Curiosity Is Key for a Small Business To Maximize Marketing Budgets and ROI

I always preach that as a small business it’s important to be curious, explore and experiment. I’d even go as far as to say that to remain relevant; your business depends upon it. Why? Because if you can’t call someone’s bluff and ask for exactly what it is that you need, you’ll end up throwing thousands of dollars out of the window on wasted campaigns and strategies. For decades marketing “experts” have preyed upon small business owners by providing mediocre marketing solutions in exchange for outrageous fees. I know small businesses that have spent $25, 000 to $75,000 a year in YellowPages advertising, thinking the whole time that it would “pay for itself”.

People paid it too, despite much evidence of it actually working and because there was no way to get “in the book” without someone else helping you. In fact, you had to work with a sales person to get your advertising campaigns running. A lot of small businesses think that it’s done that way today too and they’re wrong.

With a little Googling and some reading you can find tools and resources to educate yourself on how the entire digital marketing ecosystem works. Within minutes you can set-up and run your Google AdWords campaign, LinkedIn campaign or Facebook campaign. It’s not tough at all. But it’s new and most people are afraid they will screw something up. You know what? That’s fine too. Screwing up is part of the learning process and you need to learn to save yourself any headaches later.

Think of it this way, the money and time you’d spend dealing with a sales guy, customer service rep or agency could be spent learning how to do a lot of this stuff on your own. Even if you decide not to manage it all yourself, being able to call someone’s bluff when they recommend something completely out-of-scope will pay dividends.

How Virtual IT Support Can Help Your Small Business?

One business resource that is both inevitable and important is the IT support. Irrespective of the nature of your business, IT support enables the right processes for smooth functioning of your business. It involves hardware, software, connectivity, technical faculty, and maintenance to keep the IT infrastructure on track to deliver you unmatched administrative, logistic, technical and other supportive services.

Maintaining a proper IT setup is definitely not your primary objective; however an important one. You cannot afford to lose your quality time on it, as you have other more important money making activities to become busy with. This is where virtual IT support can directly come in and seal the issue for you. This article will give you a clear measure of the benefits that a virtual IT support service can bring to your business right away.

SaaS support

The benefits that SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) offers for businesses like yours are unquestionable, and most small businesses are already reaping its cost and operational benefits. But small businesses may find it difficult to find the right SaaS support or hire the right experts. This is where a virtual IT assistant can bestow all the benefits of engaging the SaaS support. Most of these virtual assistants extend their expertise and services which include: phone/ email support, customization support, software upgrade support, software integration support, and so on.

Network setup support

You IT setup should be inter-connected and well-maintained to keep your communication and data transfers easy and seamless among your associates. This is where you need network connectivity which involves setting-up and configuring the server, you also need to maintain security and set up firewalls for PC protection and breaches. This gets too technical and mandates an expert hand, a virtual IT assistant helps you here in two ways, one: you need not hire a permanent employee for this and two, you save a lot of money and time.

Aligning your IT support to business objectives

Your business requirements if clearly drawn can zero in on the exact IT support that is required to run your business smoothly. It includes number of systems required, hardware configuration, server, connectivity type, software and maintenance. If you get this composition wrong you may unknowingly spend more or less on your IT setup and get minimal benefits. A virtual assistant can gauge your business objectives and clearly etch the right IT infrastructure for you which can get you optimum operational benefits.

Setting up utility services

There are many online utility applications designed to take your small business into the next level of operational excellence like Google Apps, Google Analytics, etc. These immensely help you to transform your business operations and paint a professional outlook to it. A virtual IT assistant can setup these kinds of supportive utilities and make your work easy and effectively.

Low downtime

IT setups may bear downtime due to varied reasons and it requires good clean regular maintenance to avoid it. However, these downtimes do happen and stop all your business operations. Fixing these requires an expert hand and a virtual assistant here becomes your timely expert. They also help you to avoid these downtimes with regular maintenance support for lesser costs.

Software and hardware upgrade support

Upgrading is growth in action. As your business grows your IT should keep pace, this is where upgrading to more effective software and hardware becomes important. As your business keeps you busy with your core activities a virtual IT assistant can chip in with all the upgrade support to your IT and keep it at par with your growth requirements.

Conclusion

Your business cannot afford to fully focus on IT requirements neither your small business is advised to appoint full-time employees to take care of this crucial resource. So a virtual IT assistant is a more obvious choice to opt for.

Small Business Management – Ask the Staff – How to Provoke Employee Suggestions

No man is an island and nor is any business owner. Fresh ideas are the vital life blood of a successful venture and developing your business requires insider knowledge of how it works. You would be either an egomaniac or a fool if you thought that all the best ideas came only from you. The input of your employees and colleagues is one of your most valuable assets and must be encouraged at every opportunity. With this in mind, there are a couple of tried and tested ways to help persuade your workforce to contribute to the business think tank.

The Employee Questionnaire.

Even in the most user-friendly of working environments, where everyone loves each other, communication is encouraged and good relations fostered, it is hard to get the most candid of responses from people in front of their peers. Even positive things are often held back if an audience is involved; human beings simply do not like to feel judged and so providing a nice, confidential way for staff to feed back can produce very valuable results; putting a survey or questionnaire to your employees will allow you to ask questions and gain useful insight as well as offer them a way to express the things they need to get off of their chests; if you want brutal honesty try making it anonymous, you may be pleasantly surprised by the outcome. When thinking about the types of question to include stay focused on what you want to achieve; if you are looking for new marketing ideas for instance, keep questions specific to this area however temping it may be to use the opportunity to find out everything, the narrower the field of questioning the more pertinent your results will be.

Internal Consultants.

When we think of taking on a consultancy firm to help our business, we are usually picturing external professionals who will come into the business from outside to explain what needs to be done. Forming a consultancy group from members of your own staff, taken from across the various departments, will not only demonstrate how much you value your employees and so boost morale, but will give you access to ideas from those who already understand your business. Just as an external business consultancy would do, this team should analyse performance, investigate specific difficulties and proffer proposals at the end. An internal consultancy team will have a better take on how to find the answers needed and are more likely to propose solutions that will sit well with the rest of the work force.

If your business is very small, the most effective way to use any employees you have for new ideas is simply to foster good, open communication. If there is a problem with the business that needs solving, talk about it, if you need opinions ask for them, people are much more likely to put forward their views in an environment where they believe they will be listened to, so don’t be dismissive when your people give you information; in a small business respect goes an awfully long way.

Marketing a Small Business – How to Know What is and is Not Working in Marketing Your Services

Recently, I took some time to think about the marketing for my own small business — specifically what is and is NOT working — otherwise known as “tracking results.”

During this exercise, I thought to myself, “I don’t think there are many small business owners who know what it means or what to do to track the results of their marketing activities…”

And so, in an effort to save the world, I’m going to teach you a very simple, but very powerful way to track the results of your marketing.

If you are not tracking your results, it’s time to wake up and smell the money that you’re flushing down the drain. If you don’t track the results of your marketing, how in the world will you know what is and is NOT working?

How will you know where to focus? How will you know what to ignore? How will you know if you are using your marketing funds wisely or flushing your precious Benjamins down the drain?

Oh, I know… you have a vague idea… “Jeanna, 95% of my business comes from referrals…” great, but that ain’ t even close to being specific enough. Specific tracking — specific information — that’s the key. And you can’t just think it, you gotta write it down and see it in black and white.

It’s kinda like a saying I once heard, “You never know how much money you have spent until it is staring at you in black and white in your checkbook.” It’s the same with tracking results… until you write it down on paper, in black and white detail, you really don’t know.

So, get out a pen and paper and let’s get tracking…now, keep in mind, there are 1,000’s of ways to track your results, what I am going to show you here is a simple way that has helped me and my clients

Step 1. Make a list of all of your current clients.

You need to list at least, but no more than 20-30 clients. If you have a ton of clients — congratulations – just pick 20-30 of your best.

Step 2. Next to each of the 20-30 clients, write down when they became a client.

Write the specific date… you DO know this, right? If not, write down the month.

Step 3. Then next to the date they became a client, write down how much money they have spent with you…do this to the penny.

Step 4. Next to the amount, write down what service(s) they bought from you and if they did any repeat business.

For example, with my business I may write: Jane Doe spent “x” and bought a logo/stationery design, was a repeat client and spent another “x” for website design and then another “x” for marketing coaching. Whatever it is in your world write down ALL of the money and services (repeat or not) they bought from you.

Step 5. Next write down how they became a client.

Here is where you REALLY need to get detailed. And when I say detailed… I mean major, mucho detail. Don’t just write “Jane Doe became a client from a referral”… that is WAY too vague — get detailed!

Here are some examples:

“Jane Doe became a client from a referral of Bob Smith 2-weeks after I met Bob at the Anywhere Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours in June. Bob referred me to Jane when we talked about my new service “___”. Bob said Jane would be a good client because of “___.”

“Jane Doe became a client from a direct mail postcard I mailed out to a list made up of “___” that I purchased from “___”. The offer on the postcard was “___” and it was mailed on this date “___”. I mailed this postcard “___” number of times, before Jane Doe called to set-up a meeting.”

The key here is to write as much detail as you can.

Step 6. Next to how they became a client, list how much you spent on the marketing activity(s) to get them to become your client.

For example, if they became a client from a Yellow Page Ad, write down how much that ad cost you. If they became a client from a Business After Hours, write down how much it cost to attend. If they became a client from a referral, write down “free” or how much it cost if you have a monetary referral program.

When you finish this process you should have a list containing:

  1. Clients.
  2. When (date) they became a client.
  3. How much money (one time or repeat) they spent with you.
  4. What service(s) they bought and if they did any repeat business with you.
  5. How they became a client.
  6. How much you spent on the marketing activity to get them as a client.

So, what do you see? What are the trends? What are the patterns that emerge? …Trends and patterns should be apparent.

With this information, you should be able to see exactly how you’re getting clients.

Is that Yellow Page ad working? How many calls have you gotten from that free seminar you hosted? Is your chamber membership paying off? Who’s giving you the most referrals?

Start asking questions. Start comparing the numbers. Start seeing what is happening with your marketing. Be specific.

This exercise is the ONLY way you will really see, in stark black and white, what is and is NOT working.

Take the results and focus or re-focus your activities. You know what is and is NOT working, don’t you? Then stop wasting time and money on the activities that are not relating back to the list of info you have in front of you.

Keep the following items in mind when combing through your completed list of marketing data:

  • What you have in front of you is a mini gold mine of info. You can now take this list and pick 3-6 marketing activities that are working the most and really focus on those areas. You can ditch the activities that only brought you one or two clients. If you placed an ad that cost you $1000, but out of the list of 30 clients, you only got one new client that spent $75 with you…you should probably re-think placing another ad.
  • If the majority of your business is coming through referrals, take notice of who’s giving you the most referrals and reward them. After all, this person is sending you a ton of business. A nice note, a little gift will go a long way to ensure that your best referrer will feel appreciated.
  • Did most of your clients come to you during a particular season? Is there a season or span of months that are slower than others? If so, plan your marketing efforts so they will hit prospects a few months in advance of the slow time. Prospects and the sales process takes time… if you wait until the slow time to conduct your activities, it’s too late.

Knowing what works and what is NOT working in your marketing is a big key to success. Constantly tracking your results is really the only way to really know… keeping a running total in your head just doesn’t cut it.

Be specific, use this exercise, write the information down and always know what is working.