Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Plan Now for 2011

The week between Christmas and New Years is the perfect window for small and home-based businesses to reflect and plan for the coming year:

* What is working and what is not?
* Look at Google Analytics for your Website to identify areas for improvement.
* What industry and economic trends are likely to affect your business next year?
* Are there any opportunities which you can take advantage of?
* Set goals and develop a business plan for 2011.

Taking a day or two to perform this useful exercise can have immense payoffs for your business in 2011.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Online Email Newsletter Preparation Service - Constant Contact Product Review

Constant Contact is a popular entry-level Web-based service for the creation, distribution and management of email newsletters. It is optimized for non-techies who want a fast, easy answer for low-to-moderate volume email promotions. Over 200,000 small businesses, associations, non-profit organizations and Realtors are said to be utilizing their online service.

While not "hiccup" free, the service fills a market need. I found Constant Contact to be an affordable answer for small organizations that lack inhouse technical resources, but wish to leverage low-cost email marketing to promote their products or services.

Constant Contact provides easy-to-use tools for developing attractive email newsletters, managing email lists, and handling distribution issues (compliance with spam laws, bounces, unsubscribes and filters). It also provides tracking tools and reports for evaluating results. Moreover, they have added the ability to set up autoresponder message for newsletter sign-ups. And of course, you can also schedule a series of emails to a segment of your contact base in an autoresponder-like fashion.

Recently, Constant Contact added two optional upgrades - the abilities to conduct online surveys (with results analysis) and manage events. So, if you are looking for feedback from your customers and prospects, now you can conduct a survey as part of your monthly email newsletter. Want to hold a product or service seminar? Now everything - broadcasting the event, sign-ups, emails to participants, etc. - can be accomplished with Constant Contact. If you have ever created and managed an event, you'll realize how powerful this canned capability is.

If you are familiar with the features and functionality of any word-processing program, then you can easily use Constant Contact for your email campaigns. They have a plethora of templates, tutorials, guides and "step-by-step" screens which ensure that anyone can create email masterpieces. Email pieces can contain one or more links to landing pages on your Website or even PayPal buttons for direct purchases.

Constant Contact makes it easy to sign up for their service. They offer a sixty-day free trial without a credit card requirement (for up to one hundred email contacts), pricing is attractive (starting at just $15 monthly for up to 500 email contacts, but no limit on the number of emails that can be sent each month), there is no software to purchase or install, and no long-term contract is required.

As with any Web-based interactive service, however, Constant Contact is recommended only for those who have a DSL or cable Internet connection. Otherwise, you may be in for a frustrating experience -- it can take a while for your newsletter editing inputs to show up on the browser screen.

The newsletter creation process itself is simple. It involves modifying your choice of several newsletter templates with your own content and images. Constant Contact has worked hard to make this an easy process. In addition to modifying overall appearance (background color, font, etc.), you can customize the content and look of each template section employing tools familiar to any Microsoft Word user.

A word of caution here. There are some quirks. Sometimes, what you want to happen doesn't happen. For example, I found that font and spacing actions sometimes produced unsought results. Despite an "undo" button, you might just have to close the newsletter editing function, then re-open it to eliminate unintended results. It thus pays to "save' your work frequently as you go along. But, if you know a little HTML, you can open a "code" window and usually resolve these mishaps in quick fashion.

Here is a hint -- copy any text prepared in a word-processing application or copied from a Website to the Microsoft Notepad before inserting it into the Constant Content newsletter template. This will remove any underlying formatting code that could affect your newsletter display.

I particularly like their list import capabilities. Constant Contact offers a downloadable tool for easily importing selected contacts from Microsoft Outlook. Other lists can be imported in.csv,.txt and.xml formats. And your lists can be segmented for targeted email campaigns.

A newsletter sign-up form or button is automatically generated for you. All you have to do is copy its underlying HTML into one or more pages on your Website to promote your newsletter to site visitors. Obviously, you will get more subscribers if you also offer an incentive, such as a free report or discount, to sign-up for your free newsletter.

But Constant Contact is about more than just sending out newsletters. It also allows you to set up email promotional campaigns. For instance, you can modify their templates to promote events, seasonal specials, or product announcements. These can then be sent to targeted segments of your email list(s) along with embedded coupons or links to special offers.

In summary, Constant Contact gets "two thumbs up" for being an affordable, hassle-free solution for low volume emailings (up to a thousand or so contacts). Its ease-of-use, extensive functionality, variety of templates and helpful learning resources make Constant Contact an excellent answer for small businesses and real estate professionals. With Constant Contact, you can quickly launch and easily manage professional-looking newsletters and other email promotions without a steep learning curve or breaking your wallet.

If you need help setting up a Constant Contact account, template or managing your newsletter, please contact us at (866) 284-4955 or by email at info@SmallBizSMartMarketing.com.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Advice for Baby Boomer Entrepreneurs

Either through retirement or because their job evaporated, Baby Boomers are becoming entrepreneurs and their medium of choice is the Internet. Why? Because less resources are necessary to get started and a worldwide audience awaits. But don't be fooled - it still takes a lot of planning, hard work and expertise to be successful.

Starting an Internet-based operation offers Boomers the chance to take their "great idea" and turn it into a profitable business. But don't expect overnight success. It takes as much time and as much work to create a successful Internet business as it does to launch a "brick and mortar" equivalent. Plus, one additional piece of expertise is required - an understanding of how Internet marketing works and what it takes to gain online visibility among a target audience.

I would say that 95 percent of all newly launched online businesses are doomed to failure. People put up a canned Website and wait for the business orders to show up in their email. Months go by and nothing happens. They can't understand it and are at a loss about what to do next.

Here is some advice for new Baby Boomer entrepreneurs:

  • Before Baby Boomers spend any money, I urge them to do their homework first and give your "great idea" a sanity check by subjecting it to the rigors of a business plan. For those who do not understand how a business plan screens ideas for feasibility, click here for a free guide.
  • If you have not mastered the technical aspects of gaining Internet visibility, hire an expert to help you. Otherwise, your Website will not show up within the first three pages of Google, Yahoo or MSN Bing when someone searches for your product or service. For all practical purposes, the only people who will even know your site exists are those to whom you directly communicate your site address. Otherwise, your business will remain invisible on the Internet.
  • Being successful with an Internet business requires continuous work. Your site must be frequently updated and constantly promoted via a variety of online avenues. This requires money, time and effort. Again, if you are not an Internet guru, hire one to relieve yourself of this burden so that you can focus on running your business.

A word of caution. There are countless schemes appearing that offer Boomers turnkey solutions to running their own Internet business. They contain gushing endorsements from other Boomers who have enjoyed overnight success and become wealthy while working part-time. Do yourself a favor and thoroughly check these out before giving money to anyone. Many of them are multi-level marketing schemes. Others fail to disclose that you will be entering a saturated market or that members actually compete against one another on the Internet. Usually, just googling the outfit will turn up any negative feedback from dissatisfied customers. Checking them out with the Better Business Bureau is also a good idea. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

The key to Internet business success is to leverage the wisdom and experience you gained during your own career. Don't rush into something. Take your time and thoroughly evaluate opportunities. And be committed once you make the decision to proceed. Expect it to take time and hard work. Set out benchmarks to gauge your progress. Celebrate your successes and adapt accordingly when you discover that something isn't working. If your "great idea" is solid, eventually you will enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Managing your own Internet-based business your home office is an exciting way for Baby Boomer entrepreneurs to supplement their income and remain engaged in the business world. It can be a part-time or full-time endeavor - you set your own pace. Ultimately, you may even create an online enterprise that can be profitably sold when you feel ready to fully retire or explore other opportunities.