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How to Find the Right Loan for your Business

This post originally appeared on LoanSage.com 

It’s no secret that local banks aren’t lending to small and medium businesses as frequently as they used to. Figuring out the right capital solution for your business depends on a variety of factors including amount needed, what you’re using the proceeds for, the industry your business is in and how quickly you need access to that capital. The following are several different types of solutions that may make sense to help you grow your business.

Business Term Loan A term loan is a specific amount of money that is borrowed for a certain period of time and follows a pre-specified repayment schedule and interest rate. Typically, most business term loans will mature in anywhere from six months to as long as 10 years. The benefits of a term loan are that you can plan budgeting easier with consistent repayment amounts.  In addition, longer repayment periods associated with term loans minimize your total monthly payments. The slight downside to term loans are that they tend to require more documentation and can take 1-2 weeks to receive funding.

Your business should look to a term loan for long-term financing purposes and capital intensive purposes. Some examples are:

  • When you need a large amount of money relative to your annual sales for expansion purposes
  • When looking to buy equipment
  • To make capital improvements on your store or business

Working Capital Facility / Line of Credit A working capital facility is an ongoing arrangement between a borrower and a lender in which a business is extended a line of credit. These funds can be drawn against in partial or fully at any time as long as they do not exceed the limit. Once the funds are drawn, they are repaid back at your convenience. The advantages to a line of credit are that you don’t pay interest on the unused portion of the line of credit, and you can adapt quicker to financial needs since funds can be drawn whenever necessary

Your business should look to a working capital / line of credit for short-term financing purposes and revenue generating activities. Some examples are:

  • To make new hires or to cover payroll
  • For purchases of inventory
  • For marketing activities that will drive an increase in sales

Merchant Cash Advance In a merchant cash advance, a portion of a business’s future credit and/or debit card sales can be sold immediately for upfront capital. Repayment of this sum typically occurs as a set percentage of sales until the funding is paid back. The advantages to a merchant cash advance is that funding can be done very quickly and you are evaluated based on business performance instead of personal credit. Merchant cash advances are available to businesses with high credit card sales.

Your business should look to a merchant cash advance for extremely quick capital needs (and when you don’t have access to a line of credit) that will benefit revenue-generating activities. Some examples are:

  • To cover payroll
  • To manage seasonality with your business
  • If you have a last minute ability to purchase inventory at a deep discount.

Invoice Factoring In invoice factoring arrangements, the factoring firm will purchase a portion of a business’s accounts receivable or outstanding invoices. The business is provided with a percentage of the invoice for upfront cash, and the remaining balance less a factoring fee when the invoice is collected in full. The advantages to an invoice factoring arrangement is that you can get access to your revenue before your client pays.

Your business should look to invoice factoring in the following scenarios:

  • You have sold goods or services, but your payment terms with your customer are longer than usual
  • You need to pay for cost of goods or payroll before your customers ultimately pay you.

To see whether your business qualifies for any of these capital solutions, you can try out a free service like LoanSage that simplifies how you identify the right loans or capital solutions that you could qualify for and allows you to compare the costs and structures of the various different lending solutions above.

They also provide a complimentary business analysis report that provides an overall measure of the creditworthiness of your business as compared to your industry peers. It serves as a good indication of your business’s ability to take on and repay debt.

Off-Site SEO: 5 Small Business Marketing Mistakes (Guest Post)

Are critical miscalculations lurking within your marketing strategy? Advertising success is by no means a given. While simply plugging away at tough jobs may serve you well in other areas, your PR campaigns require a more unique, measured approach. Here are five of the mistakes you might be making and tips on changing your small business marketing for the better.


1) Getting on the Content Marketing for the Sake of It
You may be raring to market online, but remember that consumers can easily detect insincerity. You can’t simply create generic content just to put yourself out there.

Be genuine about your marketing. If you publish a dispassionate blog post simply because you want to keep up with a competitor who recently wrote about a similar subject, your readers will lose respect for you. On the other hand, writing about something you feel strongly about or possess intimate knowledge of makes it easier to imbue your content with value. Your readers will appreciate the fact that you took the time to provide them with information they find useful.

True, digital presence is vital to small firms that want to expand, but there’s a difference between establishing an effective presence and simply building a website. If your sites don’t look and feel as professional as possible, you’ll have a hard time convincing visitors of your validity.

2) Not Taking Advantage of Data
Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs fail to realize the potential of digital marketing analytics. Without structured user-data analysis and tracking, you’ll find it difficult to improve your marketing efforts and get real value out of your investments.

Be sure that your forays into the digital world serve some well-defined purpose. Build blogs and social media profiles that promote specific information you want to share and direct traffic toward your official sites. Follow the paths users take to learn more about how people interact with your brand, so you can discover where you need to focus your efforts.

3) Missing the Big Picture
Ideally, your Internet marketing should encompass a multi-pronged approach. Instead of simply investing in marketing or random blog content, you need to develop and implement a strategy that presents a unified front.

Let’s look at a real-world example. Suppose your firm is promoting a limited-time sale, but you’ve failed to remove the storefront posters advertising your previous offer. While you can easily clear up consumer confusion by explaining your mistake, the fact that you didn’t anticipate it makes you look highly unprofessional.

The Internet is no different. If your blog-based marketing strategy doesn’t tie into your Twitter posts or websites, people will just feel confused by what you present. Before long, they’ll find someone else they can understand, and you’ll be out of luck.

4) Failing to Interact
What do you do when someone responds to your Twitter posts or comments on your blog? Many business owners let these golden opportunities slip right through their fingers by failing to interact. Your dedication to following up could make all the difference in how people perceive your organization.

True, you’ll never be able to keep up with every single conversation, but that doesn’t absolve you of your responsibility to try. Your consumers may not follow the designated routes when they want to make complaints or ask questions about your products. If you’re not monitoring your social media and making an effort to reciprocate when they initiate contact via comments or posts, you’ll seem uncaring.

So, how can you keep track of everything that’s going on around you? Begin by adopting a managed approach to your marketing. Automate processes like checking blog comments and social media pages by enabling instant email notifications when someone makes a post. Connect your corporate email account to your phone so that you retain awareness of what you need to be monitoring. By leveraging these technologies intelligently, you’ll maintain a consistent level of interaction and still have time to run your firm.

5) Not Preparing for Tomorrow

Finally, one of the biggest mistakes you can make as a small firm is not investing in sustainable marketing. For example, if making a post on your current blog system requires insane levels of technical know-how, you’ll limit your ability to share information in a timely fashion. Similarly, paying more than you can afford for consulting in the hopes that you’ll magically see huge returns makes it difficult to continue marketing later.

Make sure that your marketing is commensurate with your consumer base and current growth level, but leave yourself with room to expand. Adopt a management strategy that incorporates discrete components such as blogs, social media sites and cross-marketing tools that you feel comfortable using personally or having a trusted employee manage. This is the easiest way to retain command of your small business marketing as you move forward.

About the Author:

Kristen Gramigna is Chief Marketing Officer for BluePay, which helps businesses of all sizes accept credit cards. She brings more than 15 years of experience in the bankcard industry in direct sales, sales management, and marketing to the company and also serves on its Board of Directors.

How to Move Your Business into the Mobile Market

Note: This is a guest post from Kristen Gramigna, Chief Marketing Officer of BluePay.

You may think that using mobile technology for your business is just for “the big guys” — but you’d be mistaken. Small and local businesses can benefit greatly by entering the mobile realm. Many of your current and potential customers are carrying a smartphone with them at all times. What better way to reach them than on a device they already depend on daily?

Here are a few ways you can move your business into the mobile market.

Make your website mobile-friendly
Make sure your website is easy to navigate on a mobile device. Last year, Google published a study that found 84 percent of smartphone shoppers use their phones while in the store. Many small businesses don’t realize that what looks great on a desktop or laptop screen does not provide the best experience on a smartphone. It’s annoying for people on the go to have to zoom in and out to see links or images on a website that is simply shrunk to fit a small screen. Create a new layout for the mobile interface that makes your location and hours easy to find. Also include a click-to-call button — people accessing your mobile site are probably out and about and won’t want to stop to jot down your number.

Accept mobile payments
It’s no longer news that the smartphone could be on its way to replacing cash and credit cards as a payment method. The more types of payment you accept, the more you widen your potential customer base. Make transactions easier by getting set up for mobile payments. You can use a smartphone or tablet to complete point-of-sale checkouts and eliminate the need for bulky cash registers and large counters. Find a credit card processing company that can provide you with customizable options for your business, and make sure you are compliant with Payment Card Industry security standards.

Take advantage of social networks
Word of mouth is a great way to gain a following, and with social media it’s easier than ever for your customers to make referrals. Have people check services such as Foursquare when they arrive at your business. Link your site with Twitter and Facebook so your followers can see your latest news or special promotions. If you’re a restaurant or retail store, sign up for Pinterest or Instagram and post appealing pictures of your products.

Consider text message marketing
An SMS (text message) marketing campaign can be an effective mobile strategy for small businesses. People almost always read their text messages, more so than their emails. Advertise that you offer mobile-only deals or promotions to get customers to opt in to receive text updates. When you write the messages, keep it simple and clear — you don’t room to write a lot, so include a link to your mobile website or your Facebook page where they can learn more about the promotion. This type of marketing puts you immediately into customers’ hands, whether they’re at home, at work or out shopping.

Author Bio:
Kristen Gramigna is Chief Marketing Officer for BluePay (http://www.bluepay.com), offering mobile credit card processing services. She brings more than 15 years of experience in the bankcard industry in direct sales, sales management, and marketing to BluePay and also serves on its Board of Directors.

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Why It’s Time to Rebuild Your Website

In the past few years, more and more consumers are visiting local business websites on their phones and their tablets, not just their desktop.  Local business owners with outdated websites or no website at all are losing countless customers because of this.  In addition, customers who come to your website are looking to make reservations, book appointments and seek out your most up-to-date specials and events at any given time.  Having these tools available for your customers is imperative in today’s digital age.

Luckily, building (or re-building) a website doesn’t require you to spend thousands of dollars to hire a website developer.  The emergence of “simple-website builders” like WixWeeblySquarespace  and even  GoDaddy , allow local business owners to build beautiful, creative websites with absolutely no coding experience whatsoever. 

These website providers also have a host of tools and add-ons to better-serve your customers that can be added to your website with a click of a button. And the best part is that these solutions cost as little as $10 per month.

As a local business owner, it’s imperative that your website has the following capabilities:

  1. A fully-optimized website that is designed with Search Engine Optimization (“SEO”) capabilities so that potential customers can easily find you on Google and Bing.
  2. A website that is easily viewed on desktop, tablet and phone so that customers can find out your business information regardless of what they’re using to browse the internet and where they’re doing so.
  3. Ability for you to update your website on the fly for changes in business hours, updated specials and events, additions / deletions to your menu or services and more.
  4. Additional tools to help your customers like (a) appointment or reservation booking directly from the website, (b) ability to give you their email for your monthly newsletters, (c) contact forms, and (d) calendar widgets to view your specials and events.

The following simple website builders have these capabilities and more.  Take a look at the below offerings to see what suits your local business.

Wix

Wix’s powerful technology makes it simple for everyone to go online with a beautiful, professional and functional web presence. No creative limits, no coding – just complete freedom to express yourself and manage your entire business online. 

In addition, Wix has the following capabilities (1) Ability to create a free website with no costs at all and choose from custom themes for any type of business, (2) SEO capabilities, (3) Websites work on any size screen: across computers, phones and tablets (4) Ability to update the website at any time, (5) A fully functional app store with widget add-ons, (6) Domain purchasing and hosting.

(Wix dashboard)

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Weebly

Weebly’s simple website creator has given millions of people a surprisingly easy and affordable way to create a website. With a Weebly site, people can start their own business, communicate with their clients, showcase their achievements, and be an authority on personal and professional interests. Weebly gives everyone the freedom to start a site, blog or online store.

In addition, Weebly has the following capabilities (1) Ability to create a free website with no costs at all and choose from custom themes for any type of business, (2) SEO capabilities, (3) Websites work on any size screen: across computers, phones and tablets (4) Ability to update the website at any time, (5) Several widget add-ons beneficial to local businesses, (6) Domain purchasing and hosting.

(Weebly dashboard)

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GoDaddy

Go Daddy is no longer just a web domain hosting and purchasing company.  They have been quietly acquiring and building out tools for small businesses beyond just website building.  With GoDaddy, you can build a custom website with ease, access bookkeeping services for your business, manage email and social media marketing, and perform pay-per-click advertising, all through one portal. 

GoDaddy’s website solutions have the following capabilities (1) Ability to create a website with custom themes for any type of business, (2) SEO capabilities, (3) Websites work on any size screen: across computers, phones and tablets (4) Ability to update the website at any time, (5) Several widget add-ons beneficial to local businesses, (6) Domain purchasing,  hosting and e-mail.

(Go Daddy dashboard)

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Squarespace  

Much like Wix and Weebly, Squarespace allows you to easily create a site, blog or online store that works brilliantly across computers, phones and tablets.  If your website is built on Squarespace, add your website calendar with the following steps:

Squarespace has the following capabilities (1) Ability to create a free website with no costs at all and choose from custom themes for any type of business, (2) SEO capabilities including website traffic and monitoring from your dashboard, (3) Websites work on any size screen: across computers, phones and tablets (4) Ability to update the website at any time, (5) Several widget add-ons beneficial to local businesses, (6) Domain purchasing and hosting.

(Squarespace dashboard)

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Should you need any help on building out your simple website, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at consulting@UPlanMe.com.

How to Add a Website Calendar of Specials & Events to your Website

Customers that visit your website are doing so because they are clearly interested in learning more about your business, band, store, brand or service.  If you have daily and weekly specials and events like happy hours, lunch / dinner specials, trivia nights, live music, sales and other promotional events, it’s important you keep your website visitors up-to-date on these happenings.

One easy way is to add UPlanMe’s free, embeddable website calendar.  Our calendar has all the following capabilities that most others, like Google Calendar do not:

  1. Add a beautiful, social calendar to your website that updates automatically as you make changes
  2. Publish specials & events to Facebook pages & Twitter feed all at once
  3. Customers can save specials & events directly to Google Calendar, Outlook and iCal!
  4. Customers can map your event location with one-click directions
  5. Reach millions of potential new customers*
  6. Create recurring daily and weekly specials & events*
  7. Combine multiple calendars into one (for multiple locations)*
  8. Premium support*

* Denotes premium tools (only $15 per month)

To get started, create your business’s calendar of specials and events at UPlanMe.  Below we’ll provide you with instructions on how to add your UPlanMe calendar to your website.  If you’ve built your website with simple website builders like Wix, WeeblyGoDaddy or Squarespace, it’s not that difficult.

(Sample UPlanMe Website Calendar with Event Details)

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Getting Started on UPlanMe

1.       Create Your Account at http://www.UPlanMe.com/for-businesses
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2.       After your account is set-up go ahead and create your first special or event at http://www.uplanme.com/events/add
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3.       Now head to your Account Page to grab your  calendar code: http://www.uplanme.com/professionals/edit

Customize your website calendar by choosing the number of columns you want (1 through 5)

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Copy your calendar code from the Account Settings Page. Save this code for later when we give you instructions on how to place onto your website.

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Customize the Website Calendar Border and Primary Font Color/ links (Color 1) and your Secondary Border Color (Color 2) by dropping the desired six-letter Hex color code into its respective location.  Here’s a great tool you can use to find your perfect colors.  Be sure to grab the Hex code. http://widget.colorcodehex.com/color-picker.html.

 And that’s it, Voila! You now have your own free calendar for your website.  Take a look below at how to get your calendar added to your website depending on how your website was built.

Wix  Instructions

Wix’s powerful technology makes it simple for everyone to go online with a beautiful, professional and functional web presence. No creative limits, no coding – just

complete freedom to express yourself and manage your entire business online.  Wix’s websites are designed to work on any size screen: across computers, phones and tablets.  If your website is built on Wix, add your website calendar with the following steps:

  1. Head to your Wix Editor. You can either create a new page solely dedicated to your calendar, or you can add it in to an existing page.  If you create a new page, I would suggest calling it “Events”, “Specials”, or “Calendar”
  2. Once you’ve decided where your website calendar will go, click on the ‘+ Add’ on the vertical dashboard on the left.  Select Apps from the list and then HTML
  3. Wix will drop a box onto your website.  In the setting tab, change the Mode dropdown to HTML and paste your UPlanMe customized calendar code directly into the box.  When you’re finished, click Update.
  4. You can readjust the size of the website calendar within your HTML box by adjusting the width and height within the calendar code.  Our defaults are width of 400 and height of 400. More columns require using a larger width.  More events require using longer height.

Weebly Instructions

Weebly’s simple website creator has given millions of people a surprisingly easy and affordable way to create a website. With a Weebly site, people can start their own business, communicate with their clients, showcase their achievements, and be an authority on personal and professional interests. Weebly gives everyone the freedom to start a site, blog or online store that works brilliantly across computers, phones and tablets. If your website is built on Weebly, add your website calendar with the following steps:

  1. Head to your Weebly Editor. You can either create a new page solely dedicated to your calendar, or you can add it in to an existing page.  If you create a new page, I would suggest calling it “Events”, “Specials”, or “Calendar”
  2. Once you’ve decided where your website calendar will go, scroll all the way down to to the bottom of the vertical Element Bar and drag the ‘Embed Code’ to your work area. 
  3. Double-click on the box to “Edit Custom HTML” and paste your UPlanMe customized calendar code directly into the box.  It looks best if you Center the Custom HTML.
  4. You can readjust the size of the website calendar within your HTML box by adjusting the width and height within the calendar code.  Our defaults are width of 400 and height of 400. More columns require using a larger width.  More events require using longer height.

Go Daddy Instructions

If you’ve built your website with one of GoDaddy’s custom templates, it’s actually quite easy to add in your UPlanMe website calendar code.

  1. Head to the control panel for your website builder.  You can either create a new page solely dedicated to your calendar, or you can add it in to an existing page.  If you create a new page, I would suggest calling it “Events”, “Specials”, or “Calendar”
  2. Once on your new page and editing the design, go to your vertical tool bar on the loft and scroll all the way down until you see </> HTML Code and click on the tool. 
  3. Readjust the width and height and position the box to where you’d like it on your page
  4. Once finished, double-click on the box and place your UPlanMe website calendar code directly in between the <p> and </p>. To center the website calendar, change the first <p> to <p align=”center”>.  Note: the calendar won’t be viewable to you until click “Publish”.  After you’ve done this, head to your website and take a look at the calendar.
  5. Readjust the height and size to your specifications and re-publish until it’s perfect!  You can readjust the size of the website calendar within your HTML box by adjusting the width and height within the calendar code.  Our defaults are width of 400 and height of 400. More columns requires using a larger width.  More events requires using longer height.

Squarespace Instructions

Much like Wix and Weebly, Squarespace allows you to easily create a site, blog or online store that works brilliantly across computers, phones and tablets.  If your website is built on Squarespace, add your website calendar with the following steps:

  1. Head to your Squarespace Navigation bar. You can either create a new page solely dedicated to your calendar, or you can add it in to an existing page.  If you create a new page, I would suggest calling it “Events”, “Specials”, or “Calendar”
  2. Once you’ve decided where your website calendar will go, select + Add Block from the top right and choose Code underneath More.
  3. In the Edit Code box,paste your UPlanMe customized website calendar code between <p> and </p>.  To center the website calendar, change the first <p> to <p align=”center”>.
  4. You can readjust the size of the website calendar within your HTML box by adjusting the width and height within the calendar code.  Our defaults are width of 400 and height of 400. More columns require using a larger width.  More events require using longer height.
  5. To preview the website calendar in action, you must Save and Publish your website.

Need any help at all, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at info@UPlanMe.com!

Is Groupon’s Deal Marketplace Undermining Merchants?

Note: This post originally appeared on StreetFight Magazine

Last week, I attended Street Fight’s NYC Summit and listened to a discussion by Yipit co-founder Jim Moranhighlighting trends in the daily deals space. One of his major focal points was Groupon’s Deal Marketplace initiative, which was launched late last year.

The Deal Marketplace is Groupon’s shift in strategy from providing one-off “daily deals” to offering longer-running, recurring campaigns. With the launch of the marketplace, local businesses now can offer discounts on their goods and services for an extended period of time.

Initially, when daily deals companies like Groupon and LivingSocial exploded in popularity during the economic downturn, they promised to bring local businesses hundreds of new potential customers by placing their promotions in front of the deal providers’ millions of e-mail subscribers. It has been my understanding that the purpose of daily deals is purely customer acquisition — to bring in new customers, not to target your existing ones.

With the new marketplace focus, however, it seems as though this is no longer the case. I recently did a quick Google search for some of Groupon’s top New York City Marketplace offers and I found that Groupon seems to be cannibalizing the local businesses’ existing customers by using Google AdWords to bid on nearly every Marketplace deal’s local business name:

Above All Cruises

Demetriad Photography

Vada Spa

Platinum Salon

This new strategy seems unfair to the local businesses working with Groupon. It’s one thing for Groupon to advertise on keywords within your category, but entirely another issue when they begin to bid directly on a business’s name. By doing this, existing customers who are already searching out the local business are being directed first to the deeply discounted Groupon deal.  This strategy is hugely beneficial for Groupon, but very detrimental to the local businesses that stand to break even or lose money from the deal.

To my mind, Groupon shouldn’t really be earning revenue from existing customers who are already searching out a local business, but from new customers who only purchased the deal because they found it on Groupon’s site or in a daily email.

For many of us who work in hyperlocal that have strived to build truly beneficial technologies to help SMBs, we have done it for our passion to help local businesses succeed. Companies that pull tactics like these give everyone in the space a bad name. It’s my hope that Groupon will stop this deceptive practice.

Do you agree or disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Sean Barkulis

Sean Barkulis is co-founder of UPlanMe, a hyperlocal, technology platform that helps local businesses market and promote their specials and events across the web.  Through UPlanMe Consulting, he provides local businesses with full-service digital marketing solutions. He is also author of “How to Market Your Business Online.” He can be reached via Twitter at @SeanBarkulis.

3 Tips to Increase Customer Engagement w/ Loyalty Rewards

If you are a bar, restaurant, coffee shop, salon, spa or other retail store, you know one of the hardest part about running your business is bringing existing customers back into your store on a frequent basis.  

One of the best ways to incentivize return visits is to reward your loyal customers through offers, special and deals.  Before the host of technological advancements, local businesses used to reward loyal customers with a clip card where they’d receive an item free after ten purchases.  

However, a recent study by Forrester Research show that this method is fairly ineffective. Only 16% of consumers actually redeem loyalty rewards.  So how can you as a local business owner increase customer engagement and participation in your loyalty rewards? Here are 3 quick tips:

1. Use a Mobile-App Based Loyalty Program

One of the most common reasons customers don’t redeem rewards when it comes to clip cards, is because they most likely lose them or don’t want to deal with the hassle of holding onto those cards.  A great way to circumvent this issue to provide your loyalty rewards via mobile-app based loyalty programs.

One of the best mobile apps that comes to my mind is Belly. The Belly “Card” is a mobile app based rewards program that is quickly sprouting up in local businesses across the country.  It works very simply. The business provides a host of various rewards based on how many points the customer has accumulated.  The customer then earns these rewards by quickly scanning their mobile phone.  It’s super easy and reduces the need for the customer to hang on to a bunch of various loyalty cards from their favorite businesses.

2. Email marketing

Email marketing campaigns can be done extremely easy through tools like MailChimp and Constant Contact.  Be sure to acquire your customers’ email addresses by providing an incentive to do so.  Then, send your customers monthly e-mail incentives to get them back in the door.  

3. Text Marketing

Test-based marketing campaigns have an ever higher redemption than email marketing, because consumers are more likely to open their text messages than their emails.  One product I like is VIP Texts.  They allow you to target customers with special offers and deals and then provide you with custom analytics on those campaigns.

Is Your Chamber or Business Improvement District Really Supporting Your Business?

As a local business owner, do you belong to your local Chamber of Commerce?  Is your local business located within a Business Improvement District (“BID”)?  In either case, are they really doing their best to help promote and market your local business within the community?  

In theory, both are taking money from you (the Chamber through your annual dues and the BID through your property taxes) and thus should be required to create programs, marketing initiatives and incentives to help you build and grow your business.

One of the clear ways these organizations can help is to educate you on the tools available to grow and expand one’s business.  As our focus is in online marketing here at UPlanMe Consulting, we believe that getting online is one of the clear ways to do this. In fact,  Google’s Get Your Business Online campaign did a study that says businesses who have an online presence are expected to grow 40% faster than those who do not.  

It, therefore, makes sense that the Chamber and BID should be educating and using these various tools to help you, the business owner, get online and grow your business.

When it comes to local chambers, I’ve tried countless times to work with them in providing educational resources. However, I am told that the only way they’ll work with me is to become a member myself.  This seems pretty contradictory considering I’m offering educational services for free. As a local business, it’s therefore up to you to demand these types of services from your chamber representatives.  Ask your local chamber what resources they believe are available to market your business online.

When it comes to the local BIDs, their efforts seem to focus on creating events and programs to bring residents and visitors alike to your district.  One of these main components should be in promoting the local businesses within the district.  They should be marketing your business and the specials, events and activities throughout the community.

At UPlanMe, we’ve created a really unique solution for both local chambers and the BIDs to help promote the local businesses within their community.

Through our cloud-based community calendar technology, we provide the Chamber/BID and local businesses with an easy solution to market their specials, sales, promotions and events across the web to reach residents and visitors throughout the town, city or community.  Here’s what we provide:

  • Community Calendar Technology – A simple line of code gets placed on the Chamber/BID website and it aggregates all of the local businesses’ events and specials automatically. No need for the staff to do any of the work
  • Automation of Events – Allows all local businesses to create and add their specials and events directly on UPlanMe so that the staff doesn’t need to focus on it; Appears automatically on the BID /Chamber Community Calendar (only takes 5 minutes to integrate on your website).
  • Calendars For Your Local Businesses’ Websites – Your local businesses also get their own embeddable calendar for their website that aggregates their events and specials to appear on their own website so their customers see them, as well (this reduces duplication of efforts on your part)
  • Social Sharing & Add to Calendar  - Social functions allow people to share to Facebook and Twitter to help in promoting these events across the web. “Add to personal calendar” buttons so that a potential attendee won’t forget about the event.
  • Community Calendar Can be Shared Across the City - Share the community calendar via iFrame to the local news paper, Patch.com site, Tourism site, local blogs, and local Hotels’ websites to reach thousands of people beyond the visitors to the Chamber / BID website.  Again, updates automatically and integration takes 5 minutes.

What’s great about this solution is that there is no cost to the above tools. We do provide some premium features, but the Chamber / BID can use the funds you are already paying them to access this technology should it make sense.

If you think this is something of interest to your chamber or BID, feel free to reach out to me directly, or share this article with your Chamber / BID leaders and we’re happy to discuss in more detail.

How to Market Your Specials & Events Online - 5 Easy Tips

The other day I was walking up 2nd Avenue between 10th and 14th streets in New York City.  In a matter of 4 blocks, I came across nearly 10 different local businesses (just on one side of the street) that were using chalk boards to promote their specials and events to potential customers.  This is by no means an uncommon occurrence.  On any given street in New York City (and most cities), you’ll find that local business owners use the “old” chalkboard in hopes of bringing new customers in the door.

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In fact, many businesses use this as the only way to promote their specials and events to potential customers.  Unfortunately, this type of “location-based marketing” fails to reach the thousands of potential customers on any given day that are looking on web and mobile for specials and events in your neighborhood.

One of the primary reasons a local business owner creates these types of specials and events is to drive customers through the door during typically slow days or time periods.  They didn’t create the Happy Hour just to reward early drinkers, it was meant to get people in the door as soon as that bar opened.

There are many simple tools a local business owner can use to promote that: “Two for One Happy Hour”, “Live Trivia Night”, “Prix-Fixe Dinner Special”, “20% Off Summer Clothing Line” or “10% Monday Discounts on Salon Services”.  Here are five easy ways to make sure your specials, sales, events and promotions reach as many potential customers as possible.

1. Promote Your Specials & Events on Your Website

This is a no-brainer.  Make sure your website clearly lays out those specials, sales, events and promotions that you are creating to entice potential customers.  Most importantly, make sure they are up-to-date, or else you might have some angry customers arriving to your establishment.

An easy way is to place a calendar-tool on your website that updates in real-time as you add your specials and events. This removes the need for you to have a web developer continually making changes to your website.  UPlanMe and Google both offer great free calendar tools for local businesses’ websites.

2. Promote Your Specials & Events on Your Social Media

Assuming your local business is participating in social media (which it should be), use this to your advantage.  Make sure you’re posting your daily specials and events to Twitter and Facebook.  If you have an Instagram account, make sure to take a snapshot of that chalkboard’s daily specials to share with your followers.

For more noteworthy events that aren’t a daily or weekly special, consider creating a Facebook Page Event.  While you can’t invite your followers, you can invite your Facebook friends.  They in-turn can choose to invite their friends.  This virality can go a long way.

Lastly, make sure to add a photo on Facebook with your status update. Whether it’s the picture of the chalk board, or a funny anecdote, status updates with pictures tend to get more likes and shares (hence views) to your followers and their friends

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3. Promote your Specials Through Google Offers & Yelp Deals

Many local business owners probably haven’t considered Google Offers and Yelp Deals as a way to market their daily or weekly specials. While Google Offers and Yelp Deals were initially created to compete with the Groupons / Daily Deal Companies of the world (Get 50% off $20 worth of goods), they provide another type of offer that doesn’t require you to charge massive discounts and force customers to pay upfront.

Google and Yelp let you create redeemable “coupons” and “offers” that reach consumers on their web and mobile apps.  For example, you can use Google and Yelp to create an “Offer” for “2 drinks for the price of 1 on Thursdays”, “20% off on Monday”, or “Access to our Prix-Fixe Menu”.  This is a great way to reach the millions of consumers who are using Google and Yelp to seek out specials and deals.  

4. Promote your Specials on Your Business Listings

Have you made sure to update your business listing across the top online business directory sites like Yelp, Google Places, Bing Places, Local.com, Mapquest, Yellow Pages, Citysearch and others?  If not, you’re missing out on a huge, promotional opportunity to reach the thousands of customers that are seeking out your local business online.

By managing your listing on these various listing directories, you are able to place your daily and weekly specials and events directly into the description of your business. If you haven’t already realized, these are the websites that consumers are going to seek out local bars, restaurants, retail stores and services, locally.  Make sure to use this to your advantage to entice potential customers into your store.

Haven’t updated your business listing across the web, yet?  Use Yext PowerListings to easily update your business info and description across 45+ of the top business listing websites.

5. Promote Your Specials & Events to Local News, Event Sites and Blogs

While this option is a bit more tedious, it doesn’t hurt to identify the various local news websites, local blogs, local event / things to do websites and location-based mobile apps that potential customers in your area are using to find out about the local happenings in your town or city.

Reach out to these publications and see if there is a way for you to upload your daily and weekly specials and events for free.  If you are a member of your local Chamber of Commerce or your business resides in a Business Improvement District, reach out and see what they can do to help the local businesses market and promote their specials.

Alternatively, you can access tools like UPlanMe which for a $15 monthly fee, will automatically publish and promote your daily and weekly specials for you.  Create them once, and they’ll push them out to various local websites and blogs to reach thousands of potential customers in your town or city.

Either way, its up to you to take the time to market your business’s specials and events online.  If you are creating specials, promotions and events, you’re most likely doing so to drive traffic through the door.  Remember, that a chalk board in front of your business is just not enough to help drive those customers into your business.  Marketing these specials and events online is the right way to attract new customers.

Sean Barkulis is the Co-Founder of UPlanMe, a technology platform that automatically promotes local businesses’ specials, sales, updates and events across web and mobile to reach millions of potential customers.  Through UPlanMe Consulting, he provides a full-suite of digital marketing solutions for local businesses to increase their online presence and reach more customers.

He has spent several years working directly with brands and local businesses to understand the difficulties they face when marketing their business online.  His first book “How to Market your Business Online: Get Your Business Known On The Internet, Increase Your Customers & Make More Money!” is available on Amazon.

How to Use Google Analytics for Your Local Business Website

According to studies by BIA Kelsey and Google, 97% of consumers go online to research products locally and 90% of consumers use search engines to conduct research on local businesses.  This means that potential customers are finding your local business website through various online searches.  It’s important to understand the analytics and insights as to how customers are finding you, so you know how to optimize your website for search traffic.

Google Analytics provides a great tool that allows you to identify the customers finding your website by a host of factors.  It’s as easy as dropping a simple line of code onto your website.  Get started with Google Analytics by heading here: http://www.google.com/analytics/.

The success of your local business website is dependent on attracting the right kind of visitors and making sure the content on your website ultimately drives them to making a purchase or coming into your store. Here are the key metrics to understand when looking at your Analytics:

Visitors and Unique Visitors

Clearly this is the key indicator of how many people are arriving to your website.  Unique visitors tells you how many customers came to your website in the previous thirty days.  While this is a very important factor, it’s important that you look beyond this statistics to understand more about your website visitors.

Visitor Demographics

As a local business, it’s important that you are attracting the right type of visitor.  Looking at demographics allows you to make sure that the visitors coming to your website are from your city or town, which makes them potential customers.  Those that came across your website from some random city far-away, are most likely not potential customers.  It’s key that you make sure the right consumer finds your website.  If not, you should be evaluating your SEO/SEM strategy.

Bounce Rate

Bounce Rate measures how quickly someone came to your first page and left your website.  If your bounce rate is high, that means your content isn’t enticing visitors to say on your website to learn more about your business.  

New vs. Returning

This figure differs depending on your situation.  A local bar owner is probably much more focused on having new visitors (i.e. potential customers) coming to his or her website on a monthly basis.  A store owner with an online store might be more interested in returning visitors. This lets them know they are getting repeat visits (and sales) from their loyal customers.

Mobile

A recent study says that nearly 30% of consumers are searching for local businesses on their mobile phones.  Looking at your % of mobile visitors will tell you the importance of having a mobile-optimized website.  If visitors are forced to pinch their mobile screen and scroll around to read your website content, their most likely going to give up and not come to your store. 

Visitor Flow

Visitor Flow is a way to track what visitors do when they arrive to your website and where they go.  If you are a hair salon or eye doctor that allows customers to book appointments directly on your website, it’s important to understand if visitors are getting to your appointment booking area or if they are dropping off before making appointment.  It may mean you need to alter the content of your website.

Traffic Sources

There are four types of web sources people may find your website:

  • Direct: The consumer typed in your web address.  This means they most likely already new your website or guessed your website because they intended to arrive.  In terms of Google Analytics this is the least important to measure.  What’s more important is identifying how potential customers are finding your website.
  • Search: Search traffic measure the various keywords customers are using in Google or Bing (for example) to find out about your business.  If you are a Plumber in Boston, most people will be searching for “Plumbers in Boston”.  It’s important to find out if you are showing up in search results for those keywords.  If not, it probably makes sense to analyze your website content and SEO. 
  • Referral: Referral traffic comes when someone clicks through to your website from another website. In terms of local businesses, this usually occurs when someone discovers your business on a business listing directory service like Yelp, Citysearch, YellowPages or some other website.  To increase your referral traffic it’s imperative you have up-to-date content on the nearly 45+ local business listing directories.
  • Social: This is traffic that is coming from Facebook and Twitter.  If your business is active on social media, then this is great way to verify engagement with your Tweets and Posts.  If this is number is low, it may make sense to switch-up the content you are sharing.

Managing your website’s analytics and using search engine optimization (SEO) to increase traffic to your website is important tool in driving prospective customers to your local business.  If you need help with any of the above, and in particular, Mobile websites, Increasing web traffic and optimizing your website for search, feel free to contact us at UPlanMe Consulting, our full-service, local business digital marketing company.

Sean Barkulis is co-founder of UPlanMe, a marketing technology platform that helps local business navigate the hyper-fragmented online marketing space. He is also author of “How to Market Your Business Online.” He can be reached via Twitter at @SeanBarkulis.