Internet Marketing for Small Business – The Vital Truth

As a small business owner it’s our natural tendency to approach everything with a hint of skepticism. There are so many ‘next big things’ that it’s oftentimes difficult to distinguish between a passing trend and a legitimate evergreen marketing strategy for a small business.

Skepticism or no, I’m willing to bet that by now you’ve started seriously eyeing Internet marketing for small business as a viable addition to your advertising repertoire; you’re starting to realize that this is something worth jumping on.

Let’s face it – Your competitors are doing it, so you should do it too lest you unknowingly give up a foothold in your niche.

Wait Just a Minute – What is Internet Marketing, Exactly?

Before we go any further I think it’s worth taking some time to clarify exactly what we’re referring to when we say ‘Internet Marketing’. If you’ve done any research at all on the topic of small business online marketing, you’ve probably seen a wide array of terms thrown about. It can be very confusing to learn anything at all about Internet marketing with a seemingly endless amount of ideas out there… How are you supposed to know what’s what? Well, below I’d like to briefly go over a few of the most common terms and methods that you should concern yourself with:

#1. Small Business Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Small business search engine optimization refers to getting your business’ virtual property listed on the first page of search engine results (most commonly in Google) for a select group of keyword phrases. Whether it’s a Google Places page, a YouTube video, a Facebook page or even your own website, the goal is to position yourself so that local searchers see YOU before your competition.It sounds complicated, but that’s why we’re here. The results of a successful SEO campaign can be enormous.

#2. Small Business Email Marketing / List Building

Small business email marketing is without a doubt one of the most powerful forms of lead generation out there. Imagine having the power to reach your loyal customers any time day or night with your newest and greatest promotions? Imagine being able to send your customers coupons, newsletters and other interesting content so that you’re constantly in contact with them, remotely building your brand in their mind’s eye? I’m sure with a little imagination you can start to see the possibilities… Email marketing is one of the most viable long-term marketing strategies for small business owners to consider. Your customers aren’t going to stop using email anytime soon, and the ability to stay in frequent contact with a customer even if they’re not visiting your actual place of business is too good to pass up. If you take nothing else away from this article, at least learn more about small business email marketing.

#3. Social Media Marketing for Local Businesses

This is the newest and greatest trend in the world of Internet Marketing for small businesses. Facebook alone has over 800 Million users worldwide, and most users spend a minimum of 6 hours per month on this website. As Facebook grows it’s an increasing amount of time YOU could be using to further your business. Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites are going to be some of the greatest marketing mediums of 2012 because they give you the ability to keep up with interested customers on a daily basis through websites that they’re spending lots of time on anyways. Why not take advantage of this opportunity?

#4. Pay-Per-Click Advertising for Direct Marketing

The next time you’re searching for something in Google I want you to pay attention to the right side of the screen. You should notice a few small ads that are separate from the search results. These are actually paid advertisements from Google’s AdWords program, and they’re a crucial aspect of small business online marketing.

The pay per click advertising (PPC) works is a simple 3 step process:
• Write a small ad for your business
• Pick keywords or locales to target
• Pay per click for traffic directly to your business’ website

Pretty easy, right?

This is a great way to start off your Internet marketing campaign because with Pay Per Click you get exactly the results you pay for. Want to give 100 new customers the chance to fall in love with your business? Pay for 100 clicks to your website… Done. I’m sure you can see the value in this kind of cost-per-lead advertising. Through proper lead generation and analytics you can have yourself quite a profitable campaign that runs virtually on autopilot.

And hey, want to really explode your customer base? Why not use PPC advertising to drive targeted traffic to your email newsletter so you can stay in contact with your new potential customers?

Why Internet Marketing for Small Businesses is a Good Investment

What holds back most small business online marketing campaigns that the business owners fail at marketing automation.

We’ve all learned this lesson: When you try to do everything yourself you inevitably fall behind in the areas you’re best at, and don’t get far enough in the areas you’re good at. The result is that your business slows down, and you don’t see as much revenue as you should / could. If time is money, then you can’t afford to spend an increasing amount of time on something that someone else could be doing faster.

That’s why when approaching Internet marketing for small business I recommend enlisting the assistance of a trained professional.

Time and time again we’ve seen a much greater ROI when the business owner focuses on running an outstanding business, while the Internet marketers do what they do best – Capture the interest of potential customers. Whether you decide to pursue small business search engine optimization to bolster the rankings of your website or social media marketing to get the word out through Facebook / Twitter, you can rest assured that you’ll see better results from someone who’s done it before.

Internet marketing for small business doesn’t have to be time consuming, and it’s certainly doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, an Internet Marketing campaign can be relatively cheap when compared with other marketing strategies for small businesses! As a small business owner you’d be giving up a lot if you limited yourself to offline marketing only, so I urge you to consider the techniques and methods outlined in this article. I’m sure you can find an Internet Marketing company or service provider who would be more than willing to help you with these internet marketing services so you can start finding new potential customers on autopilot. What are you waiting for?

Implementing the Buy-Sell Agreement in a Closely-Held Business

There are owners of closely-held businesses who become disabled or must terminate their employment at the business and fail to realize a meaningful value for their business interest. There are owners, not holding a controlling interest, who will have nothing to say about the outcome of certain business transactions or their departure from the business. There are owners, failing to recruit new owners, who have no one to buy their business at their death. There are owners, failing to extricate themselves from management, who demean the value received for the business because they are an essential part of the business and can no longer be involved to insure profitability. There are many and all varieties of examples of owners not receiving maximum value from their business interest. All of these owners should have implemented a buy-sell agreement in their closely-held business to have received maximum value for their business interest.

Most businesses do not have a buy-sell agreement among the owners because it is quite difficult to negotiate a buy-sell agreement between the owners of a closely-held business. Often the subject matter is difficult to discuss, and the pressures of operating an owner-managed business make it difficult to find the time needed to accomplish this task. As with most complex and difficult tasks, it is best to use a segmented approach and address the various issues one at a time.

The issues that must be discussed and agreed upon can be generally described. The business entity type of the business should be understood in terms of liability and tax consequences for each owner. The group of individuals or entities that own the business should be defined and appropriate restrictions put in place. The governance of the business, including who will make policy and who will be the chief executive, should be clearly defined. The events (triggers) that will cause one or more owners to transfer interests in the business should be defined. The procedure of the transaction occurring after each type of trigger, including funding and payment, should be provided for in detail. For each transaction, the price of the interest transferred should be defined. If the business will act as a buyer in certain procedures, then the means of the business accumulating the funds for the transaction should be provided for in detail. The final task is the consolidation of the decisions into one coherent written document.

There should be a meeting of the owners and appropriate stakeholders to discuss each one of these general issues. For each issue there should be a separate meeting. The meetings should be held at regular intervals. The results of the meetings must be documented in writing. Where issues are technical or outside resources would be helpful, they should be utilized. The documented agreements resulting from these discussions as consolidated into one coherent document will constitute a succession plan.

The succession plan is the basis for the drafting of the buy-sell agreement, a written, legally-enforceable document. Even though there is a written plan to which the owners have agreed, each owner must have separate counsel to review and advise each owner concerning the buy-sell agreement. The exercise of creating the plan will save legal fees overall, but that agreement cannot remove the necessity of each owner reviewing the buy-sell agreement with that owner’s lawyer with the perspective of the best interests of that owner as the primary concern.

There are three general phases in the life-cycle of an owner-managed or closely-held business. The first phase is the startup, where the value of the entity is initiated. The second phase is continued profitability, where the business stabilizes, earns a profit, and the owner changes from a producer to a manager. The third phase is where the owner participates only in policy-making and hires management. In the third phase the owner will receive highest value for the business interest because the owner’s participation in the business will not be a requirement for the business’s continued profitability. An implemented buy-sell agreement can contemplate and assure the transactions necessary to attain the third phase of the business life cycle. Moreover, if the inevitable transfer of the owner’s interest happens before the third phase, an implemented buy-sell agreement will provide value for that interest that will be more than would be otherwise received.

Although it is difficult to implement, the buy-sell agreement will provide maximum value for a hard-earned business interest.

Top 10 Tips for Creating a Winning Business Plan: Improving The Odds

Creating a winning business plan demands a mixture of precise business thinking, art, timing and luck. You need business planning skills and these can be learned. Many excellent books and courses can help you develop a business plan. But creating a business plan that stands out from the crowd, a winning plan, takes more, and achieving this target takes experience- no way of getting around this. Many talented professionals have their business plan preferences and I have my own which I have fine-tuned working with scores of new ventures. Based on my experience, while there are never any guarantees, here are 10 tips to improve your chances for creating a winning new business plan:

1. Maintain a “market and opportunity” focus and view technology as an enabler. Don’t be seduced with what I call “gee-whiz” technology. Define a tight, focused opportunity with a well-defined target market- technology may be the enabler used to create the business. Suppose you develop a new wireless device and your plan proposes new wireless service for monitoring patient data- the business addresses a real, quantifiable market opportunity. Compare this to an opportunity for a new proprietary wireless data monitoring technology. In today’s highly competitive market, specific, well- defined, opportunity-driven ventures are preferable to pure technology plays.

2. Understand the Difference Between Feature, Function and Benefit Image transmission is a function. Moving high resolution images via telephone lines is a feature. The ability to send a high resolution image in 5 seconds via a telephone line using a $99 device is a benefit. Sell benefits and make this the cornerstone of your plan.

3. Use the “So-What” Tool To Define Your Target Opportunity A very important management tool and not used as often as it should be for new venture development. A simplified “so-what” analysis goes something like this. Our new service offers a unique encrypted data solution for e- commerce applications. So what? We can provide authentication using voice recognition. So what? Our voice authentication technology instantly identifies buyers’ interests and demographic profiles. So what? We can identify and route e- commerce customers based on voice response and past history. The results? Using the “so what” tool, we refocused our thinking to create a more unique, defensible business opportunity.

4. Reinforce Your Assumptions Using Sensitivity Analysis Tools You need to ‘exercise’ your financial model, examine “what-ifs” and boundary conditions. Reduce sales and/or increase costs by 10, 20, 50, 80 percent-what happens? Delay product launch plans, reduce competitors’ costs by the same amount-how do these impact ROI and total cash needs? Formal analysis tools exist to complete these analyses.Properly done, these analyses show that you understand your market, business, elasticities and sensitivities. This is a “must-do” in any business plan effort I am involved with and find this shows you understand your business.

5. Appoint An Advisory Board Develop a “hands-on” Advisory Board. Carve out roles and responsibilities. Provide incentives, typically options, vested based on time served and milestones achieved. Powerful, well-known names and impressive marquees may look great, but you need contributors who can help you move the business forward. Again another “must-do” in any business plan effort I am involved with- high upside with minimal investment. I also serve on these Boards where needed.

6. Develop Strategic Alliances Same points as for Advisory Boards. Developing marketing alliances with GE, IBM and others sound impressive, but make sure there is defensible substance here. Are there any revenue guarantees? What resources have your partners committed to the venture? Any joint promotion plans among their customer bases? Often, targeted alliances with smaller firms may provide more strategic or revenue benefit.

7. Don’t Believe In “The Sanctity of the Business Plan” Another important concept. The completed business plan looks impressive; bound, laser-printed, color charts, and maybe 200 to 300 hours to prepare- sure looks and feels like a finished product. The reality is this document is probably out-of-date before the ink is dry. The plan is only the starting point, a work-in- progress, showing what your team is thinking, assumptions, strategies and projected results. These will tested, attacked by investors and others, defended and changed as your business proceeds. A hard lesson sometimes for those investing more than 200 hours in developing a business plan, but that is reality. There is no sanctity of the Business Plan- as you progress, you will create a revised plan. Revising always adds value and is the norm.

8. Adapt to Change To Avoid the Icarus Paradox In strategic management courses, we relate the story of the fabled Icarus from Greek mythology. Icarus’ greatest asset were wings of feathers and wax that let him soar higher and higher closer to the sun. He kept going to the sun, ignored his father’s warnings about getting too close, the wax wings melted and he crashed and burned. This is often used to explain management failures such as pursuing a single-minded business strategy even in the face of disaster, management hubris, and also believing that achieving great past success ensures future success. (it doesn’t). Avoiding the Icarus Paradox means that new business “trajectories” must be examined, refocused and assumptions tested even when performance is strong.

9. Emphasize Precision Don’t say you are addressing a large, growing market for ‘gizmos’. Instead say “… the market for ‘gizmos’ is $20 million in 2011, increasing to $35 million by 2013.” Specificity and quantitative precision shows clarity of thinking and understanding of your market and business. And also improves your ability to secure funding. In my recent book, I shared similar examples of what I call “fuzzy thinking” and how these can be improved. If you have the “fuzzy thinking” affliction, I recommend focus on tightening your thinking- this skill can be learned.

10. Conduct Business Operations Frugally Running out of cash and inability to secure new funding is most often cited as the reason new ventures fail. However, studies show that ventures funded with minimal capital have a higher probability of success, which I am sure will surprise many readers. The fact is a “frugal” investment structure demands tight management and strong financial controls at the outset. The message here is to tightly define cash needs, operate frugally, particularly in the early months, and demonstrate that you know how to manage cash and resources to win. Achieving this objective often smooths the path to secure new funding.

Entrepreneurs know there are plenty of minefields and absolutely no guarantees in the entrepreneurial world. Follow the above guidelines however and you may improve your probability of creating a winning business plan.