Branding Basics for the Small Business

Everybody’s fingerprints are different and unique to only you.  The same can be said about what it means to brand what you do.  More importantly, your brand is your unique stamp that identifies your product or service.  It gives you credibility in your specific marketplace, while providing your customer with what they want and need.  Building your brand starts with developing a reputation for delivering unquestionably good service or an exceptional product.  That alone builds a loyal customer base. However, no matter how good you are at what you do, there’s always the competition.  That’s why branding is essential in separating you from your competitors.

We’re all familiar with the Coca-Cola brand, right?  It’s ubiquitous and certainly has become a piece of Americana. But why does it stand out in our minds?  It’s recognizable.   From its shiny bright red can, crafty logo, to “It’s the Real Thing” slogan. These are all the elements that help to brand a product.

Okay, you’re a small business and don’t have the corporate finances to brand your product or service.  To the contrary, first and foremost you must think big, and you, too, can create the same enthusiasm and recognition around your business as Coca-Cola has done.

Where do you begin?  Let’s start with the basics. One key concept to remember is branding your small business is about creating an image for your products or services.  Consider what do you want people to remember about your products/service?

You must be consistent and repetitious in using the same colors, and placing logo and slogan on everything you do.

However, if you’re not of the creative ilk, you’ll need to hire a professional graphic designer.  Trust me, it will be well worth the investment.

Nothing turns people off more than poor quality collateral, be it home made flyers or lackluster packaging.  You need to present a professional polished look.  All customer facing materials should reflect the same quality that has garnered your product or service a good reputation. 

You certainly want to make sure your brand is seen everywhere. How do you do that?  You can have your logo embossed on everything from buttons and pens to calendars or bottles of water.  Then get these items in the hands of everyone you meet.  You can purchase these items in bulk at a low cost and the return will far outweigh what you spent.

Next make sure your digital identity reflects your brand.  Your logo, brand colors, slogan and other brand assets should be reflected on your web site and social media accounts.

Use your brand on everything you do and mirror that on your digital collateral, such as e-blasts and email campaigns.

I leave you with this: branding is not about getting your target audience to choose you over others, but to get them to recognize you instantly and as a source for providing them with what they want and need.

PR Basics for the Small Business, Getting Social Isn’t So Overwhelming

No doubt about it, word of mouth is still the best public relations tool going. However, the millennial advancements of social media and the web are by far the best bang for your buck when crafting a PR plan. PR stands for Public Relations and as a small business owner if you’re not engaging in social media or using the many free to low-cost services offered on the web, you’re doing yourself a terrible disservice. There are truly a multitude of easy do-it-yourself PR tools available. First, you can promote your business starting with your local newspaper. Nowadays, most people read their news online and business owners have many options to use on-line media outlets including posting events, photos, or videos in the Events section. Most on-line news outlets offer this service free of charge. And when your content is posted, you or your customers can share it using social media. You could also write your own news articles and many local news website will post your story with links to social media (so the reader can comment or share). Second, depending on your type of business, it is wise to explore which social media platform is best for your business. To keep your brand in the spotlight, you can use a variety of #hash tags (formerly known as the pound-sign) that are “trending” in your business world. Also, Twitter is snappy, fast-paced and with rapid-fire responses it can gain you a lot of attention. However, a Facebook page is the most practical way to interface with customers. You can use #hash tags in Facebook, which has so many features that many businesses are using it to serve as their web page rather than owning a separate web site. And not being on Facebook is like not being in the Yellow Pages back in the day. Third, there’s power in personal networking. In the age of social media networking, don’t lose sight of mastering the art of working a room. U.S. News and World Report Money suggest personal networking as an opportunity for you to sell yourself in a genuine way that leaves a lasting impression. With this in mind, join an online “Meet-Up” group specific to your area of business. From personal to professional, at www.meetup.com, groups are located in over 45,000 cities spread across the United States and have attracted over 15 million people. Joining a Meet Up group that caters to your line of business is a great way to grow your customer base because you can connect with like-minded people. Finally, another PR marketing tool to keep your customers engaged is to use an email service that also promotes social media engagement, such as Constant Contact, I-Contact, or Vertical Response. Many offer free do-it-yourself eBlast templates that allow small business owners to use their brand assets. If your customer list grows, you might incur a nominal fee (i.e. $19.00 per 1,000 emails) but it is worth it to connect directly with your customers. The rewards are plentiful when you gain sales or your customers recognize your brand and share it with their circle of friends and colleagues. Using these services, you can regularly offer specials or launch new products, and all of them offer options to link to your social media accounts. Customers, who receive your eBlast, may “get social” and share it. When thinking about PR, keep in mind the power of social media and web-based promotions is something to consistently include in your marketing planning.

In February 2014, Cortez was appointed to the Board of Trustees of William Paterson University in Wayne, NJ. She also serves on the boards of the Workforce Investment Board of Passaic County, and Visions Academy Charter School in Newark, and as President of the Board of the Boys and Girls Club of Paterson and Passaic. Cortez is the chairperson for the North Jersey Federal Credit Union Foundation and assistant treasurer for Executive Women of NJ. She has volunteered for numerous organizations including La Casa De Don Pedro, the March of Dimes, Eva’s Village in Paterson and the American Cancer Society. As the first Latina CEO of a credit union in New Jersey, Cortez has been honored by NJ Biz magazine, which named her one of the “Best 50 Women in Business” in New Jersey. Other awards include: the North Jersey Regional Chamber of Commerce, 2010 Star Award in Business, the 2010 Salute to the Policy Makers Award from Executive Women of NJ, and the 2012 Women of Achievement Award from the Girl Scouts of Northern New Jersey.

The Trust Factor + Creative Innovation = Successful Collaborations

The most cost effective way to grow your business, and increase your customer base and purchasing power is to form business alliances. Small business collaborations can be the altruistic recipe that makes good business sense and yields profits. Brand giants like MetLife, Simon & Schuster, Abercrombie & Fitch and Colgate-Palmolive suggests that.  The successes of these longtime business entities were initially gleamed from the ideas of individuals wanting to produce a reputable product and making that product memorable and easily recognizable.  These businesses also recognized their own weaknesses and need for mutually beneficial partnerships.

Therefore, one of the most important factors in forming a successful business alliance is to want the same basic outcome as your potential partner.  How you choose to arrive at that outcome could be totally different, but is almost always mutually beneficial. However, that’s when the second important factor emerges – trust.   When you can recognize in your business partner, or business collaboration, their strengths and how that balances out your weaknesses, you then learn to trust one another’s opinion, with mutual respect, in making strategic business decisions.

As a matter of fact, Warren Buffet, revered for his business acumen and wealth, had this to say about the trust factor in a Huffington Post article. “That comfort comes from a complete lack of envy in a partnership. Partners must value trust, they must discover how to keep their ego in check, and they must put a premium on not just brains, but human decency.” 

I say, well said Mr. Buffet! That old adage, two heads are better than one, rings true here.

Clearly, when creative innovation is factored into the collaboration mix, the leap from small business to big business has great potential. 

Locally, such is the case of Curl Prep Natural Hair Solutions. This small home-based business located in East Orange, New Jersey, specializing in a line of natural hair care products, partnered with Whole Foods Market and now the line is sold in select stores throughout the state. 

Curl Prep’s founder, Candace Kelley, recognized how Whole Foods prides itself in promoting natural and organic products and supporting local entrepreneurs.  This example shows us that no matter how small your business, recognizing mutually beneficial partnership opportunities are key functions of any good entrepreneur.

Also, putting a new spin on competition and partnership is Bob Mudge, whose article in Leadership Now, takes small business partnering to another level.  Mudge suggests, “cooperating with your competitors might have been counterintuitive years ago, but today it’s a necessity for a successful business.” Meaning sometimes its takes a few businesses to penetrate a market and become successful or partnering your small business with a larger competitor could launch you into the next level.

With that said, it is important to understand that a successful business partnership is like a successful marriage, it takes hard work, trust and creative innovation.  Take the time to look at your weaknesses and find ways to partner with those who can benefit your business.

Small Business Counseling and Mentoring Has Its Rewards

We all can benefit from good sound advice, especially when it comes to owning and operating a business. According to Bloomberg, it is a fact that 80 percent of businesses don’t survive the first 18 months. Simply put, they run out of cash.  With all that you’ve invested in opening a business, why would you not want to do all that you can to insure its success?

The beauty of living in America is that entrepreneurship is at the heart of a thriving economy. That dream of you owning your own business really does matter in more ways than one.  However, to realize the best return on your investment, my advice to entrepreneurs, as well as seasoned business owners is to seek small business counseling.

For starters, small business counseling is where you can get all your questions answered. The United States Small Business Administration (SBA) is the safety net for helping business owners get through the process of opening, establishing and expanding businesses.  By linking with the SBA, all your business needs are  met for FREE!  So what are you waiting for?

Go today to the closest Small Business Development Center (SBDC).  There you’ll find one-stop business shopping through a number of small business counseling programs that the SBA has developed with the small business owner in mind.

  The SBA, working in conjunction with SCORE’s “Counselors to America’s Small Business,” will advise you on everything from developing a sound business plan to credit counseling and more.

It’s as simple as going online and getting your questions answered at www.score.org, or accessing one-on-one mentoring. SCORE also provides online workshops and webinars. 

Indeed, you will be surprised by the number of resourceful programs that can aid you in making the right business decisions.  These tried and tested programs, include the Business Ownership and Entrepreneur Education program as well as the Small Business Training Network. Once enrolled, you will be better armed with information to help you avoid becoming a statistic of that 80% failure rate.

Many business owners don’t know their own shortcomings. You might think your idea is great, but that idea may have come and gone. It could be a declining market for the business you are in.  With the rapid advance of technology your idea might need to be refashioned.  That’s where small business counseling is effective. The counselors are knowledgeable of such trends and will advise you accordingly.

Small business counseling can also assist with helping you grow your business.  Or, if you’re a woman, the SBDC can direct you to the Women’s Business Centers (WBCs) that can lead you to grant funding that is specific to women in business.  With more women joining the entrepreneur ranks, the WBCs were developed to give women equal opportunities in the world of business.

Certainly, your business is your baby. There is nothing more painstaking than opening a business, but there is nothing more gratifying than watching your business flourish. Owning a business has many rewards and making it successful will most certainly give you a sense of pride.

 Always remember good advice can go a long way!

Growing Your Small Business in the Age of Digital Marketing

                                                                                

Growing your small business in the age of digital marketing is right at the end of your fingertips.  Social media and digital products have revolutionized advertising and that’s a good thing for the small business owner whose ad dollars are limited. 

            The key is making sure your business is social.  That means interacting regularly with your customer base and introducing your brand to potential clients, through specific channels that targets your audience. 

Certainly, it’s all about the number of connections made, more importantly, when it comes to growing your business, it’s better to narrow the field of social media platforms.  Having 5,000 connections has its benefits, but aim to choose a platform or two, perhaps even three, that rightly suits your services or what you’re selling. 

Digital marketing is an essential tool in developing customer relationships and is a way to maintain existing relationships.  Consider an email marketing campaign by creating an account with one of the many popular email services (i.e. Vertical Response or Constant Contact).  Using a professional email service allows you to communicate directly to your client base while also being able to personalize your message.  

A creative approach that makes your marketing campaign stand out is the way to go.  For example, a motivational speaker can create a clever tagline like, “Life is like photography we develop from the negatives,” and a great tag line is something that will stand out to potential clients and give your customers something to remember you by. 

The point is in today’s economy small businesses must participate in digital marketing.  Using the various digital platforms, including email services, social media and websites, all add up to help you keep returning customers and find new customers.   

Keep in mind, connecting to the right social media is important. Perhaps your business is photography, then Instagram, where you can share compelling images tag others and attract followers, may be the appropriate social media platform for you, along with a savvy photo gallery website.  Couple that with an email marketing campaign specific to new referrals about various packages you offer to clients, will help you reap the rewards from having developed a social media platform that works for you. 

            A recent report by Brittany Farb published in CRM Magazine said, “Digital strategies like social media will influence at least 80 percent of consumers discretionary spending by 2015,” based on data.  Being linked in and globally connected is paying off. 

            Also, the practicality of marketing in the digital age renders instant results.  You can gauge and track the activity of one marketing campaign from another to see how many customers opened your announcement and how many clicked onto a link you provided.  Other social media platforms will provide you with certain demographics that give you useful insight to help identify the concentrated areas of your customer base.   You now have a measureable idea of what’s trending in targeted areas.  Instant information gives you an edge to creating campaigns that work and drive potential clients to your Facebook page, blog or website.   

            I conclude with a question:  Are you one of those business owners perplexed by social media?  My advice would be to hire an intern and keep it moving!

 

 

Fire Hazard Fears Prompt Recall of USB Car Charger Adapters

Some popular mini USB car charger power adapters, universal USB power adapters and 8-pin USB data sync charging cables are being recalled due to a hazard of fire from their use, according to The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

A company called Popkiller sold the recalled devices – mostly in stores in Southern California. The items were made by Shenzhen Qiwei Electronic Co., Ltd., Guangdong, China, and have some unique identifying characteristics:

According to the company, the car charger has model number HHT-001 located on the flat side of the charger below the USB port. The charger measures two inches tall and one inch in diameter at its widest point.

The Universal USB Power adapter has model number A1265 printed directly above the plug blades on the grey surface. The adapter measures 1.5 inches at its longest point and one inch wide.

There is no model number printed on the 8-pin USB charging cables.

All of the recalled products are sold separately and come in the colors red, orange, green, blue, purple and pink.

The recall involves around 2,500 units. Concerned consumers can call Popkiller toll-free at (888) 345-0724 from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. PT Monday through Friday.

People can also reach the company online at http://www.popkiller.us. Click on “About Us” located at the bottom of the home page, then click “Important Recall Notice” for more information.

 

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Link:

http://www.cpsc.gov

Online Buying vs. “Touch and Feel” Retailing

A new survey finds that Americans are fine with buying online, but still value the in-person shopping experience.

Polling firm Harris said it surveyed 2,241 adults last month, in an effort to gauge how the growth of online retailing is changing the way Americans view the shopping experience.

According to Harris, most Americans are taking advantage of online buying convenience — with majorities saying they’ve bought clothing (69%), digital content (59%), and accessories (54%) online.

Online shopping enthusiasm increases as the age of those polled decreases, with Millennials being the most likely to have made purchases online in most of the product categories Harris tested.

However, traditional shopping is far from dead: a whopping 78% of Americans polled by Harris still prefer to buy their food in person, while large majorities prefer to buy such things as over-the-counter-medications (67%), clothing (65%), prescription medications (58%), cosmetics (57%), specialty food and household electronics (55%) the “old fashioned” way.

While Harris found that the personal electronics category showed strong online shopping preference, more Americans still said they prefer to buy these items in person (43%) vs. online (22%).

The online environment is certainly a great place to research products — and offers a convenient way to buy them — but many people still want to handle the goods before pulling the trigger on a purchase.

 

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Link:

http://www.harrisinteractive.coM

 

Some Investors Pulling Out of U.S. Equity Mutual Funds

New data shows that investors withdrew $8.3 billion from U.S. equity mutual funds in June, making it the second consecutive month in which outflows outpaced inflows to these funds.

The funds — which allow investors to buy into a “basket” of stocks picked and traded by a fund manager – are traditionally a popular option for people to invest retirement savings.

However, investment research Morningstar found that the withdrawals during June represented U.S. equity funds’ largest outflow in 18 months.

Morningstar said that inflows to international-equity funds and taxable-bond funds more than offset the outflows for U.S. equity funds. Overall, inflows to long-term mutual funds reached $24.0 billion during the month.

Mutual fund assets reached $11.7 trillion in June, which Morningstar said represents an increase of more than 40% since their peak before the financial crisis.

Clearly, this form of investing is still quite popular.

 

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Link:

http://www.morningstar.com

 

Small Business Owners Perk Up

The majority of America’s small business owners say they expect their businesses to grow in the next year, according to the results of a new survey.

CAN Capital said that 61% of the small business owners surveyed for its Small Business Health Index professed clear optimism that business will improve over the next 12 months.

Almost a third (31%) of the business owners surveyed said that plan to expand and/or try new forms of advertising/marketing activities, while 26% plan to purchase equipment and/or make inventory investments over the next year. 

Could this optimism fuel an increase in hiring as well? If the strong June jobs report from BLS is any indication, it already is.

We’ll have to see the upcoming reports for July and August to establish a true acceleration of growth in hiring, but so far there is reason for everyone to be a bit more cheery these days.

 

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Credit Defaults are at 10-Year Low

Americans are paying their bills, and consumer credit defaults are way down, according to some new data.

S&P Dow Jones Indices and credit bureau Experian said that the national composite rate of consumer credit defaults for June was just 1.02%. This is the lowest rate recorded in ten years.

This tells us that Americans are paying on their various forms of consumer debt at the best rate since the recession.

The companies did point out that auto and bank card defaults were up slightly, while mortgage defaults were down. This tracks with recent data showing that Americans are taking on more credit card and auto loan debt, but are feeling better about mortgages given the recent recovery in home prices.

Bank card debt saw a ten-year low in March 2014, but has risen slightly since then, to 3.02% in June. First mortgage defaults, however, fell to a rate of just 0.89% in June.

Dallas was the only major city to experience an increase in default rates during June, while Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and New York fell to their lowest overall default rates since the last recession began.

Overall, this is good news for the economy as it signals an increase in Americans’ ability to pay on debt — even as they take on more of it. Given the strong jobs report posted in June, it’s likely that we’ll continue to see only modest increases in consumer debt defaults in the months ahead.

 

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Link:

http://www.spdji.com