Thursday, October 09, 2014

Advice on 5 Perils and 8 Complexities eCommerce Entrepreneurs Face Every Day

Consulting or mentoring a small business owner isn’t as easy as working with a large business. Most businesses with several employees have already assigned tasks and jobs to different people. An entrepreneur is working on one's own and you're wearing many hats. 

So just I started mentoring the winner of the Pitney Bowes Small Business mentorship contest Julie Wiley owner of I Do Bridal & Gifts. It made me remember just how many points a small business owner needs to touch; I guess I have come to take them for granted. Working with her reminds me of the many tasks that need to be covered on a daily basis. 

Being a soloprenuer requires an “in the trenches” education. Luckily there are lots of books (mine included) that will help you learn new and interesting business methods that may previously have been foreign to you. The learning experience is broad. For an ecommerce business, as an example, the entrepreneur wears all these hats: 
  • Merchandise Buyer. Being on top of industry trends and being able to find merchandise (at the right price) for web sales.
  • Bookkeeper. Even if the business has a bookkeeper, the owner needs to watch financial trends and prepare the numbers for consolidation by a professional.
  • Legal Assistant. Every business needs to file for appropriate licenses and permits from the state and federal governments, plus keep track of DBA and required business filings for your city.
  • Website maintenance. The website is a one-man operation. Entrepreneurs have a picture of what they want and how they want it to look on the web. Reviewing and applying ongoing updates are part of the job, as well as being cognizant of SEO and Google Analytics.
  • Listing items for sale. Aside from the small business commerce website, items need to be listed on e commerce platforms to increase sales, build their brand and eventually build traffic back to their own website. Descriptions need to be well written to encourage a buyer to click the buy button.
  • Photographer. If you’re selling items on the web, you’re going to need good images. This takes a certain amount of equipment - and experience. Snapping off pictures quickly just doesn’t work; there is a lot to keep in mind. Click here for best practices for taking photos for online selling
  • Shipping Department. Shipping is often the most daunting task for a small business (it takes up a full chapter in my books). Learning the ins and outs and updates on regulations is of utmost importance. Many small businesses dilute their bottom line here, through inaccurate and expensive shipping decisions.
  • Chief Marketing Officer. Being close to your business makes the entrepreneur the ultimate expert. Armed with that knowledge, you need to apply social media and promotional best practices to improve sales online. Tread the thin line between marketing and possible spamming.
The tasks above become part of the business’ daily routine. But following a routine over months and maybe years can cause an entrepreneur to get stale. We all often fall into habits that may end up hurting our sales efforts.  Here are five common pitfalls of which to be aware:
  1. If sales start to lag don’t blame the platforms you are selling on right away. Be sure that you are updating your titles regularly using the most popular keywords that describe your item. Better descriptor keywords (just like SEO) can help you rank higher in the site’s search.
  2. Signing up and selling on multiple ecommerce sites because your sales are lagging and you think expanding is a good idea. Take a look at your core listings and see what you can improve before abandoning ship for another shiny site, thereby further weakening your views.
  3. Money can drain slowly, even at $5 a month; subscribing to (and paying for) multiple services that you don’t need or use is a waste. Unsubscribe!
  4. Not checking the competition! Every time you list of relist an item online, be sure to search the platform (and other vendors on the web) to see what the going price is. If others are successfully selling an item that you are not, take a close look at their descriptions, pictures and pricing to see if you can’t be better.
  5. Keep your listings fresh. Add additional photos to your item listings. The more those visitors can see, the more likely they are to click “buy.”
I have been selling online since 1996, and yes, I do get complacent. Much of what I’ve learned is from the ecommerce school of hard knocks. But after almost 20 years of selling online and researching for my books, I’ve got a strong grasp on what it takes to succeed. Keep learning and stay on top of trends, your ecommerce business will bring you a full time - or a side income, your choice.

Someone complained to me on Twitter about selling on eBay, you might find exchange amusing:

Monday, September 08, 2014

5 Tips for Mentor Relationships that Produce Positive Results

When I started my business, there was no Internet - to speak of. That is, unless you could call CompuServe (a modified CB simulator chat service), the Internet. It wasn’t until the early 90s and AOL that we could send email. It was a dark, dismal, lonely time.

At the Los Angeles Daily News, I had developed what I called a “renegade revenue” department of the newspaper, the Special Projects Division. There, I could come up with ideas, present them to management along with a business plan. If it was approved, we could run with it. We did some really off the wall projects and were very profitable. I should have known right then that I was an entrepreneur, but the word never resonated with me.

The Tribune Company was forced to sell my employer due to FCC issues and I had to take my fate in my own hands. I had no close relatives who were business kingpins, so I had to search for someone I trusted. This mentor had to be someone who had no skin in the game, a neutral third party who could give me advice. Luckily, I knew of a c-level newspaper executive whom I had met at conferences that just moved to Southern California .
Tip #1: You never know where your mentors will come from or when you will meet them. When networking, always be at the top of your game.
I didn’t know if he would remember me, or even take my call. I called his new office. He did remember me and I explained my situation. He invited me to lunch to talk - I assumed it was because he didn’t know many people in his new city.
Tip #2: Find someone to mentor you who is not a self-proclaimed expert. Find someone who is (or was)  a success in your field and is respected by others in the industry.
We’ll call him Howard. Howard (surprisingly) knew a lot about the work I had been doing and had great advice. He asked me if I wanted to be ‘another small fish in a big ocean, or a big fish in a small pond.” Message received, I decided to strike out on my own.

My background in renegade marketing would pay off. I presented my ideas to several regional shopping centers and I got five big clients. Now all I had to do was start my business. I had no concept of how to start a business.
Tip #3: Get business structure help from licensed professionals; someone who doesn’t have a disclaimer at the bottom of their website.
I went to the EA (EA is an Enrolled Agent - someone licensed by the IRS as an authorized tax practitioner) who did my personal taxes for references. I walked away with her advice, the name of a good accountant and a lawyer. I also found out that I’d have to get a loan to bankroll my exploits.

Many long, lunches later, I had everything in order. My business was set up legally and I had fulfilled all government requirements. Today the Internet would make things much easier.
Tip #4. Finding good mentors, those you can trust and resonate with is not an easy task. Don’t attach to the first person you meet; find someone who “gets” you.

By the way, I did get that bank loan and paid it back. My business powered on and was featured in Entrepreneur Magazine. You can read the actual article here - which gives my 1986 "Formula for Success." I was so successful that, in 1990, my company was named Small Business of the Year by the California State Assembly.

Because I have never been one not to take notice of cultural trends, I researched and devoured books. As the world changed and my business progressed I went deep into the writings of by my favorite futurist, Faith Popcorn. The turning points for my business and career also came from the many mentors I worked with during my career, especially Clay Felker, founder of New York Magazine; advertising and marketing genius, Tom Culligan and the engaging Peter Glen, author and customer service advocate for whom the Retail Advertising & Marketing Association's annual Peter Glen Award is named.
Tip #5: On your way up, you may be lucky enough to meet people who become “the greats” of the future. Be sure you keep in touch with them.
My business has morphed in different directions over the years and I still look to those who succeeded for advice. The fact that they will still get on the phone humbles me.

Which brings me to the point of this post. Through a relationship with Pitney Bowes Small Business, they have invited me to be a part of their latest initiative the Pitney Bowes Smallbiz Mentorship Contest which starts today and runs through September 22, 2014.

Pitney Bowes is the perfect example of a business born through mentorship and partnership. Arthur Pitney needed a mentor when he worked as a clerk in a wallpaper store and invented a machine to imprint envelopes with postage. Luckily, he found Walter Bowes who sold a letter-cancelling machine to the Postal Service. Together, they invented the postage meter. 

You can win a customized, one-on-one mentorship with me or my colleague Brian Moran, a small business expert dedicated to helping small businesses owners run better businesses. I’ll work closely with you to help tackle the biggest obstacles you are experiencing, or ones that are keeping you from the success you imagined. We’ll  review your business plans together. Then, I’ll make some actionable recommendations, and follow through with you until the end of the contest period. Hopefully providing some useful guidance to help you ignite your business.

To enter and win a mentorship, all you need to do is "like" the Pitney Bowes Small Business Facebook page and post a comment of less than 200 words letting us know us why your company would benefit from a mentorship program. Then, tell your friends and co-workers to like your post. Every Like helps your chances. Visit this page for the complete (and official) Terms and Conditions

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Problem with Fonts in New Version of Chrome? Here's the fix

Here's a short post on how to fix a new problem. If you have downloaded the new Chrome browser, Version 37.0.2062.103, you may find that many of your pages are basically unreadable. It seems to convert many pages (including gmail into a narrow sans serif font.

Here's the fix. Type into your browser address bar:
On the resulting page, click the link to Disable under Disable DirectWrite Windows
This will disable the use of the new experimental DirectWrite font rendering system.

A box will appear at the bottom of your browser saying : 
Your changes will take effect the next time you relaunch Google Chrome.
Click the box to Relaunch Chrome that will appear underneath - and voila. Your fonts are back to normal.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Conquering the Awkward Line Between Social Media Marketing and Customer Care

Brands often have a difficult time, especially when handling hundreds of thousands of customers a day (even if only a small percent is on social media). Their social media teams have to straddle a very thin line between marketing and engagement.

Take the @AmericanAir account on Twitter. It can't possibly be easy to act fun, friendly (and civil) while unavoidable delays leave customers stranded and then fling a stream of abusive obscenities at the brand?

I've been watching the last hour of their stream. American Airlines has handled Tweets from customers uncomfortable in their seats, upset about having to check a bag gateside, a plane being too warm, a worn out traveler complaining about the amount of people in the Admirals Club and an Executive Platinum flyer thrilled with his upgrade.

Anyone remember the days when there was no one with whom to vent? When you just wanted to scream at the top of your lungs? Now at least there is someone listening to your pleas for service, and they are also answering.

Aside from handling cranky travelers, they partake in conversations, share information, fun facts, promotions and incredible photos 24/7. They have a target response time to comments of 15 minutes. They seem to be doing this all very right, because according to a report from Sprinklr, American is the world's most social airline; "American is not just relying on its large audience, but is also producing content that effectively triggers a consumer response."

Their social media specialists tweet from the AA #TweetSuite and respond over 1000 times a day. They are a tight knit group of employees devoted to customer care. Unlike other brands, American has chosen not to have each team member include their names in the company Tweets. The preference is that the airline speaks in one brand tone of voice. They train their members for consistency.

I personally think the Twitter team is #AAwesome. They once helped me out when I was making a connection and accidentally walked out of security. They've also kept me company with funny tweets
So when I got an email from American saying they would like to interview me as a featured AAdvantage Member in the August 2014 "American Way" Magazine, I was (admittedly) over the moon. I responded right away - and was sworn to secrecy!

Marsha Collier American Way Magazine
I wasn't allowed to talk about it online, even with my Twitter friends or @AmericanAir. This was tough because (as I said in the article) I love tweeting with the crew when I'm flying (although I am convinced that someone from the social media account suggested me for the piece).

Thank you to everyone who is posting picures of the article on Facebook and Twitter and tagging me. It's so much fun to meet you and see when you travel. (I haven't actually seen a hard copy of the magazine yet).

If you'd like to see the article, it can be found online at the American Way emagazine here on page 94 or to see a magnified version, please visit this page.

Since we can't mention names, on the top of this article is a photo of my favorite team of Twitterati  #winning!

Monday, July 28, 2014

How Authentic Are You? Your Audience and Social Media Personna

by Marsha Collier

Well designed quizzes are a go-to quick take on almost any topic. I came across the quiz below: "What is Your Social Media Type" designed by Kevan Lee, Content Crafter at the buffer blog.

Take this quiz and you'll have a better idea if you are on social media to express - or to impress. It will give you a clear picture of your type; hence the kind of audience you attract. The data behind the quiz comes from a Wharton School study by management professor Nancy Rothbard and colleagues. Their study, 'When Worlds Collide in Cyberspace: How Boundary Work in Online Social Networks Impacts Professional Relationships, looked at the different strategies people use to manage their social media communications, and how varied approaches impact their outreach to an "invisible audience."

The portion of the study's title, "When Worlds Collide", refers to work and life balance; hoping to answer the question of how on-line social media impacts our lives. They also use the word minefield. to represent the challenges as to how we manage these relationships:
“We have both a new world opening up where social media has so many amazing opportunities to connect … but it also poses challenges as we think about how to manage the relationships we have.”
They identified four strategies that people use and different types of social media personalities.
  1. Open Sharer: Is willing to connect with anyone and willing to post and share anything
  2. Audience Sharer: Carefully chooses the audience they connect with and are therefore still willing to share openly and authentically
  3. Content Strategist: Eager to connect with anyone and picky about the content that they share
  4. Custom Strategist: Separates their audiences to create custom silos of sharing

Monday, July 21, 2014

3 Proven Practices to Build Your Twitter Reputation, Grow Followers and Get Retweets

Twitter can be a daunting platform for the beginner. I know that the first thing you want to do is build your audience size and you'd like to get people to follow you. This can be accomplished (it can't be done overnight - sorry) and in this post I give you simple tools to build a great reputation and a stellar community.

Follow people and make connections

Start first with selecting keywords that describe your interests and your business. Then use them to find people to follow. When you find interesting people, follow them and pursue an alliance.
  • Search for people on directories by topic at Tweetfind, and Followerwonk where you can search Twitter bios for keywords. Enter your favorite topics and find others in WeFollow. Twitter search is also a good tool. I'd use each tool.
  • Look for Hashtags (the # symbol used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet) on Twitter that relate to your business. You can also click on a hashtag that you see on Twitter (or a trending topic) to see who is talking about it. 
  • Find twitter lists from influencers. You'll find people who have hundreds, thousands (in some cases hundreds of thousands) of followers. To organize large amounts of people, pros curate Twitter Lists (which can be private or public). To find people in a specific niche, go to a profile page and click the down arrow next to the word More. You will find a link for public lists that the user has created (and has subscribed to) as well as lists on which other people have listed them. This is a great resource to find like-minded Twitter members. For example, Margie Clayman (Director of Marketing at Clayman & Associates in Ohio) has a list of her Top 100 on Twitter. I have a short one on eBay sellers.
  • Embrace #FollowFriday. On Fridays you will see hashtagged Tweets with #FF or #FollowFriday. Click on the names in the Tweet and read the person's bio, if you like what you see, you've found somebody new to follow. Be sure to say hello too.
Once you follow someone? Don't immediately Tweet or send them a Direct message requesting a favor or to follow you elsewhere. Get to know them first. Start a conversation! Most importantly, don't un-follow them because they don't follow you back immediately. Follower churning tells everyone that you're not interested in engagement and that you're just trying to build numbers.

Friday, July 11, 2014

6 Steps to Painless Social Media Self-Promotion

A common topic for discussion is promotion for small businesses and personal brands. When it comes to social media, the responsibility for promotion falls on the shoulders of the owner (chief cook and bottle washer). Even though my books are published by one of the top 10 publishers in the world, I still need to take responsibility for my own brand.
I’ve personally been promoting my work and books in the real world and online for over 15 years and it’s the most difficult task on my plate. Even on the “About” pages of my websites, I am loathe to blow my own horn. I might consider myself an introvert, or I might just feel the mere act is bragging.

To be fair to those who do it well, it takes nerve to think there are thousands of people waiting around to hang on to your latest words or hot new project. We may have products, businesses or books to promote, but not everyone has a similar promotional style.