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Creative Thinking to Keep Your Business Afloat

January 23rd, 2009

These are trying economic times for even the savviest of entrepreneurs. Businesses seem to be closing up shop everywhere we look. Many small businesses that are surviving are struggling to cut costs, while trying to maintain their bottom line by keeping the clients they already have. For some cutting back may mean little changes such as eliminating the purchase of unnecessary office supplies, subscriptions and memberships. For others the cuts may go deeper, eating into staff salaries, possibly benefit programs and marketing budgets.

While some cuts may unquestionably hurt the business, many small businesses make these drastic cuts without considering how at least some of them can be counteracted. For example, how can a business continue to attract customers with a drastically reduced marketing budget? During this challenging financial period, a little creative thinking may just be what keeps your business afloat.

Less costly alternatives to expensive print ads, or mailings do not necessarily mean that you will attract fewer customers. In fact, there are a plethora of marketing ideas out there that will cost you almost nothing but time to implement. For example, if you are a business with a web site, consider adding a blog. Aside from being a great tool to increase search engine rankings, a blog is a great way to demonstrate your expertise in your field by offering tips and advice while generating the trust of your readers. When a visitor to your blog trusts you and views you as an authority in your field, they are more likely to purchase your product or service when the time comes to do so.

Other great tools designed to improve the exposure of your business are online press releases and article marketing. Press releases are a great way to spread news about your business and attract new customers, while articles are a way to show your expertise and make people want to visit your website to learn more about your company. Both can be distributed completely free of charge. As long as you can write, you won’t have to pay a penny for this great promotional tool. There are hundreds of article banks and press release sites out there willing to distribute content at no cost. An added bonus to these marketing methods is that if done consistently, you also end up creating back-links to your website which in turn increases your visibility and your search engine ranking. If you don’t have the time or the skill to write and distribute articles yourself, you may consider hiring a Virtual Assistant, or a ghost writer at the fraction of the cost of advertising in print.

Another economical way to market your business is to join your local chamber of commerce, or other such organizations in your area. These are for the most-part relatively inexpensive to join, and the return on the investment can be tremendous.

You don’t have to pay exorbitant amounts of money to market your business. A little research and some creative thinking could have you on the way to increasing your revenue while saving thousands!

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Use your Blog to Get More Bang for Your Marketing Buck

January 20th, 2009

Blogging is without a doubt one of the most popular activities on the internet today. It’s an activity that is easy, for the most-part non-technical, and usually cost free. By creating and maintaining a blog, bloggers are able to keep friends, family, associates and even complete strangers up to date on current events in their business or their life. For many entrepreneurs who perform this activity, their blog can be the source of a plethora of marketing gold and they may not even know it.

Entrepreneurs most often blog to demonstrate their expertise, offer advice or recommendations to prospective customers and to create a sense of trust for their readers. What many business owners don’t realize is that these posts offering valuable expertise can usually quite easily be tweaked and re-used to generate even more business than that generated from their blog. With little effort, and at no cost, these posts can be transformed into articles to be distributed across the web.

Article marketing is one of the best ways to generate back links to a website or blog, increasing its visibility and search engine ranking, while getting the message, whatever it might be, to a wider audience. By making minor changes to blog posts, perhaps making them less personal or promotional, you can re-use your valuable material by distributing them to article banks. Many, if not most popular article banks are free to use and are frequented by individuals looking for content to use in their ezines or newsletters. Just one person picking up one of your articles for use in their ezine, or popular blog can generate a great deal of business. Some ezines are sent out to thousands of readers. Imagine the interest that could be generated by a great article going out to thousands of targeted readers!

By including a resource box at the bottom of your article that links back to your site or blog, you are creating not only a source of back-links, but also a way for those who are interested in hearing more of what you have to say to find you by simply clicking on your link.

Article marketing is simply too good to pass up, especially if you already have the material sitting right on your blog ready to be tweaked and distributed. With the time it takes to distribute your articles to article banks being your only cost, and with all the advantages to be gained, you can use a marketing strategy that suits any entrepreneur, independent of budget.

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Email Management: Don’t Let Email Run Your Life

January 16th, 2009

If you are anything like me, you are bombarded with email. In particular, you get messages from clients, spammers, friends, family and associations or groups of which you are a member.  Without  proper preparation for such a massive amount of email, you might find yourself swimming in emails.  Email was created to be a tool to save you time, but if you can’t find an effective way to organize it, you will most definitely be losing time to it instead of gaining time from it. The following are some ideas that will help you use your email program to save time:

-If your email’s spam filter isn’t doing a good job catching unwanted emails, check its settings. Usually in your email options, there will be junk email settings.  Set the protection to a higher level.  This should take care of at least a little more of the unwanted spam.  If you have your email set to a high level already and are still receiving lots of spam, consider getting spam blocking software.  Googling “stop spam” or “spam blocker” will give you a large list of options from which to choose.

– Consider setting up an autoresponder. An autoresponder can handle a great deal of general questions that you get on a regular basis. All you have to do is set it up once and your message(s) can go out hundreds or even thousands of times.  Autoresponders are also great at sales, so to speak.  They do all the work for you. When someone opts in to your list, you can set up your autoresponder to send a series of messages in a specific order at set intervals.

– Save commonly sent email messages as signatures. Signatures don’t only have to be actual signatures.  You can save whole email messages as signatures and name them accordingly.  For example, if you commonly follow-up with individuals you have met at your local Chamber of Commerce meetings, you could title your signature “follow-up” and save a message such as:

“Dear Mr. X,

It was such a pleasure to meet you at the last Chamber meeting.  I hope that we have a chance to speak again at…”

Of course you would have to change details such as the name the email is addressed to, along with other more specific information, but the template will be ready within a few clicks of your mouse.

– Read and respond to emails at set intervals throughout the day. Checking your emails as they come in is most definitely a common mistake that people make.  Stopping the work you are doing to check emails is extremely inefficient.  Your tasks will take much longer to complete if they are subject to constant interruptions.  Set a recurring reminder on your email calendar to check emails 4 times per day.  Only check and respond when you are scheduled to do so.

– Separate your emails into folders. Just as you organize your documents into folders on your computer, so should you with your email.  A good organizational system will make it much easier to find what you need when you need it.  You can also set up rules in some programs so that your email gets automatically sorted as it arrives.

– Color code your emails. Some email programs such as MS Outlook allow you to color code your email based on certain criteria, such as who it’s from or the subject.  This will allow you to more easily differentiate between important and insignificant emails.  For example, if you color code all of your client emails in red, then you will easily be able to see them within a sea of emails.

Email is a great tool if it is used properly.  When it’s not, it can have a very negative effect on your time management.   By learning to implement even a few of these simple steps, you can become a more efficient email user and stop losing time to a technology that was meant to save you time.

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To Blog, or Not to Blog

January 7th, 2009

I’ve finally joined the ranks of the thousands of people on the web today who Blog. I’ve been wrestling with the decision of whether or not to start a blog for quite some time. It wasn’t that I didn’t realize the benefits of blogging.  I knew it would increase my search engine visibility, it would give me a place to demonstrate my expertise in certain areas and, over time it would encourage trust in me by my readers, giving me increased credibility and ultimately perhaps gain me a larger clientele. I knew the reasons for blogging, in fact, they were the same reasons I’d given to clients when telling them why they should be blogging.

So, with all the benefits known to me, why should I be holding back you might be asking? Quite simply, it was out of anxiety.  I was worried that I would run out of things to say.  How could I possibly come up with fresh material week after week, month after month?  And, when would I find the time?

Finally, when speaking with a friend about my struggle with blogging, I was told, “You know, it doesn’t have to be a masterpiece.”  And for some reason, those simple words struck a chord with me.  I realized I had been grabbing and holding on to any pessimistic fear that I had about blogging in order to convince myself not to do it.  Instead of focusing on the good that would come of it, I was allowing my inner-negative voice to control my actions.  Finally coming to the realization that my blog didn’t have to be perfect and acknowledging that there is a myriad of topics that I could write about,  I bit the bullet and decided that the benefits are too great to ignore any longer.

So, this is the first post of many in a blog that will focus on simplifying the lives of entrepreneurs.  My first resolution of 2009 is in full swing: inner-negative voice ignored and positive thoughts heeded. I hope you will join me for the ride.

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