Essential Sales Lead Tools For Small Businesses

Sales lead tools can be invaluable to a business. But many small businesses don’t have the money available to spend on these sorts of tools that larger businesses have. But that doesn’t mean that essential sales lead tools aren’t available for small businesses.
We’ll take a look at three tools that don’t cost an arm and a leg, and they aren’t LinkedIn or Facebook (not that there’s anything wrong with LinkedIn and Facebook. They’re both great resources for small and big businesses alike).

Jigsaw

Jigsaw is owned by salesforce.com and combines social media and lead generation. Businesses can earn points for adding contacts into the Jigsaw database. And those points work like frequent flyer miles, where they can be used to get free contacts. Subscriptions to this service start around $250 per year, but it’s free to earn contacts by sharing contacts.

ZoomInfo Community

ZoomInfo gives users access to a database of 60 million business contacts. That’s a whole lot of contacts to mine! The free edition asks for your contacts in exchange. There’s a plethora of plugins that link with Outlook or Google Apps, which makes this a very easy resource to use. You can even export the contacts that you get into a CRM system like Salesforce or Capsule.

Lead411

Lead411 offers users a simple searchable database of contacts at the reasonable rate of around $30 a month. You can gain access to more contact by upgrading your subscription.

The Small Business Mentors Every Business Owner Should Have

Running a small business can be very rewarding. It can also be one of the biggest challenges that you face in life. You don’t always have the same resources available to you when you had your cushy job in corporate America. But now you’re doing things on your own. It can be very lonely sometimes, as it seems as if there is nobody to turn to for advice. And that’s where mentors come in handy.
Every small business owner should have a small business mentor around to call on every now and again. They’re great for bouncing ideas off of and asking for advice, and are essential to the success of a small business.

I’ve been lucky to have a couple of small business mentors over the years. They’ve come from many different backgrounds, which is good because they offer a wide spectrum of viewpoints. Despite all of the challenges of running a business, the advice received from my mentors has been the biggest constant in my career.

Don’t have any small business mentors? Actually, they’re all around you. Here are some ideas of places to look for your mentors.

A friend from way back

A friend who knew you before you even knew what a startup was is a great way to stay grounded. They can speak to your roots and help you when you get lost in the haze of your small business. They’re great for reminding you to slow down and enjoy life. They remind you to live the life that you want while doing what you love. And no entrepreneur should ever lose sight of that.

A colleague

Having regular get togethers with people who are in a similar stage of development is a great thing to have. They can give you the sense that you’re not alone and can be willing to lend an ear when the going gets rough. The relationship is mutual, because you would do the same for them.

A colleague that is difficult to work with

Part of being an entrepreneur is crafting your business idea and selling it to the world, whether its customers or investors. You need to have that ability to sell. And who better to fine tune that selling ability than someone that you don’t naturally get along with.

A colleague with a contrasting skill set to yours

It’s important to attack a situation from every angle. So why on earth would you only want to surround yourself with only one type of person? Get those opposing viewpoints. Get those different perspectives. It will help you refine your business and your bottom line.

A recent friend who knows you as an entrepreneur

Try and schedule regular get togethers with someone who knows your entrepreneurial self, and nothing else. They’re good for getting down to business and pushing you forward. They’ll have a good grasp on your business style and can really be great for inspiring you to go forward.

Beware The Energy Suckers

We’ve all encountered the energy sucker at some point in our lives. They’re the ones that seem to suck the life out of a room the moment they step through the door. They’re the ones that you feel as if you need to prepare yourself when you’re forced to interact with them. And they can be devastating to the life of your small business if you have one on your payroll.

It’s amazing just how many small business owners can be held captive by the energy suckers. These creatures can actually seem to be very productive on the surface. They can be the star salesman (or woman) on the team. But often times they achieve their numbers through mind games, creating an internal “us-versus-them” situation. And that can be detrimental to the life of a small business.

These energy vampires can drive away the talent that you actually need to run a successful small business. They chase away the talent that you need, and ironically you end up relying on them even more as your business progresses.

So why don’t you just get rid of the energy sucker? Often times, small business owners tend to rationalize their existence. Other times, they might be hard to identify. Here’s a few warning signs that a member of your team is actually an energy vampire and should be set free to haunt another small business. Preferably one of your competitors.

There’s always a problem

It doesn’t have to be the same problem each time. It can be different each time, but it seems as if you are spending a disproportionate amount of time on their issues compared to the rest of your team.

There seems to be a black cloud permanently hanging over their desk

There could be that one individual with that “us versus them” mentality that is slowly damaging the delicate fabric that stitches your organization together. They constantly bicker and complain, causing your employees to focus on the bad rather than the good.

They follow you home in your mind

There you are, trying to relax over the weekend. But you can’t because the image of your energy sucker keeps popping up in your mind.  You try to switch off, but it’s no use. When a difficult employee is haunting your personal life, it’s time for them to hit the road.

Don’t be afraid to trust your instincts when it comes to setting your energy sucker free. Your gut instinct will tell you that it’s time for this person to go.  You’ll know the difference between those employees that are just having a bad day to those energy suckers. Your business will thank you for it in the long run.

Get Your Small Business Marketing Right

A lot of small businesses have trouble with their small business marketing. They have trouble because it’s too simple. But let’s get this straight, simple is not the same thing as easy. Some things look easy, like setting up a Facebook page. But unless your Facebook strategy is interlinked into your overall business strategy, that Facebook page is useless. You won’t be any closer to your business goals in the future than you are today.

The idea of marketing is simple. You have a great product or service, and you tell the people out there about how great your product or service is, thus becoming customers. Sounds easy, right? Well, to be honest it’s a bit more complicated than that. There are so many different techniques that you can use, and you absolutely need to understand who you are trying to reach and how best to reach them.

First of all, let’s clear up a few common misconceptions. Marketing is not all about selling. Marketing involves several different tactics, such as website copy, email marketing campaigns, SEO, brochures, ad campaigns, conversion funnels and much more. And these tactics are very likely to be important to your business. But none of these things is what marketing is really about.

Marketing is about creating a relationship with your one ideal customer. It’s about figuring out who they are, what they are looking for and how you can offer that one thing that they will absolutely adore. It’s about getting into their mind, getting their attention and bringing them on board as a loyal customer. And any of the previously mentioned marketing tactics are only one piece of the puzzle. When used in isolation, you’re not creating that relationship with your customer.

Marketing is simple. There are only three steps, and they’re linked into your business plan. Your marketing plan should never be separate from your business plan. And here they are:

Synchronize

The first part of the small business marketing process is identifying who your ideal customer is. Who would benefit the most from your product or service? Who’s pain can your small business solve? Who is it that is going to be excited about what you can offer? Without knowing who your customer is, your marketing efforts are nothing more than shots in the dark.

When creating your customer profile, it’s important to be as specific as possible. Try to paint a picture as complete as possible. What do they do in their spare time? Where do they go on holiday? What foods do they like to eat? Grab as much information as possible from as many different sources as you can. And don’t think that any of this information is trivial. Finding out about what your customer does in their spare time will shed light on ways that you can start a dialogue with those customers.

Once you have figured out some information about your customer, you’ll need to synch your offer with who you’re offering it to. Once you’ve figured that out, the rest of the marketing plan will be so much easier to put together. You’ll know who you are trying to reach, their wants and needs and how your business can benefit them. Tailor the offer to your customer.

Draw them in

Once you’ve tailored the perfect solution to your ideal customer’s problem, then you need to grab that customer’s attention. This is where much of what people perceive marketing to be comes into play.  You will use all of that information that you’ve gathered in the synch stage to figure out how to draw your ideal customer in. Make sure that your message is in the places where your customer is. Catch them off guard. Pique their interest. And slowly draw them towards you.

Engage them

Once you have captured the attention of your ideal customer, you can’t just come right out and expect them to instantly become a lifelong customer. Things don’t move that quickly. Take it in small steps. Do something simple, like entice them to join your mailing list. Once they have made that step, be sure to reward them. Give them a small token of your appreciation, such as exclusive content, or a brief moment of your time. It will make the effort that they’ve put in seem like a really great value.

Next, take another step. Offer them something a bit more substantial. Something like an offer or a free trial. Something that adds to your perceived value. Once they’ve moved a bit closer to you, then you can entice them into making a purchase. But don’t forget that once the purchase happens, the customer is still engaged with your small business. Make sure that your customer has the absolute best customer experience that they could possibly have. When a customer has a positive experience with a product or service, there is a 90% chance that they will become a repeat customer.

And that’s the name of the game.

entrepreneurial advice

Some Good Entrepreneurial Advice

Stepping away from the security of a corporate job to set up a small business is not an easy task. Some things seem to fall into place, but often times things don’t always go as planned. Nobody ever said that it was going to be easy. But it can be one of the most rewarding experiences that you can have. Here’s some good entrepreneurial advice to those who have set up their own small businesses.

It’s going to take longer than you think

Running a small business is certainly not for the faint of heart. Everywhere you turn it seems as if there is another overnight success. Business coaches tout their multi-million dollar businesses that they started in their kitchen and claim to spend about 5 hours of work on. In reality, they neglect to mention the years and years of blood, sweat and tears that it took to achieve a certain level of success. Building a company takes years. It causes grey hairs. And it brings up a whole lot of self doubt.

Perseverance is the name of the game when it comes to starting and running a small business. It’s a rare trait that entrepreneurs possess. I can’t tell you how many times I have thought that I’ve run into a brick wall, exhausted all of my options and run myself into the ground. I’ve shelved my business idea a couple of times only to pick it back up, dust it off, make some adjustments and then start to run with it. If you truly are an entrepreneur, then everything will eventually fall into place. It’s like the old saying goes, every “no” that you hear brings you that much closer to a “yes”.

It’s lonely going at it all by yourself

Bringing people on board is a great thing. Their strengths can fill in the gaps of your weaknesses and helps to keep things going when the going gets tough. But it’s critical to bring the right people on board. Getting the mix wrong can have a devastating effect on your small business. A close friend can be a great place to look. But make sure that you both share a common vision, have common goals, have a good working relationship and are both willing to give it a go. You’re going to be spending more time with this person than you will with your own family, so make sure you select wisely.

Keep it simple

It’s easy to reach for the stars as an entrepreneur. It’s not hard to get swept up in the rapture of how your business idea is going to change the world. Your mind seems to go a mile a minute. The problem is when you encounter a mere mortal (i.e., everybody else) and try to communicate. You don’t speak the same language. Don’t expect the mere mortal to be as excited about the details of your idea as you are. Remember one thing. Keep it simple so that your audience gets it.

And be sure to hold on to that simplicity. Make sure that it is present in every aspect of your company. Keep your marketing simple. Simple enough so that your customers understand exactly what your business is all about. Make sure that your business planing is simple. How does the business make money? Make sure that your products are simple. Keeping things simple will multiply your businesses chances of success.

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First impressions count

Like It Or Not, First Impressions Count

Short attention span…

Like it or not, first impressions count

As a society, our attention span is getting shorter and shorter. Mastering Twitter is an art form, because you need to be able to convey a complete thought in 140 characters or less. Google Adwords is even shorter.  You need to be able to clearly communicate an offer, give an inventive to click through and pay it off in an even shorter space. So take this in to consideration when you deal with your customers. First impressions count.

Our brains are accustomed to filling in the blanks at record speed. We try and complete as much of a profile as possible when we meet new people and when we experience new brands. Take for example Facebook. Scour through a random selection of listings. It’s probably very easy to categorize people by the image that they’ve selected as their profile image. It’s pretty easy to figure out who is an aspiring photographer, a drunken sports fan, or just a flat out lush.

We make decisions about brands all the time. In fact, that’s what a well-crafted brand is supposed to do. It might be easy to gloss over the details thinking that they’re inconsequential. But just like those Facebook profiles, customers are “filling in the blanks” about the kind of company that you are.

So needless to say, it’s important to give a damn about the details. Websites are often the first experience that a potential customer has with a brand. Nobody will care about your website unless you do. That means that it is crucial to think long and hard about how you want to be perceived as a company. It’s important to get it right from the get go.

As a business, it is important to really understand why you started that business in the first place. You probably needed to convince your loved ones about the rational thought behind quitting your perfectly stable job to venture out into the unknown. And this explanation is going to come in handy to give to your customers. Why are you in business, and what’s in it for me? The companies that truly excel are the ones that understand what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.

Get this right from the start, get it ingrained into every facet of the company, and clearly communicate the reason for your existence on your website (and every other piece of communications that your company has), and you’ll have an advantage over countless other companies out there that haven’t figured out the details.

making mistakes

Failure Isn’t Necessarily A Bad Thing

Failing from time to time isn’t always bad.

What doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger.

Running your own business can be a rewarding as well as challenging experience. The rewards can be great, and setbacks can be devastating. But encountering failures from time to time in business isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Having a few missteps along the way is one indicator of innovation. If you haven’t gotten your fingers burned a few times, then you aren’t challenging yourself. A mistake can’t be labeled as a mistake if you’ve learned a valuable lesson from them.

As an entrepreneur, you want to take risks, but there are ways to manage the downside to offset the implications if those risks go wrong. You don’t really learn from successes, but failures can teach you some valuable lessons. Along the way, you learn what works and what doesn’t work. And going forward, you can apply those valuable lessons learned to make your business stronger. Experience is an amazing teacher.

Failure can have an adverse effect upon morale. As long as you keep a positive attitude toward failure and not let it consume you, then you have the right attitude toward setbacks and a willingness to learn from them.  Some of the world’s greatest innovators had missteps early on, and learned valuable lessons along the way.

Remember, when you are truly innovative, you will have a lot of naysayers standing in your way. You mustn’t be worries about what people will say about you. It’s up to the entrepreneur to take those risks and move society forward. The future is yours, and don’t forget it. Happy exploring!

Studies Prove Uncluttered Websites Perform Better

New research from SAY Media and IPG have shown that an ad placed on uncluttered websites without overloading the senses of the user are more useful, trusted and effective. This bit of research also indicates that if multiple adverts are placed on simple, uncluttered websites, they also perform better. Shocking revelation, isn’t it? We’ve been taught time and time again that in order to get your message across, the message must be simple, clear and concise. When decorating, we’ve been taught to simplify the amount of objects in a room so that the eye can focus upon said objects rather than darting about in a confused state. So it comes as no surprise that a simple, clean website with an advert allows the viewer to actually notice the advert, and quite possibly react.

We live in a “short attention span” world, where we are constantly bombarded with messages and want to find the information that we are seeking in as quick and easily a manner as possible. According to comScore, the average time spent on a web page is steadily decreasing, with the average user spending just 40 seconds on a single page.  By using a combination of eye-tracking technology and survey research, the study found that viewers spend twice as long with ads on clean pages that feature ads from just one brand. Uncluttered websites also have higher ad recall.

Ads on uncluttered websites have higher performance rates

Some findings from the research are that uncluttered websites and clean pages enhance site perception as well as ad perception. Those sites that were clean and easy to navigate were perceived as being more useful and trustworthy than similar cluttered sites. Ads that appear on clean sites are also always seen, according to eye-tracking data. Less clutter also means higher recall.

So let this be a lesson to all of you webmasters and advertisers out there. Don’t try to cram too many adverts/messages/objects/etc. into your layouts. Less really does seem to be more.

 

How to Write a Business Plan in Thirty Minutes

When planning a business, there’s quite a bit to take in to consideration. And, there are plenty of variables that can drastically alter your business model. One of the key things that Un_Standard recommends in the early stages of business planning is to do a brain dump and get the first business model on paper in about a half an hour. It is highly likely that “plan A” will turn out to not be feasible, so it is important to have a plan b, a plan c and a plan d. Never waste six months in trying to prove that your Plan A isn’t feasible. It is crucial to test out all of your business scenarios until you find the one that works.

In this initial brain dump, be sure to summarize the following important points:

  • Who are your customers? What do you know about them? Gain as much knowledge about your customers and get inside their minds. Figure out what makes them tick.
  • What is your company’s unique value proposition? What sets you apart from your competition and worthy of gaining the attention of your most valuable resource, your customers?
  • Now that you’ve figured out your target audience and what sets you apart from the competition, now comes the tricky part. How will your business deliver your unique value proposition to your target customers?

Once you’ve built this basic planning model, spin it a couple of ways. Try to introduce different scenarios in your solutions to see what comes up. Because, for anyone who has ever planned a business, you would know that it is wise to expect the unexpected. Be sure to cover as much ground as possible, because you never know what curveball that the market will toss to you. The more you plan upfront, the more resilient and robust your business will be down the road.

When planning your business in the early stages, the best business ideas come from personal experience. Your next business idea can come from an issue you’ve wrestled with first hand. Chances are, there are other people wrestling with the same problem. And if you can come up with an innovative solution to that problem, then you’ve got a captive audience for your business launch.