Posted by: Julie Mierau | December 15, 2009

Where’s the money? Check out Iowa Money Map

In a recent blog, MyEntreNet’s Maureen Collins-Williams shares great news for Iowa business owners. She reports that more than 300 Iowa agencies, organizations and economic developers collaborated recently to create a single gateway for small business and entrepreneurs to find grants, loans and other incentives to start or expand a small business in Iowa.

The Iowa Money Map has more than 800 listings, broken down by county. This comprehensive database includes Iowa’s grants, loans, equity investment opportunities and other financial incentives available to small business and entrepreneurs. The map is housed on the MyEntreNet Website, but you can access it easily by creating a quick account. There’s no fee!

In addition to the county listings is a statewide listing, including a grant program from the Iowa Department of Economic Development for creating new technologies and another for businesses owned by women, minorities and persons with disabilities.

If you’re looking for money — and who isn’t? — be sure to check out this incredible resource.

Posted by: suepitts | December 2, 2009

Google Love

Yesterday the Iowa Western Entrepreneurial Center and Small Business Development Center held the first Business Summit in Council Bluffs, Iowa  featuring our own local Google expert, Chris Russell, Data Center Manager at Google,  Council Bluffs.

Chris Russell opened the summit with a great presentation on Google Apps and how cloud computing options (like Google Docs, Google Calendar) are optimized for small businesses and using these options can give small businesses a true competitive advantage over large corporations.

The moment that really drove home on how the internet, google and other search engines have completly changed the way consumers purchase goods and services came from a question from the audience during Chris’ discussion on Google Maps and Google Local.

“Why are the local listings not in alphabetical order?” Followed by: “if they are not listed alphabetically, how do you get on top?”  Ahh.. the “old school” yellow page directories that list businesses fairly and alphabetically  as well as give businesses  the opportunity to up the visibility in the listing by simply paying more money for bold print, display ads and cover pages. 

Here is how Chris answered the question: They are listed by how google finds results FOR THE SEARCHER during their search, determined by many different parameters that best match the specific search.  You get on top of the listing by having a better business.

So there it is. If people love you, so will Google. Search engines do not optimize for the businesses, unlike “old school” listings like the yellow pages.  Google optimizes for the user and want to help their seacher find the best results to solve their problems. 

So how does simply being a better business  help you get top search results on search engines like Google local and Google search in general?  When you have a good business you have more love.  When you have a good business your website reflects exactly what you offer to your customers. When you have a good business You will have more links to your page (from your loyal customers).  When you have a good business you have more visitors. You have more reviews.  You have better search results. So work on your business and make sure that your website is optimized for how your customer will search for you. here is a previous SEO Blog Post that explains some of the basics of search engine optimization. The Hubspot Marketing Blog also has some great blog posts on SEO.

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Posted by: suepitts | October 20, 2009

What Can Facebook Do For Your Business?

The answer is nothing. Facebook and other popular social media tools will not be very helpful to your business unless you have a focused social media objective and facebook and other popular formats are used in unison to accomplish the objective.

Hopefully at this point you have at least a facebook account where you socialize with friends and family. You may also have a Linked In account where you “network” with colleagues in the community and industry. If you don’t have these things I would suggest getting these things going and start building those natural contacts with the friends you already know.

Setting up basic profiles and socially participating is the easy (and fun!) part. Now you want to determine how to use all of the tools of social media marketing and web2.0 to effectively reach and engage your customers.

The best way to start utilizing social media tactics is to take the time to answer the following questions. The example “Green Goo” is a non-existent product that I made up to help illustrate how to answer these questions for your business.

1. My Ideal Customer is: (example: Omaha and Council Bluffs stay at home mothers with children under the age of 4 and household incomes above $50,000+)

2. My product/service solves this problem for my ideal customer: (example: The problem is that there is not a product that can clean without leaving behind dangerous chemicals in the home. Green Goo provides a safe, environmentally friendly and bacterial free atmosphere that frees the home of dangerous germs and is not harmful to the family.)

3. My ideal customer wants: (example: educational information and resources for safety issues involving children)

4. My Ideal Customers is most likely on the internet in the following types of places: (example: local and national mother forums, blogs, environmental forums and blogs targeted to families, etc.)

Now that you have tentatively figured out who you want to engage through social media marketing the next step is to “listen and lurk” and find out what conversations are going on about your product, brand and industry. The next post will cover how and where to “listen and what to listen for. Until then, please feel free to post comments and you are always welcome to contact the Iowa Western SBDC and the Iowa SBDC for free one on one help and advice on social media marketing as well as other topics.

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If you think that your business is too small, too local or too Iowan for social media marketing to have an effect on your business, think about this.

How do you buy products and services today? What is the first couple of things that you do to begin the process? I am guessing that some type of internet research was very close to the top of your “to do” list. The fact of the matter is that the evolution of technology has completely changed how we as consumers make purchase decisions.

So if consumers have changed the way that they buy products and services, small businesses need to change the way that they market to their customers. Customers are looking for ways to engage, converse and learn about the things that they need. They are searching on Google, reading blogs, talking on Facebook, following Tweets, participating in forums, viewing product videos and demonstrations on YouTube, etc. Small Businesses need to join the conversation! Small businesses need to enter the social media circus and engage with their customers.

In the next few posts I will go through some steps most digital marketing experts suggest in some form. Before I go onto the steps, a word of caution. Don’t jump in without a little prep work.

At a recent Omaha conference Brian Jennewien, Director of Social Media at Info Group and contributor to the StormDawg Marketing Blog likened social media to a highschool party. You are trying to fit in with the “in” crowd. If you run into the party and start talking too much without knowing anyone you might be looked at as CRAZY. If you start conversations about things that people at the party really don’t care about you might be looked at as annoying. If you go in, listen, lurk, participate and then engage and share you will be “in”.

Here are the steps. Keep in mind that these may be summarized and may be worded differently from other experts, but all in all they are about the same. If I missed something PLEASE leave a comment!

1. Plan! Before you begin you need to decide who you are trying to engage and what you want them to hear from you. What exactly do you hope that social media will do for your business?

2. Listen! What are your customers talking about? Are they talking about you? Are they talking about your customers? What kind of conversations are going on about your industry and the product or service you are offering?

3. Join! Before you start sharing your own information join other conversations. Comment on blogs, answer questions in linkedin groups, etc.

4. Share! This is where you start to engage your customers through blogs, facebook, twitter, etc.

I will be elaborating on each of these steps in the next few posts.

If you have anything to add please feel free to comment. The Iowa Western SBDCwill be happy to assist Council Bluffs and southwest Iowa small businesses with their own social media marketing efforts. The Iowa SBDC’s are a free resource to all Iowa businesses for all of their business needs.

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Posted by: Julie Mierau | September 24, 2009

Stat of the week: Who’s got the cash?

On NPR’s “Marketplace” this morning, the host asked a simple question: Who has more disposable income — Gen Y’ers or Baby Boomers? The answer surprised me. Studies show that the Gen Y population has more disposable income than their parents, the Baby Boomers.

The Millennial Generation, also known as Generation Y, generally refers to those individuals born between the mid-1970s and the late 1990s.

If you haven’t considered how to market your products and services to Gen Y, start today. If these individuals have the most discretionary income now, their buying patterns will be crucial both for today and as they begin to age.

One other fact of interest from this morning’s report. The question: Who has more social interaction online — teenage boys or teenage girls? The answer: Go for the boys!

Posted by: suepitts | September 15, 2009

Social Media Toolkit: The Nuts

social media toolkit image Social Media Toolkit: The Nuts & Bolts of Your Social Media StrategyHere is a great resource from the Marketing Savant Group.  This is full of great information and tips to help you devise a marketing plan using social media.

Social Media Toolkit: The Nuts & Bolts of Your Social Media Strategy

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Posted by: suepitts | September 14, 2009

To Blog or Not to Blog

Should businesses, even in small towns and rural areas, have a blog for their business? The answer is YES. And the reason is simple.  Kind of.

The main reason is to provide interesting, useful and frequent content to your customers, potential customers, industry experts, media, etc. The second reason is by getting these people interested and reading your content a chain reaction starts. Individuals start linking to your posts via other blogs, emails, facebook pages, forums and web pages. Because of this more people read your blog and other things related to your blog like your web page, facebook page, etc. Because of the links search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo will start seeing that your page is relevant and you may begin to show up near the top when customers search for businesses like yours. And because of this more people will read about you and notice you and there will be more links. And eventually you will have more sales. Get it?

A blog isn’t the answer to everything. And neither is joining social networking sites like facebook. But doing all of this together is a great, new start to generating interest and sales leads.

Get started today. Log onto one of these free blog software platforms.
WordPress
Blogger

Blogging Tips and Useful Websites to help you along the way:
100-ways-to-improve-your-blog

5-tips-for-getting-more-from-your-blog 

9-hidden-benefits-of-blogging

25 Ways to Promote and Market Your Blog

Image Credit: ben pollard

Posted by: suepitts | September 3, 2009

5 businesses for today’s economy

I do a lot of reading, thinking and brainstorming on ideas for small business in small communities like Council Bluffs and across southwest Iowa. Here are three ideas that are definitely not innovative or for that matter, new… but just may work in today’s economy. 

 The main thing to think about in starting a business today is to keep start up costs AND overhead/operating costs low.  Keep them low until you can develop a market and generate sales.  Then start thinking about buying a builidng, adding employees, franchising the business, going national, etc.

Here goes:

1. Pets – Start a pet care service.  Offer babysitting services, daily visits for pets left alone, grooming services, and any other “add ons” you can come up with. 

2. More Pets — In-home grooming services are the latest trend for pet owners. You go to the pet instead of having the pet come to you. Some are run out of vans but there’s no reason you couldn’t groom on the owner’s property.

3. Gardening – Offer services to keep up gardens for residential homes. Go beyond the basic yard service and give it your tlc touch.  Weed, trim, plant, replant, suggest, etc.  Markets could be homeowners with dual incomes who have no time to keep up with the Joneses or real estate agencies or cities with foreclosed or empty homes for sale.

4. Shopping Service – Babyboomers are aging and studies are showing that they are staying in there homes.  Start a shopping service offering home delivery from stores and items they can pick from on your website.  Charge a percentage of the bill or a flat rate for each run. 

5. Freelance — Do you have a skill that others could use? Can you write, do graphic design, take photos? There are lots of freelance opportunities — from proofreading services to image campaigns — that might fit your time and talent. Check them out on your local Craigslist or visit sites like www.iFreelance.com to get a feel for what you might do.

Like I said, these are not new.  If you search for these services you will see franchise opportunities and privately owned companies that are very similar.  The point is to pick something you will be passionate about and that enables you to start small and grow as you gain loyal customers. All of these ideas could start as part-time operations and grow into a service with contracted employees fulfilling the orders.

Give us a call at the Iowa Western Entreprenerial Center and SBDC or work with a Small Business Development Center nearest you to help you build your business model and write your business plan.  And please comment below with your ideas for the next great business.
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Posted by: Julie Mierau | August 24, 2009

Is barter good for your business?

Want to trade accounting services for goat cheese? How about bike repairs for graphic design? Advertising for overnight accommodations?

Small business owners get lots of offers to swap services or trade products. These types of barter arrangements can be quite appealing, sometimes helping you purchase a product or service that your budget precludes under other circumstances. Some businesses find the concept appealing enough that they subscribe to barter associations, the hope being that lots of businesses can swap their products and services to the benefit of all.

I believe in bartering, but I also believe in finding trades that are equitable – and in having enough cash on hand to pay the bills. That’s something no one will barter for.

Having been on all sides of the barter agreement, I would offer a few things to consider before you agree to trade.

First, is the swap equitable? If you’re trading 5 hours of consulting services for 10 free meals at a restaurant, work through the math. What would those meals cost you, and how much would you bill for the consulting time? Is it equitable?

Sometimes even if it looks equitable on paper, the trade doesn’t wind up feeling that way. And in that circumstance, both sides walk away unhappy. If I agree to write a brochure for your business and you agree to do my accounting for three months, although the hours work out as a even swap, you’ll feel like you’re giving away more because your work is spread out over time. So even if the trade is equitable, one party feels like too much has been given away.

Second, do you need the product or service you’re trading for? A barter arrangement is only a good idea if you’re getting something that you would otherwise pay for. If you don’t need what the other party offers, then don’t give your product or service away to get it.

Similarly, does a barter association offer products and services you can use? Some barter associations offer lots of restaurant meals and hospitality services. If you frequently entertain clients, this might appeal to you. Some barter associations offer magazine or other advertising services. If those services reach your target market, you might consider the barter worthwhile. But read the contract carefully before you sign up. The associations charge monthly membership fees, and some add in transaction fees that can add up quickly. And talk to some business owners who already belong to the association to see how well the set up works for them. We all know that things look different on paper (and sound different in a sales pitch) than they sometimes work in reality.

Talk to your accountant before you get heavily involved in barter arrangements. There may be tax implications. And you want to make sure you aren’t trading yourself into a cash-poor position.

Posted by: suepitts | August 12, 2009

My Gripe With Word Of Mouth Advertising

When I ask new or established businesses how they plan to market their products or services they answer “…mostly through word of mouth”. This answer drives me a little crazy!  Word Of Mouth(WOM)  doesn’t just happen!  Just like everything else, businesses need a plan and need to work the plan to generate WOM. In fact, some large corporations dedicate thousands and even millions to their WOM efforts. Julie Mierau focused a past post on serving up great customer service to help generate word of mouth. The theory being that if you give great service, people will talk about you. That is a great start and a must. Here are some tips that can even further that effort. These tips are taken from a presentation from Patrick Wire, Director of Business Development Director with BZZ Agent, a word of mouth marketing firm.

Tips: 

  1. plumbers_truckBe Outrageous – BUT make sure that you are remembered for what you want to be remembered for.  Here are “10 Great Guerilla Marketing Examples”  and “15 more Great Guerilla Marketing Examples” that get potential audiences thinking and/or laughing and hopefully, remembering. Note: Read on in the comments to see how some of these strategies can be used on a budget. As a local business in Southwest Iowa, keep in mind your target market and find outrageous ideas that target that exact audience.
  2. Help tell the customers story – Mr. Wire used the example of the Prius. The Prius focus’ their marketing efforts on environmentally minded people and has successfully placed the Prius as part of their “green” lifestyle. How can you put your product into the life story of your primary customer?
  3. Listen to What Customers are Asking For – Keep in touch with your customer and their lifestyle. What do they want. What do they complain about. What are they talking about on Facebook? How can you give them what they want? You may be going outside the “norm” of your industry but it is time to break that norm if it is what your customers want. For example: if all businesses in your industry price their service a certain way and you have noticed it is a frustration with customers it is time to break away from the “Everyone has always done it this way” attitude and deliver what your customers want.
  4. scionPolarize – Create a Debate. Remember the classic Eyesore vs. Eyecandy campaign used by Scion? They successfully used the hate or love it attitude of the public and became hugely successful with their target market.
  5. Impose Rationing – Make what you have to offer seem scarce and customers will want it more. If you have t-shirts with your logo for sale – make them limited editions. If you are having an event at your restaurant limit it to a certain amount of people. My favorite example of this is from my favorite Minneapolis radio station, Cities 97. For over 20 years they have been producing the “Cities 97 Sampler”, a compellation of recent live performances and unique recordings. They Limit the number of cds produced and sold and the proceeds go to a local charity. They sell them at local Target stores and pre-announce the release date. They sell out in minutes! Since I don’t live in Minneapolis anymore my Mother closely watches for the release date and dutifully waits in line for my annual prized copy. (Love you Mom!) 8.
  6. Create an experience (this can be tied to impose rationing as well) create unique experiences for “customers only” by RSVP only, etc. Q98.5 Radio in Omaha, NE does this very well. They have a number of “parties” that they have listeners call in for limited tickets. If the caller is number 9 or whatever number they have chosen, they are lucky enough to get to go to the party. I haven’t been to any of these yet. 9 is not my lucky number!

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