing you have a problem. Fine, but what are the signs? Margaret Morford, owner and president of The HR Edge, a management consulting firm in Brentwood, Tennessee, points to several subtle signs that your micromanaging is out of control. For instance:

  • “The people who work for you always present problems or issues, but never offer solutions,? Morford says. The employees are probably wondering why they should bother when you always have the solution.
  • You have unusually high turnover.
  • No one ever turns in a project to you that you don’t change in some way. “After a while, people will begin to turn in sloppy work because they know you are going to change it anyway,? says Morford.

Rich Enos, co-founder of Boston-based StudySmart, a service that offers one-on-one tutoring for kindergarteners through 12th graders, recognized some of those signs (like high turnover) and soon learned his employees felt micromanaged. When Enos and co-founder Greg Zumas, 31 and 29, respectively, launched StudySmart in 2000, they did everything in the business. Naturally–they were a startup with no staff. But long after they added employees, they kept doing everything.

Enos and Zumas feel they’ve solved their problem of micromanaging by–you guessed it–micromanaging how they micromanage. Nowadays, Enos says, Study-Smart employees:

  • Understand what is expected of them through clearly defined goals.
  • Receive the training and resources needed to accomplish their goals.
  • Are given room to work toward those goals.
  • Report and assess progress toward their goals.
  • Expect coaching and additional oversight when it looks like performance will fall short of their goals, and recognition and increasing autonomy when goals are achieved.

Their several-step solution might look cumbersome, but if it allows the founders to focus on giving the staff room to work, that’s the important thing. It seems to be working: StudySmart’s employee retention is up, the company has opened offices in seven cities throughout the United States, and 2006 sales were approximately $3.2 million.

Whatever you do, it takes discipline to stop micromanaging, especially if you’ve trained your staff to come to you when there’s a problem. When that happens, Morford offers an idea: “Every time someone presents you with a problem or issue, ask them, ‘What do you think we should do about it?’ If you do not like the suggestion, ask this as a follow-up: ‘If we did that, what would you do about (fill in the blank here)?’ Give them time to think. They will either fix your greatest objection, in which case you should implement their suggestion, or they will offer another one.?

Spending in the wrong places
Peter D’Arruda, author of Financial Safari, has some advice for those trying to expand their business on limited funds: “Baby steps are more important than giant leaps. The old story The Tortoise and the Hare could be no clearer: Don’t run when you can walk.?

  • Work space: If you’re in retail, “Perception is reality, and ‘location, location, location’ is the common saying,? says D’Arruda. But if you can move into less expensive real estate without customers caring, why not?
  • Employees: “If you need the help and can justify the costs of hiring someone [new], by all means, hire away,? says D’Arruda, but he adds that each employee brings about various forms of charges, from Social Security to workers’ comp, so you need to factor those in when hiring new staff. “A good rule of thumb is that if you hire someone for $10 an hour, the true cost to you will be anywhere between $16 and $20 an hour after all the employee-related expenses.?
  • Trade shows: “Many business owners get caught up in all the hype and glamour and ‘specials’ at these events and overcommit and purchase way too much,? says D’Arruda. “Overordering can kill a business quickly.?

It’s helpful to know why you’re spending money on items you don’t need. You may be a victim of “expertise-creep,? according to Jim Stroup, a management consultant and the author of Managing Leadership. It’s the same malady that plagues micromanagers. “Entrepreneurs who have had an idea take off . . . sometimes, in the glow of the apparent validation of their wisdom, assume that that wisdom extends into every area involved in the business,? says Stroup. “From marketing to accounting to operations and management, your pointed disregard of your friends’ and advisors’ suggestions can become pig-headed and self-destructive.?

Chasing after every customer
It’s a waste of resources to put all your time, energy and money into chasing after every possible customer. It’s the “ideal customers? you should be trying to reach, says Michael Lovas, founder of About People, a Colbert, Washington, consulting and training firm that specializes in helping companies and entrepreneurs better understand, attract and connect with their clients.

Lovas says you should studiously attempt to learn what your more consistent consumers like about the products or services you offer. Make obtaining specific feedback from customers your priority, and whittle all that information down to the top three or five values–you’ll eventually learn the most important quality that attracts customers to your company. “Once you have those words and phrases, you can begin to craft your marketing so that it is targeted specifically to people who value what your product or service represents,? says Lovas.

What you really want is for your regular clientele to think of you as a partner in their life, rather than–to be blunt–a huckster hoping to make an easy buck off them. Olivia Fox Cabane, author of The Pocket Guide to Becoming a Superstar in Your Field, warns entrepreneurs about “trying to sell customers on anything. It’s the fastest way to ruin a client-customer relationship before it even begins. People don’t want to be sold to.?

Top Bloggers List Job Listings For Cash

MSNBC;

Some high-profile bloggers are beginning to include job listings on their web sites to draw readers in and generate extra cash in a further sign that the handful of blogs that attract the biggest online audiences are starting to behave more like mainstream media outlets.

While employers have long sought out job candidates on sites such as Monster.com or in the online classifieds in newspapers, they have only recently begun to turn to blogs as a recruiting tool.

Read the rest »

Blog It and The Business May Come

WSJ;

A few months after launching a blog early last year, Get It In Writing Inc. started seeing traffic to its Web site soar.

Today the small marketing-copywriting firm in Boca Raton, Fla., draws as many as 150,000 unique visitors a month to its site, compared with an average of only 100 before the blog, which features advice and trends on marketing and resides within the company’s Web site.

But Allison Nazarian, the company’s 36-year-old founder and president, says all that traffic didn’t lead to more sales right away. In fact, the site’s sudden popularity even brought on a new financial burden. “We ended up having to upgrade our Web site’s hosting plan so it could accommodate that level of traffic,” she says.

Now, the number of new clients is finally on the rise, as are sales, she says. So far this year, 25% of new prospects have come by way of the company’s Web site. Before the blog was launched, it was 1%, and most new clients came through word-of-mouth and referrals. Sales also are up by 18% so far this year from a year earlier, she adds.

Blogging is “worth it,” says Ms. Nazarian, “but you definitely need patience.”

Read the rest »

Market Your Website Before the Holidays

ManageSmarter;

“Summer is a great season. Vacations, long days and warm nights inspire feelings of happiness and the subsequent memories sustain Northerners during the cold and dark winters. It is so tempting to turn off not only your Blackberry but your attention to marketing. Nobody does anything until after Labor Day anyway, right? Wrong.

While there is some benefit to turning off and tuning out, it can also put your online business on the fast track to a disappointing holiday season. Read the rest »