Archives for August 2011

Are You Making the Most of Your Blog?

Business blogging is a great way to share information with a target audience for many reasons. Unlike other promotional materials like white papers and EBooks, a blog tends to be a lot less formal. It’s also easy to access and update, which encourages a blogger to post frequently. While a steady stream of new, quality content on a blog is extremely important there are a few ways to take your blog to the next level.

First, think about search engine optimization. SEO professionals have been touting the benefits of blogging for a long time. Since a large part of SEO involves content and a blog is a place to post content, it’s like a match made in heaven. The search engines rank websites based on keyword relevancy and a blog is a great place to incorporate keywords. Keywords should be included in the headline and body of the blog post naturally. This improves the chances of the blog post being found in a search for certain keywords.

A blog is especially a great place to target some long tail keywords that you didn’t have the opportunity to target on the main pages of your actual site. While blogging and SEO should work together, it’s important to remember that SEO shouldn’t be the primary focus of blogging. The focus is always on writing quality content that your target audience will appreciate. If you put too many keywords in there it results in a poor user experience and looks spammy. SEO is just a side benefit to blogging.

Blogs are also a great place to connect with others. Long before Facebook and Twitter existed, people set up blogs to share their thoughts and opinions on every subject imaginable with anyone that was willing to listen. The comments section allows blog followers to respond to the post. Not monitoring and responding to comments is a huge missed opportunity for some bloggers.

The whole point of spending the time researching, writing, editing, and posting a blog post is to get someone to read it, right? It’s important for bloggers to show that they appreciate their following, which for a business is mostly their target audience. Taking the time to respond to followers and even check out their content is a great way to network and it can lead to relationships and business opportunities over time.

Another way to take your blog to the next level is to increase its readership. While this may seem like, “Well, duh”, it’s a lot easier said than done. Depending on your niche there might be lots of bloggers out there writing about very similar material. Blog readers only have so much time to dedicate to reading their favorite blogs. Your goal should be to make yours one of them. Unfortunately it takes a lot more than great content and a great design and layout to get people to find your blog in the beginning.

The only way to get readers is to promote your blog. If you have a social media presence or newsletter subscribers, start by promoting your blog there. Encourage your followers to share links to their followers. Submit your blog to blog directories and do some link building for your blog. It may take some time, but it will be worth it in the end!

Build Your Business Reputation and Brand with the Right Communication Tools

As a business owner, you invest a lot of time building your business reputation and brand by communicating with current and potential customers. With the advancements taking place in the communication field, keeping up with the latest technology can be exhausting and overwhelming so putting off an upgrade is common but unnecessary. Fortunately, upgrading your business phone systems does not have to be overly expensive or complicated. You just need to know your options and how to choose the right communication tools for your business.

Phone Systems Compared

There are really only four different types of phone systems to choose from, so all you have to do is become familiar with some of the beneficial features of each, and then evaluate the needs of your business. Once you find a good match, you will find that your business will run smoother and your employees will be happier.

1. Key-less Systems

If your company has less than 10 employees, this is probably the phone system for you for a few reasons. First, a central control system does not need to be installed into your office. Second, the system is not wired into your office, so if you might move locations you can move the phone system right along with you. The system is low cost; however this system can only support 2-4 lines and cannot grow along with your business.

2. Key Systems

This system has the ability to be upgraded with different features as your business needs change. It is great for a company with as many as 40 employees and is supported by a central key system unit. This system is a good “in-between” system in terms of features. It has the ability to be upgraded to a few key features while still remaining pretty basic.

3. Private Branch Exchange (PBX) Systems

This is the system for larger businesses of 40 or more employees. The best thing about this system is that it works well with other devices that may already be in place. In other words, it is fairly easy to connect this system to another, pre-existing system. PBX is also great because it offers advanced features that may be necessary to your company; however this is the most expensive system.

4. Voice Over Internet Protocol Systems (VoIP)

VoIP systems work well for any size company. This system allows employees to make calls using an internet connection as opposed to a phone line. These devices are becoming extremely popular now that Internet usage has become so widespread, and is quickly becoming the main way to call customers and clients. This is system is very inexpensive, and works great for a company who does a lot of business long-distance.

Once your upgraded system is in place, you’ll likely find that your customers appreciate the new options. This, in turn, will translate into an in increase in your business reputation and brand recognition. Since upgrading is a win-win proposition, go ahead and make the communication updates that will benefit your business.

When Is It Time To Call In The Pro’s?

I’m in the process of expanding my services and part of that involves extending the range of my WI-FI. If you’ve even looked into bridging you might agree that it’s a daunting topic. I understand the premise behind it, but when they get into set-up that’s where my eyes cloud over. FYI: I am miserable with wiring. Setting up a stereo confuses me very easily. In – out, out – in – yikes!

Well today I called in the big guns. I figure that yes I could figure it out myself (muddle through if you will), but frankly I’ve wasted enough hours on this one. I have better things to do with my time. Maybe is just a guy-thing, but every issue I tackle, I figure that I should be able to figure it out. Years ago I even tried to learn basic because I thought, “how hard could programming be.” Well that never happened. Today I am very impressed with those who make programming their passion.

What are you wasting your good time on that, like me, you should be getting help with? Designing your own website maybe? Or, perhaps you’re doing your own books. Maybe you’re looking to save a few bucks and learning how to file your own tax return. Get real for a moment, how much do you really know about tax laws? I know nothing about them and I don’t want to know. As a matter of fact having professionals handle my money issues makes me more money because of their unique knowledge.

If I can, through this little article save one entrepreneur from tearing their hair out trying to figure out something they have no business trying to figure out, then boys and girls I’ve done my job.

Now put down that ego and get back to what you love!

What can a Virtual Assistant do for your startup?

For entrepreneurs and budding startups, a virtual assistant (VA) can fill the need for any skill set that you require. From simple tasks like encoding and research, up to technical and administrative tasks; outsourcing your workload to a VA can give you and your company more time and resources to do what’s important – grow your business.

If you haven’t outsourced to a VA before, you might not have an idea of how they can help you save time and energy. To give you an idea, here are just some things that a VA can do for your startup:

Competitive Research

Before you jump in and start your business, it’s important to know who your competitors are, what they do, how they do it, and how you stack up to their products and services. Doing research on your competitors can take a lot of time and if you want to stay ahead of the game, you should also do it regularly. With a virtual assistant, you can keep your competitive intelligence updated regularly and keep abreast of the latest developments and trends in your market. Assign your VA to create a regular report of your competitors prices, new products/services and other helpful data.

Process Documentation

Without proper documentation, work processes can become ineffective and you’ll end up having to train people personally, and repeatedly. Mistakes will happen often because there have been no guidelines and instructions set for your team to follow. But doing this by yourself is a heavy task and requires a lot of typing. Assign your VA to document work processes and guidelines and make it available to your whole team. Through this, you can see what processes work well and what doesn’t. Recruiting and training up personnel will also take less time because all your work processes have been documented.

Customer Support and FAQs

When starting out, you’ll inevitably get questions about your products, shipping, how to avail of discounts and everything in between. Handling this work can be potentially overwhelming job, especially if you receive multiple orders and customer emails a day. Why not assign a VA to handle your customers? A virtual assistant can become your interface with customers as they answer questions, concerns and document common issues in an easy-to-read FAQ.

Reporting

Having your virtual assistant create regular reports can be a huge timesaver for a business. Assign your VA to send periodic reports on site traffic, conversion rates, clicks, new subscribers, etc. and focus on improving your strategies and finding out how to better make use of this data.

Find and Contact Bloggers, News Websites

For a relatively new business, awareness is one of the hurdles on the way to being successful. One way to build awareness of your brand, product, or service online is to get blog and website coverage. Task your virtual assistant to contact bloggers and news websites in your niche and ask for guest posting or review opportunities. By having someone focused on this task, you can make huge headway into getting more people aware of your business. Set a criteria for blogs and give your VA guidelines on what to communicate to maximize your exposure.

Also, your VA can subscribe to Google Alerts to stay updated on the latest blog posts and articles related to your niche so that you can participate in the discussions and get known in the community. Your VA can filter out the list of blogs and forward the most important ones to you, saving you time and effort.

Share and Bookmark your Content

Marketing your content online is more effective than plain advertising, and a virtual assistant is a great way to spread your blog posts, articles and announcements. Have your VA share your new blog posts on Digg, StumbleUpon,Delicious and other bookmarking sites, as well as social networks related to your niche.

Update Social Networks

In today’s online environment, your business won’t get noticed unless you’re on Facebook,Twitter, or even LinkedIn. Sure, you could take care of updating all the different social networks, but you’ll end up spending more time there than making your business better. Hire a virtual assistant and outsource your social media marketing – have your VA share interesting news and articles in your industry from around the web using BufferApp.com. If your target market are technology entrepreneurs, share news on Twitter from news.ycombinator.com or techcrunch.com.

Your virtual assistant can also take care of managing your community on Facebook and increasing the number of ‘Likes’ on your company’s Facebook page. Using the RSSGraffiti app, you can automatically share posts from your blog on Facebook and get more exposure for your content. A VA can also maintain regular contests on your Facebook Page in order to drum up interest – there are a lot of possibilities.

Optimize PPC Campaigns

Pay Per Click (PPC) campaigns are good ways to advertise, but they can be a time-consuming and costly activity. Sometimes, it’s better to have a professional virtual assistant handle it in order to get the best conversion rates and cost per click (CPC). Assign your Google AdWords, Digital Point, Bing, and other PPC campaigns to a virtual assistant with previous experience and have them improve it over time. Instead of learning PPC by yourself, you can rely on your VAs expertise and get more results faster.

Hire Other Contractors For You

Why not have your virtual assistant handle general administrative tasks? Being in the know, your VA can help you recruit expert developers, writers, designers and more, expanding your reach to more talented contractors. As always, set a criteria as to what your expectations are when assigning this task to your VA – what kind of people you are looking for, what skillsets are mandatory and other requirements. Doing so, you streamline your work processes and become a more effective startup.

There are many other ways a virtual assistant can help your startup. VAs will always be available as long as there’s an entrepreneur looking for professional help.

Should I Outsource My Payroll? Tips to Determine the Best Option for Your Company

When an entrepreneur asks, “should I outsource my payroll”, it often requires a long, close look at several different aspects of the company in order to determine the best method for handling how payroll is processed.If outsourcing your company’s payroll is something that you’re considering, you’ll also have to take a look at just who you go to in order to have your company’s payroll processed.

When asking the question, the how, why, and who are all equally important and should be weighed as such so that you can be sure you’re doing what is absolutely best for your company and your employees. So let’s take a look at some of the factors that should influence the answer to the question of “should I outsource my payroll”, and you’ll see why this is a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

How Much Free Time Do You Have?

The time that it takes to process payroll is most likely one of the biggest reasons that you’re looking at whether or not you want to start outsourcing the practice. How much time it takes to do payroll can depend on things like:

  • The size of your staff
  • Deductions and other exemptions that need to be calculated
  • How much verification of the information present will be required

It’s no secret that payroll can be time consuming, but is the time that you dedicate to your company’s payroll now significant enough that it’s impacting the efficiency with which you do business? When considering the factor of time, it’s important to look at how much of it is being spent doing payroll now and asking yourself if having an outside company that specializes in payroll solutions would be a more efficient way of doing things.

How Confident Are You In Avoiding Mistakes?

Have you ever had significant issues with payroll processing in the past? Mistakes made in payroll calculation can anger employees, cost time to go back and correct and, in some cases, bring about government scrutiny if the mistake is significant enough. The frequency with which these things happen as you process your company’s payroll in-house should be a deciding factor in whether you outsource you payroll or choose to handle it within your own company.

How Important is Reliability?

When you have a person in your own organization who handles your payroll, what do you do when they are sick or on vacation? If you’re asking “should I outsource my payroll” and your company’s payroll hinges on the work of a single person, you’ll need a plan in place for their work to get done when they aren’t around, at the very least. If someone covers for that person, you may notice a difference in output speed and quality of work right away.

Know Your Options

Whether you decide to outsource your payroll or keep it in-house, it pays to know that you have several options as to how it gets done. Among those options that will help you answer “should I outsource my payroll” are:

  • A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) – In some instances, a CPA could be your best bet when you’re looking to answer the question of “should I outsource my payroll”. If you already have a good working relationship with a CPA, then it’s just a matter of getting in touch with them to see if they provide this service as well.
  • Dedicated Payroll Companies – A quick online search will show you a wide range of companies that offer payroll services and other HR solutions for companies who are looking to save money. If outsourcing your payroll is something that you’re set on, then it may be worth your while to get in touch with one such company and using their services.
  • Money Management Software – If your payroll is something that you still prefer to do on your own, you can use personal finance software like Quicken or any of the other many options that are available to entrepreneurs for the purpose of money management.

When it comes to answering the question of “should I outsource my payroll”, it helps to weigh the risks versus the rewards of doing so. While having someone else handle the job of processing your company’s payroll can allow you to conduct mission critical operations more freely, it’s important to keep in mind that having outsourced payroll may be counterproductive for larger operations that would be better off with their own internal payroll departments. Likewise, outsourced payroll companies could potentially face problems. If unique situations with your company’s payroll arise, you could find yourself taking more time to deal with it than you would have had to if you processed payroll internally.

At the end of the day, you have to look at all of the reasons why you are considering outsourcing your company’s payroll and determine whether keeping payroll processing internal or leaving it someone else is the more sound financial decision.

Printed t-shirts – the secret advertising weapon

If you are reading this blog, we can safely assume you care about the branding and marketing of your business. You may have spent ages choosing and building your brand identity through social media, your website even right down to signage and business cards. You may have carefully choreographed cross-channel advertising campaigns to highlight your current promotions. Now all of these are great, but there may be something you are overlooking that could have much more of an impact promoting your business – the humble t-shirt.

Talk a walk around the block, what’s the first thing you notice about the people around you? Usually it is the clothes that they are wearing. And it is for that reason that there are few forms of lasting advertising that are as effective as T-shirts build brand awareness or raise awareness of your current promotion. The reason for this is simple, when someone wears a T-shirt with your brand on it, they become a walking billboard for your company, be it a uniform, free gift to customers or a product you sell. In addition T-shirt can last longer than a print ad, which generally have a short lifespan, yet be just as effective. When compared to the cost of a print ad or billboard and the return on each, a successful screen printing on a T-shirt can have a significant return on your business’ money.

Tried and tested options, such as print or broadcast advertising or direct mail are tried and tested for a reason, they have a proven record of success. However, in many cases they can also become costly and have a short life expectancy. In the case of direct mail, print or display advertising, the lifespan of these promotions can be very short, such as one print run of particular publication. And that is assuming your target customers read the advert or opened the mail in the first place. Unless you have the luxury of a big budget any broadcast advertising will limited area that it unless you are lucky enough for it going viral on the Internet. However, a T-shirt has the ability to travel as far as the person wearing it, and the T-shirt’s material combined with a quality screen printing can make it last much longer than a piece of paper or how long someone may remember a 30-second spot on the radio.

The most common method of utilizing t-shirts as part of your overall branding strategy is through staff uniforms. As well as ensuring that staff look smart and increasing how professional the business looks, which will lead to greater confidence from customers. Winning a customer’s confidence is vital when trying to sell them a good or a service, so these printed t-shirts will go a long way towards making sales and increasing profits.

In addition to advertising a specific business, printed t-shirts can also be used to advertise different offers that the business might have on at a particular time. By staff wearing these t-shirts customers will be more likely to know about the offers and therefore buy products from the business. When this is combined with staff that push any offers or new products, as well as signs that inform the customers, every single person that the business deals with will know about every single special offer that the particular business offers.

Perhaps one of the best things about printing on T-shirts is how customizable it can be. With the choices available for material, cut and style, you can choose the shirt that would best represent your business. Perhaps you have a semi-professional business that would be better suited with a polo T-shirt or an athletic goods store that would do better with a breathable sports material. With a printed t-shirt there are no limits to what you can do so you can accurately get you corporate message across.

Of course it is worth noting that there are considerations to take when designing your shirt, just as there are for developing any advertising campaign. Traditionally, many organizations have simply printed their company logos on a T-shirt, and whilst there is nothing wrong with this, more and more businesses are getting creative with their designs. These designs may include slogans and branding, while others use eye-catching designs or artistic prints. Obviously, the more intriguing the design or popular a company’s brand, the more likely it is that a person will want to wear it on a T-shirt. Another important consideration is the quality of the garment; if you want people to wear it then you have to ensure it is cut from a good quality fabric, and not simply the cheapest.

Like any kind of advertising, you should keep the medium in mind. There is only so much space available on a T-shirt and so much text that a person is willing to read. Though unique and eye-catching designs can help to ensure that people are drawn to them, if they are so complex that your company’s name or logo gets lost, the shirt won’t be serving its purpose. Additionally, you should make sure that the color or colors you choose will stand out with the shirt as a background.

If you keep these things in mind, the value, durability and market-broadening potential of T-shirt promotions make them a sound investment for your business.

 

Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Powerful Branding Opportunity

There came a knock on the door last yesterday morning and on opening the door, there stood two very pleasant looking young women. They politely introduced themselves, but I had already guessed that they were from the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

I immediately asked them if they were the religion that refuses blood transfusions for themselves and their loved ones? I’ve always found this fact to be concerning, if not somewhat barbaric. They grimaced a bit, but acknowledged the fact – but quickly followed up with showing me the scripture that explains their case and a comment that there were alternatives to “blood” transfusions. This latter comment was news to me.

After a pleasant exchange of opinions, the ladies wished me a pleasant day and departed. It then occurred to me that the Jehovah’s Witnesses could improve their negative brand from that of those anti-blood transfusion people to something more powerful. No longer would they be compared to people who let a child die for lack of enough blood.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses should take it upon themselves to fund and research “alternatives” to traditional blood transfusions. They should undertake this in a major way. They should become the poster boy for this effort. It would put them in a position to be a leader in medical research and not compromise their beliefs. What a tremendous brand story. They effectively become a solution and admired much like the Salvation Army for their non-partisan efforts. They lose the stigma of the “blood transfusion” controversy.

The question is – are they up to it? I think it’s an opportunity they should consider and it also goes a long in helping their fellow citizen who may have reasons other than scripture for not being able to respond favourably to blood transfusions.

If you know the leadership with The Jehovah’s Witnesses, please forward this article to them, it might inspire something great.

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