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Monthly Archives: May 2015

Public Relations Can Bring Big Attention to Small Business

BY GUEST BLOGGER: Susan Shelby, FSMPS, CPSM is the President & CEO of Rhino Public Relations

In today’s business environment and media landscape, companies are vying with each other for attention from a myriad of audiences: customers, suppliers, consultants, and prospective employees to name a few. It can be especially difficult for small businesses to make a big impact in such a noisy environment. Small businesses have their own particular goals and challenges in the marketplace. Public relations can play a significant – and often cost effective – role in raising the visibility of small businesses.

Why should a small business consider launching a public relations program?

• For small businesses, public relations is an invaluable marketing tool. It creates visibility and brand recognition, builds credibility and third-party validation through editorial placement, and hopefully, generates new business leads. Targeted, strategic public relations can also produce tangible results that raise awareness of a company’s competitive differentiators, promote a niche expertise, or target specific markets.

• Earned PR is validated by the media, a distinction that sets it apart from most other communications vehicles. People who read about a new product or service put more credence in an article than a paid advertisement. Moreover, PR tends to be less expensive than paid marketing, advertising, or direct mail – another plus for small business.

• Just as a small business owner would hire an accountant to do their taxes, the services of a PR consultant or firm should be used to handle communications. Unless there is someone within the company who is dedicated to or tasked with PR, it often falls to the bottom of the ‘to-do’ list. Like any other discipline, there are best practices and nuances in public relations that a small business owner might not know or have the time to learn. Small business owners are focused on running their business: PR professionals have the expertise, contacts and creativity to garner coverage and get the message out.

• Hire wisely. Whether it’s a sole proprietor or small PR firm, ask questions to ascertain a PR professional’s approach. Find out their track record for delivering results, how familiar they are with traditional PR and social media, and whether their media contacts align with your business model or targeted region. Ask for samples of a consultant’s placements and speak with a firm’s other clients before making any decisions. PR consultants should work with your small business as an extension of your marketing department, so culture, personality and fit are important to working as a team.

• Choose a PR professional or firm that understands the unique goals and challenges of small businesses. The first step of every successful PR program is to understand the client’s core business by knowing what sets it apart from its competition. For small businesses owners, that golden nugget includes their expertise and the story behind their business. A good PR professional will convey the message – and teach you how to express it to the media, too.

As a critical piece of any small business’ integrated marketing efforts, public relations can bring measurable results to a company’s bottom line and help it achieve its business development goals.

About the author
Susan Shelby, FSMPS, CPSM is the President & CEO of Rhino Public Relations. Questions or comments? E-mail her at susan@rhinopr.com or visit www.rhinopr.com.

Building a Strong Staff

2676859-A-group-of-people-team-up-in-a-pyramid-to-celebrate-success-teamwork-cooperation-winning-etc--Stock-Vector“People are definitely a company’s greatest asset. It doesn’t make any difference whether the product is cars or cosmetics. A company is only as good as the people it keeps.” Mary Kay Ash – Mary Kay Cosmetics

It’s no secret that high-performing companies have high-performing teams.  How can business leaders ensure that they are building a strong staff and team to make their business successful?  According to Insight Assessment Online, building a strong staff to help your company consists of three key components:

  1. Hire Smart – Don’t hire someone who is not highly skilled for the position you need filled.  Ask yourself several questions before hiring:  Does this person have the ability to expand or build on the skill set they already possess? Does this person have the self-motivation needed to be a contributing member to the team? Is the person a thinker and problem solver or do they require hand holding? Can you envision this person meshing with the rest of the team with a personality that fits with the rest of the company and ultimately your brand image?  Does this person have skills that compliment the skills you already have in the office or do they have skills that fill a void in your team?
  2. Identify strengths and talents of team members – This may take time and some level of trial and error but place team members in positions where they can perform the best.  Once you have identified each staff member’s strength or weakness, build off the positives through professional development, conferences and incentives that will make them more productive and invested workers. Position your top performers in positions that will make them shine.  Match people with certain talents with others to build on their own natural strengths.
  3. Foster a positive environment – Encourage team members to be creative and work productively by valuing the great job they are doing.  Be connected and communicative with employes so they know you are aware of their hard work.  Be sure that everyone knows the ultimate goal and has clear responsibilities.  A lack of clarity and purpose can confuse and frustrate teams.
  4. Be Flexible – Not all employees are the same.  Realize that home and family life can be complicated.  Team members will be more invested and possibly more productive if they worry less about what is going on at home.  Does your company have a flex scheduling, telecommuting or other incentive policy that could make for happier team members?  Building a strong team can sometimes mean understanding the needs of the team both at work and at home.

Impact of Robotics on Business

Robotics are all around us.  We drive cars that are, in part, built by robots.  We use computers, laptops, tablets and phones that are built by robots.  We order products from large warehouses that are assembled, sorted and mailed by robots.  Robotics impact our social and business lives in powerful ways.  Robotics of the future could bring society self-driving cars or even digital agents that work for you.  The increase in occurrences of robotics in business has both positive and negative impacts.  Let’s consider the future of robotics in business and how it can impact our world.  Today, robots are doing human labor in all kinds of places. The top fields that robotics are being used include: manufacturing (from cookies and candies to cars and computers), medicine (neurosurgery, radiation therapy, and even some forms of diagnosis), warehouse operations (increasing efficiency and productivity) and in law enforcement (such as bomb detecting robots). The future of robotics, as analyzed by RoboHub Online is in the fields of: drones, prosthetics and exoskeletons, artificial assistants and believe-it-or- not driver-less cars!  These areas are set to explode into the business world, in fact, to quote William Gibson: “the future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.”Benefits of Robotics in the Business world – Robotics have already begun to impact the business world.  What are some of the benefits of the robotic revolution?

    Robots can reduce risk of injury to humans in dangerous work environments. Industrial and manufacturing jobs are not always the safest, and by implementing robots over humans this can prevent people from being exposed to dangerous, stressful, or unhealthy environments. The perfect example of this is the use of robotics in the military, where humans can stay out of harms way in dangerous situations including the use of unmanned planes. Robots are more precise and efficient than humans.  Medical, and industrial errors can be almost eliminated with the use of robots. By using robots, businesses can see massive savings and cost effective changes to jobs that may take humans days to complete. Robots can produce high quality products.  High-quality products can lead to higher sales, which means the company that uses technology like robots is more likely to stay alive and vital, which is good for the economy.

Negative Impact on Business and the Global Economy- Robotics can contribute to long term structural unemployment, which means unemployment that can often be long term as it is part of a fundamental shift in the skills needed by an economy. This can weaken consumer spending and consumer confidence levels.(Source: Euromonitor International)

 

Effective Communicators

boost_effective_communication_among_family_1_635018772422033232Business leaders are expected to have many skills to draw upon in their role as owner, manager or department head.  One of the most important tools that every business leader should is the ability to be an effective communicator.  Facilitating information sharing in a positive and easy-to-understand manner can substantially contribute to the success of a business. Let’s look at the key elements of being (or becoming) an effective communicator.

A good communicator has. . .

  • Clarity of Message – Good communicators communicate clearly whether in writing, speaking or via body language. Ambiguous statements or questions not only show a lack of knowledge of the topic or problem but an inability to deal with the situation. Effective communicators organize their thoughts, speak with a confident voice, project their  voice, make eye contact and answer or speak with a purpose.
  • An Understanding of the Audience – An effective communicator knows who they are talking to, and they understand the style of communication will vary based on the recipient. For example, you probably talk to your co-workers very differently than you talk to your boss. Good communicators look for feedback from the audience to signal they understand such as: smiles, nodding heads or eye contact.  An effective communicator can read those signals and cater his/her message to the needs of the audience.
  • Effective listening skills – Communication is not just one way. Effective listening means really hearing what the other person is saying as well. In order to be a good communicator, paraphrase what the other person is saying, ask questions, and use body language to indicate that you are hearing what the person is saying.
  • Self evaluation skills – An effective communicator can self regulate things like:  tone of voice, filler words (like um or ah), distracting body language signals, eye contact, and facial expressions.
  • A Positive Attitude – An effective communicator is positive even in the face of harsh criticism.  Obviously, be authentic in the personality you portray but also keep in mind that no one likes to hear repeatedly, “No”, “You can’t” or “Not possible”. Keep messages positive and answer any criticisms with professionalism and, if possible, a smile.

Challenges of Leaders

Business leaders wear many different “hats” on a daily basis.  They are motivators, coaches, moderators, and sometimes disciplinarians.  Regardless of the type of business or role that the leader is currently “playing,” there are always challenges that crop up.  Challenges may be extremely  common or extremely unique to your field. They may be  temporary glitches or or ongoing issues.  Let’s examine some of the challenges facing business leaders today.

  • Maintaining Focus – Over the course of a day, week, month or year there are innumerable demands of a business leader’s time.  Effective leaders know how to prioritize what should have their attention and what can be delegated.  This may take years of trial and error or careful mentoring, but knowing where to focus attention is a challenge that can trip up even the most seasoned leader.  Having clear goals (both short and long term) can help overcome this challenge as well as maintaining a focused “to-do” lists which is clearly communicated with the rest of the team.
  • Motivating the Team – Unfocused or unmotivated team members can really undermine the completion of a specific goal and bring morale way down in your office.  Sometimes the “fix” may be communicating the mission and goals to the employee, while other times it may be figuring out a good incentive program.  Keeping workers happy also makes them more motivated to do a good job, therefore, be sure to foster a positive workplace environment.
  • Open Communication – Business leaders want to be approachable but also, at the same time, they want to maintain a sense of authority.  The balance can be a tricky one.  Carve out time for brainstorming and strategy sessions where you openly communicate and discuss issues. Make employees aware that you want feedback and encourage them to add their “two cents” in positive and constructive manners.
  • Creating Team Unity – Teams that do not work well together often take a lot longer to complete even routine tasks, not to mention larger projects. It is up to the leadership in your business to cultivate a positive workplace where relationships can grow.  Team building, matching project partners by personality or even just simple things like eating lunch together can help bridge the gaps in relationships.
  • Balancing Consistency with knowledge of individuality – Leaders need to be consistent in their policy’s and even in their actions in the workplace.  However, all employees are not the same.  Leaders must learn, through experience, how to balance the idea of treating people in a consistent manner and knowing that exceptions must always be made.

Leadership Styles

imagesThroughout history leaders have: inspired followers to work hard, motivated followers to succeed at a common task, guided followers toward a common goal and challenged followers to be the best at what they do as a part of a larger team.  Leaders use their strengths to accomplish all of these things including their: charisma, values, intellect, and vision.  Business leaders are no different in that they use their strengths to mold their leadership style.  Read further to see what style of leadership you posses and how the style can impact your workforce.

There are no good or bad leadership styles and ideally most leaders have a combination of several styles unique to who they are as a person . Most leaders, therefore will use a mixture of styles at their disposal to engage and motivate a team depending upon the project or ultimate goal. A good leader has many methods to bring out the best in his/her employees and find their strengths.  Let’s examine some leadership styles and see where you fit in. . .

  • Charismatic leaders – We have witnessed this type of leader both in the boardroom and repeatedly in the course of human events,  John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill, Ghandi, and even Adolf Hitler were charismatic leaders. This type of leader uses their personality to inspire others and draw out the passion in someone to work harder and spur others into action.  Team members who work with this style of leader may rise to the occasion and have a high level of morale in the workplace but one warning for this style is the fear of “what happens if this leader leaves the group?”
  • Pace-setting leaders – Pace-setters, like Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, set high performance standards for themselves and the group. They demand highly skilled and self-motivated workers. While this style has many benefits such as speed and good overall results for a goal, there may be burnout working for this style of leader.
  • The Laissez-Faire leaders – This style of leader knows exactly what is going on in the workplace but does not micromanage or get directly involved unless absolutely needed. This leader monitors and watches that goals are set and met by giving feedback.  This style may be advantageous if there are multiple locations for a company or when employees are skilled, experienced and enjoy the freedom to be productive on their own.  This style may leave employees who desire direction and a little hand holding feeling ignored.
  • The Coaching Leader – The coaching style is summed up as asking employees to “try something new” in order to bring out their strengths.  The feeling that “we are all in this together, so lets learn together” is also a good way to think about this style and may be advantageous when the entire team needs to learn a new technique or technology.  This technique may not work with employees who are resistant to change or learn new skills.
  • The Democratic leader – This style of leadership uses the idea that employees will participate and give their all if they feel like they are a part of the process.  The democratic style is most effective when the leader needs the team to buy into or have ownership of a decision, plan, or goal. This style is not a good match when time is of the essence or an executive decision is critical.

Blogging: Best Practices

  • 3 million blogs are published monthly (Source: Spokal)
  • 81% of U.S. online consumers trust information and advice from blogs. (Source: BlogHer)
  • 92% of companies who blog multiple times per day have acquired a customer from their blog. (Source: HubSpot)
  • B2B marketers who use blogs generate 67% more leads than those that do not. (Source: InsideView)
  • Once you write 21-54 blog posts, blog traffic generation increases by up to 30%. (Source: TrafficGenerationCafe)

The numbers are in and it is obvious that blogging for business has evolved into a valuable marketing strategy.  Knowing that blogging is beneficial for your company and actually being able to publish a successful blog is a whole another story.  With the overwhelming number of blogs being published daily how can your business blog stand out, get recognized by the search engines and make you a leader in your industry?  Let’s look at the best strategies for blogging.

  • Pre-writing – As a team, decide what the goals of the blog are. What is it that you want to accomplish by publishing a blog?  Do you want to increase leads? Do you hope to increase search engine visibility? Do you want to be seen as a leader in your field?  Most likely it is a combination of each.  Once you understand your goals it will be easier to come up with topics and content ideas.
  • Research – Understand your consumer. That means figuring out: their business concerns, job priorities, and anticipating business problems. Research may include surveying your current clients, reading many blogs in your field or just getting on the web and finding out what the buzz is in your field.
  • Writing good content – What is good content?  The best advice is to create original content.  Write blogs that solve problems, discuss emerging technology, take a stand on an issue in your field or ask the readers for ideas and contributions.  Be sure to create an editorial calendar that gets your writing team organized and brainstorm topics well ahead of publication dates.
  • Analyze – Use analytics on your blog and social media pages to find out what topics and posts most interest your readers.  Discuss what blogs prompted comments or responses by clients or customers. Look at other blogs from company’s in your field.
  • Post Frequently – HubSpot recently put out this graphic on the frequency of blogging. hubspotpostcontent

Benefits of an Editorial Calendar

Looking for ways to stay organized in your business?  Many companies use document management tools, password tools, and financial tracking apps to stay orderly.  If you need a way to manage content such as your business blogs, publications, and social media postings, an editorial calendar may be the right choice. An editorial calendar is an excellent place to brainstorm, track and arrange the content your company publishes. Let’s review the function and benefits of an editorial calendar whether it is a simple spreadsheet that can be shared online through your company cloud or a purchased app to keep your company headed in the right direction.

What exactly does an editorial calendar do?

If you regularly publish blogs, email newsletters, or posts on social media, there should be central location where you list the topics, dates, and publication locations.  For example, if you blog weekly, a calendar would include categories that show what blog topic was covered, what date it was published and where it was published. This calendar could also have a link to topics that may be used in the future. Think of the many times an idea has hit you while working.  Now there is a place to jot down the idea where you will find it when you need it,  instead of on a stick-it note somewhere on your desk. Next time you sit down to write a post or blog you will have a list of topics handy to use. A properly updated calendar can also stop duplicates of the same content from being accidentally published.

An editorial calendar is also a great place to edit your content.  If you use Google Drive or other sharing sites, multiple contributors and editors can work on the same publications.  If there are many people managing your online community, it is a great way for them to chart the progress of the publication and add their “two-cents.” A final edit, copy edit, fact checking, and rewrites can be completed as a link to the calendar.

Editorial calendars are outstanding for tracking short and long term writing goals.  For example, with a calendar shared by many at your business, content can be aligned with major holidays, events and milestones significant to your field or company.  If your field of work has an annual trade show, content for publications during the weeks and months leading up to the event can reflect topics and discussions that will be held at the show. The ability to plan ahead and publish content relevant to current events shows the professionalism and organization of your business.

Creating an editorial calendar is not hard and will help keep your ideas, content and links to content locations in an easy-to-find folder right on your desktop or mobile device.  Use this spring as a time to get yourself organized and try using an editorial calendar for all of your businesses publications.

Elements of a Great blog

The term blog, meaning web log or also known as an e-journal, was not even coined until the late 1990’s when individuals would keep running diaries of their day online whether it was business or otherwise.  These were fairly obscure and mostly only read by the authors themselves. From those humble beginnings blogging has evolved into a massive marketing strategy that switched over to mainstream media in the last two decades. In fact, as of June 2014, there were more than 42.5 million blog posts published on WordPress.com alone. How, then, can a business be sure to stand out from the crowd and attract readers that will convert to consumers for your products or services?  There are several key elements that every bog needs in order to make it successful.

  • Title and subtitles – Before a reader even thinks about clicking on your blog, he/she will examine the title and subtitles.  Are they eye-catching?  Does the title offer a benefit to the reader or offer valuable information?  Be sure to think about your title not only in how a search for the title will be found on Google or the other search engines, but also how it will attract the consumer.
  • Hook ’em – The lead or opening paragraph to the blog should capture the reader’s attention and make them want to read further.  This could include: a question that may face business people in your field,  an insider’s perspective or a humorous account.  Whatever your style may be, the first paragraph needs to be well thought out at hook them into reading more.
  • Bullets and numbers – People have extremely short attention spans especially if they are busy running a company.  Believe it or not, according to Quicksprouts research on consumer behaviors, the average reader will only spend 8 seconds deciding to continue reading or to close the page.  Bullets and numbering can make it easy for visitors to scan the blog and garner key points.  If they like what they see, they will spend more time reading.  Studies also show that readers stay on the page longer with fonts larger than 9 or 10 point font.
  • Writing – Nothing is worse than mentally fixing grammatical or typographical errors in the article you are reading.  Make sure the writing is above par and edit all for small errors.
  • Engaging images – Use images that capture the essence of what you are saying. Whenever possible use custom images instead of common stock images.  This uniqueness will help make a connection with your reader and ultimately your company.
  • Social Media Connections – Be sure all social media icons are easy to find either at the top or bottom of your blog so that the reader can choose to follow you or your company on other platforms.
  • Voice – Once you have chosen the voice you will use, such as educational, humorous, authoritative or conversational – keep it consistent.  Your tone and voice will shine through all of your social media  and most importantly in your blog.  Be human and allow the reader to relate to what you are saying.

Financing your Small Business

According to the latest research on small businesses, 145,000 new businesses start up each year in this country and more than 50% of those disappear with in the course of five years.  (Source: Small Business Administration) What causes these businesses to fail at such an alarming rate?  There are a number of critical reasons why small businesses fail, including: poor marketing strategies, dueling partners, a sluggish economy, or an inability to keep up with the pace of technology. “However, the number one reason people fail is, they run out of money,” said David Goldin, CEO and president of AmeriMerchant, a provider of merchant cash advances. With financing being the most challenging obstacle an entrepreneur has to overcome when starting a business, let’s examine financing options for your burgeoning business.

  • Small Business Administration Loan – The Small Business Administration (SBA) offers a couple of types of loans that can help entrepreneurs get the capital they need to start their business: the 7(a) guarantee small business loan and the 504 fixed-asset small business finance program. For a list of SBA financial assistance and loan eligibility requirements read more. In order to qualify as a small business, your firm needs to meet the government’s definition of a small business for your industry and can not fund the business on their own.
  • Bank Loans – Lending practices and standards have gotten much stricter in the past few years but some banks have funds specially earmarked for small business funding.  Banks such as J.P. Morgan Chase and Bank of America have such programs so it may not hurt to inquire about the eligibility for your small business to get in on the action.
  • Personal Assets and Savings – Home equity loans or a personal loan on a 401K are two ways that a small business can get themselves started off on the financial “right foot”.  However, there is a major caveat to using a 401k or equity in your home.  If things don’t pan out, not only do you lose your business, but your nest egg, too.
  • Family or Friends – Asking friends and family, while a humbling process, may be an option for businesses to get off the ground.  Use an experience attorney to help you structure the loan and repayment plan.  Remember you are risking their financial future and jeopardizing important personal relationships.
  • Crowdfunding or Crowd sourcing – There are many reputable crowdfunding sources out there that can help you with financing your new venture.  A crowdfunding site like Kickstarter.com or Indiegogo can be a fun and effective way to raise money for a relatively low cost.  Remember that this is not a long term solution but may be just enough to get you started or fund a special project to get your brand name out there. Read all the fine print before you sign up for this program and be sure you know what your responsibilities are.