The internet is full of “how to” articles on networking, with many tales of success as well as examples of cringe-worthy failures. There are networking tips for intraverts and for extroverts, advice on speed networking and online networking, meet-up groups, referral networks and much more.
Frankly, as a small business, the options can be bewildering. I work in the B2B start-up sector and I could easily spend morning, noon and night networking. But what about what the return on time spent networking?
At its simplest level, either networking generates business or it doesn't. However, there are some hidden benefits that can be easily overlooked and may well change your approach to it. These include:
Goodwill. I am a firm believer that if you help others two things happen. Firstly, those you help will be inclined to help you when you ask. Secondly, although the positive feeling gained by helping others can't be measured, if you work on your own or as part of a small firm this goodwill can sustain you when times get tough.
Human interaction. Business is done between people and there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction. Networking gives you the chance to see the whites of someone's eyes and decide if they are a person you wish to work with or buy from. The value of that should not be overlooked.
Knowing someone who can. When you run your own business, the chances are that you have to do tasks yourself or they won't get done. One of the great bonuses of networking is that you build a network of people that you can turn to when you need help. Knowing the right people means you get things done faster and better than when you're starting from scratch.
Validation. When you work on your own it's not always easy to know if you’re on the right path. Having a network of people that you can bounce ideas off means you can save yourself a lot of time, trouble and money. Naturally, you may not want to share your plans with a potential competitor. However, speaking to another small business owner in a different field can help as you often find that a lot of the issues you face are similar.
These benefits may be hard to quantify compared to the hard metric of business generated but they are still absolutely relevant and valuable to any small business owner that wants to build a supportive network.
Copyright © 2014 Marc Duke, marketing consultant and founder of Marc Duke Consulting.
Exhibitions are hard work but done well, they can deliver substantial rewards. Here are seven ways to help you maximise your return on investment:
The people you choose to represent you on your stand are of paramount importance. Never let anyone turn up to your stand that doesn’t know why they’re there and what their specific role is. It doesn’t have to be complicated — give them key points about your products and services and guidance on the best way to approach visitors.
Your exhibition targets can be anything from the number of leads scanned to orders processed. It is only by setting objectives that you can measure the success of your strategy.
Exhibit in a space that is relevant for your both your budget and audience, then maximise it. Use graphics to grab attention, lighting to enhance product displays and (perhaps most importantly) don’t overcrowd the stand with your own employees.
Stands often blend into a sea of printed graphics, white vinyl and displays. Demonstrate that you value the environment — while standing out from the crowd — by using natural materials on your stand.
When it comes to attracting visitors, it pays to think outside the box. Games, seating areas, food and drink and innovative spaces can offer visitors a welcome retreat from other exhibitors — giving you the chance to strike up a conversation in a relaxed setting.
However, visitors can be wary of stopping at exhibition stands for fear of being stuck with a salesperson who won’t let them escape. Ask questions and listen before you speak.
Everyone loves a good give-away. But most end up in the bin or with the children of visitors. Give them something they’ll want to keep and use time and time again.
Always check your literature! You’d be surprised just how often old brochures are taken to shows full of out-of-date or even irrelevant information. If you can, produce something bespoke for the event.
Follow up those who’ve been keen enough to hand over their details. If they ask for information, send it as soon as you possibly can. Don’t give up, even if you don’t hear back after the first, second, third or the fourth time of following up — 80% of prospects say "no" four times before they say "yes”.
Copyright 2014 Chris Bardsley, marketing executive at Unibox.
Over the past year, tactical guest posting of duplicate content has become synonymous with bad spammy SEO practice. Google has publicly expressed disdain for the practice and the recent Panda and Penguin algorithm updates have taken further measures to penalise those engaged in bad practices.
Once upon a time, guest posting was an effective system to build links to your website, but as it became more popular we inevitably witnessed a growth in black hat techniques gaining unnatural links at high velocities and unfairly ranking over competitors and effectively demeaning the quality of search queries. The Panda 4.0 website has taken a harsher stance on content aggregator websites, penalising automated and duplicate content with non-existent signs of community engagement.
Where does content marketing stand now?
By all means, produce content that expresses the benefits of your products and services but be wary of producing advertorials and promotional content. Online audiences are becoming more resistant to blatant advertising, they know when they are being sold to and they don’t like it — this is why Adblock has become so popular. Always look to engage your audience by targeting their interests and getting creative with your content.
Where 300-400 word articles were the norm, now more comprehensive pieces of 2,000 words or more are in favour. Interactive elements and a focus on visual design are also becoming increasingly prevalent. So don’t be afraid of building the resources for longer-term gains with your content.
Increasingly, small businesses have to consider the validity of the websites they post to. If a website looks out of date, is unresponsive and unsupported by social media, it is probably not worth your time. If, however, a website does have a modern responsive design and an active community, go for it!
Moz’s Domain Authority has long been the standard metric for deciding whether a website is worth your attention, however traffic and community engagement are become more important and DA largely overlooks these elements.
Individual page metrics are becoming more important for Google when it measures what is and what isn’t a good link. Once posted, you need to support your content through social media sharing and outreach to authorities in your field.
The objective of good quality content marketing hasn’t really changed. Never write for the sake of a link and always think about the bigger picture. Create engaging content that is unique to your brand and of real interest to an audience. Then take active steps to support your content on social media in order to create organic discussion.
Copyright © 2014 Charlie Phair, digital marketing executive, The Workplace Depot.
Albert Einstein said: “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts”.
Einstein has hit the social media nail on the head. The benefits of social media can be both tangible and intangible and not every aspect of your social media success can be measured. So how can you ensure you’re getting a clear ROI — or “return on Involvement” in social media.
There are many ways to measure your social media success. Getting a positive mention from an industry expert or getting your content in front of key people can be invaluable. Social media gives you easy access to specific audiences so if you are using social media for business, the first thing you need to do is ensure you’re fishing in the right pond. There are many social media sites, all with different purposes and audiences; find out where your audience is lurking and then focus your efforts here.
But once you’ve got a social media strategy, how do you measure its effectiveness?
Set clear objectives and realistic goals and understand why each is a measure of success. Targets could include: reaching a certain number of new followers, achieving lead conversions or re-tweets. If you’re hitting these then you’ll know your social activity is working, and if you’re not, look at where you’re focusing your efforts. Keep pushing yourself by gradually making these objectives harder to achieve and as your social media skills increase so will your business success. One measure to employ is by asking: “Where were we able to start this conversation that led to the sale?”.
There are many social media management tools out there to enable you to monitor every aspect of your social activity. These include measuring your click-through stats, likes, re-tweets, follower growth and post shares:
Sites like Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, Sprout Social and Meltwater Buzz offer social media “dashboards” that allow you to post and monitor the success of all your posts, showing conversation volume and the sentiment of mentions. These platforms can also flag up all mentions of search queries you enter.
Social media provides cost effective access to powerful marketing, networking and lead generation tools. It has truly levelled the playing field for small businesses but it’s essential to have a strategy. By measuring how much time and money your business has saved by using social media to achieve its goals faster, you can see a clear “return on involvement”. If you are spending hours on social media with very little to show for it, then you are doing something wrong. One quick and easy time saving exercise is to schedule “proactive” tweets and posts (without looking like a robot); then you can engage more “reactively” as required.
Social media is a great way for a business to raise brand awareness. Use monitor tools to search for your brand name. Monitoring your Twitter mentions allows you to see when and why people are talking about you.
Positive mentions are difficult to measure; if you are being re-tweeted and discussed by industry experts then you know you’re “doing” social media right. This shows that you’re creating and sharing engaging content that others find useful. Ensure you set clear goals for who you would like to interact with online and if your content is being picked up by these people then this is a clear measurement of your social success.
After you post content about a specific subject, you may see your followers, likes and favourites increase. This is because people follow feeds and people who provide rich and interesting online content. If your followers/connections are constantly increasing and, in particular, you’re getting lots of new professionals in your sector, then your social media activity is clearly working. Keep posting engaging content — including your company blogs and news as well as third party content— to give people a reason to continue following you.
Social media can foster better employee engagement and communication between departments. Businesses that use social media often have a better collaborative working environment as they reap the rewards of the cost and time efficiencies that social media can bring. And through better internal communications you will soon see better external communications.
Copyright © 2014 Emma Pauw, social media writer, We Talk Social.
It’s an easy mistake to make.
You publish your shiny new website. You wait for the orders to flood in. Then… nothing happens.
It can be really frustrating, especially if you’re a new business.
But why is this? Your website looks great. Your friends and family all agree it looks amazing. But that doesn’t seem to cut any ice with the people who really matter — your customers.
So what is the solution? How do you turn things around without breaking the bank?
All you need to do is to focus on three basic functions: prospect, convert and grow.
It’s that simple. Let’s examine them in more detail.
All we mean here is that you can attract visitors to your website. Sure, you need to put in some effort, but it is not difficult.
I have analysed thousands of websites and I see the same mistakes. Fix these and you are halfway there.
The most common is the wrong choice of keywords. Once you’ve chosen the best keywords for your business, you need to include them in the metatags, in the URLs, in the text links between pages and in the text of your website itself.
Also, set up a blog. The evidence is overwhelming — websites with a blog do better than those that don’t. Why? Google loves content.
You’re getting a steady stream of visitors. But you’re not there to greet them.
The next best thing? Create trust. Here’s how…
Don’t say “welcome to our website”. Give them a promise. Think of your customer’s biggest need and tell them how you will address it.
But why should they believe your claims? Use customer testimonials to sell for you. If you ask for them you’ll be surprised.
Add live chat to your site and you’ll be amazed. It’s fast, it’s instant and it gets results.
Offer something for free. Remember your promise to solve the biggest need of your customers? Create a report that solves that issue. Offer it in return for their contact details and you can follow up with them. This can be automated very easily.
People rarely make their minds up instantly, but they now see you as an expert and you are pushing at an open door.
Now you either have a customer or someone who is on your emailing list. Now you can build that relationship with them.
Remember your blog? This is where you can develop that long-term relationship with them. Keep them up-to-date with developments by email and regular correspondence and you will reap the rewards.
Many people get disillusioned with online marketing but it is a vital part of being in business these days. The important point is to think about the purpose of your website and just repeat these three words to stay on track: Prospect, convert, grow.
Content marketing is a great way for start-ups to promote their business but the opportunities extend beyond the main social media sites. Here are some key tools — and inspirational examples — that can help you build your brand presence using online content.
Infographics are ideal for visualising big data and complicated concepts in a simple, fun way. Despite their increasing popularity, the best examples still have the power to command attention and — importantly — get those much-valued social shares.
Many infographics now provide an interactive element, such as Animagraffs’ How a Car Engine Works. With shares across various social sites already well into the “viral” zone, this is an example of how far and wide an infographic can reach. All with an important added SEO benefit: they can be picked up by publications that are relevant to your industry.
PDFs, ebooks and guides — when executed with panache — are all fantastic online resources and a great way to get your business in front of new customers’ eyes. A good example of this in practice is software company Hubspot’s online marketing library. Offering templates, guides, webinars and ebooks on everything from ecommerce to social media, the library’s resources are available at no cost. All you need is your email address. Hubspot is one of the most respected marketing websites around, so what you’re getting here is a lot of great expertise and insight, at zero cost.
The Google+ Hangout can be perfect for providing an immersive and engaging user experience. Both of these were factors in the massive success of Cadbury UK’s Google+ Hangouts, which involved fun stuff like live tasting sessions and boosted their follower count by 150,000 people. Google has also started pushing Hangouts into the enterprise space. It has recently announced that customers will no longer need a Google+ profile to use Hangouts, making it a more viable option for business users. Business customers can now use their existing login details and invite up to 14 others to join their HD video chats.
YouTube provides some really interesting opportunities for content marketing and with the right strategy in place, it can be a wonderful place to encourage creative customer interaction with your brand. For a striking example of YouTube content marketing in action, check out high-definition photography brand GoPro’s YouTube channel, which encourages anyone with a GoPro device to record their experiences. The videos show a wide range of spectacular stuff — from feeding cougars to bungee jumping. And with the GoPro logo and slogan bookending each clip, the brand name is prominent but unobtrusive.
Blogging continues to be a huge deal in content marketing and there’s no sign of that changing any time soon. An engaging and very modern approach to blogging forms the basis for the Guardian Angel content hub from financial services provider AXA Business. The hub is home to an array of accessible and highly relevant content, including blogs, video clips, downloads and guides designed to support and inspire new business owners. Supplying clear, useful and relevant content on everything your customers might be looking for, presented in a user-friendly and engaging way, is a great way to encourage customer loyalty.
In terms of popularity, SlideShare is the YouTube of presentations. It’s a great place to impart concise, easily digestible information about what your company does — and it’s especially good for B2B presentations. Your presentations can be accessed easily — all you need to supply is a link and your presentations are instantly viewable.
Once you’ve created your content, it’s time to share it. The more awesome your content is, the greater the number of potential links, views, shares and engagement it will receive.
Putting your content out there goes way beyond just Facebook and Twitter. In fact, these days it seems that Facebook is becoming (whisper it) obsolete when it comes to content marketing. Paid-for content recommendation platforms such as Outbrain, Nrelate and Taboola are also a great way to promote your content to a number of very high quality media sites etc and operate on a Cost Per Click basis.
Copyright © 2014 Matthew Marley, a digital marketing blogger.