About Shannon Willoby

Shannon is the content marketing manager for Scott's Marketplace and has been writing since she was old enough to hold a pencil. (Or crayon.) When she's not blogging, you can find her daydreaming that she's Khaleesi from Game of Thrones.

4 Ways to Reward Your Employees on a Tight Budget

How to motivate employees cartoon

While funny as a cartoon, having this attitude toward your employees in real life can have detrimental effects on your small business. Image via iplaceconnect.com

Have you ever worked for someone who refused to acknowledge or reward your contributions?

You know, the type of boss who expects you to work around the clock for subpar pay, discourages employee friendships (and overall happiness), and maybe even tells your coworkers that he “can’t stand the sound of your voice”?

No? Well, I do. But luckily those days are long gone.

Still, I can’t help but think back and wonder how that boss just didn’t get it. How could he expect top-notch work from employees he mistreated?

Whether you have money or not (he did), when you refuse to make your employees feel valued, you lose their respect – and their loyalty.

Yet, how do you show your team you appreciate their contributions when your budget just doesn’t allow for raises, bonuses, or even cash incentives?

There are actually quite a few ways you can make it clear to your team you value their work without adding to your overhead, after all, your business has to make money if it’s going to stick around.

So if you want to know how to motivate your employees while on a budget, keep reading for some great, affordable tips that’ll show your employees how much they matter to your business.

(And if you’re wondering, my voice is perfectly normal — if I do say so myself.)

1. Congratulate With a Comp Day

When your employees go above and beyond, one of the most popular ways to reward them is by giving them a comp day.

As Cherish Hope Reinwald, owner of small business, Life in the Moment, puts it, “A simple way to show appreciation is by letting someone have a day off of work. Ultimately, this does cost money, but the rewards of an employee who feels appreciated and who will give 110% is worth it.”

Of course, this means you’re paying for a full day’s work, while receiving no work in return… so if this is not an option for you, I have a couple alternatives to suggest:

  • Let your employees choose between arriving a couple hours late or leaving a couple hours early.
  • Give your employees a “slack-off hour” to do with what they please. (Browse Facebook, read a book, take a nap in the backroom, snap a bunch of work selfies, and so on).
  • If your employees normally get a half an hour for lunch, reward them with a full hour. If they normally get an hour, add an extra 30 minutes or another full hour to it.
  • Let your employee take an extra, unexpected break to get an errand done, meet a friend for coffee, or simply relax. Be sure to tell them why. (E.g., “Because I’ve noticed how hard you’ve been working lately, I wanted to reward you with… “

2. Motivate With Free Food 

As we all know, whether you bring your lunch to work or go pick something up every day, it can get very pricey. So if you’re not sure how to motivate your employees, treating them to free food here and there can be a great incentive.

Your employees will love and appreciate being given any of the following suggestions as a reward for a job well done:

  • Take your employee out for lunch to celebrate their achievement.
  • If it’s your whole team, order pizza from a local restaurant. (Look up promo codes to save money.)
  • Bring donuts or bagels in the morning.
  • Give your employee a gift card for a local restaurant.
  • Surprise your team with treats. (Ice cream sundaes, cookies, brownies, etc.)
  • Let your team have an in-office happy hour. (Bring beer to the office for a celebration along with some cheap apps like chips and dip or a cheese-and-crackers tray.)
  • Take your team out for happy hour. (Look up a local business online that offers great prices on drinks and apps.)

Entrepreneur Jordan Green says this tactic has worked especially well for his company Blurrv Media Inc. “We do a monthly pizza-and-cake day where we celebrate individuals for their contributions.”

He says the free lunch and dessert, along with recognizing team members for specific achievements, makes his employees feel valued.

“I believe in creating workplaces which foster a sense of accomplishment and fun. Our managers are trained on positive feedback, so we are always complimenting and rewarding our teams.”

3. Surprise With a Rotating Prize

how to motivate employees meme

This apathetic attitude can often be attributed to a work environment where employees feel undervalued. Don’t let this happen at your small business!

Adding an element of surprise to the rewards you give out is a great way to keep your employees motivated and feeling valued.

Plus, by changing up the rewards you offer, you’ll get to amend the value of each by how high, or low, your budget is at that time.

  • Gift cards are always appreciated, whether you can give $5 to a local coffee shop or $100 to the employee’s favorite store. Since you choose the denomination, this is a perfect reward for a business owner on a budget.
  • Pick up a few scratchers for the employee(s) you want to reward for a fun surprise.
  • If your team normally has to dress up for the office, reward them individually or as a whole with dress-down days.
  • Have a movie day during your slowest time complete with provided soda and popcorn.
  •  Give a personalized certificate the employee can hang in their office or at home.
  • Announce specific accomplishments of individuals during a team meeting or via email.

Eric Warren says that gift cards work particularly well for his company, eBizWebpages. He notes, “We select an employee of the month who gets a $10 gift card for iTunes, Amazon, game network, etc. Winner’s choice.”

Paul Serwin, owner of Business All Star, agrees. He says, “Low-value gift cards or scratch cards can be great incentives to recognize employees and boost morale.”

4. Reward Based on Individual Personality

When it comes to rewarding your employees, it’s important to remember that not everyone is going to like, or appreciate, the same things.

And when you reward them based on their personality, you show them that you’ve taken the time to learn what would personally motivate each individual to reach their full potential.

Rebecca Quinn, a small business success adviser, adds some insight to this valuable point. She says, “It is a best practice to find out what employees prefer and what motivates them. Some people actually are demotivated and embarrassed by being singled out or publicly recognized.”

She continues, “For example, different people prefer quiet recognition, monetary incentives, time off, company bonding time, family events, etc. While one employee may love to attend a company picnic on Saturday, this is a hardship for others with various obligations.”

Yes, learning how to motivate your employees on an individual basis will take some time. But when you give rewards on a more personal level, it can strengthen the bond between you and your team, as well as deepen your employees’ commitment to your company.

There You Have It!

You may not have much extra money to work with right now, but that doesn’t change the fact that your employees are still hard at work for you.

Luckily, all of the suggestions above can be amended to fit any budget, which means you have no excuse for refusing to acknowledge your employees’ contributions any longer.

Remember, a happy, appreciated team is a productive one, and that is something every small business needs to continually grow and move forward.

Share: How do you motivate your employees?

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Gettin’ in a Quickie: How to Promote Your Blog Posts (Fast!)

BizSugar blog promotion site

Sometimes a quickie is all you need. Learn how you can easily and effectively
promote your blog posts in under three minutes flat — satisfaction guaranteed!

I have a confession to make: Sometimes my blog posts can be a tad on the, shall we say, “longer” side?

But that is not the case today. No, today I’m in the mood for something that gets right down to the action without any unnecessary talking. (Or typing.)

Yep, that’s right, you’re about to learn of a magical place where you can effectively promote your blog posts in just a few minutes per day and I’m going to tell you all about it as fast as I possibly can. (Because sometimes quick and dirty is all you need.)

Ready to get in and out of this blog post faster than a two-pump chump on his best day? Let’s get started!

BizSugar: A Quickie Lover’s Best Friend

If you blog about small business topics for your business (how to offer great customer service, marketing tactics, success stories, how you got your start/found success, etc.) BizSugar will be the perfect spot for you to promote your blog posts.

Follow these steps to start posting:

  1. Sign up for an account.
  2. Wait for the activation link that gets sent to your email.
  3. Once it arrives, click the link and sign into your account.
  4. Click the orange ‘submit an article’ button on the upper right of your screen.
  5. Add the URL of your blog post where it says ‘story URL.’ (You will need to copy/paste from your own blog.)
  6. Enter your blog post’s headline where it says “story title.”
  7. Choose the category that best fits what your blog post is about from the drop-down menu.
  8. Enter a quick description of your blog post. (I always just copy/paste my blog post’s meta description.)
  9. Answer the security question (it’s just basic math, don’t worry).
  10. Hit ‘preview and submit.’
  11. Double check that you have everything right and then hit ‘submit story’ if it’s ready (if not you can hit ‘modify’ to go back and edit).
  12. And you’re done!

Don’t Hit It and Quit It

BizSugar

Oh, my… look at all those tasty sugars!

The twelve steps above are all you really need to get started, but if you can stick around for a bit longer, check out the tips below for getting the most out of this blog promotion site. (And if you’re still here in the morning, maybe I’ll even make you breakfast.)

  • Once you’ve submitted a post, other members of the community will begin “sugaring” it (although it’s not guaranteed) and it will take 15 sugars for your post to be made “hot.” If this happens, it’ll hit the front page, getting you more sugars and attention from other members.
  • People will also be able to share your blog post directly from the site to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc., and there are visible stats for each so you’ll know how many times each has been shared.
  • One of the best things about this blog promotion site is that they don’t republish your content on their site like other blogging communities do. Readers will see your blog post’s headline and description on BizSugar (and can sugar, comment, tweet, and share from there), but when they click on the link, it’ll take them directly to your blog, which means you benefit from BizSugar traffic directly.
  • Always respond to any comments you get (You will be sent an email notification) and when you have extra time, be sure you sugar and comment on other bloggers’ posts as well, as this is how you can make real connections and build a strong presence on the site.

Wow, That Was Fast!

Isn’t it great when you can do something in just a few minutes per day and still see gratifying results from it?

Thanks to BizSugar, you’ll be able to get your blog posts a little more love without adding more to your already busy day. Yes, it might be fast and easy, but it sure aims to please. (And that’s the best type of quickie in my book.)

Will you use BizSugar to promote your blog posts?

Subscribe to the Scott's Local Business Corner blog!

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Why You Need to Update Your ‘About Us’ Page Right Now

Local business owners need to update their about us page

Don’t make the kitty angry. You’ve put off perfecting your website’s ‘about us’ page for far too long. Learn the essential details it must include and how it can help you score more sales.

Imagine you’re taking a bite of a fresh-baked pastry from the locally owned bakery down the street… would it taste just a little bit better if you knew it was made from a secret recipe that has been passed down from three generations?

Now picture yourself browsing in a home accent store when you find the perfect vase, in the perfect color for your living room. Would you be more inclined to buy it if you knew that the owner of the business handcrafted the glass?

What’s my point? It’s that every local business owner has a story to tell, but they often don’t tell it as loudly or proudly as they should.

And sharing the unique tale of not only what your business has to offer, but why you started it in the first place, can help you create real, personal connections with your customers – and encourage sales.

But where should you be telling your story? There are a few places, including one incredibly important, but often neglected area: your website’s ‘about us’ page.

Find out the essential details your ‘about us’ page has been missing and where else you should be telling your story below!

The Importance of Telling Your Story

The problem with many ‘about us’ pages is that business owners often only talk about what they have for sale.

And while your ‘about us’ page is the perfect place to highlight how you pick your products or who makes them, you’re missing out on a big opportunity if you aren’t going deeper.

Local business owner Tricia Medina of Fluff If Marshmallows

This is a snippet from Fluff It! Marshmallows’ ‘about us’ page. Owner Tricia Mendina does a great job of showing what makes ‘local’ special to her, while subtly encouraging web visitors to think about the importance of supporting local businesses themselves.

Kimber Lanning, director of Local First Arizona and owner of local music store Stinkweeds, talks about this issue often. She believes strongly that far too many business owners don’t take the time to go beyond talking about what they sell to tell why they do it. “People believe in entrepreneurs and independent businesses,” she says, “and want to hear your story.”

Here are some great tips to follow when sharing your story on your website’s ‘about’ us page:

  • Be concise and highlight the most important parts of why you opened your own business.
  • Consider these questions when writing your ‘about us’ page: Who influenced you? Are you family owned? Did you support yourself the whole way through? Where did you learn your craft? Do you handpick your products? Why is the industry you’re in important to you? These are the things people want to know.
  • Include a few photos on your ‘about us’ page if possible. You, your business partner, your team, even some behind-the-scene photos work well.
  • Are you an active supporter of local business in your community? Highlight this.

Remember, part of the charm of local businesses is the story behind them. That’s why it’s so crucial you share this information with your website visitors to help convert them into loyal, paying customers.

Beyond Your ‘About Us’ Page

Updating the ‘about us’ page on your website is a great place to start, but don’t stop there. There are many other opportunities to share your story, make sure you’re covering all the bases by checking out the list below:

Social media accounts:

If you have a Facebook Fan Page, make sure you don’t neglect your ‘about’ section. Fill it out with a shorter version of what you have on your website’s ‘about us’ page. Do the same on Google +, Foursquare, and Pinterest (and any other social media sites you’re on.)

Since space is limited on Twitter, try to at least get the words “locally owned business” in your bio (and “family owned,” if you are) and if you have a personal account, use “local business owner” and “shop local” if possible.

Online marketplaces:

Do you sell your products anywhere else online? Whether it’s on Craigslist or an online marketplace like Etsy or Scott’s Marketplace, if you’re selling your products in alternate places, those consumers also need to hear your story.

Fill out your bio on any other sites you’re on (if applicable) and be sure any ads you place for your business also state proudly that you’re a local business owner. For example:

  • Thank you for making the choice to shop local, where every purchase counts and every customer matters.
  • When you choose us, you’re choosing a local, family-owned business.
  • Did you know that when you choose a locally owned business like (your business’ name here) you’re helping to keep your local economy thriving? Shop local. It matters.
In your store:

Do you have a retail location? Your story should also be told in person as customers come to browse.

As they look around, tell them how you brought back a certain product from another locally owned business a few states away. Show them the handmade items in your store. Tell them how you give ‘X’ amount of each purchase to a local charity in your community. Thank them for choosing to shop local.

You can also use signs to ensure no customer leaves your store without knowing the most important details of your business’ background. Your customers want to know who is making the items in your shop or how you’ve scoured markets across country to bring these handpicked items to your store, and placing signs near these items can help you solidify the sale.

The ‘locally owned” aspect of your business is something to highlight, not hide. And your customers will feel good when you display signs that show them why, when they choose to shop local over a chain, they’re doing something important for their community.

People want to know your story; isn’t it time you told it?

Your story will be one of your most valuable weapons in the war against chains. That’s why it’s so important for you to share your story every chance you get and always proudly proclaim your local status.

Feel free to share your story in comments below and/or link to your business’ ‘about us’ page – we can’t wait to read it!

Local business owners: Will you make it a point to share your story this year?

Subscribe to the Scott's Local Business Corner blog!

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A Beautiful Way to Grow Your Business From the Ground Up

Guerrilla gardening pic

How can you promote your company and beautify your community? With guerrilla gardening! Find out how you can use this tactic to grow your business today.

Want to draw attention to your company in a lovely, thought-provoking way?

Then you’re going to have to be willing to step away from the computer for a little bit and get your hands dirty. (Just finish reading this blog post first.)

Yep, that’s right… it’s time you dabbled in one of the most beautiful yet covert marketing tactics around: seed bombing.

Why? Because dropping bombs of the seed variety can sprout a whole lot of excitement and exposure for your business. (Not to mention some pretty flowers.)

But what exactly is seed bombing and how can it help promote your company in any way?

Keep reading to learn how your small business can use this marketing tactic, also known as guerrilla gardening, to create massive buzz about your business.

There’s a guerrilla in my garden

The cool thing about this guerrilla marketing tactic is that it involves taking a neglected space and beautifying it — usually without permission — through seed bombing (if you want to be quick about things) or by getting down and dirty planting crops, flowers, or plants.

Plus, you can feel good about using seed bombs because they’re usually made out of eco-friendly materials that include seeds, clay, and compost, all of which can be baked by the good old sun.

But how can you use a garden to promote your company?

Check out the ideas below:

  • Have a healthy food product? Plant a community vegetable garden to promote it. Include a sign that encourages people to take what they need.
  • Are there abandoned lots in your city? Take it upon yourself to turn them into something beautiful for your community. (Guerrilla gardening can also be done in drain grates, on the side of buildings, on statues, and more.) The more creative, the better.
  • Give away a seed bomb with every sale (over a certain amount of money) to encourage some vigilante guerrilla gardening.
  • Plant flowers around your city wherever you can: in sidewalk cracks, along the side of buildings, in dirt lots, and so on.
  • Tell customers that if they spend ‘X’ amount of money in your store you will plant a flower somewhere in your community. Follow up by posting pictures of each flower on your social media accounts and blog.

Watch your efforts flourish with social media

Regardless of your reasons for considering this marketing tactic,
 it can be a beautiful, low-cost, and out-of-the-norm way to draw attention to your company.

But how will anyone know who is creating these little gardens? Social media. Post pictures on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc., showing your team seed bombing areas in your community, as well as the finished product.

Be sure to also write blog posts about your efforts and promote them on your various social media accounts.

This will probably take some time to gain traction, but, as with many guerrilla marketing tactics, it’s the best way to get a lot of word-of-mouth attention for your business in the most natural way possible.

But can guerrilla gardeners get in trouble?

Gardening

Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your guerrilla garden grow? In the most unexpected place: a grate!

Guerrilla gardening missions are often done at night so people can be surprised by the pop-up gardens the next morning, but they can also be conducted during the day so you can try to get spectators involved.

But… can you actually get in trouble for sprinkling little flower seeds about or planting cucumbers here and there?

It seems harmless, but if you’re trespassing on private land, you could possibly get fined.

This is why you should consider the space for your oh-so-illicit guerrilla gardening mission carefully.

Generally speaking, most people would welcome someone trying to beautify their city by planting flowers or offering up free food by planting a community vegetable garden. (But don’t blame me if your seeds get you thrown in the big house.)

Ready to get started? You can snag a recipe here for your seed-bombing pleasure.

As you’ve seen, marketing tactics don’t have to be confined to tweets and email blasts. And when you’re willing to head outdoors to try something new like seed bombing, it gives your business a beautiful and creative edge over the competition.

If you loved this creative marketing technique, you’ll love our latest e-book even more. It’s filled with 9 additional low-cost marketing ideas that’ll help your business stand out from the crowd. And guess what? It’s free!

Will you try guerrilla gardening to help grow your small business?

Subscribe to the Scott's Local Business Corner blog!

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Get Those Greens: How to Write an Irresistible Business Plan

How to write a business plan that investors will love

Want investors to make it rain on your business idea? You’re going to need a really great business plan! Image credit: Louish Pixel Flickr Creative Commons

Want investors to make it rain on your business idea? Who doesn’t?!

But let’s get realistic here.

If you’re hoping to ‘wow’ investors into giving up the goods (or the greens), your business plan needs to be better than good.

It needs to be fantastic.

But if you don’t know where to start or what those little ‘extras’ are that are necessary to impress ‘those who invest,’ we’ve got you covered.

P.S., Learning how to write a business plan before you begin will save you a lot of time and trouble in the long run.

Making the effort to learn how to do it correctly will be the way you ‘wow’ investors from the start and will give your business the best chance for achieving success.

Now let’s get started!

11 Basics to Include

First of all, why is writing a business plan so important? Well, for one, it can help you realize if your idea is feasible or not, two, it can help you gauge progress, and three, it’s essential for getting financial assistance.

Ready to get started? Check out the 11 basics your plan should include below:

  • Cover sheet: Include your business’ name, contact information, logo, and the years that the plan covers. Keep your cover sheet clean and organized.
  • Table of contents: It’s not a requirement, but it can help readers to more easily navigate your business plan.
  • Executive summary: Covers three basic, but important, topics: Where your company stands, where you’d like it to go, and why your business model will work.
  • Market analysis: This is the section where you share all of your findings from the market research you conducted.
  • Company description: This is just like your “elevator pitch,” meant to quickly give people an understanding of your business and its
    main intention.
  • Business structure: Who are the key players in your business? What is their job and what makes them qualified to do it?
  • Marketing and sales: How do you plan on informing the public about your services and products? How will you bring in new customers and reward existing ones?
  • Products and services: Briefly describe how your products or services will answer a need in the marketplace. What, exactly, are you selling or providing?
  • Financial needs: A snapshot of your current financial needs as well as an overview of any future funding you might need over the next three to five years.
  • Financial predictions: Include historic financial data that outline your company’s income, balance sheets, and cash flow. List monetary forecasts broken down by month, quarter, or year.
  • Supporting documents: Don’t forget copies of documents like tax returns of business partners, franchise contracts and licenses, or other legal papers.

8 More Tips for an Irresistible Business Plan

Now that you’ve got the basics of how to write a business plan down, check out a few more tips that’ll help it stand out and get you the investors you deserve!

  • Keep it simple. Be concise and avoid overly-descriptive language.
  • Add some visuals. Graphs, charts, and images will showcase your idea and help break up the text.
  • Throw in a creative element. This could be as simple as what makes your company stand out.
  • Buzzwords are not welcome here. Avoid the use of acronyms and jargon — it’ll come across unprofessional and possibly even too salesy.
  • Keep it on the short side. If you have a business plan that is 40+ pages, you might lose your potential investor’s interest. Ask yourself if you can you summarize any points to get it shorter or cut out any rambling or unnecessary information. Try to keep your business plan between 20-30 pages. (Not counting additional documents.)
  • Font matters. Don’t use a bunch of different fonts and keep your font size at 11 or 12 so it’s easier to read.
  • Bullet points are your friend. Throw in some bullet points to help break up text and clearly identify important components of your plan.
  • Always use spell check. You will want to proofread your own report multiple times as well as have a few other people proofread it for you to ensure it is easy to follow, makes sense, and is free from grammatical and spelling errors.

What are you waiting for? Now that you know how to write a business plan that investors will love, it’s time to get started! But if you need to take a look at a template to help you get an idea of how to create your business plan, you can check some out here.

It’s okay to use a template as inspiration, but remember that investors have seen their share of templates, so it’s always better to ‘wow’ them with something unique instead.

Have any more questions on how to write a business plan? Share below!

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How a Conference Can Make You a Badass Business Owner

Attend a small business conference and become a badass

How can you become even more badass? By attending a conference that’ll help you grow as a business owner.

Wait, before you go getting all offended, I’m definitely not saying you’re not already a badass business owner.

I mean, you started a company from scratch with nothing but a dream and the ambition to make it a reality, and that’s pretty badass by anyone’s standards.

But as you’ve learned, creating (and maintaining) a successful business takes constant effort, hard work, and determination, as well as the desire to continually grow.

Find out how attending a small business conference can advance both your skill set and your business in some pretty badass ways you may have never even thought of before.

Who’s ready to put their learning pants on?

Conferences are all centered around one crucial thing: drink tickets.

Okay, not really. While drink tickets (and the fun parties most conferences host) are a definite bonus of attending, they’re not the real reason they’re held.

The real reason is for the classes each small business conference offers that either teach you something new or advance your skills in various areas.

For example:

  • Attend a marketing conference and you might learn effective new tactics that’ll help you get more customers and more profit.
  • Attend a blogging conference and you might learn how to elevate your content and make your blog posts better than ever before.

Starting to see the value? Most sessions are also videotaped so you can watch them again online later if you missed anything due to consuming too much free champagne at the expo hall. (In case my boss is reading, I am definitely not speaking from experience.)

Bonus tip 1: Conferences all post their sessions or “tracks” online to encourage signups, so carefully view these and read descriptions thoroughly before signing up to ensure the information presented will align with your skill level. (Is the conference too basic for you? Too advanced? Or just right?)

Bonus tip 2: Don’t be afraid to leave a session even halfway through in favor of attending another one. You’ve paid for this – and you need to get your money’s worth.

Networking so easy even the socially awkward can do it

Even the socially awkward can network easily at a small business conference.

Shy? No problem. Conferences make networking easy and comfortable for everyone. (Drink tickets help too.)

From sessions and break time to the networking parties held specifically for this purpose, conferences give you the perfect chance to make valuable business connections.

When I attended BlogHer 2013, a blogging conference held in Chicago last year, I was pretty nervous (like hide-in-my-hotel-room nervous) since I was going alone. But I found almost every attendee I came into contact with to be extremely friendly and all about networking.

I would barely sit down before the people around me were handing me business cards and asking what I do – which was great because it made networking almost effortless. (And effortless networking is very helpful for a shy, some might say socially awkward, person.) And I went home with more business cards than I’d even thought possible.

You have to remember, everyone attending these conferences is going for the same reasons: to meet people whom they can learn from, help grow their business with, and/or share similar struggles with. Conferences just make it easy for you.

Bonus tip: While you will definitely make many connections by simply attending sessions, don’t skip the optional networking parties. You’ll have a greater chance of connecting with the founders of each conference and the people who are teaching the sessions. This can possibly lead you to a mentor, or at the very least, some awesome new friends whom you can share ideas with and get advice from.

2014 Small Business Conferences

Sold on the benefits of attending a conference? Check out this list of some of the larger ones being held this year:

Small Business Development Center: September 9-12, 2014 in Grapevine, Texas. This event will showcase over 100 workshops, training sessions, and meetings designed to help small business turn into big business.

Social Media Marketing World: March 26-28, 2014 in San Diego, California. This conference is designed for intermediate to advanced social media users. If you go, you’ll rub shoulders with the biggest names and brands in social media, soak up countless tips and new strategies, and enjoy extensive networking opportunities.

Small Business Summit: June 11-14, 2014 in Washington, D.C. This event will allow you to access the experience and perspective of hundreds of small business owners facing the same challenges as you, and get the tools, strategies, and best practices to compete successfully in today’s rapidly changing business environment.

Small Business ExpoHosted in seven of the largest small business cities, this event brings together thousands of business owners and decision-makers to network, attend business critical workshops, build new business relationships, and shop from vendors that provide unique products and services to help grow their business. This event is FREE! Click the link for dates.

BlogHer: July 24-26, 2014 in San Jose, California. Learn blogging fundamentals for newbies, find out how to take your blog to the next level for those who are more advanced, score tips, tricks, and upcoming trends in blogging and social media, and attend great networking parties where you can connect with other bloggers and meet sponsors.

ICON14: April 23-25, 2014 in Phoenix, Arizona. This is the eighth annual conference for small business, hosted by Infusionsoft. Experience three exciting days packed with big ideas, powerful strategies, and actionable insights to grow your business. More than 3,000 small business owners and entrepreneurs from around the world gather here to network, learn and share.

The StartUp Conference 2014: May 14, 2014 in Redwood City, California. Join 2,000 entrepreneurs for one of the biggest events of the year and learn how to find the right co-founder, get the press to cover your startup, learn how to pitch investors, and get tips on how to launch your product. Past speakers include Phil Libin, Naval Ravikant, Guy Kawasaki, Aaron Patzer, Drew Houston, Jeff Clavier, and Robert Scoble.

But aren’t conferences pricey?

Yes, some conferences can be pretty expensive, especially if travel is involved, but you’re a badass business owner, right?

You already know that if you’re going to treat yo’ self to something great this year, you should make it something that can not only help you grow individually but professionally too. And when you think of it this way, a conference can be a very wise investment.

Still, there are ways you can try to make things a little more affordable for you. Check them out below:

  • Always do a Google search for the name of the conference you’d like to attend + “coupon code” and/or “discount code,” because you can often get an exclusive offer this way that you wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.
  • As conferences get closer, ticket prices may be cut by up to 50% to entice last-minute attendees to sign up. Of course, this isn’t a guarantee, but can save you quite a bit when it works.
  • Be sure to follow the conferences you want to attend on Twitter and other social media outlets, as well as any sponsors of each conference. They will often run contests for free tickets and you just might be able to score one!
  • If you’re traveling, why not ask around to find out if any other small business owners you know would want to share a hotel room. Conference forums are also a great place to find a roomie, but if it’s a complete stranger, do your own intel to make sure they’re not a weirdo. (I only give suggestions and can’t be held responsible for any creepy roomies.)
  • Is the conference close enough to drive to but far away enough to cost you an arm and a leg in gas? See if you can find someone to carpool with to at least cut that price in half, if not more.

See? Attending a small business conference can help you to make stronger connections, become more confident, and fill your head with all kinds of badass business knowledge that’ll help you kick ass this year and beyond.

Will you treat yourself to a small business conference this year?

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How a Sticker Can Create Viral Interest in Your Company

Viral marketing

Could something as simple as a sticker create massive buzz about your company? In a word? Yes. Learn how to put this viral marketing tactic to work for you.

When I was in high school, a student showed up one day with a bunch of happy face stickers.

One by one, he gave them out to his friends, who then gave a few out to their friends (and so on and so on) until probably about 100 students were all wearing happy face stickers on their shirts.

This caused the other students to take notice fairly quickly and wonder what these stickers were for, what they meant, and more importantly, why hadn’t they been given one too?

Yes, this might be a silly example of how a sticker can create viral interest — but it does prove that when a select group of people all begin sporting stickers at the same time, it makes others take notice.

And when it comes to marketing, this is exactly what you want. If you’re ready to learn how you can use this creative, and unexpected, marketing tactic to help your business go viral, check out the great tips below.

How Stickers Made reddit Go Viral

Viral marketing

The sticker that started it all: the cute and coveted reddit alien.

When talking about his viral marketing tactics, reddit cofounder, Alexis Ohanian said, “Yes, stickers [were] the soundest investment I ever made.

“I used to travel around the country a lot (thank you, Chinatown bus), and everywhere I went I took stickers with me. I put them on signs, poles, and even other advertisements,” he writes in his book, Make Something People Love: Lessons from a Startup Guy.

He continues, “‘Please sticker responsibly!’ we would say, and hand out these stickers at events, meetups, just to random people on the street. This may not sound like a major or even strategic marketing approach, but we kept at it. Within a few months we started seeing photos uploaded to the internet of people stickering with our stickers… often stickering in ways we’d never expected.”

Maybe it was the cute reddit alien that caught people’s eyes, or the fact that Alexis and his team never strayed in their sticker-distribution efforts… either way, it worked and now reddit receives over 100 million unique visitors to the site a month.

Getting Started With Stickers

A sticker campaign can be considered as more of a guerrilla marketing tactic, so a surprise or a unique element as to where you leave your stickers or how you distribute them is going to work best.

Just handing them out is a little boring and sticking them on things without permission could get you into some trouble. (Whether or not you care about any potential trouble is up to you — we’re just here to throw out some ideas.)

But in case you err on the nerdy (I mean cautious) side, here are some relatively safe ways to distribute your stickers:

  • Visit your local bookstore and slip your stickers into all books related to your industry. (Warning: Don’t actually stick them in or on books – that could be considered vandalism and that’s not going to help your company whatsoever.)
  • Hand out the stickers to all of your staff members and have each one leave a sticker along with their tip every time they eat at a restaurant. Yes, this will take a while to gain momentum, but when it does, finding one of your stickers could be something that people start to actively desire and talk about.
  • Hand out stickers to select groups of people waiting for the bus or in line at a big event. This is where creativity comes into play, as well as the importance of being a bit choosy. Giving them out to everyone won’t have the same effect as being selective in this case.
  • If you’re going to be leaving your stickers in random places, be sure to have your business’ URL printed on them (or your logo) so the people who find them have some way of tracking them back to you. If you are handing them out at a large event, this isn’t as necessary, as once people start asking where they can find those stickers, they’ll direct them back to your booth, which is where viral marketing comes into play.
  • People don’t have to be the only targets of your sticker campaign. Calgary Farmers’ Market hung apples from bare trees in urban areas with stickers that read, “Fresh all winter.” Cute, creative, and eye-catching, we’re sure this helped to spread viral interest in the farmer’s market, resulting in more business during their slowest time of year.

We hope these examples and tips get your imagination going so you can create an even better sticker campaign for your own company.

Love this creative marketing idea? Then you’ll love our ebook even more! It’s filled with nine more unique marketing ideas to help you promote your small business on a budget. Download it for free today!

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6 Questions to Answer Before You Become an Entrepreneur

Becoming An Entrepreneur

Becoming an entrepreneur is an exciting and challenging ride. Answer these 6 questions to ensure you’re ready for it.

Hello, my name is ______ and I’m an entrepreneur. How did that sound? Was it music to your freedom-seeking ears?

Being your own boss undeniably comes with many advantages, with setting your own schedule and getting to pursue your passion topping the list.

But before you go thinking you’re about to become the next Richard Branson (we can’t all have our own private island, amirite?) it’s crucial to realize that not all entrepreneurs were created equal.

Check out the 6 questions below that’ll help you determine whether or not becoming your own boss should, realistically, be an option for you. (And if you don’t answer honestly, you’re only cheating yourself here, pal.)

Does Your Future Hold Entrepreneurship?

Get out some pen and paper because below are six essential questions, courtesy of the United States Small Business Association (SBA), to ask yourself before becoming an entrepreneur.

  1. Are you comfortable with taking risks? You’re the one making the decisions as an entrepreneur. How do you feel about uncertainty? How do you feel about being the person who calls the shots, knowing many of them are “calculated risks”?
  2. Can you trust your instincts? As a business owner, not only do you have to make difficult decisions; you also have to make them on your own. Are you afraid
 of rejection?
  3. How do you feel about public speaking? Most likely, public speaking won’t be a part of your regular routine. But, as an entrepreneur, you’ll have to engage new people and make your idea and business compelling.
  4. Can you negotiate? This will be a part of your everyday tasks – negotiating everything from leases to contract terms, and everything in between.
  5. Are you creative? We’re not talking whittling birdhouses and knitting cat sweaters, per se, but you should be able to think of creative ideas and fresh ways to take advantage of new opportunities.
  6. Do you have a support system? Every entrepreneur has his or her own take on a support system. It can be your family, a mentor, or even fellow business owners. It’s always good to have someone to bounce ideas off of.

What’s the Verdict?

Does entrepreneurship sound like it’s the right path for you? If so, let’s keep this process moving! We’ve only covered the first step in becoming the entrepreneur of your dreams — there’s eight more steps to go! Be sure to check out our free ebook that covers them all (simplified, of course) including writing a business plan and registering your business.

Why procrastinate any longer? We’re sure your business idea is so great it’ll blow Richard Branson right off that private island. (And we look forward to seeing it happen.)

What’s your best advice for becoming an entrepreneur?

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How to Spy on Your Competitors (Without Going to Jail)

competitive intelligence spy

Spying on your competitors doesn’t have to involve dressing in all black or hiding in bushes. Here are some easy (and legal) ways of keeping tabs on the competition.

Break out the ole binoculars because it’s high time you started spying on your competitors like a good small business owner should.

Yep, that’s right, I believe strongly that engaging in a little spying is essential to your business’ success.

Why? Because, if done right, you’ll find out all of the following about your competitors, and more!

  • What their customer service is like
  • How much they charge
  • How they’re advertising
  • If they offer warranties and what they entail
  • How they treat followers on social media
  • What their social media posts are like
  • New products/services coming out

So get ready to become the ‘Peeping Tom’ of your industry (just way less creepy) by checking out the easy ways you can start spying on your competitors below!

Stay Alert to Their Every Move

It might sound illegal, but I assure you, it’s not. Keeping tabs on every move the competition makes is not only recommended, it’s damn smart.

And, don’t worry, you won’t have to hide in any bushes to get this info.

Here are some great bush-free options:

Google Alerts: Fast, easy, and free, Google Alerts will send you emails (as it happens, daily, or weekly) whenever your competition is mentioned online.

Twilert: This monitoring tool lets you keep track of any and all mentions your competitors have gotten on Twitter. The basic plan is $9 per month and comes with a free 15-day trial.

CompeteMonkey: CompeteMonkey alerts you to changes on your competitors’ websites, including any new services or apps they start/stop using.

Strategator: This monitoring tool allows you to gather quite a bit of competitive intelligence all in one place, including company location, online reputation, stock market news and indicators, blogs, social network information, internet links, corporate communications, and more. It can be used free or for $13.99 a month for more features.

Mention: Like Google+ but with more features, Mention lets you monitor alerts about your competitors from anywhere online, including social networks. The basic plan is free but paid memberships come with extras like analytics and a data export tool.

Do Your Dirty Work

Yes, spying takes time, but it can reveal crucial information that’ll keep your small business up to date on what your competitors are doing (and not doing) giving you a priceless advantage. So grab your computer and roll up your sleeves because it’s time to do a little dirty work!

Troll review sites like it’s your job. Yelp, Google Places, MerchantCircle, Trip Advisor, Better Business Bureau, Angie’s List (or whatever the top review sites for your industry are), should all be trolled on a regular basis. Doing this will reveal actual consumer insight as to the good, bad, and seriously horrible experiences consumers have experienced at your competitors’ stores.

Peep their social media posts. Following all of your competitors on social media is a must — by doing this you’ll see what type of posts they’re putting out, if they’re getting any engagement, what consumers are saying, liking, and disliking, what your competitors’ response times are to any comments, and so on and so on. Hot tip: Facebook has now made it easy for you to keep track of pages you want to peep by implementing a ‘Pages to Watch’ feature on all fan pages. Simply click the ‘add pages’ link, search for your competitors, add their pages, and they’ll be easily accessible for your spying pleasure. All you can see at the moment from your dashboard is how many ‘likes’ each page receives per week (hopefully Facebook will add some additional analytics down the road) but it definitely simplifies the spying process, which is nice!

Check out their website. If you have a website, you are definitely going to want to know how it stands up to your competitors’ sites. User experience is huge, so take some time to carefully go through each page of their site and then evaluate your experience. Did the site feel intuitive? Was it user-friendly? Were you confused at any point? Could you find the shopping cart? Was it too slow? Did any pages come up with an error message? Take what you like — and what you don’t like — and use that information to make your website stronger.

Start subscribing. This step is so simple it’s strangely easy to overlook. Make sure you subscribe to every offering your competitors have, whether it’s a newsletter, blog, email update, or all three. You can find out a ton of valuable information on pricing, new product updates, company changes, etc., this way — all delivered right to your inbox — for free!

Don’t Be Afraid of a Little Old-School Spying

Not all competitive intelligence has to be gathered virtually. In fact, there’s a lot you find out the old-school way and you won’t even have to dress in all black to get it done.

Become a secret shopper. Want to know how your competitors treat their customers? How long customers wait in their stores without being helped? If their staff is knowledgeable about their products? How much they charge? Hit the road and start secret shopping their retail locations! If you’re afraid they’ll recognize you, send out one of your team members or hire someone specifically for this purpose. Use the information you gather, both the good and the bad, to make your business better.

Attend the same festivals/special events. Will your competition be selling their products at any festivals, tradeshows, or farmer’s markets coming up? If you can’t have a presence there as well, and even if you can, be sure to take notes on what their setup looks like, how their staff or they personally treat customers, how many people stop at their booth, etc. Keep in mind that the point of this, (and all competitive intelligence in general) is not for you to simply copy what your competitors are doing. Rather, it’s to help you get inspiration for how you can take things to next level with your business.

Go Forth and Spy

Now that you know the benefits of spying on your competitors and how to go about it, it’s time to incorporate it into your daily, weekly, or monthly routine.

Figure out a plan that works for you and stick to it to ensure you’re gathering this crucial information on a regular basis.

Knowing what your competition is up to, including where they excel, and where they fail, can only make your business grow stronger with each passing day. So get out there and become the savvy Peeping Tom we’ve always known you could be!

Will you be gathering competitive intelligence this year?

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A Marketing Tactic You’ve Never Tried (But Should!)

Small business marketing

Kindness can pay! Learn how you can get the best of both worlds by performing a random act of kindness that gets your small business more exposure and profit.

If we told you that there’s a very simple, budget-friendly marketing tactic that can effectively promote your business (while spreading joy to the local residents in your area) would you want to know more?

Of course you would!

You may have never tried marketing your business like this before, but being kind to strangers can actually be a fantastic way of getting a ton of exposure for your products or services.

(And while we think you should try to be kind to strangers every day, there’s no harm in having the best of both worlds, right?)

Check out the small business marketing idea below and get ready to learn how kindness can pay!

Be Kind, With a Twist!

What’s the secret to making this tactic work for your business, you ask? Well, first, you need to come up with some sort of random act of kindness that will genuinely help others while drumming up some great publicity for yourself.

Do you have a new product you want to promote? An event you will be hosting? Or how about an upcoming business anniversary? If you want to draw attention to a milestone within your company, this small business marketing idea can work very well — and even become a yearly tradition.

Planning a random act of kindness to celebrate ‘X’ amount of years of success as a small business shows you care about giving back (and wouldn’t mind letting the world know that you’re proud of the growth your company has achieved).

No matter what it is you want to promote, you should always try to tailor your act of kindness to your brand. For example, if you own a restaurant, drop off lunch at your local fire departments and police stations unexpectedly. If you have a coffee shop, pick up the tab for random people throughout the day. Run a flower shop? Drop off some bouquets at an assisted living home to brighten up the residents’ day. Since you control how much you’re giving and how often, you can keep the budget at a manageable amount for you.

Doing something like this on 
a yearly or quarterly basis (but choosing a different recipient each time) might even get you some local news coverage as people speculate who’ll be the next lucky group to receive your random act
 of kindness. Plus, as happy recipients start tweeting and posting pictures of your random act of kindness, your exposure will grow, hopefully garnering you some new customers in the process.

Bonus tip: You could also tape a coupon or a card for a return visit on the back of whatever it is you’re handing out to people to help encourage return visits and ensure they know how to reach you on all mediums. (Include your physical store address if you have one, social media accounts, and web address on the cards.) Vistaprint and Moo both offer affordable options for having custom cards made.

A Successfully Sweet Example

small business marketing

Washington-based restaurant Sweetgreen leaves gift cards on vehicles that have received a parking ticket to brighten the driver’s day. Think of the priceless word-of-mouth and social media promotion they’ve received for doing this!

A great example of a business that successfully used a random act of kindness as a marketing tactic is Washington-based restaurant Sweetgreen. The team at Sweetgreen performed “random acts of sweetness” (see how they incorporated branding into the name?) for their local residents that subsequently resulted in some great publicity for them.

Examples include using Facebook and Twitter to alert their followers (with only 15 minutes’ notice) that they’ll be giving out free salads at a specific location. They’ve also been known to look for people who have been given a parking ticket so they can leave a Sweetgreen gift card alongside it to cheer up the recipient. This is fantastic publicity for their restaurant that also makes their local residents feel good. Pretty sweet, right?

The company also used their blog to document the random acts of sweetness, complete with a story of what they did and pictures to accompany it. You could do the same for your small business. Utilizing social media, blogging, email marketing, and word of mouth will be very helpful in spreading the word about your random act of kindness.

And the best part is, there’s really not going to be much of a risk if you’re interested in trying this tactic out. After all, doing something nice for people should only help, not hurt, your business’ public image.

If you loved this creative marketing technique, you’ll love our latest e-book even more. It’s filled with 9 additional low-cost marketing ideas that’ll help your business stand out from the crowd. And guess what? It’s free!

Will you put kindness into your small business marketing plan?

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