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Comments Off on Managing Your Reputation Online

Managing Your Reputation Online

The new space of reputation management online is booming.  Business Week describes it this way:

An industry of online fixers is sprouting to defend clients against damaging information on the Web. With potential customers increasingly heading online to research products and services, bad reviews or complaints that turn up in a search can mean lost business. Reputation management services promise to highlight positive pages and bury offending sites deep in search results.

Most reputation services work by tracking what’s written about a client on the Web, then doing search engine optimization (BusinessWeek.com, 9/10/07), promoting positive pages, and creating other sites that will push damaging references off the first pages of search results. The services are pitched as another tool companies can use in their PR and marketing efforts.

But do these services work? Are they actually resolving misinformation, or simply covering up what’s out there so that it can’t be found?  For the fees some of these companies charge, you should be able to get what you need.  Several companies said the typical cost for a small business client starts at $1,000 a month. More extensive services marketed to large corporations run into the tens of thousands of dollars.

A new trade association, the Online Reputation Management Assn. is being formed to certify members and promote best practices, because no clear standards exist for what is and is not acceptable.  One thing is becoming clear, and that is you cannot simply hire a company to handle this activity and forget about it.  You need to be invovled in the process all the way.

Here’s a list to start you on the path:

Comparison of the Top Ten Firms:

Reputation Management Consultants
Reputation.com
My Reputation Manager

What about your “personal” reputation?

When you share a name with a drug dealer, have an embarrassing photo showing up on Google, or just don’t have the most ideal search results when somebody looks up your name, it can be hard to get a job. Lifehacker.com has published articles on how you can better-manage your online reputation, but BrandYourself is a web app that’ll help you through the process so you don’t have to spend hours doing it all by yourself.

Once you sign up, you have to tell BrandYourself what you think of your current search results. It’ll pull up them up for you and you can mark them as positive, negative, or about someone who isn’t you. When you’re done, you’ll get a search result grade and tips on how to improve your results. Next you’ll create a profile that’ll be optimized to sit at the top of your search results.

Finally, you can submit positive links about yourself to help push them to the top of your results. You get three links for free. The premium service costs $10/month or $80/year (with other price points in between) and will allow you to submit an unlimited number of links. The service will also provide you with alerts about good and bad things happening with your search results so you can act accordingly. It’s a really nice way to stay on top of the way search engines see you.

Original review on Lifehacker.com

Comments Off on Five Things to Keep In Mind When Starting a Business

Five Things to Keep In Mind When Starting a Business

by James Kim (to BGAmedia)

Thinking about starting up your own small business but don’t know exactly how to proceed? Don’t worry: it’s a daunting task for anyone. Just keep these things in mind and the sailing will be a lot smoother:

1. Be specific in your planning

The most important thing to do is to be sure that you know exactly what you want to do. Without having really developed your ideas, it will be hard to take any steps forward since you won’t be able to accurately make goals that you’ll want to aim for. You can’t just tell an investor, “Well, this is kinda what I’m going for but I haven’t quite figured it out” if you really want to get them on board.

If this is easier said than done for you, you can try looking at universities in your area to see if they have any incubator attached to them. An example of this is the Texas Venture Labs at UT Austin, which helps entrepreneurs perfect their ideas and develop a pitch that you can use later. You can now tell that theoretical investor exactly what you’re planning on doing and be confident in what you’re saying because you know that you have everything worked out.

2. Be realistic

Obviously, you don’t want to act like you’re going to have a Fortune 500 company in only a single year because that just doesn’t make sense. However, what this is really important for is when you’re obtaining funding. You don’t want to get a massive loan that you don’t need, especially because it might tempt you to spend money that you either don’t have or you would have been better off saving for later. Be realistic in what you’re doing and what you will need and you’ll end up way better off in the end.

3. Tailor to your needs

Again, this is an issue that primarily deals with funding. If you’re not looking for a lot of money, it makes sense to try to borrow from family and friends before going to that big bank that is not going to give you as good of a deal. Make sure to do your research before choosing a place to go. You can end up getting money from the government (specifically the US Small Business Association at sba.gov), one of the many business accelerators or even that big bank if you need to. Making sure that you’re looking in the right place based off of how much money you need will ensure that you get the best deal in the end.

4. Don’t be afraid to get help

Starting a business from the ground up is no small task; there’s nothing to be ashamed of if you think you need some help. Those business accelerators just mentioned will, aside from getting you funding, enter into a partnership with you. In exchange for a stake in the business, they’ll help you along the way in order to make sure that they’re investment pays off. You’ll get a type of partner/mentor that can help you run the business so that you have people who know exactly what they’re doing and not all of the burden is on your shoulders.

There are also a plethora of other business solutions that can help run you through the entire process of starting up your business. If you have the bit of money to spare and are unsure of exactly what you’re doing, they can be amazing lifesavers and will make sure that you get started off without a hitch.

5. Develop good habits

When the money starts coming in, what are you going to do? Get a contractor to help keep up with the volume of business? Get some office space? The answer to all of these is no, not unless it’s absolutely necessary. You don’t have to start spending money just because it’s starting to roll in. Just like how you wanted to be careful with your loan money before, you want to be careful now. You don’t want to buy things that you really don’t need and you want to make sure that you have money to fall back on in case anything goes wrong. It’s the “want or need” conversation that you likely have with yourself often in real life and it’s no different in the business world.

So what should you do? Deposit it in the bank. Aside from getting interest and keeping your money safe, this makes the bank notice you. If you find yourself in need of a loan at some point down the line, your bank is much more likely to give you money if you’ve been regularly depositing your earnings because you’ve shown them that you’re responsible, profitable and an all-around good investment for their money.

Hopefully all of these quick tips have helped you on your way to fulfilling your dreams and starting your own small business. The underlying message of all of this is that you should be: prudent with money, humble, willing to ask for help and responsible. Follow all of these and you’ll be well on your way to a successful business!

James Kim is a writer for Choosewhat.com. ChooseWhat is a company that provides product reviews and test data for business services and products.  Their goal is to help small companies make informed buying decisions on business solutions that help their business.

Comments Off on Happy Anniversary “Vertical Response”

Happy Anniversary “Vertical Response”

Vertical Response (known as VR to us email marketers) will celebrate its 10th Anniversary next month. They are one of several companies we recommend who provide email marketing tools for enhancing small business results. We like them because they practice what they preach, set a good example for responsible emailers, and they are very social (as in Facebook and Twitter and Youtube).

Some of the best ideas I’ve shared with you here have come from their blog or their Youtube channel.  I’m sharing a video with you this week that is a great example of how they use an entertaining format to get a complex marketing message across.  And it works.

Videos like this work hand-in-hand with good email campaigns and can help your message “go viral,” or be spread farther than you could have planned by being passed from one viewer to the next. In fact, “going viral” includes having people like me find your video and then rave about it and embed it in their blog.

Click and enjoy this two minute hot-dog of a video.

Want to do somebgathing like this, but don’t know where to start?  We can help. Contact us to learn more or to get started in social media marketing.

Comments Off on Email Marketing Benchmarks for Small Business

Email Marketing Benchmarks for Small Business

from mailchimp.com

Average open, click, bounce and abuse complaint rates by industry

Our customers often ask us, “What kind of email open rates should companies like mine be expecting?” and “How many bounces are too many?” or, “What’s an acceptable abuse complaint rate?”

So we scanned over 273 million emails delivered by our system (where campaign tracking was activated, and where users actually reported their industry) and calculated average open rates, average click rates, average soft bounces, average hard bounces, and average abuse complaint rate by industry.

Best of all, these stats aren’t pulled from a survey of big giant corporations with million-dollar marketing budgets and dedicated email marketing teams. 70% of our customers are 1-10 employees, and they’re design-it-yourselfers. If you run a small organization, and you do your own email marketing, now you have an “apples to apples” comparison with others in your industry.

Average Email Campaign Stats of MailChimp Customers by Industry

Type of Company Open Rate Click Rate Soft Bounces Hard Bounces Abuse Complaints Unsubscribes
Accounting 27.36% 4.13% 3.91% 10.67% 0.04% 0.35%
Advertising 23.79% 4.20% 2.77% 6.67% 0.08% 0.36%
Architecture 32.05% 1.52% 6.16% 8.04% 0.00% 0.25%
Art 26.12% 6.86% 2.04% 4.49% 0.09% 0.41%
Arts_Music 16.22% 2.09% 0.97% 1.86% 0.08% 0.26%
Beauty/Health 29.88% 6.94% 2.63% 8.54% 0.15% 0.85%
Church 32.95% 4.48% 1.18% 2.89% 0.05% 0.26%
Construction 23.86% 4.44% 2.95% 5.33% 0.19% 0.85%
Consulting 22.34% 3.30% 4.29% 6.57% 0.03% 0.29%
Creative Agency 20.97% 3.12% 2.69% 5.16% 0.06% 0.38%
Creative Other 29.94% 0.86% 1.11% 0.60% 0.03% 0.10%
E-commerce 19.80% 4.78% 1.48% 3.21% 0.10% 0.37%
Education 25.86% 4.72% 2.11% 4.39% 0.05% 0.26%
Entertainment 15.42% 3.27% 1.10% 5.59% 0.12% 0.25%
Entertainment/Events 21.96% 0.42% 3.27% 7.58% 0.09% 0.14%
Financial Services 20.87% 2.47% 2.76% 3.98% 0.06% 0.33%
Food 36.62% 7.90% 0.84% 2.02% 0.09% 0.63%
Freelancer 32.95% 6.33% 3.16% 7.15% 0.07% 0.50%
Government 26.64% 4.30% 1.33% 1.95% 0.03% 0.22%
Graphic Design 25.35% 4.34% 2.49% 11.71% 0.12% 0.41%
Hardware 28.05% 3.57% 1.29% 2.01% 0.02% 0.18%
Healthcare 19.91% 3.99% 1.47% 3.81% 0.12% 0.50%
Healthcare/Medical 24.66% 6.96% 10.47% 9.00% 0.23% 0.41%
Hotel 27.50% 7.17% 2.90% 5.31% 0.08% 0.49%
Insurance 24.43% 2.92% 2.85% 5.71% 0.04% 0.37%
Internet/Web Svc. 20.34% 5.65% 1.46% 3.18% 0.06% 0.27%
Janitorial 27.82% 0.10% 10.18% 16.26% 0.05% 0.00%
Legal Services 25.48% 3.97% 4.14% 4.60% 0.04% 0.35%
Manufacturing 26.70% 4.92% 3.15% 5.61% 0.09% 0.46%
Marketing 20.52% 2.97% 3.32% 8.29% 0.16% 0.40%
Multimedia 19.46% 3.54% 1.24% 1.60% 0.06% 0.25%
Music 27.94% 5.17% 2.05% 7.73% 0.12% 0.39%
Non-profit 27.66% 4.06% 2.24% 4.31% 0.06% 0.24%
Other 15.29% 2.36% 1.74% 3.19% 0.07% 0.29%
Other Groups 27.66% 6.83% 1.72% 13.16% 0.08% 0.34%
Other Marketing 18.49% 3.66% 2.39% 3.15% 0.04% 0.21%
Photography 34.17% 6.82% 1.73% 3.59% 0.07% 0.36%
Public Relations 20.99% 3.13% 4.00% 8.21% 0.11% 0.30%
Publishing 21.05% 1.60% 1.11% 3.22% 0.03% 0.18%
Real Estate 22.84% 4.24% 2.02% 4.31% 0.08% 0.30%
Recruitment/Staffing 27.59% 4.61% 2.82% 6.49% 0.07% 0.74%
Restaurant 26.17% 3.40% 1.33% 3.44% 0.08% 0.41%
Retail 27.61% 5.76% 1.48% 2.80% 0.08% 0.42%
Self-Explanatory 34.80% 6.02% 6.14% 17.33% 0.04% 0.20%
Software 18.22% 3.26% 3.00% 6.01% 0.08% 0.43%
Technology 21.05% 2.75% 4.01% 6.60% 0.07% 0.40%
Telecommunications 29.77% 5.46% 2.98% 9.35% 0.10% 0.53%
Travel 24.97% 4.96% 2.17% 3.74% 0.10% 0.39%
Video Production 33.09% 6.81% 2.48% 2.63% 0.09% 0.43%
Web Design 27.42% 6.90% 2.45% 5.05% 0.09% 0.37%

Tips for improving your stats

Here are some useful tips from the MailChimp Resource Center for improving your email campaign performance

  • Boring works best. When you write your subject line, don’t sell what’s inside—tell what’s inside. Read our study on writing effective subject lines.
  • If you want people to open your emails, you need to get past their spam filters first. Avoid using spammy keywords and phrases, and avoid using ALL CAPS or too many exclamation points. The best way to avoid spam filters is to learn how they work.
  • Too many hard bounces is a sign of an old, stale list. People change email addresses every few months. Make sure you keep in touch with your list regularly (at least once a quarter) so they can stay subscribed to your list.
  • Soft bounces usually mean the recipient is “temporarily unavailable.” Maybe they’re on vacation or their mailbox is full. You can keep those emails and re-try them later (MailChimp auto-cleans soft bounces after 5 failed campaigns).
  • Hard bounces mean an email address failed. Maybe it no longer exists, or maybe someone typed their email wrong when they subscribed to a list. But hard bounces might also be spam filter rejections. If you see an abnormally high number of bounces after a campaign, you should read your bounce back records for any messages or “clues” from spam filters.
  • Abuse complaints happen when recipients click the “This is spam” button in their email programs. That usually means they don’t remember you. Make sure your “From:” and “Subject” contain your company name (so they’ll instantly recognize you). Here are more tips for preventing spam complaints.

Social Media is B.S.* for Many Local Businesses

*B.S = Bad Strategy

In the past month, I’ve attended three webinars, read 14 articles, and attended an early morning in-person seminar all on the subject of Social Media as a business tool.

After all this, in all my experience, I’m afraid that the Social Media Emperor has no clothes!  That’s because I’ve seen no reason to believe that it will actually be worth the effort that it takes to do this stuff properly.

You would expect me to be an evangelist of this work. I’ve not only worked in this field since 1992, I’ve built several social networks (with my team).  But no, I’m not an evangelist, I’m a skeptic.   Having seen the bubble of Internet vapor burst in early 2001, I feel strongly this may be happening again, only this time, the losers could be struggling small businesses who invest their time and energy unwisely.

What a small business needs from its efforts, be they online or off, is ROI. If you have 12 hours in a day to run your business, you probably do not have time to setup Facebook fan pages, write blog articles, tweet on Twitter, and still sell. manufacture, ship, and keep the books as most small businesses do.  So before you tell me to go Yelp, or contribute to the public works Wiki, or check my comments and trackbacks, you’d better be prepared to tell me what it will be worth to me in additional sales and more importantly: profit!

Putting My Money Where My Blog Is

Frankly, I’d love to be shown a true ROI analysis which demonstrates in a meaningful way what benefits blogging, Facebooking, Tweeting, or Yelping have brought to you or a client that you work for.  I am seriously interested enough in this information, that I am willing to put an open offer out here for a cash and services package worth at least $500.  If you can show me a real analysis of ROI (time + expenses) for using these tools versus how it has directly impacted your revenue, I’ll give you:

  • A year of “green” web hosting (worth about $150)
  • Web site Search Engine Optimization (worth about $250)
  • $100 in cash

This offer is good through the end of 2009, open to anyone with serious intent to help me learn something about these tools. I remain the sole arbiter of whether you’ve succeeded, but it will be worth it to me to be shown the light, if there is any.

In the meantime, while the jury’s out, I’m helping my clients to cover these many Social Media bases with the least possible amount of time and effort expended. I do it with a process that allows them to simply send a text email to a specific address and then this system will:

  1. Post the message to your web site’s blog
  2. Post it to all of your social media presences (facebook, linked-in, GOTML, etc)
  3. Post the subject line as a tweet on Twitter (linking back to your site)
  4. Send a beautifully formatted graphic html email to your prospect list
  5. Offer you response data to measure interest in the message
  6. Give you a foot rub and a pat on the head (just kidding)

If you are interested in having me wrangle the media for you as noted above, or if you want to submit an ROI analysis, please email me: bg@bgamedia.com.  And I promise to publicly recant my skepticism when I’m properly educated.

Comments Off on The BoBlog Returns – DIY Marketing for Small Businesses & Nonprofits

The BoBlog Returns – DIY Marketing for Small Businesses & Nonprofits

Good news for Boblog followers…

We’re coming back. We’ve upgraded our site and designed it for maximum usefulness to our visitors. This Blog is about how you can be more successful in your small business or nonprofit venture with smart, simple, DIY techniques.

Of course, if you don’t have the time or interest in doing-it-yourself, we’re more than happy to help.  Please let us know what you think of the new site and if you’re so inclined, follow this Blog on Twitter.

We’ll be posting several times a week to begin with.  In the meantime, please email us at bg@bgamedia.com. Anytime!

To your success!