5 Brand Centers Your Business Needs, Part 1

If one of your main business goals is to boost your company’s brand – something a lot of small companies neglect –  you need to pay close attention to the five brand centers we will cover in the next two posts.

1.  Your Website

1-knorr-branded-website

Visitors shouldn’t have to scramble around, click multiple tabs or scroll down looking for clues. What your website is all about should be obvious at a glance, as with Knorr here.  And what should stand out the most?  Exactly how you can do something nice or needed for each visitor.

But that’s not enough.  Don’t neglect any opportunity to brand your web pages.

  • Think of your logo and colors as a type of shorthand, providing instant visual identification.  People should see your colors and even shapes, and instantly think of your business – and how helpful it is.
  • Every photo should show what you do or provide
  • Every app or widget should appeal to your customers

You’re making a promise to the people visiting your website landing page, so make sure the rest of your site, blog, social networks, newsletter and information products all deliver equally and consistently on that promise. 

2.  Create Your Blog – and Use It

A graphic from ProBlogger.netIf you already own and operate a blog for your business, this title of this tip may seem redundant, but make no mistake:  Blogging is essential in branding most businesses.

The key lies in making sure your blog is active – something Problogger wrote the book on.

There are many ways to plan for engagement and activity.  But before they will interact, you need to capture your visitors’ attention.

  • Use powerful, relevant photos, videos, polls, contests and sound-clips to increase interaction from your viewers
  • Make sure photos tell an instant story or pique curiosity
  • Choose photos that are lively, dynamic, eye-catching and relevant to your topic
  • Schedule expert, interesting Guest posters
  • Run a series and pre-load your series installments
  • Regularly re-purpose and feature “Oldies but Goodies” (evergreen blog posts from the past that gathered comments and feedback)
  • Update published posts with new developments (especially posts that incited comment activity on initial release)
  • Re-visit popular topics
  • Write a weekly “Top Ten Tips on…” feature, slanted to your ideal reader’s niche interest
  • Write regular “how to” posts, to help your readers find solutions
  • If you have to, pay for top experts to guest post – even if that’s a once-a-month feature or you have to plan for it further down the line

Remember, a blog and its branding are only as good as its activity level.  But even if your blog doesn’t seem to get much action, remember that people are busy and make sure you set up every post so that people can use your blog as a resource when they need to.

Post material that is evergreen and useful, such as your “how to” posts; or high-value tips as well as “how to” posts on common tasks.

3.  Create a Newsletter

newsletter brandingA newsletter provides you with a wonderful way, reason and excuse to keep in touch with customers or clients.  And – best of all – you can brand it with your colors and logo.

It does not need to be the be-all and end-all of newsletters.  It simply has to:

  • Remind your subscribers that your business is alive, well and active
  • Reassure subscribers that they are important to you, and that you are thinking about them

But there’s a third function your newsletter can perform, to help you step up your branding a notch.  And that’s provide you with a repetitive, ready incentive for people to sign up and subscribe to your list. 

  • Include a signup web form on every blog or website page (top-right corner is the preferred spot)
  • Make sure your newsletters contain valuable content and time-limited offers, discounts, news and resources highly relevant to your target visitor
  • Have these same elements in every newsletter (e.g. always a “Product of the Month” discount; always a seasonally-time-sensitive tip, etc.) This turns them into a branded feature, as Ego’s Garden Centre of Orillia, Ontario, demonstrates admirably here…
  • Try to solve at least one current problem for your target visitor per newsletter.
  • Point people to your Archive section for past newsletters, so readers can see how valuable your content can be (while the visual consistency of the newsletters reinforces how trustworthy your brand is)
  • Point out the advantage of signing up to get newsletters as they’re released, so visitors won’t miss any more time-limited valuablesCreating regular newsletters and branding, promoting and archiving them is an efficient use of your time. You have to create your newsletter for existing subscribers anyway… so why not let it double as a sign up incentive and a branded, trustworthy resource for visitors too?

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about the remaining two brand centers for you to consider, so bookmark the page or join my list to make sure you don’t miss it.

Kindle Publishing: How to Market a Book on a Budget

A Quick Guide to a Break-Even Analysis

Guest blog post by Gina Akao

Gina Akao photo 1

Gina Akao

One of the best tips I received from my mentor, a project manager, was to create a Break-Even Analysis before starting a new business endeavor. A simple spreadsheet in Excel can track how much you must make in order to break even with the costs to launch your project, product, or book.

In February 2013, I published my memoir, Tales of a Law School Dropout, as an eBook on Amazon.com with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). Why did I choose to publish an eBook instead of a print book? Well, it is completely free to publish an eBook on KDP, so you literally have nothing to lose! You have no printing costs. Plus, if (God forbid) you find a typo in your eBook after you have published it, you can easily go back and post an update within days. If the update is significant, you can even notify your readers who have already bought the book. Think of your eBook as a beta version to the launch of your print book. However, keep in mind that although it is free to upload your book, you will need to budget for associated publishing expenses, such as the cost of a photographer.

I tracked my book publishing budget in “the cloud” using a simple spreadsheet in Google Drive. You don’t need to own Microsoft Excel to make a budget. All you need is a free Gmail account.

Next, I created headings for items on which I anticipated spending, their budgeted cost, and their actual cost. Every time I came up with a new expense that I hadn’t initially planned, I would insert a new row and recalculate my costs.

Then, I totaled my eBook sales (KDP allows you to easily look up your royalties in a downloadable report). I added up my sales and my freelance editing income, and voila! I was quickly able to determine exactly when I broke even. I’m also proud to announce that, yes, I did break even, so the rest is profit!

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that I started out with a WordPress.com blog, which is free, but it is an extra $18 a year to buy a domain that builds your personal brand. Building a WordPress.com blog is like renting a house—WordPress.com controls what you can and cannot post.

Your business is your investment, so if you don’t mind spending more for hosting, you can “own” your content by setting up your blog on WordPress.org. I looked into BlueHost, which costs $4.95/month, but if you add the extra protections, it will cost you $218.18 for three years. Is it worth the investment? In my opinion, yes.

I recently discovered that my current blog at WordPress.com is not compatible with AWeber’s subscription form. AWeber is an excellent way to run email campaigns, organize your subscription lists, and maintain an ongoing relationship with your blog readers, and it costs $50 for three months. I signed up because I wanted to take advantage of AWeber’s autoresponder service that would easily send out my free gift to my subscribers, so I wouldn’t have to manually email them. However, because WordPress.com does not allow you to post Java Script in the sidebar of your blog for the subscription form, it would be beneficial to switch over to WordPress.org for better freedom and control. I decided to keep my WordPress.com blog, but invest in my future by buying the “land” from Bluehost to set up my WordPress.org website, www.writingandeditingtoday.com. This new business site will focus on my virtual assistance and freelance writing and editing business, which I factored into my budget.

To see my spreadsheet to date, please see the picture below.

Happy blog budgeting!

Gina Akao

If you liked this blog post, or would like me to set up your blog and budget for you, please contact me for virtual assistance at http://ginaakao.com/contact. Gina Akao - Book Publishing Spreadsheet

Gina Akao holds a MA in Educational Leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno. She is the author of Tales of a Law School Dropout, owns a freelance writing and editing business, and provides virtual assistance to authors who need to set up WordPress blogs. She is also featured on D’vorah Lansky’s Virtual Book Tour Hall of Fame. To receive your free gift, “Top Ten Career Tips,” visit www.GinaAkao.com and subscribe today!

Before I Go: Do Social Networking Your Way

Choose your wayOver the last 10 posts, I’ve shared a lot of suggestions for your approach to social networking. I hope that some of have been useful to you and I even hope that you’ve decided to completely disregard some of them. If there’s one key takeaway I’d like people to get from all this rambling on it’s this…

As a business using social networking, you need to approach it in a way that works for you. You have a unique audience and so you need to find your own unique approach that fits into your overall business plan.

There are so many social media experts out there telling us we have to be doing this and we have to be doing it X times each day or we’ll fail, but that’s just complete nonsense. At the core of everything you do is a business and that’s where you need to focus your growth. Social networking is simply a complement to that business. It cannot make or break you, unless you give it so much attention that you forget about actually growing your business.

So, as you build your social networking plan, consider the following:

Focus Plan– Which networks are the best fit for you and produce the best results to match your goals

– Scheduling your participation or hiring help, so it doesn’t interfere with other business tasks

– How to grow your very targeted following and how to deliver them something unique and useful

When you have all that figured out, everything else falls into place. But don’t get discouraged if you don’t have a crystal clear plan yet. It takes time and experimentation to find what works best for your business, so get out there and do it. Stay focused and you’ll get there.

Four Unexpected Benefits of Social Networking

Benefits of Social NetworkingWe started out this blog series talking about how it’s a truly social web out there. No one can argue that. People are flocking to Facebook (a billion active monthly users) and are spending a large portion of their Internet time on social networks. Because of this, the experts tell us, as business owners, we also need to be on social networks.

It make sense. It definitely does.

But beyond simply trying to connect with our target audiences, social networking offers some other unexpected benefits including…

SEO Benefits: More and more, search engines are taking cues from social media to discover what content is truly valuable and what they should include in their search results. That’s why it’s not just important that you are present in social networking, but that your target audience is talking about your content. Make it easy for them to share your blog posts and create buzz for you. It will not only increase your traffic from social networks, but it can also increase your traffic from organic search.

Knowing People Before You Meet Them: Okay, I’m not talking about stalking anyone here, but there is tremendous value in already knowing a lot about people before you make a connection with them. Social networking gives you the opportunity to find people who share similar interests and values as you before you attempt to make a connection. Then, when you do approach someone, you can use the information you already have to get their attention and show them you’re someone who has done their homework.

Knowledge is PowerLearning About Stuff: Social media is a great research tool that allows you to learn new things about your subject area, get business advice and more. If you’re approaching social media simply as a broadcasting tool, you are missing out on a much more enriching experience. Always be selective in the people you follow, so you can get the best results from your social media streams as possible.

Media Coverage: If you’ve positioned yourself as a person knowledgeable in your subject area and have grown a nice following, congratulations. You have become an expert that can be called on by various members of the traditional and new media for opinions, interviews and more. It’s not uncommon for reporters to find their sources through social media, so put your best foot forward and showcase your knowledge.

It’s clear that the social web is here to stay and that’s definitely a good thing. There is so much value it can bring us if we approach it responsibly and wisely.

Three Productivity Boosting Approaches and Tools to Streamline Your Social Networking

Earlier in this blog post series, we talked about how each social network is just a little bit different and our approach to each one should be carefully crafted. At the time, I cautioned against simply using social media integration tools to broadcast the same thing across your social networks. I stand by that advice wholeheartedly, but there are still plenty of useful tools you can use to streamline your social networking process.

Here are 3 types of tools that are worth checking out:

#1 Integrating and Managing Your Streams: Hootsuite.com

Hootsuite creates an easy-access dashboard for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and more.

Hootsuite

By connecting your accounts, you can view all your social networking streams in one places, instead of logging into each site individually. It also allows you to schedule posts to publish at specific times that you choose.

Hootsuite provides some analytics, but many of the features are available with a Pro account and can get quite expensive. Depending on how much you use Hootsuite, this may or may not be worth it. A Pro account is also useful if you have more than 5 profiles to manage and/or you have a number of members on your social networking team.

Other similar tools in the marketplace include SproutSocial.com and Tweetdeck.com.

#2 Getting Your Analytics: Twentyfeet.com

TwentyFeet provides you with a dashboard of social networking analytics for Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and more. It also can bring in your analytics for bit.ly, if you happen to use that as a link shortening service. They actually call it an “egotracking service,” but it’s more meaningful than something like Klout, which reduces social networking into a popularity contest.

The site allows you to compare the analytics from various sites to see where you might increase or adjust your efforts. The service also notifies you whenever something noteworthy happens in your accounts.

A basic account with one Facebook account (not Page) and one Twitter account are free. There are monthly fees if you want to add anything from there, but the cost of analytics is more affordable than provided with Hootsuite.com.

If you’re looking for something more in-depth, but more expensive, you can look at a service like Trackur.com. Or if you’d like to track where people are talking about you and your brand, do a free search at SocialMention.com. At this site, they’ll give you an idea of the sentiment in the mentions

#3 Timing Your Posts: TweetWhen.com and Tweriod.com

There’s something to be said about finding the optimal time to participate in social networking. After all, you want to ensure you reach the biggest percentage of your targeted audience as possible, right? While, there are plenty of studies out there to help you find the optimal time, it always depends on your own unique audience, so you have to analyze things yourself.

A couple of tools that might help you include TweetWhen and Tweriod.

TweetWhen analyzes your audience for you and gives you an optimal time to tweet, based on when you are most likely to get the best response. Because you don’t have to log into your account to use this service, you can also use it to gain intelligence on the best times for other Twitter users like your competition and other likeminded tweeters. However, it’s important to realize that TweetWhen’s data is based on when you’re actually tweeting, so if you tweet more at certain dates and times, these are more likely to be favored in the results.

Tweet When

Tweriod is a service that looks at the activity of your followers to determine your best time to tweet. The logic is, you should be more active when they’re active. Taking the data from TweetWhen and Tweroid together can help you figure out ways to adjust your participation in Twitter for best results.

Tweriod

Technology is out there to help us and you can certainly use it to your advantage to make it easier and more efficient to participate in social media…without looking like some kind of bot that is just auto-broadcasting everything. Find the right tools for you and it will be much easier for you to manage your social media participation.

Remember Your Business to Business Social Connections and You’ll Go Far

B2B ContactsWhile many businesses work with social media to grow their target market audience, there is so much opportunity to meet with and connect with other business owners. You can share advice, find service providers, promote one another’s content, connect each other to resources and other people. In short, if you’ve got friends…you’ll go far.

Always take the time to create and nurture these relationships when participating in social media. A few things you can do:

Join a group or a forum to meet like minded business owners. Facebook and LinkedIn have the opportunity to create and join groups, but good old fashioned message boards are a great social connector as well. And yes, forums are the original social networks, so they’re included.

Help others first, before expecting anything in return. Offer advice, provide content, ask if you can record a webinar and do all the work. Fellow business owners are so busy and it makes it difficult to cut through the noise to make a meaningful connection, but by first offering to help someone, it’s easier to grab attention.

Take it offline and connect with people directly, not just through status updates. Check out sites like Meetup.com, create your own meet up or attend seminars and other business events. There is nothing like cementing a connection by meeting face to face.

Meet people in person

Take another look at LinkedIn. Since LinkedIn is a network of professionals, it’s one of the best venues to make B2B connections. It’s a network that can help you find service providers and joint venture partners. You can get answers to your business questions, share your own business expertise and more.

Remember Your Audience

Just a word of warning when B2B networking. It’s important to keep your audience in mind when broadcasting on your social networks. Your customers may not be interested in business topics, but your B2B connections are.

For example, on Google+, use the Circles feature to identify and communicate with your B2B contacts.

On Facebook, you can separate contacts into Lists, so you only broadcast status updates to certain individuals. Always be mindful of this, so your information is targeted to the right audience.

And again, join specific groups and forums for your business connections. These will allow you to speak more freely and stay on target with what the audience wants to hear.

Being Approachable

Not only do you want to actively seek out new people to connect with, you also want it easy for people to approach you. You can ensure you’re approachable in a few ways, including:

Have a detailed profile that shows what you are interested in. This is particularly important on professional networks like LinkedIn and forums.

Participate in discussionsRespond to messages directly and in a timely manner. Don’t get so big for your britches that you think you can simply ignore people.

Participate in discussions other people are having. Share your thoughts, ideas and be generally helpful. Helpfulness makes you much more approachable.

Trying to run a business completely on your own is doing it the hard way. There are so many opportunities to meet and mutually benefit from relationships with other business owners. Whether you’re looking for a graphic artist, can’t figure out what’s wrong with your web code or need a partner for your next project, when you’ve got a network of business contacts, it’s much easier to get things done.