Tag Archives: small business

Lansing and Charlotte, Michigan Small Business Marketing Solutions

small-business-marketing-solutions-lansing-michigan

Looking for small business marketing solutions? We receive calls everyday from small businesses looking for answers to their marketing needs. We also receive phone calls from other marketing companies trying to sell to us! I am amazed by the volume of calls (some robo calls, don’t get me started on those-ugh!) from marketing companies. Each call promises increased  Google rankings, website visitors, social media followers, decreased pounds   – wait, no, that is a call that could actually be helpful…

I met with a customer this week who received one of these calls. The call spurred a discussion about Google rankings and how we could help. We’ve also met with a couple of small businesses in Lansing and Charlotte, Michigan have monthly marketing package agreements with Town Square Media. Town Square Media have a large sales forcey, targeting small businesses in mid-Michigan and throughout the country who need help with web design and marketing. They build responsive websites and offer social media management. They also promise search engine optimization (SEO) and monthly edits to small business websites for a set monthly fee.

Marketing Packages for Small Business

Marketing packages are beneficial small business marketing solutions if they offer consistent, fresh, customized content, at a set affordable cost. We were surprised to hear Town Square Media customers were paying twice as much per month as we charge. Plus, their customers were getting a very  small percentage of the service we provide. Some of the small businesses who had WordPress responsive websites built were paying over $200 a month. They also told us that if they wanted to cancel they would lose their website. After over a year of paying for a website the didn’t even own their website!

Fortunately, we have been able to help these Lansing and Charlotte, Michigan businesses. They now own their website designs and have control of their internet marketing. Can we help your small business save money and get more ROI and higher brand recognition?

If you are a Town Square Media customer in Lansing or in the surrounding small towns please give us a call today. We believe in small businesses and we relish the opportunity to help you grow. For those of you who are paying monthly for a responsive e-commerce website or other small business website that you will never own – cut your losses.

Affordable Small Business Marketing Solutions

We will build a custom website for similar or less cost than you have paid and you will own it once paid in full. We will also train you on how to edit your responsive website. Have problems with edits? Call us, we’re here to help and we will walk you through updating your website. We’re here for you if you have major changes you prefer not to attempt. We will provide an accurate time-based estimate to get your website design developed quickly. You don’t have to take our word for it, our reviews speak for themselves.

For small businesses with professional websites who need answers about social media management, email marketing, SEO and getting reviews posted on Google, etc. please give us a call. Don’t sign on with a company you haven’t researched or with a company who doesn’t know you, or your local area.  We will meet with you over the phone or face to face. After the meeting, we can develop a custom plan. Plans can include fee based services, or we train you how to achieve similar results. Take back ownership of your brand, connect with us today!

Business Card Design for Small Business

business card design for small business

As a graphic designer I have been known to break a few corporate rules. However, I choose to play by the rules when it comes to business card design. At least when it comes to the shape and size of business cards. As in most industries, there are standards to follow that help consumers and industry professionals.  Challenges, expense and frustration occur when products vary from  industry standards.  An innovative product may be deemed unusable. A company who chooses to break from the norm may be striving to create a new standard (Hello Apple iphone7 headphone). In other instances they may not have compiled the proper research. Or they are just going rogue!

Lately, when attending networking events the business cards I have garnered are in a variety of shapes and sizes. Creative business card design is a valuable investment for start ups as well as established corporations. But, it is important not to get too far away from the norm.  It is your logo and business card design that people see most. Business cards will be exchanged at networking events, one on one meetings, and cold calls. If your card looks unprofessional, then so do you.

What is the size of business cards?

The standard dimensions of a business card design is 2” x 3.5”. Traditionally the 3.5” is the longer, horizontal measurement. Over the years vertical business card designs have made a mark as well. The most widely accepted business card shape is a horizontal version. Industries such as banking, insurance, manufacturing, and education use traditional, clean designs. Comparatively, vertical business card designs, tend to be used by creative industries such as architects, interior or graphic designers, crafters or arts and craft products, etc.

Business card design styles

Business card designs that break away from the normal business card size stand out. But, having an outstanding design is different than having a design that stands out. The goal of a professional business card design is to be memorable, communicate clearly and be easy for the recipient hold onto it. When a vendor hands me a square business card that are all the rage right now I don’t know what to do with it. It doesn’t fit in my business card holder, it doesn’t fit in a pocket folder slit, it doesn’t fit in my phone case! Plus, with square business card design, nearly all are two sided – so now you’ve created more work for the recipient.

Don’t get me started on the small business card designs that resemble the size of keychain loyalty cards. Why would someone choose these to promote their business? Does the small business card save that much on paper cost? I will confess, I do not know the actual printing cost of business cards in this format. Why? The answer is because I would never recommend them to my customers. Consider using them as a small product insert but please don’t use them as a professional business card.

Size matters

In closing, I will share that it is common practice to scan business cards into a customer relationship management (CRM) system. All of those tiny business cards get stuck in the scanner. Additionally, square, two sided business cards must be scanned twice. In one sense you have achieved the goal in standing out to me by choosing an odd shaped business card design. Increased scanning and input time has been created for me. This doesn’t leave me with a good impression of you and your company. Isn’t leaving a good impression the first goal of networking?

We’re happy to take a look at your business card and offer feedback. Fair warning- it will be honest feedback! Email or give us a call today.

Stay connected!

Regular WordPress Website Maintenance

regular wordpresswebsite maintenance-no-hackers!

Responsive WordPress website designs are an affordable, versatile  solution for small businesses seeking a new or updated website they can update themselves. Those who already have a WordPress website know that WordPress works great on many levels. The biggest concern with choosing a WordPress website and managing it yourself  is that the regular WordPress website maintenance is often neglected.

wordpress feature random falling snowWordPress software is updated by WordPress programmers regularly. As any software, some updates are minor and you may not detect a difference on your site. Other updates are more robust. Some WordPress website updates offer new web functionality or a couple just-for-fun features, like falling snow in Winter. You can choose to implement all the new features or just  a few. What is most important in each WordPress update is the added security. Security updates protect from hackers and malware that can take down your website or infect others systems.

Installing WordPress updates is a necessity for keeping your website safe

WordPress is the top content management website platform across the world. It offers great benefits, especially to small businesses. For all of the benefits to choosing WordPress there is a drawback. Hackers love to target it. (Then again it’s not just WordPress that has this concern. Hackers target Joomla websites, Blogger websites and custom built content management systems also…) To avoid issues, Wordpress website maintenance is a critical practice to keeping your WordPress website or WordPress blog in optimal working order. wordpress update alert screen capture

WordPress programmers are proactive in protecting customers against these attacks.  New walls of code are built to keep predators out when vulnerabilities are detected. Once the code is developed a free update is available to all WordPress users. When a new WordPress update is available, there is an alert posted clearly at the top of the administrative area at log in. The date when it was first available is noted as well.

When should the WordPress software be updated?

We will often wait a day or so after a new WordPress version is posted before we select to update. This is because many of the responsive WordPress websites we design include 3rd party plug-ins.  Wordpress plug-in developers may need a little extra time to unsure their plug-in code is compatible with the latest WordPress version. If the plug-ins haven’t updated yet some may not function correctly. Within a few days most plug-ins have caught up. At that point we’ll update to the latest WordPress and plug-in versions. If plug-ins are not updated within a few days of the release of a new WordPress version, install the update but check your website very closely and make sure all plug-ins are working correctly.

Caution: plug-ins are also susceptible to hackers. New versions are made available and alerts are posted in the administrative area of the WordPress websites for plug-ins also. Plug-in developers may offer a new version with increased features and functionality in addition to added security protection.

We recommend updating plug-ins one at a time. After you update each one, check your website to make sure the update is compatible and all functionality is in place. If you choose to update your plug-ins all at once and there is a conflict, it can be difficult to pinpoint which plug-in is causing the conflict.

What happens if I don’t update WordPress regularly?

  • hackers can invade it
  • malware can be installed on your site
  • Google is alerted and will black mark your website
  • your website is rendered harmful to visitors
  • prospective clients and visitors will get a scary alert stating your website may be harmful to their system

What do you do if your website was hacked?

You send a frantic call to your website hosting service or website design firm that your website was hacked, it’s not live and clients can’t reach you and… worst… you don’t have a current back up. Your website will need to be taken down. Once removed from viewers, a temporary screen is posted, and clean-up begins.

What does it cost to fix a website that has been hacked?

  • your website is removed from view from all prospective and current clients
  • you will now be paying hourly website developments fees to comb through each file to find all corrupt code
  • developers clean / remove bad code
  • the cleaned website is uploaded as a  temporary page
  • website is tested
  • website is tested again… again… and again
  • once clear the new files can be uploaded
  • your web host is alerted that your website is safe to go live again
  • submission requests are sent to Google and other SERPs to remove the blocks that have been put in place for your website
  • requests are sent again… again… and sometimes a third time before alerts are completely removed and your website gets the all clear

 This whole procedure can take days or even months to resolve, it depends on how quickly you are alerted of your compromised site and the size of your website.

What is the best way to help keep websites safe from hackers?

By practicing regular WordPress website maintenance. Log in to the administrative area of your WordPress website frequently and make sure everything is up to date. Consider changing your admin password regularly also. Do not assume your web hosting company or your website design firm is maintaining your website. Web maintenance is usually an additional feature because of the time commitment. Look at your plan or agreement, or send your web hosting or design firm an email of phone call to be sure.

We understand staying current with WordPress and 3rd Party plug-in versions can eat up a lot of time. We also feel horrible getting the call “My website’s been hacked, what do I do?” from a small business. Before that happens, set a weekly or monthly timer to log in to your admin panel and keep your software updated. If you don’t have time or the due diligence to do this, you’ll want to look into website maintenance options for small businesses.. Our basic web maintenance package is a perfect entry point for most small business WordPress  websites.

wordpress website maintenance packageBasic WordPress Website Maintenance Package includes:

  • updating all WordPress, Theme and plugins
  • techies handle the technical stuff
  • website protection -security protection from Securi,
  • scheduled back-ups,
  • included Maintenance time / Email support,
  • 1/2 hour of styling and updates.
  • peace of mind

Knowing your site is protected  from potential hackers and will not be a concern to visitors or scare clients and prospects away from working with you is the best return.

Call us today to discuss which package is best suited to you or sign up for a website maintenance package..

People Helping People: Social Media Strategies for Small Business

Social Media Startegies for Small Bsuiness February Blog graphic

Making Connections In Social Media

You can find top 10 lists on social media strategies for small business all around the internet.  Some tips are complicated, some cost money, some require a lot of time. The social media strategies small businesses seldom consider is keeping it ‘social’. Start with securing your pages on applicable social media sites, posting regularly, and engaging authentically with others. Sharing, liking and commenting on business pages you follow will create camaraderie and your contacts will show their appreciation by reciprocating and engaging with your content.

Following are the top social media players companies choose to engage on social media. There are so many more social media platforms like SnapChat, Tumblr, Quora, etc. If you find a specific social media platform has captured your target market – make sure you are there too!

1. Facebook

Facebook now offers business pages the opportunity to follow other company pages. Follow customers, vendors or local organizations you support and share their posts. You can also follow your competition and see what posts are working best for them.
Task: Make a list of pages to follow

Remember to engage with those favorite pages. Like, share or comment on the pages you follow. Your customer will appreciate that you engaging with them on Facebook. It may even inspire them to add a review on your Facebook business page.

Utilize the large area on the top of your business Facebook page with a creative Facebook cover photo graphic that inspires people or offers a discount specific to only your Facebook followers.

Are you now asking what’s the size of a Facebook cover photo? Take a look at standard sizes on our social media graphic sizes cheat sheet.

Task: What discounts or specials could you offer on your Facebook cover photo this month? What about next month?  Make a list for the year to keep ahead!

2. Twitter

Follow industry leaders who share great content and retweet them, when they feel your love and retweet your posts your Twitter handle will be seen by all of their followers. Express your appreciation to vendors, customers, and friends with #hashtags such as #followfriday suggestions for mutual love. Tag events in posts #newyears, #cybersale, locally used hashtags like #lovelansing or  industry hashtags like #graphicdesign.

Task: Make a list of Industry Leaders to follow for great retweets!
Include them in your next Follow Friday (#FF) tweet.

You can also search by hashtag to see what is being tweeted on a specific subject, such as your industry (#webdesign) or a sports team (#detroitredwings). The results will be posts by others who have used the same hashtag in their tweets. For instance if I use #graphicdesign in a tweet and you search #graphicdesign my post will come up as a result in your search along with others who have included the same hashtag.

Task: Make a list of local popular hashtags to use to make connections.
(#LoveLansing, #GrandRapids, etc.)

3. LinkedIn

The place to be for B2B. It’s true, Linkedin is full of job recruiters. Linkedin doesn’t offer the addictive attraction that Facebook does but chances are your business connections are here. Linkedin is where you find vendors, employees, customers and business tips without the cat videos. First upgrade to a professional profile and secure your Linkedin , pinterest boaardscompany page. Find a few company pages you would like to follow (trade organizations, vendors, customers, others with large followers) and request them to follow your company page. We’d love to have you follow ours too!

Task: Make a list of LInkedin company pages to follow

Recommendations:

Give recommendations for your Linkedin contacts. They will get an alert that you recommended them, the alert will be posted in the Linkedin newsfeed and others will see that you are actively recommending others. It’s a kind way to get in the front of people’s minds and remind them that you appreciate their talents and remind them that they may want to recommend you too! Make sure you are making authentic recommendations! Don’t recommend somebody for their marketing ability when you don’t know if they acutally do a good job with marketing.

Task: Make a list of people you could provide authentic recommendations for of your LinkedIn followers.

Get into groups and comment!
Groups are huge in Linkedin. Look for ones of interest in your industry and share insights to the members, receive advice, hear about trends, comment on posts, post specials or offers, get leads, etc. Each time you post or comment Linkedin will add it to the page feed of all your Linkedin connections. Sharing others posts, commenting on them, will boost their reach too. Being a member of a group also allows you to friend request anyone in the group and correspond with them without knowing their email or having worked with them before – it’s a great way to introduce yourself to a prospect.

Task: Make a list of groups you can search for and join today

4. Pinterest / Instagram

Although very different these two social media applications are similar in the fact that they are centered around images. ‘Nobody reads on the internet anymore’, ‘a picture says a 1000 words’… you’ve heard it all before. A younger female audience has embraced these two social media apps. The Pinterest audience is crossing over multiple generations and members are increasing quickly. Instagram is primarily tweens through 30-somethings. Both apps have high engagement and now allow for private/direct messaging to followers. As you post your clever product, funny or inspiring photos remember to add #hashtags and share the love:

Task: Log on to Pinterest or Instagram and follow other peoples pages or profiles that post or pin like minded items.

Task: Identify people and pages that use your product in clever ways. Recognize them, thank them, share their posts and add it to your list of products uses. 

Task: Create Pinterest pages that highlight your product or service:

Task: Host an Instagram Giveaway – think about what photos your customers could post and create a #hashtag (for a coffee shop post picture of your #favoritecoffeecup, or a tree service company #afterstormphotos…).

Google+ and YouTube:

Secure your Google+ page and increase contacts and your Google rating. While you are at it secure your company location on Google Maps. Embed YouTube videos from your company YouTube channel or videos of interest to your customers right on your Google+ page.

Find friends, customers, vendors and add reviews. These reviews come up when others search keyword terms in their industry or search by their company name. Results will show their company, location, photos, contact info and reviews. Talk about cheap advertising and an easy way to support your colleagues!

Task: Make a list of  videos and content you can can add to your Google+ page to increase exposure

Task: Create target lists (Google circles) – Google+ separates connections into circles your define. You can target information to specific circles.

Task: Determine segments you can set up to announce specific content to each audience.

TaskL Create a Goggle+ Hangout:
You can offer live streaming weekly or monthly webinars to educate your customers. What are the top products or services customers would like? How-to-videos or step-by-step installations, customer testimonials, inspirational videos, etc.

Task: Make a list of webinar subjects you can cover that are of interest to your customers

You didn’t imagine social media strategies for small business was such a big deal?  Just remember, success comes when you practice kindness —keep it social.  Build your online relationships one share at a tim

Small Business Owners: Do I need a website if I have a….

…Facebook Page … LinkedIn Business Page… Pinterest following

when you get -give, when you learn teach quote maya angelouIt scares me how often I am asked this question. Typically when a start-up business or growing small business consults with us on creating a professional company brand we need to have ‘the talk’. We’ve had the ‘do I need a website talk’ here before. Social media updates, SEO and skewed business models beg for a review. 

We’ve read the success stories; “Start up Yarn store sells volumes of skeins through their Facebook page’. Yes we’ve seen leads from LinkedIn turn into real live customers. But did those people who bought the yarn specifically go to Facebook looking for yarn? When your new found customer sought the service you offer on LinkedIn, were you the only company offering that service? No, no you were not.  This alone should help you answer the do I need a website question, but I will keep going.

Possibly the positive results in social media were driven by purchasing ads, feeding captivating content in Facebook, or using the correct keywords on your LinkedIn company page… or maybe the stars and the moon were aligned at just the right angle… We have no control on what social media sites our target market visits.  We have no control who sees our Facebook company page from post to post. We have no control over our competition claims on LinkedIn. How can we put our company success under somebody else’s control? Especially brands that also dictate what information we add to their websites and how it will be distributed?

Before I start sounding like LinkedIn and Facebook (and Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr …) are complete evil time-sucking novelties that are guided purely to monetize every move we make let me share sincere marketing advice:  Using multiple distribution points gets your marketing message in front of your prospects multiple times. You want to be where your clients are and if there are millions of businesses on LinkedIn everyday and you are a business to business (B2B) company you’re darn right you should be there too!  If your Pinterest and Facebook followers are engaging with your post and sharing it with their Aunt Susie, keep posting!

Long lasting success comes from consistent branding across multiple platforms. Facebook and LinkedIn and other social media sites are best served as outposts for your content. Your company website is the pitch, white paper, brochure, training, demo and closing table all in one. Your outposts should drive prospects to your brand website where you are in charge and can serve your customer best.

meida graphic-internet marketingWhy Do I Need a Website?

  1. A company website is available to people actively seeking a specific thing (product / service / education / research source).
  2. A company website markets your product and service only.
  3. Your product / service shines here, you decide what to share and visitors get their answers.
  4. Your company website is available to everyone. There’s no user agreement or need to be a member.
  5. Visitors contact information can be captured for follow up.
  6. Your website reflects your business personality and brand message.
  7. A clear call to action in the form you prefer (email, phone call, form, etc.) encourages connections.
  8. You own it.

Full disclosure: along with small business brand marketing, Connection Group builds websites. Yes, we would love to build a website for your small business. We also want to help small businesses succeed whether we provide purchased services or education via a free blog post or other or freebies.

Not all marketers agree. I recently read a post in a LinkedIn group where the author claimed all a B2B company needs is a LinkedIn company page. The author was shamed into silence from the over 100 threads from serious marketers explaining why all businesses need a website. Not all marketers offer website designs and the recommendation that small businesses need a website was not driven by sales. The advice was meant as a caution not to put all your marketing efforts into one portal. If you still feel a social media page is the best way to align business success there is somebody out there who will be happy to charge you to set up a MySpace account.

Stay connected!

Like what you’ve read here? Subscribe to our monthly e-newsletter Connectivity for more brand marketing tips.

On the Web: How to Manage Your Brand as a Small Business

As a small business owner, one of your jobs is to manage your brand online and off. In addition to reaching new customers and growing your company, you need to maintain an online presence and use it to achieve your goals.

logosWhile you’re good at what you do for your business and customers, you may not be quite as savvy when it comes to the internet. So, we put together this checklist for managing your website, and brand, as a small business owner. Putting these elements in action lets you take advantage of the opportunities that the web has to offer.

A. Have a Clear Message

Your business (and website) must have what is often called a unique value proposition (UVP), or unique selling point. What are you offering? Who is your audience?  What message do you want to send?

Before you start creating or revamping your website, you must be able to answer these questions.

  • Your offer is simply your roster of products or services and their corresponding prices.
  • Your ideal customer is the person whom you want to engage in your business. These are the people you want to attract to your website, and move to make a purchasing decision.
  • Your message is what you want to stand out in your prospects or customers mind. Are you the most economical, the best quality, the fastest, or the most experienced?

What comes next is a bit more complicated: Identifying and crafting your message. This is where the “unique” comes into your unique value proposition. What makes you uniquely qualified to offer these services? In other words, what makes your business different from the rest?

These are things you must think about before you set up your online hub. In order to have an effective website, you must identify what makes you different from all the others that are offering the same thing. If your business caters mainly to your local community, you would want to include that as part of what makes you stand out. You know your customers by name, you provide a personal touch to your services, and so on.

Once you know your message, you must present it in a clear, concise, and consistent way, which brings us to the next point.

B. Unify Your Brand

Everything that has your company’s name on it – whether it’s a business card, a logo, or a website – is part of your brand. They must all work together to get your unique message across to your ideal client.

Here are some practical tips that will help you with brand management in a way that supports your day-to-day work:

Your website must be self-hosted and be on a relevant domain name.

Self-hosted simply means it’s not a free service or platform, like Blogger or WordPress.com.

When your buy your domain name, it should be “yourbusiness.com” (example: connectiongraphics.com). Make it easy to remember, with no numbers or special characters except if it’s part of your company name.

A self-hosted site on a good domain name tells your customers that you’re an authority in your field. They can trust you with their business.

Create a unified look that reflects your company and mission.

The image your business presents must be consistent across all types of communications, whether it’s online or not.

The first place to start is your company logo. If you don’t have a logo, get a professional designer to make one for you. Use it on all your communications.

Pull colors and design elements out of your logo and use them in your website, e-newsletter, letterhead, promotional materials, etc. For example, if you use a clean sans-serif font on your business card, don’t go for swirly artsy types on your website.

Set-up online outposts.

Whether or not you like being on social media, it’s now practically a requirement for any business. You need to set up and maintain “online outposts.” These in turn will direct your ideal customer back to your website, and toward a decision to purchase.

These outposts include blogs, social media and newsletters.

C. Create Effective Content

Now that you have your self-hosted website and relevant online outposts, you need to turn your attention to the elements of your site that will turn your readers into customers.

Your business website must have the following:

  • About page (what your business is about, who you are, your qualifications, and other special attributes that will make the online reader want to do business with you)
  • Easy-to-navigate information about your services and/or products
  • Different ways to contact you (via contact form, address, email, twitter, Facebook, etc.)
  • Option to subscribe to an email newsletter or RSS feed
  • Secure product page and shopping cart, as needed
  • Regularly updated information about your services, products and related topics

The last item on the list above will help your clients know your business better, as well as help you get found in search engines. The best and easiest way to do this is to maintain a blog. High-quality and regularly-updated content will establish you as an authority in your niche.

As a small business owner, an effective online presence begins with and is established by a clear message, a unified look and effective content. If you’d like to learn more about how to manage your brand online and off, sign up for our newsletter, Connectivity.