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From front-of-house employees to five-star Facebook reviews, maintaining a reliable brand identity is key to building customer loyalty. However, an increasing number of online channels has made it harder than ever to maintain a consistent, well-rounded brand experience.


The good news is that this is exactly the challenge we’re tackling in our third and final installment on local marketing. In this post, we’re going to discuss how small businesses can build and maintain customer loyalty across in-person interactions and digital brand reputations.


From writing a handwritten note to asking for reviews, these straightforward tips are guaranteed to garner the loyalty you’ve always wanted.

Build Trust

Customer loyalty is impossible to establish without a solid foundation of trust. When your customers trust your products and services, they’re more likely to recommend you to their friends, choose you over competitors, and keep coming back for more.


Traditionally, small business owners have had great success building customer trust (think: Sally getting her hair permed by Kathy every week; John relying on his go-to mechanic, Bill, for any car troubles.) In the past decade, however, trust in small businesses has faltered. It’s not because small businesses are doing anything different, it’s because the internet has transformed the landscape around how we choose and support businesses in our area.


In turn, many businesses have struggled to maintain a consistent presence across in-person interactions and the digital world. Before, a sub-par experience might be resolved by an honest chat with the owner. Today, that same experience can blow up into a 1-star Yelp rant that forever taints people’s idea of your business.

Get In Front of Customers...the Old Fashioned Way

If there’s one crucial element to maintaining consistent customer interactions, it all comes down to a great first impression. Whether its a delicious meal or a new go-to outfit, nothing reels customers in like a small business who exceeded expectations.


Here are three opportunities for creating mutually-beneficial customer relationships out in the world.

Boost Your Booth Game

Whether it’s a farmers market or a music festival, staking your spot at a local event can put you top of mind for customers in need of your services. In addition to having a place where people can interact with you personally, this is also an opportunity to get product feedback.


For example, you might consider giving away samples of your product if its a food, beverage, or something else consumable. Asking customers questions about what they think also makes them feel valued, which is another way to forge a strong connection.

Do Community and Charity Work

Getting involved with local charity work can showcase your brand values and show your sensitive side. We’re not just talking about donating money to a cause, either. Instead, focus on ways you can actually put in time and effort and interact with local community members (a.k.a., potential customers).


You might consider helping hand out meals at a local shelter, or teaming up with parks and rec to help build a local hiking trail. Whatever it is, make sure your actions come from the heart – your community will notice.

Set up a Referral Program

Some small businesses avoid setting up a customer referral program because they fear it will seem inauthentic or gimmicky. Here’s the truth: when someone has a great experience with something, they’ll want to share that joy with someone they love. So why not take this angle when sharing your referral program?


Show your customers that as a true thank you for their business, you’re helping them benefit in exchange for sharing the love. Give them a discount on their next purchase or offer up a freebie – the most successful referral programs are a true win-win for everyone.

Align Your Digital and In-Person Presence

Have you ever known someone who acts totally normal when you’re alone, but puts on a fake act at parties? This jekyll and hyde situation isn’t reserved just for frenemies – it can happen with business personalities, too.


The most common source of small business inconsistency happens in the struggle between aligning your digital personality with your in-person one. This is especially difficult when your team starts to grow, because you’re not always in charge of every customer interaction.


To keep things rooted in consistent, positive customer communication, this section contains three actionable tips you can start implementing today.

Align Internal Culture with External Messaging

There are some situations where it’s okay to change your rules or tone, like providing free shipping to an unhappy customer. However, constantly flip flopping on your mission and goals from one person to the next spells inconsistency and distrust in the long term.


One way to reinforce your external messaging across both in-person and digital interactions is to find team members who live and breathe your mission. According to Joe Daley of Freelance My Way, which connects high quality freelancers with small businesses, strong employees stand behind every happy customer. “Investing time and money in employees who channel your values and mission is equal to investing in your customers” he adds.


Creating a more rigorous hiring process might seem daunting and time-consuming at first, but it can ensure more consistent and profitable customer experiences down the line. Plus, creating a company culture code and brand voice guide can ensure that everyone is onboarded according to the same guidelines.

Say Thank You, Early and Often

Once you’ve bridged the gap between prospect and customer, it’s important to remind people that you appreciate their business.


As pointed out by Eileen Bell, CEO of the swimwear line Bare Society, a handwritten note is one small gesture with a big impact. “In our digital age, there is no better way to express my appreciation for my customers than a handwritten letter. It is a simple way for me to thank them for their support and remind them that I wouldn’t be where I am without them” Bell explains.


Whether it’s a handwritten letter with every shipment, or a holiday card each year, dropping a note shows that you care about a person’s wellbeing. It also shows that you’re willing to take time out of your day to connect with your customers – something that’s becoming increasingly rare in the digital age.

Boost Rankings with a Positive Reputation

Online reviews are one of the best ways to glean honest customer feedback. But did you know that reviews also play a role in how customers find your business online?


According to Dima Midon, founder of the digital marketing firm TrafficBox, online reviews also play a major role in local visibility. “Reviews for local businesses play an instrumental role in determining SEO page rankings and customer purchase decisions. Having a strong collection of positive reviews is indispensable to your local and global reputation.”


Do your part to create and engage with your online reputation by asking customers for reviews, responding to ratings, and completing your Yelp and Google Local profiles with accurate information.


Building a loyal local customer base requires a masterful blend of both traditional and digital marketing. In addition to nailing face-to-face interactions, you’ll also have to maintain a positive and consistent presence online. For more tips on local marketing, check out the first two installments in our series on social media discoverability and influencer engagement.


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Last year, we made a scientific case for reading more often. Reading improves your mind so much that the effects are noticeable in scientific studies.

But we didn’t tell you what to read.

If you find yourself in the position of chief executive of a small business, it’s time to brush up on the books about productivity, leadership, and the business environment that can fast-forward your knowledge and skills without lifting a finger—except to turn the page. Here are ten recommendations:

#1: Getting Things Done by David Allen

This is one of the top books on productivity ever written, and for good reason—it’s effective. Author David Allen offers a systematic approach for prioritizing what it is that you do so that you can go about your day spending time on the right things. This is a vital skill of the small business CEO: learning which action items deserve your attention and which can be delegated.

“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them,” writes Allen. This gets to the central point of Getting Things Done: that which you hold as an idea never actually gets done. Think of the writer who thinks about a story but never puts the words down to paper, or the aspiring fitness guru who never makes time for the gym. Getting Things Done is about making things happen, which is why it’s essential for a small business leader.

#2: The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism by Olivia Fox Cabane

According to Inc.com, this was a favorite of Melissa Mayer at Yahoo. The book’s central thesis is that personal “magnetism” may seem like a mysterious talent, but is actually a skill that anyone can develop and acquire. It’s not difficult to see how this can benefit a CEO of a small business. Likeability is important when it comes to building a cohesive team.

“The Charisma Myth” may not be essential for CEO leadership, but it does bring an essential new way of looking at things: you are in control of your destiny as a CEO even when it comes to skills as vague as “charisma.”

#3: Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

One of the central figures in stoic philosophy, Marcus Aurelius is not quite like the other authors on this list. Yet Aurelius is a unique figure. As emperor-slash-CEO of the ancient Roman Empire, Aurelius was in a unique position to gauge what was effective in both life and leadership. He wrote down many of these thoughts in an enduring text that still has relevance today.

Many of the aphorisms present in Meditations are directed at life in general, but applied to the stressful life of the CEO, you’ll find them just as useful as any of the practical guides on this list.

#4: EntreLeadership by Dave Ramsey

Dave Ramsey is a radio personality in the realm of personal finance, but his experience as CEO of a small business has been invaluable to his listeners—many of whom run the gamut from debt-laden new listeners to battle-hardened CEOs. This is one of the more practical books on small business leaderships, containing in-your-face nuggets of wisdom like: “Team members leave, or are let go, most often because they should not have been hired in the first place.” Dave Ramsey doesn’t spare feelings when he tells the reader how life as a CEO is—and that’s vital for new CEOs.

#5: The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker

Mega-CEO Jeff Bezos includes “The Effective Executive” in his list of top three books for CEOs, which alone is enough to justify its appearance on this list. The Effective Executive is a bit like “Getting Things Done,” but less on a personal productivity level and more on a company-wide level. That’s a vital change in perspective for anyone who currently serves as the CEO of a small business. The book does include personal time management tips for leaders, as well—and it’s hard to argue that famous readers like Jeff Bezos are anything but effective.

#6: Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras

Recommended by JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon, this book is about the overall vision of your company, especially relevant for those CEOs who don’t see themselves as tiny startups for long. It’s about what it takes to build a large company—including building a sense of teamwork and alignment as your company reaches new heights.

#7: Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Abraham Lincoln is a timeless example of leadership during crisis; his entire administration was focused on the Civil War—which made his selection of a “team of rivals” in his cabinet even more puzzling to some. But Lincoln realized that in order to bring the Union together, that unification would have to start at the very top. Goodwin’s award-winning book is one of the most lauded to be released this century.

#8: Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t by Jim Collins

As a small business CEO, your focus will be on building something great. But some businesses don’t make it. Scratch that—most businesses don’t make it. This book addresses those instances of failure while highlighting what it is that makes great companies succeed.

#9: Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin

Elon Musk is a fan of Benjamin Franklin’s, reading “Benjamin Franklin: An American Life.” But it’s easy to forget that Benjamin Franklin also wrote about himself—and included some timeless tips about leadership and personal development that still resonate to this day. In the book, Franklin outlines how he grew up from a young lad to one of the most productive and innovative minds of the 18th century.

#10: The Outsiders: Eight Unconventional CEOs and Their Radically Rational Blueprint for Success

Any book that Warren Buffett likes will earn attention. But this book is intriguing for its contents, which focus on both business and investing in new and surprising ways. This is a great book for CEOs who want to be “outside-the-box” thinkers.

Get Reading

As Will Smith—that’s right, the official Fresh Prince of Bel-Air himself—once told a young audience: “There's no new problem that someone hasn't already had and written about it in a book.”

And that’s coming from royalty.

Maybe you’d better listen. As the person in charge of your small business, you might find it a lonely place to be. But as long as you have great books with you, you’ll always have a rich source of insights at your fingertips.


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Allow me to paint you a picture: You have an exciting design project that you want to get underway for your business. You decide it's time to find a designer to execute it and release it into the world. After tweeting about it and scouring Behance, Dribble, and four pages of a Google search, you become overwhelmed by all the options. What are the criteria for a graphic designer? It appears that everyone and their second cousin claims to be a "graphic designer with experience." I know you might feel like scraping the whole thing, but I assure you there are ways to pick the weeds from the wheat. Let's go over a checklist of what makes a graphic designer worthy of your project.

1. They are client-oriented problem solvers.

Yes, I'm telling you that it should all be about you! In your talks with a potential designer, the focus should be on what your problem or need is, and how they can solve it. If your designer is more interested in "building a portfolio piece," or is more interested in the exposure you can give them, you are setting yourself up for communication troubles later. You might end up feeling like you have fight for every bit of input.  


A high-quality designer can spend a lot of time identifying your needs before they ever lay pen to paper. They know that success hinges on identifying what needs to be solved to reach an end goal. This can look like researching your target demographic, listening to the full history of your company, scouting your competition, etc. Designers need to know what they’re tackling so they have the best chance at knocking it out of the park.


If you are looking for a logo, a high-quality designer know what it takes to create a brand, and they’ll offer input and feedback to help you and the designs reach their fullest potential. If you are seeking a packaging design, they’ll make sure they know everything about your market so the designs can elevate the product’s value.


High-quality designers also know the worth they bring to your company. That means they are willing to talk about price, (usually before wasting much of their or your time by talking about the project before a contract is signed.) A good designer with experience can easily cost between $50 - $120/hr. If that's a price range you're not ready to invest in, then chances are you're going to have to settle for a lesser-quality designer.  

 

2. They have a well-organized portfolio of work.

Good designers know that their work is worth thousands of words. I often send brief emails to leads that essentially say, "I'll let my work speak for itself. Check it out here." The world is full of smooth-talkers, but you want a designer who can back up their words. So go to the source of their livelihood and spend time browsing their work.  


You also want to make sure that the designer you're looking at has experience where they say they do. Did someone tell you that they are a logo master? Then there should be extensive proof of that in their portfolio. If someone tells you that they can design a brochure, but you can't find any evidence of print work on their website, proceed with caution!


If you have a hard time finding any examples of a designer's work, move on! A good designer knows how to show off their work. They'll also readily have client testimonials to prove how satisfied their clients are. If those aren't showcased on their website, ask for them! A designer's past clients can tell you everything you need to know about the person you might work with.

 

3. Their professionalism is evident.

The kind of designer you want working on your valuable project is someone who takes pride in how they are presented. Professionalism isn't thrown out the window just because someone is a freelancer. If anything, more is required of them, because they are the only face of their business. Does the designer you're talking to use poor grammar, or is their Twitter timeline full of slander and complaints? Do they forget your scheduled phone call or do they run late to your meeting? The designer you interact with before the contract is signed is the same one you're going to work with and give money to. Make sure that they align with how you and your company operate in a professional manner.


*Sidenote: Bad grammar or spelling is not necessarily an indicator of someone’s skill level. But if your designer doesn’t take care in having excellent written communication, it is possible that will translate into their designs. A general rule of thumb is to be sure to triple check the copy of your designs before you approve them.

 

4. They are detail-oriented.

High-quality designers have a sharp eye for the details. That means typos are as rare as a unicorn dancing to the jitterbug. Previous clients are usually the first to point out how detailed a designer is. If their testimonials are full of phrases like "attention to details," "cared about all aspects," and "very thorough," then you've hit gold in finding a quality designer!  

Working with someone who is detail-oriented also means that they are ready to improve your project, not just churn out designs. They will suggest edits to copy, or rethink how to present something so your project has the best chance to be successful. A high-quality designer is just as invested in your project as you are.

 

5. They show expertise in their field.

You might be thinking that this should've led the list. But I think that the previous four points need to be in place before a designer is ready to be perceived as an expert in their field. If they do have expertise, then it will also be evident in things such as published articles or presenting helpful information, they can offer constructive criticism, and they are up to date on current industry trends. Now, not all designers are good at writing, but in talking with your designer, you shouldn't be doubting if they know their stuff. A high-quality designer oozes with helpful information and knowledge.  


The kind of designer you want to work with is also a designer who has reasons behind their decisions. If they suggest adding blue into your website, they can explain WHY you should add blue to the website. Proposing that you should drop words from your company's name should have ample reasons behind it! High-quality designers don't make unwarranted choices. If you are unsure of what is the driving reasons behind your designer's actions, ask them! If they can explain it to you, you're that much closer to finding the perfect designer for your project.

 

Conclusion

Starting a project with a designer is an exciting, yet daunting journey. You can save yourself time, money, and headaches by investing in a quality designer who becomes a partner and even a friend in the process. A common trait among quality designers is an insatiable desire to produce the best possible work, and if you are able to find and land someone like that, you are nearly guaranteed to be over the moon about the end results!


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When you have a digital stack of resumes in your inbox, it’s tempting to lose perspective. You’re the business owner. You’re the chief. The hiring manager. The person guarding the gates to employment. Rather than care about how your company looks to the best possible hires out there, you’re concerned with whittling down your own list of candidates.

But making great hires isn’t only about narrowing down the pool of prospective hires. You also have to attract great applicants in the first place. And as a small business, you’ll have to compete with major companies to find the top talent in your field of need. You can’t expect to attract top talent without earning it.

How do you make your small business stand out in the same way an applicant wants their resume to stand out? Here are a few tips:

Build a Professional Presence Before You Hire Professionals

No matter what you’re looking for in your next hire, chances are that the word “professional” is involved somewhere. You want a professional head of accounting, a professional digital marketer—not someone who’s just starting out in the industry and has no idea how the professional world works.

So, let’s apply the golden rule here: you should exude the very qualities that you want to hire.

That means building a more professional presence for your company, including:

  • A professional electronic presence. That includes a great website, a toll-free business phone number (ahem), and a call answering system that shows there’s an actual office there somewhere. You don’t want a prospective hire Googling your company and thinking, “oh, boy…this is a real fixer-upper.”
  • Responsiveness. Set up call forwarding with Grasshopper to ensure that your potential hires can reach you in a timely fashion. Manage your dashboard with a service like ZipRecruiter. Be intentional about the way you go about the hiring process; don’t just put out an ad and wait for the emails to roll in. Make it known that you’re part of the process and that you consider each and every hire to be as important as the last.
  • Physical presence. Look around. How does your company look when someone steps in the door? Does it look like a great place to work, or does the mere sight of your reception area instill fear into the heart of job applicants?

Accentuate Your Positives, Even If They’re Small

You’re a small business—a smaller bottom line than the big Fortune 500 companies is part of the deal. You can’t offer benefits packages made out of solid gold or access to the company’s private jet.

But you can still accentuate the great things about working for a small business like yours. When the Wall Street Journal put together a guide for attracting top-tier talent to a small company, they pointed out the following advantages built in to small businesses:

  • Flexibility. You don’t have a giant stack of HR documents to make every open position into a cookie cutter job. You’re open to feedback. You can give them control and responsibilities these prospective hires wouldn’t have anywhere else.
  • Growth opportunity. “Getting in on the ground floor” is a tagline so ubiquitous that it borders on cliché. And like so many clichés, it’s true. You can offer potential recruits growth opportunities. The more tenure they have in your company, the more likely they are to grow their career as the company itself grows.

How do you accentuate these benefits? Have a brochure drawn up and list ten benefits to working for your company. This makes a great hand-out for job interviews, job fairs, and corporate events, helping you get the word out about why it might be appealing to come in to your office every weekday.

Go Where the Talent Is—Especially Online

If you go fishing in the same exact spot every single day and expect different results, it’s your fault when your lines come up empty. The same logic holds up when hiring great talent: you have to first figure out where the talent is.

The digital world makes this easier than ever. Here are just a few tools for identifying the right talent:

  • Indeed. You can sort candidates by your location or even mention that you want to create a remote job. Either way, Indeed puts your company in front of some of the top talent in the industry. If you want to get noticed, you only have to pay more for preferred status—which fits even within the budget of a small business like yours.
  • LinkedIn. LinkedIn is the go-to social networking site for professionals, and it’s no surprise that it’s also a hub for finding and recruiting talent. Post your position to LinkedIn Jobs and you can easily identify the profiles of major-league talent from across the world.

Pay Attention to Your “Hiring Brand”

Just as you strive to create an identifiable brand when you sell your products to the world, you should do the same when selling your company as a great place to work. That’s why McDonald’s fights hard against the “McJob” label—they don’t want to hire poor talent any more than the next company.

This does take effort, though. Pay attention to sites like Glassdoor and Yelp to get a sense of how your company’s place in the job market. And if you don’t find that you have a brand at all, great—that means you get to start defining it for yourself. Create a new Careers page at your website and make it clear what working for you might be like.

Be a Better Place to Work

Finally, just as word-of-mouth marketing is the best way to spread the news about your service or product, you want to build a reputation as a great place to work. Make sure you meet regularly with your HR manager to get a gauge on what it’s like to work for you. Check in with employees. Offer benefits packages when you can. Hire more work when you need it—don’t pile on your existing employees. The more work you do to ensure that you have a great company worthy of top talent, the more likely you are to attract the talent that will grow your business.

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Few things in the world of small business are more disheartening than pouring the sweat of your life into a project, only to find that a file has gone corrupted or even missing.

Big-time client proposals, business presentations, and even sensitive personal data should not be as vulnerable to data loss as paper in the wind. If the above scenario strikes you as even a possibility, it may be time to think about setting up a data loss prevention strategy and embracing cloud storage.

How Cloud Storage and Syncing Works

Recently, I did something rash: I embarked on my first attempt to build a PC from scratch. After buying the individual parts, consulting with online forums and chatrooms, and a marathon building session that involved troubleshooting and frequent YouTube checking, I did it. I had a PC of my very own, and it worked.

Because I sync files on the cloud, it wasn’t hard to do work on this new PC. I could fire up files via Dropbox and access my passwords without missing a beat.

Then, Murphy’s Law hit. The PC stopped turning on.

Even now, while in the midst of repair attempts, I’m able to function on an old laptop because cloud storage and syncing means I have everything I need no matter where I access the Internet. While the hardware failed me, embracing cloud storage software has kept the enterprise up and running.

The Need to Prevent File Loss

When a research firm looked into data loss, they found that the majority of small businesses were not prepared for data loss, with some 58% unsure of how they would handle the issue. That means setting up even a simple system can be enough to put your small business in the top half when it comes to data loss prevention.

It’s a sad state of affairs—especially considering how important preventing data loss can be.

Defining “the Cloud”

In the movie “Creed,” the young boxer Donnie takes a photograph of Rocky Balboa’s suggested training schedule rather than take the sheet of paper home. Rocky—old-school as he is—wonders why Donnie’s leaving without it.

“It’s already in the cloud,” Donnie announces.

Rocky looks up at the sky, wondering where this cloud might be.

Maybe you have a better idea of what the cloud actually is, but it doesn’t hurt to refresh: the “cloud” is just how it seems. In reality, cloud-based storage means you’re remotely storing files on someone else’s server. It’s that simple. The “cloud” can also refer to cloud-based services like Adobe, which now no longer sells the boxed versions of its products, but instead charges a subscription for you to activate the software on your own device.

The cloud works for storage and backing up because it’s about decentralization. When you sync your files on the cloud, they’re available to you as long as you have an Internet connection—no matter if you’re using your laptop, your tablet, or even your phone. As you might imagine, that portends well for frequent business travelers who have a habit of losing their hardware.

Building Your Data Loss Prevention Strategy

The simplest way of switching over from hardware to software is to think of it as the difference between digging up a file yourself and logging into an account. You can log into an account from anywhere and access your files—if you dig up a file yourself, it’s susceptible to getting lost.

That means you have to identify the key services best for storing your files:

  • Dropbox is a popular solution in the world of cloud syncing. Even when one file goes wrong, you can access older versions of the file, which means that even if disaster strikes, your efforts won’t be a total loss.
  • Google Drive is just as easy to set up. Like Dropbox, it slips easily into your Windows or Mac usage by essentially acting as another folder to which you can save your important files. Except these files are stored on the “cloud” (don’t look up), which means that even if your computer were to spontaneously explode, the files would still be stored somewhere.
  • Evernote is a popular solution for saving information from the web, create to-do lists, and share notes with other people. This can be a vital part of daily life in a small business, which is why Evernote remains such a popular app. Because it syncs easily with your mobile device, you can handle it just as easily while on a business trip as you can from the office.
  • Zoho is a suite of solutions for your small business based on the cloud: email, books, accounting, customer relationship management, even accessing a remote workplace that keeps your team united.

But these are just tools. What about the strategy that keeps your files safe?

Redundancy. While it’s great to have one source of backups for your most important files in a cloud-based service, the key to effective security is redundancy. If you jump out of a plane, you don’t just want one parachute you can trust. You want a backup! Lifehacker recommends that you don’t make a service like Dropbox your sole backup. It’s hard to disagree.

Thing long-term. Because a service like Dropbox only keeps long-term files for a specified range of time (say 30 days), it’s important to keep your most important files handy for long-term storage. Again we turn to Lifehacker, which recommends CrashPlan for these purposes.

Stop assuming safety. Simply because you downloaded an app doesn’t mean that you’re now safe from all data loss risk for the end of time. It’s important to test out your systems. Keep your most important files stored physically somewhere—ideally somewhere secure—just in case all of these cloud options fail you. When your most important data runs your life, it’s worth the small investment of time to protect it. Don’t think of it as redundancy, but as a valuable investment of time that might save you untold headaches in the future.

With a proper data loss prevention plan in place, your small business will not only run more smoothly, but you’ll have more peace of mind. It’s worth setting up, even if it takes the work of an afternoon. You never know when it might save you the work of a few months.

Have other suggestions or tools you use to sync your files into the cloud?  Post a comment and lets talk about it!  I look forward to hearing all your ideas.

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It’s 2017 and the days of sitting at a desk for 40+ hours each week are long gone – especially for entrepreneurs and small business owners. In fact, more and more companies choose to forego the office entirely.

You left the rat race to follow a passion, but also to be your own boss and gain some much needed flexibility. So why should your business phone system keep you tethered to a landline on a desk in an office?

It shouldn’t. Here are just a few of the many ways Grasshopper’s virtual phone system enables you to take your business anywhere and everywhere you go.

Forward Calls to Any Number

Whether you need to forward calls to your own smartphone, a landline in your home office, or even a car phone (retro’s in now, right?) you can set up your Grasshopper phone system to forward to any number of numbers. You can do the same for each extension, too.

Set Up a Call Forwarding Schedule

Call forwarding is great and all, but what if you need to forward to your office in the morning, your cell phone in the afternoon, and your home office in the evening? You don’t need to log in – just set up a regular call forwarding schedule and Grasshopper will take care of the rest.

Send Texts and Make Outbound Calls with the Mobile App

If you often communicate with customers via text message, you can use the Grasshopper mobile app to take your business number everywhere you smartphone goes (so everywhere you go, let’s be honest.) You can also make outbound calls with your business number right in the app, too. Convenient, huh? 

All Your Communications in One Place

When you’re running a business and on-the-go all the time, organization is your best friend. The last thing you need is to have 3 different conversations across 7 different channels, all with the same customer. The Grasshopper app centralizes phone calls, voicemail, and SMS messages all in one inbox. (Pro tip: Be on the lookout for even more integration coming to the app.)

Need to download the mobile app?

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In our first post on local marketing, we explored how micro businesses can expand their audience reach through social media discoverability. Here, we’re tackling another important piece of the small business puzzle: influencer marketing. From product reviews on YouTube to co-created blog content, influencer marketing provides endless opportunities for brand growth and development. If you’ve been curious about influencer marketing, here’s how to find and leverage local influencers to boost your brand’s bottom line.

Why Influencer Marketing?

If you’re new to influencer marketing, you may be wondering why it’s important and how it can benefit your small business. Put simply, influencer marketing is a powerful way for brands to reach new audiences. It puts marketing into the hands of real people, who share their (positive) brand experiences with peers to influence purchasing action.


If you’re skeptical about how influencer marketing relates to your sales goals, consider this statistic from a recent study by HubSpot: consumers who are referred to a brand by social media are 71% more likely to make a purchase. This proves that influencer marketing isn’t just about getting more followers – it’s actually one of the most effective ways to drive sales in the digital age.

Who is an influencer?

To the average person, the term influencer usually connotes images of celebrities and globetrotters who’ve garnered hundreds of thousands of followers. This comprises some influencers, but not all of them. In fact, influencers come in many forms. At a local scale, the ideal influencer may only have a few thousand followers. They could be a mom, a teacher, or even a teenager. Who the influencer is doesn’t really matter – what’s most important is that they’re followed by an engaged local audience that aligns with your target market.

How Can I Find Local Influencers?

Finding well-aligned local influencers is key to influencer marketing success. So where can you find influencers that fit the bill?


A great tool to start with is Klout, which helps you identify and engage with influencers in your market. After logging in with Facebook or Twitter, Klout will prompt you to select topics and interests. If you focus on themes related to your industry, along with the city and state you live in, you’ll be exposed to influencers near you who write about your topic.


NinjaOutreach is another popular tool that can help you find engaging local influencers on Instagram. Simply type in a keyword and discover the most influential people writing about your industry. You might test out different keywords related to your locale, which can ensure that you’re finding people locally. You could also search for reviewers and travel bloggers across a larger scope, as its possible they would visit your town and write a review.


Influencer Marketing can assume many different forms depending on your marketing goals. It’s also important to consider which platforms your audience uses most for interacting with brands. To get started, here’s a few ideas for influencer marketing.

Blogging Influencers

Blogging is the original form of influencer marketing, and still proves to be an effective strategy for reaching new audiences. There are two key ways you can leverage blogging as an influencer marketing strategy, as defined below.

Influencer Reviews

The first and most popular method is to ask an influencer to share your product or service on their blog. Influencers are much more likely to respond to these requests when they get to use or keep your product for free. Consider travel and style bloggers, people who review local eateries, and other individuals who’ve carved out a name for themselves writing about your city or region.

Content Partnerships

Another influencer blogging strategy is to partner with an influencer on a piece of content. This co-created content could be a local guide, a blog post, or even a video or downloadable resource. The co-created content will reach both your audience and their audience, so its a smart option for brands that already have a solid following, yet want to expand their reach even more.


It’s also best to partner with someone who’s in your industry and closely related to your brand, yet isn’t a competitor. For example, a fitness studio might co-create a healthy living locals guide with a nearby smoothie shop.

Influencer Marketing on YouTube

In a world where video dominates all forms of content, YouTube is a great way to garner authentic engagement with your brand. Once you have a video created, it can be repurposed across Facebook, spliced into segments for Instagram, and promoted via email.

Product Reviews

If a local blogger or YouTube influencer has a channel related to your industry, you might consider asking them to review your product. Maybe they’ll talk about why they love it and how it benefits their life. This works best for consumer goods in the retail space, as influencers can talk about the benefits of the product in the comfort of their own home. However, it can also work for a restaurant or a business in the hospitality industry, under certain circumstances.

FAQ Videos

Another idea for an influencer video is having them respond to FAQs with their own original answers. If it’s a new shoe, for example, people might be wondering whether it’s true to size or if it has a narrow fit. When an influencer conducts a FAQ video, it helps answer audience questions in a way that feels honest and trustworthy.

Customer Interviews

YouTube is also a great channel for showcasing customer ideas and opinions. For example, a local yoga studio might create a video where customers talk about the benefits of yoga, and why they love going to that studio. Asking the right questions is key, as you’ll want customers to explain the positive benefits of your business in a way that feels authentic and relatable. Therefore, you might start by asking about what your product/service means to them, how they found out about it, and why it plays an important role in their life.  

Influencer Marketing on Instagram

Last but not least, influencers on instagram have immense power and reach that give your brand a serious boost. It’s also relatively easy to find and engage with local influencers all within the Instagram app, thanks to features that allow people to tag their location.

Brand Involvement

Simply sending a free product to an Instagram star isn’t going to guarantee anything. Plus, it feels gimmicky – even when coming from a small business. That’s why it’s important to put meaning behind your share request. Make influencers feel more valued and important by involving them in the creation of your brand. For example, you might ask for their opinion on a new product, or get their ideas for an upcoming flavor. Building an authentic relationship with the influencers will ensure that they want to work with you in the future, and it’ll also make their shares and posts feel more true to your audience.

Instagram Takeover

If you’re on instagram, you’ve probably seen a number of “takeovers,” where an influencer manages a brand’s social media for the day. The influencer usually posts about the takeover on their own account before it happens, telling followers to tune into the story. On one hand, this helps you gain followers directly from the influencer’s audience base. Even more importantly, instagram takeovers provide a fresh perspective on your brand and product. Seeing how the influencer photographs, discusses, and engages with your brand helps local prospects see it in a new light. In turn, this boosts your credibility and can potentially increase sales in a short amount of time.


To learn more about local marketing, check out the rest of our series on social media discoverability and building a local customer base.


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Small business marketing can feel like a never ending seesaw of challenges and successes. On one hand, you’re constantly trying to compete against the big box stores and franchise companies that can offer lower costs and instant convenience.

 

Yet, being a small business also means you have a team of built-in supporters and community members who want to see you thrive.

 

If you’re struggling to strike the right balance in your local marketing efforts, we can help. For the first installment in a 3-part series on local marketing, this article will show you how small businesses leverage social media for better brand awareness. Here’s how you can maximize your social discoverability by creating and sharing the right content.

Plan and Strategize Content

Most of your current and future customers live within a 10-mile radius of your business. That’s why, before you start paying for promoted ads on Facebook or Instagram, you need to understand what these people like and need. Buyer personas aside, testing out content on social media can help you discover what’s the most engaging for your audience. In turn, this will support the creation of a well-planned, long-term content strategy that caters to their specific needs and desires.

 

If you’re not sure about which content you should post or where it should be promoted, here are three quick ideas that could work well on both Facebook and Instagram.

Create a Local Guide

Tapping into local interests and events is a big part of local marketing. This requires you to look beyond your business to ask questions about who your customers are as people. What landmarks do they visit on days off? What’s their favorite spot to watch the game? Creating a local guide is one of the best ways you can paint a full picture of your customers’ lives – and see where your business fits in.

 

For example, you might create a list of top 10 hiking spots near the city. If you’re a brewery or eatery, this could tie into your services because people might stop and grab a bite after hiking. If you’re a local grocery store, you might include a roundup of fresh fruits and veggies that are in season in your state. Get the jist? This kind of content is clickable, shareable fodder for Facebook and Instagram advertising.

Start a Giveaway

Giveaways are easy, exciting ways to generate audience engagement. Plus, nearly every business can participate in a giveaway that will create value for local customers.

 

One way to approach a giveaway is to create a package with other local businesses. For example, a restaurant might team up with a local B&B to provide a romantic dinner and one-night stay package for a local couple. Or, an adventure tour company and a brewery might team up for a day of adventure followed by free drinks. Working with another business can help you tap into their audience and raise awareness amongst new, engaged customers.

 

Giveaways are also a great strategy for topping off your email subscriber lists. Requiring an email for the contest entry allows you to add more qualified local customers to your funnel, who can be retargeted at a later date.

Sponsor a Local Event

When you’re putting efforts towards local marketing, every minute and cent counts towards your bottom line. Sponsoring a local event is a simple effort that yields a big return on your investment.

 

Whether its a charity run, a school fundraiser or a county-wide bake-off, every community has its fare share of local events. Signing up to sponsor a festival or event can help you boost your brand ethos and increase awareness amongst new, qualified audience members near you.

 

If you’re not sure how sponsorships tie into your sales goals, consider how the event can leave customers intrigued and wanting more. For example, sponsorship will usually get you a branded table at the event. View this as an opportunity to share information about your brand, give out free samples, and ask for email sign ups. All of these things establish a memorable connection in consumer minds between the event, your brand, and what you offer.

Optimize Instagram Marketing

Instagram is a great way to promote national and even global brand awareness. And while this may boost your follower count and likes, it doesn’t do much for driving qualified leads in a local market. Fortunately, there are three simple features that can be optimized to grow your local audience on Instagram.

Hashtags

Adding hashtags to your photos can help people discover your business based on local keywords. Here’s how it works: Let’s say one of your audience members is following #atlantaevents on Instagram. Images with that tag will show up in their newsfeed even if they aren’t following the user who posted the photo. Users can also search through photos based on a hashtag if they’re looking for something specific.

Locations

Tagging your business location in photos is a great way to put your company on the map – literally. Someone who clicks on a location will be brought to a page that shows a map of the area, along with the top photos for that tag. This makes it easy for customers to see where your business is located and get a feel for what people do there.

Tag People

Tagging people and businesses is an easy, effective way to increase your photos’ discoverability. One way this benefits you is because it’ll show a customer or partner that you appreciate what they do, likely eliciting engagement from them. Additionally, it’ll add your images to the tagged photos section of a person or place.

Optimize Facebook Ads

If you haven’t explored the world of Facebook advertising, it’s time to start. Facebook advertisements can be useful because they’re better targeted to a specific location and demographic than other forms of advertising. This means that your ads will only be shown to people who live within a certain radius of your store, ensuring that your advertising funds are only targeting qualified people.

Target Your Neighborhood

Social media and local SEO can work together in seamless, profitable harmony when strategized correctly. For example, when you run Facebook ads for a certain neighborhood, they will help establish your business as a leading provider in that geographic location.

 

If you run Facebook ads for a year that use keyword variations including “Plumber in Capitol Hill” or “Denver Plumbers in Capitol Hill” this will send a message to Google about what you specialize in. Over time, your company’s name will show up higher in Google results when people type in “Capitol Hill plumber.”

Share a Coupon

Who doesn’t love a coupon? Even better if it’s for the cafe or boutique around the block. People love supporting local businesses, and sharing a discount is a great way to stay top of mind.

 

Since sharing a photo of a coupon will only go so far, we recommend sharing your discount via Facebook’s advanced targeting options. These allow you to promote your coupon to a specific audience based on the demographics you describe. After a few tests, you can view the analytics to learn which audiences are most receptive to the discounts.

 

For more tips on small business marketing success, stay tuned for the rest of our series on local marketing mastery.

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Digital advertising most likely makes a significant portion of your promotional budget. Sometimes it costs you quite a bit to get that first click, so it’s your duty to make the most of it. In order to maximize your ad spend ROI you have to have a cohesive plan in place for tracking, retargeting, and responding to your top-of-the-funnel visitors.  In the article below, we’ll lay out five steps to help you make the most of your ad spend and help you grow your business.

Step 1: Place a browser cookie on every visitor

You have to remember that every single visitor that arrives at your website represents a potential sale. It doesn’t matter if they just navigated there to see a full-size photo of your product as part of their initial browsing, or if they’re ready to complete the purchase process right then and there. They’re all just potential buyers in different stages of the purchasing funnel. Which is exactly why you can’t let them come to your site without placing a browser cookie on them.

The bottom line is, tracking everyone who shows interest is the first necessary step in order to be successful at retargeting. Prospects may disengage at a later point—at which time you can terminate their targeted ads—but at this early stage it is crucial to track everyone. It’s an integral component for maximizing your digital ad ROI.

Step 2: Share browser cookies across all applicable platforms

At this point in the process, you don’t have very much data concerning your visitors from which you can pull and refine your strategy. You don’t know if they check Facebook 100 times a day, or if they only keep a profile around for posterity. They may be one of the most active users on LinkedIn—creating and sharing content and moderating several groups—or they may have signed up after college and rarely logged in since.

If you’re able to turn a visitor into an email lead you’ll have an opportunity to capture more specific data and put it to use in farther down the sales funnel with advanced analytics. For now, though, your choices are more limited. Faced with a scarcity of data, your best option is to hedge your bets and distribute the browser cookies you collect to all of the major platforms. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google are all fertile grounds for retargeting and strengthening the brand/buyer relationship. Make sure you cover all of your bases by reaching your leads across all of the most likely forums.

Step 3: Retarget across those platforms and redirect to optimized landing pages

Once you’ve located your visitors, then the process of retargeting to them begins in earnest. Research shows that, on average, the click-through rate for retargeted ads is 10-times higher than regular display ads, 0.7% to 0.07% respectively.

Proper retargeting enables you to deliver leads to customized conversion landing pages which should be coded properly and linked to correctly for every retargeting ad that you deploy. This is definitely a time to hold the lead’s hand rather than set them loose in your website again and expect them to find what they’re looking for. Likewise, ensure that the content you are directing them towards is appropriate for their position in the sales journey.

Step 4: Utilize an email capture tool on your website

After you have successfully brought them to a specific landing page, then you can ask them to opt in to email communications. Make it easy for them to sign up, but resist the temptation to come on too strong. Pop-up email captures that disrupt their experience of digesting the content can turn them away quickly. One study found that pop-ups that appeared at the seven second mark of the visit registered a 10% drop in the average duration of the visit.

Remember that the primary purpose of content marketing is to provide value to the audience, not act as a stepping-stone to an email sign-up.

One strategy you can use to take advantage of this is to show the user a pop-up at the end of the content, when they can make an informed decision whether or not to continue the relationship. You can also keep a permanent, less obtrusive subscription button on the top navigation bar, so that they can easily find it at any time during their experience on the page. Another option is to provide a ‘give to get’, which means you provide a piece of gated content, like an e-book, in exchange for an email.

Step 5: Set the stage for conversion through a series of drip emails

Turning a search visitor into an opt-in email lead is a significant step, but it’s here that the real work towards conversion begins. Now it’s your responsibility to use your email content to deepen the relationship between you and your lead by consistently delivering value across all touchpoints and guiding them through the middle-to-later stages of the sales funnel.

Put procedures in place to ensure you are following drip email marketing best practices. Thank your lead immediately upon subscribing, but avoid inundating them with too much material early on. Review every piece of email content to be certain it has a distinct purpose for moving the relationship forward, and value to the reader. Include prominent CTA buttons in the content and always guide them back to appropriate pages on your website.

Conclusion

The first click is always the most expensive, but using these tactics to retarget and re-engage your leads can dramatically improve your overall customer acquisition cost. A well thought out plan of the customer journey will not only increase your marketing performance, but also improve the experience for your website visitors.


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Mathematically, the difference between 2,000 and 1,000 is the same between 1,000 and 0.

So why doesn’t it feel that way when you’re staring at a blank small business Twitter account? Why is moving from 0 to 1,000 so hard?

The old adage in business—that the first million you earn is the hardest—is a simple way of saying that liftoff is the hardest part of launching the rocket that is your small business. That’s why we’ve put together a list of best practices for those small businesses that are either late to the Twitter game or struggling to get more followers. Here’s what you need to know to get your first 1,000 followers:

Start with a “No Free Lunch” Policy

It’s tempting to see the goal—1,000 Twitter followers—as a simple number on the board. Something that can be purchased or attained.

It’s just as easy to forget that Twitter is full of people.

People don’t follow you for their own health. Most of the time, they’ll follow you because you offer them something. According to QuickSprout’s guide for getting your first 100 followers, only some 20% of users you follow will return the favor—but 94% of Twitter users say they will follow a brand that offers discounts and promotions.

In other words, there’s no free lunch. You won’t get followers without first giving them something worth following. That means your small business has to decide how it will attract new follows. Here are a few ideas:

  • Discounts and promotions. This is a strong strategy for Shopify store owners and retail outlets, but not so relevant for service-based entities.
  • Creating great content. When Twitter is an extended arm of your content strategy, you can use it as a platform for delivering the latest and greatest over at your blog.
  • Insights. Consider a Twitter account like Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s. He hasn’t attracted millions of followers by posting the mundane details of his life. Instead, he takes the time to craft valuable insights about the universe. Neil Patel calls this “informing, not meforming.”

Fill Out the Profile

To earn your first 1,000 followers, you should first look like a full Twitter account—a small business that’s worth following. Make full use of your Twitter presence to establish the fact that your small business is ready to engage:

  • Write a bio for your profile.
  • Post a link to your website.
  • Post a relevant photo and background.
  • Make sure your Twitter name clearly defines who you are.
  • Start following other relevant people in your industry.

These are five essential steps that will help you earn those first few followers. After all, no one wants to click “follow” on an empty profile.

Get Your Tweets Noticed

All of this sounds well and good—but how do you get your Tweets in front of more eyeballs?

  • Hashtags. Hashtags are the lifeblood of Twitter—they’re how you tell what’s popular and what’s not. Make sure that your tweets (along with their hashtags) still follow the “No Free Lunch” rule and you’re bound to get at least a little notice.
  • Interaction. Interacting with people on Twitter means your account will be exposed to all of their followers as well. Just try to make sure it’s a positive interaction.
  • Promoted tweets. If all else fails, you can always promote a tweet that you think is especially relevant or interesting for your intended audience.

Give Each Tweet a Mission

True: if you’re witty enough, you likely don’t have to have an explicit mission behind every single reply or comment you make online. But when you plan your tweets (using a platform like HootSuite or Buffer) you’ll stand a far better chance of delivering something that actively engages with your audience.

In short, what do you want this tweet to do?

Should it inform? Should it share a relevant piece of content, like a blog post? Should it engage readers—using a tool like a poll? Should it share something they’ve never heard before (insight)?

Or are you just posting to let people know about your small business’s day?

Just as you would in advertising, you have to think about the intended audience of your message if you want to maximize engagement.

Stay Consistent

Buffer did a lot of research on what gets small businesses accounts more followers on Twitter. We’ve covered a variety of them here already. But one we haven’t covered—and one method that made their “Top 10” list—can be summed up in one word:

Consistency.

“Staying active” was one of their top variables for achieving Twitter success, and no wonder—consistency hits on all the major points above. It puts the audience first. It ensures that you’re still contributing valuable insights and content into your followers’ lives. It ensures that you’re making your social media account a priority, and not just another gear in the machine.

Keep It Positive

According to Buffer, the tone of your Twitter’s voice can have a dramatic impact on how many followers you gain. “Debbie Downers” tend not to perform well, which means you want to keep your Twitter account uplifting and engaging.

Make it exciting. Don’t complain about the bad service you had on a flight. Instead, talk about where you’re going. Don’t ask your followers why they aren’t engaging with you—bribe them to engage with you, using a discount or coupon code.

Your Plan for Social Media Success

With the above points in mind, you’re ready to start the trek to your 1,000th follower. Here are some key steps for ensuring that happens:

  • Fill out your whole Twitter bio. You want to look like an upstanding member of the community, not a bot.
  • No free lunches. Don’t expect people to care about you without first caring about your tweets. Make sure you’re informing them of stuff they care about.
  • Use hashtags to command attention. Once you’ve figured out informing vs. meforming, get a larger audience for your tweets by using hashtags on a regular basis.
  • Use a scheduler like Buffer or HootSuite to stay consistent. You don’t have to tweet every hour of every day, but you should try to maintain a quality presence.

Put it all together and your acceleration might not be immediate. But if you keep the plan in place, you’ll attract more followers than you lose, which means you’ll log in one day to find “1,000 followers” for your small business.

 

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