Using Gmail’s Email Template feature – It’s FREE

©Aldorado10 | Dreamstime.com - At Or Email Button

©Aldorado10 | Dreamstime.com – At Or Email Button

Efficiency and effectiveness are key strategies for entrepreneurs and small business owners. There is little time, often tight financial resources, but lots to get done.  That is why when working recently with a real estate business owner to manage client communication, I sought out a way to use Gmail more effectively for initial communications, and wanted to pass along for those still building their lists and not using CRM or auto responder systems, as of yet.

If you are initially responding to your clients with the same message, why not set up Gmail email template. This will save you time from looking for an old response and doing a copy and paste each time.  It is very simple to do; took me less than five minutes and became a great time saver.  And the even better thing about this is its absolutely FREE.

So here are the steps.

1.  Open your Gmail Account.

2.  Access the “Settings” option (looks like a gear symbol in top right left).

3.  Click on the “Labs” option on menu banner.

4. Scroll to “Canned Responses” and select “enable.”

5. Click “Save Changes” at the bottom of the page; Gmail will reload.

6.  Compose a message as you normally would.  However, this time, select “more options” located in the bottom right and click “New canned response” from a drop-down list, and give the response a unique identifier that  you’ll remember.

7. Type (or cut and paste) the text into the email message leaving the “To” field empty.  You can add a Title into the “Subject” field and it should save.

8. Save as a canned response and exit out of message.

9.  To use, click “Compose” and a regular message will appear.  To access the appropriate canned response, go to the menu option identified by an arrow in the bottom right and select “Canned Response” and pick the appropriate response.

Smartphone + Social Media = FREE Advertising…It Works

Social media is no passing fad. It is definitely here to stay with ever evolving mobile technology and apps being launched daily. If your business is not using some form of social media to promote your services, expertise or advertise, you may want to reconsider as writer and social media intern Katie Herrera shares her insights on how to make it work for you.
© Georgejmclittle | Dreamstime.com - 3 Smartphones

©Georgejmclittle | Dreamstime.com – 3 Smartphones

It is 2015 and nearly every consumer you are marketing your product(s) or service(s) to has a smartphone in their pocket with at least one social media account at their fingertips. Don’t you think it’s just good business sense to utilize these (free) services that your consumers, clients, and/or customers are already using?

The first thing to realize as a small business or an entrepreneur using social media to sell their product, is that it should not be entirely obvious that you are trying to sell something to your followers. This may sound counterproductive, but hear me out here! The point of social media is for people to foster relationships with other people. Whether you agree with that statement or not, you can think about your own personal social media accounts and realize that many of your “friends” or “followers” are friends and family. Their social media accounts allow you to keep up with their lives when you may not always have the time to call them personally. You should be treating your professional social media accounts just the same: a way for you to build relationships with your clients (or customers, whatever the case may be).

A survey taken of small businesses on Twitter found that 60% of people who bought something from a small business did so because of their Twitter account. What else does an active social media account do for a small business? It causes word of mouth to become your advertisement. If you can catch a consumer’s eye with your social media posts time and again, they will be more likely to remember you when they need a service or a good similar to what you offer. Similarly, if someone they know needs a service or good that you offer, they can recommend you to a friend or family member.

While commercials on television work great for big businesses and corporations, social media can be a source for advertisement just as influential for small businesses. The keys to using social media: staying active, building relationships with your followers, and making sure your activity always relates to your business.

Katie Herrera is a recent college graduate and aspiring writer. She enjoys writing editorial content on current events and content requiring in depth research. She can be reached at katherrerawrites@gmail.com.

 

 

Freelancing and Networking For Powerful Connections

networking

© Ragsac19 | Dreamstime.com – Networking Photo

There are many rewards to freelancing and working as a consultant. Besides the opportunity to reap financially, freelancing – when done correctly – allows great opportunity for self-development and establishing new relationships.

One of the challenges I hear from aspiring freelancers is not only how can they find clients but where can they access professional development tools to help them continue to hone their skills and learn new trends. What I have found to be beneficial is attending business networking functions and joining networking organizations and niche marketing groups. I have personally and professionally grown from the experiences and highly recommend for those seeking ways to expand their freelancing exposure.

Networking Really Does Work

At a recent networking event of The National Business Chamber (TNBC) in Gwinnett County, Georgia, I’ve had the opportunity to meet potential clients, learn about new products and services, and enrich my skills through training presentations. For example, I had never heard of Wildtree, an All-Natural and Organic Food Products company, but TNBC member Stephanie French hosted a lunch and learn session for the organization. Not only did she provide a beautiful luncheon spread featuring Wildtree products, sauces and grapeseed oils, she also shared information on healthy and clean eating and living and the difference it’s made in her family’s life.

Youth Entrepreneur Ellie Peters, Founder, Cool2SweetSoap.com

Youth Entrepreneur Ellie Peters, Founder, Cool2SweetSoaps.com

One of my favorite people at TNBC is Ellie Peters and her mom, Jen. Ellie is a 12-year-old youth entrepreneur and owner of Cool2SweetSoap.com, a natural bath and body products company. Ellie makes face and bath soaps, bath fizzies, a dog shampoo, and shaving soap. What began as a family project to cure a relative’s dry skin, has morphed into a thriving soap business for Ellie. Her products are great for sensitive and dry skin, made with the finest organic ingredients and essential oils. Her products are great as gift items and can be purchased online and in select local retail businesses. I recommended a friend to the company who was looking for a unique gift item for Father’s Day. I suggested they consider the Pokey Be Gone shaving soap and Spring Fresh (vegan) soap.

Finding Your Niche Group

There are many specialties to consider as a freelancer and one that has proven beneficial for me is the Freelance Writers Den. This organization provides insight for freelance writers on growing their income, finding clients, and training on new skills sets, like How to Write White Papers and Effectively Pitching News Stories. What is unique about this organization is it’s a membership site hosted by accomplished freelance writer Carol Tice who has years of experience writing for national publications. In The Den, Carol shares her secrets and tips for achieving a six figure freelance writing income, and act as a coach to motivate and encourage aspiring freelance writers.

freelancewritersden_300x300_badgeThe Den is a very popular network community amongst writers, and many boast of exponentially growing their income from joining the community. Each month, the site features members only special training calls with access to some of the best writers and editors. Currently there is a waiting list to join The Den, but for a limited time, the Den will be open for membership on Thursday, June 11. But to get in, you have to already be on the waiting list. If you are serious about growing your income, you don’t want to miss out on joining the Den.

Being involved with TNBC and The Freelance Writers Den are just two of the organizations that have been instrumental in growing my freelance and consulting business. While many believe that this is an easy opportunity to pursue, it requires a lot of work to get the right combination of resources and leads. Growing a freelance business is really about exposure and visibility. And sometimes the best opportunities become available just from being present.

Numbers Don’t Lie…The Value of Business Data

Having a solid grasp and understanding of information is a key element for achieving business success. In today’s guest post, Heridev Business Solutions offers insight on the importance of tracking and interpreting business data for the entrepreneur, home-based and small business owners.
© Stevanzz | Dreamstime.com - Business Data Financial Report Print Close Up. Blue Toned. Photo

© Stevanzz | Dreamstime.com – Business Data Financial Report Print Close Up. Blue Toned. Photo

It was 3 pm and Susan’s Sandwich Shop was closed for the day. The staff was gone and the proprietor, Joan, was planning an early departure too to spend the evening with her daughter after whom she named the shop. It was a slow day as there were no throngs of office workers and students lining up for the inexpensive gourmet sandwiches.

As Joan checked off the receipts from the point of sale machine that was leased when she opened the business four years ago, she noticed that something else was also very different. The sales were a quarter of the regular daily intake.

While reviewing the cash and card receipts, Joan wondered if her plan to close all weekend was the right one. So as to soothe that nagging fear, she decided to look at the sales history for the past two years around the Easter and Passover holidays. She also pulled up her bank statements for the same time last year.

Upon viewing the historical data, the proprietor became less worried as it was apparent that the numbers were typical for the shop during those holiday seasons. Whew, what a relief.

Like Joan, many small business owners have invested in technology and software that store a lot of historical data about their business’ sales, purchases and performance. For some of these entrepreneurs, this data can be found in point of sale systems and for others it is in their accounting software. Even the shoeboxes filled with receipts and invoices hold valuable information that, if analyzed, can help the entrepreneur to make better business decisions.

Data Efficiency and Interpretation

What though is the most efficient way to capture information?  Automated systems are able to produce detailed reports quickly which is why Joan was able to see the numbers for a three year period within a few seconds and make the necessary comparisons. Automation also improves efficiency by recording and tracking information about sales, customers, purchases, returns, etc. that, if done manually, would take hours to complete. ZDNet, the business technology news website, opines that obtaining a good point of sales system is a worthwhile investment for small retailers and restaurants.

However, data by itself is of little value to the entrepreneur if it is not interpreted to identify relevant trends and patterns. If she wishes to, Joan can easily identify her best selling items for the past four years. She can also effortlessly know which product is the cash cow for the business based on data from the sales margins report.

The small business magazine Chron argues that it is critical for small businesses to analyze the information that is available to them so that they can use it to react to changes in consumer preferences and adjust their strategies in response to the opportunities and threats that are present in the external environment.

Information is a vital resource for any entrepreneur and technology makes it easy to harness and use the data gathered. So then, what will you do with your business data today?

7 Budget-Friendly Marketing Strategies

© Piotr Majka | Dreamstime Stock Photos |Glass Jar With Coins

© Piotr Majka | Dreamstime Stock Photos |Glass Jar With Coins

As an entrepreneur, you could have the finest service or product on the planet, but if customers never discover it, your startup is going to face rough waters. Every business requires marketing, but it shouldn’t cause you to bust your budget. The following handy and economical suggestions will help you get your message out without squeezing you dry:

1. Conduct Your Own Market Research.

              Prepare a compilation of your customers’ questions, needs and issues. While you’re at it, record basic demographic information, such as gender, age and status. This will bolster your efforts to sharpen your marketing message so that it directly addresses your customers’ needs.

2. Ungarble Your Message.

                            Don’t throw away resources on elaborate collateral without first developing a clear, concise message. If the average Jack or Jill doesn’t “get” your message, then simplify it. Clarity rules

3. Inexpensive Public Relations.

Do things that will burn your business’ persona into the public’s consciousness. Make sure to volunteer your services or products at charity events, publish blog articles written by you or by respected guest bloggers, write favorable comments on other blog sites, and get involved in civic and networking activities.

4. Try a Small Marketing Agency.

                Engage a small marketing agency and monitor its advice for effectiveness. A small agency well understands your budget constraints– it no doubt has its own constraints — but nonetheless must cough up innovative, exciting concepts that will goose your business. If you aren’t happy, give another agency a shot, but only after allotting enough time to the first one to fairly judge their results.

5. Marketing Advice for Free.

        Internet blogs like this one that you are reading at this very instant offer prized information freely. A library (real or virtual) is another cost-efficient resource. Here’s another idea: marketing agencies frequently provide a free initial consultation — you can learn a lot without making any commitments.

6. Word-of-Mouth.

      Few types of marketing are more efficient than is word of mouth. Energize your customers to talk up your business by offering contests, raffles, and loyalty programs, as well as personalized solutions and superlative service. Recruit your happy customers to send out “the word.” Many people love to do this — you have only but to ask

7. Pamper Your Vendors.

    A happy vendor can enhance your business, but an unhappy vendor can be ruinous. Always pay vendors on time! In fact, a better tactic is to pay them in advance. If they want to be your friends, they will gladly endorse you, especially if you reciprocate.
        As you can see, there are many opportunities to adopt inexpensive marketing ideas for your business. You may experience slow results at first, but stay focused and intentional to reap benefits well in excess of the money you spent.

How Freelancers Get To Take A Day Off

© Favetelinguis | Dreamstime.com – Freelance Infographic

While freelancing has become very popular globally according to our freelance infographic, a September 2014 national survey shares that it is the new workforce normal attributing over 53 million Americans working as freelancers.  The flexibility and opportunities as a freelancer, solopreneur, or independent contractor are immense.  However, the greatest success comes for those who think strategically about their approach to ensure the greatest income potential and personal freedom.  It is definitely doable and freelance business and financial writer Eric Bank tells us how below.

Add Some Zip To Your Freelance Business

Freelancing is a great career choice. You call your own shots, keep clear of offices (and the accompanying politics), and take time off as you wish. It’s also a terrifying choice — what if you can’t drum up enough business to support your lifestyle? Will you permit yourself time off, knowing that no income is, well, coming in?

We think the best defense against these worries is a good offense. Here are four tips to boost your revenue and allow you to enjoy the occasional day off:

Expand Your Solution

Your business offers solutions to clients. Why not expand the scope of those solutions by adding complementary services? For example, if you are a freelance content provider, leverage your skills into areas such as website design and implementation. You can offer a turnkey project to fulfill the client’s initial requirements and then provide long-term support that translates into steady income.

Support Tangential Services

Your client may have needs that you can satisfy by supplying additional freelancers with a wide range of skills. If you are developing marketing projects for a small client, offer to supply a telephone salesperson to handle some of the leads your promotion generates. As a freelancer, you may be in a unique position to network with many others looking to expand their businesses and willing to subcontract services through you.

© Johanna Goodyear | Dreamstime Stock Photos

© Johanna Goodyear | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Commit Your Expertise to Print

Some freelancers provide high-priced professional services not affordable by all potential clients. However, you may be able sell these clients e-books, manuals and videos that layout your expertise in a series of systematic instructions. This not only increases the size of your target client base, it also burnishes your reputation as a guru. Depending on the type of project, you might be able to sell your knowledge for several hundred dollars a pop to clients who can’t afford to hire you directly.

Offer Courses

Some clients may prefer to bring you in to train their staffs. You can put together a set of training classes that you deliver as an adjunct or alternative to your main offering. By the way, did we mention that training is very lucrative?

The bottom line to freelancers and small business owners: think outside the box to increase the scope and scale of your offerings. Then, go take a day off! – EB

Shh, it’s a Secret. Learn How to Go Viral.

 

On a lazy Sunday perusing Netflix, I watched the movie, Chef, with Jon Favreau (actor and director of Ironman and Ironman 2) as character Carl Casper, a chef turned food cart owner.  One element of the movie that caught my attention was Carl’s aloofness about Twitter, tweeting or what “going viral” meant. He soon learned just how easy “going viral” can be and found himself unexpectedly popular on the Internet. And so it is with the Web. However, after chatting with Gen Y Web Entrepreneur Ashley Gilbert of HonestyforBreakfast.com, she explained how entrepreneurs have propelled themselves into the Internet stratosphere overnight and made thousands, even millions, as web entrepreneurs specifically using viral content. May not be your cup of tea, but read on as Ashley shares how leveraging viral content can help to create lots of new traffic to your website, which may be of interest.

Digital media has sky-rocketed in the last few years as people seek their daily dose of news online versus reading a physical newspaper or magazine. And as such, viral media is easing its way to the forefront of the online media world. Viral media is simply a marketing tool that web entrepreneurs use to drive traffic to their websites from other social networking services such as Facebook. Those catchy, shocking, heart-wrenching articles you see every time you visit social media sites is what is known as viral media.

ashley 1
TheWeek.com

For instance, this article immediately grabs attention by evoking an emotion with a call to action. Nine times out of 10, if someone clicks the link to watch the video and they are impacted, they will share it to their followers and so on.

ViralNova is a site, run by a man in the middle of Ohio, that has previously generated 100 million unique views in a single month. The site’s viral success piqued within six months of the website launch, earning the Ohioan an estimated $400,000 dollars, according to Viper Chill

Venture capitalists and angel investors are starting to see value in the viral craze, too, and have recently invested $7 million dollars into a ViralNova website copy-cat, Distractify, according to Bloomberg. Here’s a preview of their website:

viperchill.com

viperchill.com

So, just how are these sites able to maintain traffic success? It’s simple. They’re paying to play. That means that they are shelling out big bucks in Facebook advertisement to drive traffic to their sites. Before 2013, it was simple to share content with users.  However, Facebook recognized a marketing and economic opportunity and changed its algorithm to cater to the companies that provided quality content and companies that were willing to pay them to keep their content visible to all viewers.

So, what are some must-have key components for web entrepreneurs considering a viral media website?

Don’t focus too much attention on web design

The web design for this type of website should be very simple. Pictures, video and endless content will keep visitor’s attention once they arrive at your website, not the design. Extra distraction are not desired nor recommended.

Headlines are everything

Have you ever been scrolling on Facebook and your eye caught an article headline that was too irresistible to not click? Then congratulations, you have just discovered the main ingredient to making viral sites successful: a compelling, eye-catching headline that moves you to response. Consider that if a headline doesn’t grab your attention, then its very likely not to grab anyone’ else’s either.

Facebook is your best friend

Twitter is nice, but most of your traffic will come from Facebook, so this should be where most of your attention stays. Facebook has such a large audience that eats up viral content daily and the statistics prove that.

Mix up your content

While it’s fine to re-create content, original copy will add balance to your website. Remember that copy-cat viral media sites are all over the web. To differentiate your website, there has to be a draw to keep readers returning. Consider that there have been sites that have generated tons of traffic one month and then completely fell flat the next.

The viral media niche is still fairly young and there’s still billions of dollars to be made on the Internet. If interested, it is wise to act sooner rather than later.  I would also recommend a software called Bullet Viral Traffic to help get you off to a great start. The intent and purpose for these types of sites vary. Some entrepreneurs use them to spread news-like information, while others use them to re-create trending topics in social media. Again, it all depends on your niche and where you’d like to focus. it’s still fairly new and there’s still billions of dollars to be made on the Internet. -AG

So, You Are Expecting…

All businesses, including entrepreneurial efforts, go through phases of growth known as the business life cycle. The four critical stages are start-up, growth, maturity and decline. As you consider your business goals, what phase are you in? If you are just beginning a business or growing steadily in revenues, read on as management analyst Deron Mundle with consulting firm Riuberg Corp, shares what you can expect in the startup and growth phases.

© Nasir1164 | Dreamstime.com - Wordcloud Of Rbc (real Business Cycle) Photo

© Nasir1164 | Dreamstime.com – Wordcloud Of Real Business Cycle)

So, You Are Expecting…

So, you are expecting to grow a business. Your concept, which some time ago was just a passing idea, is becoming an enterprise. You anticipate that it will eventually turn a profit and provide employment for many within the community.

The research has been done and friends, family and colleagues are showing a real interest in what you have to offer. The mentor from SCORE has asked many tough questions and now you are both satisfied that the concept really has a chance to succeed. You have taken the giant step to formalize a business and have received all of your licenses and permits. Congratulations, you have a new venture on your hands.

What then should you expect at this phase of your endeavor, a period that the online magazine, Chron, calls the start-up stage?

Navigating the Start-Up Phase

You will devote long hours to the new entity in hopes of making it viable in the market. It will be essential to conserve the cash coming in and going out of your business while still buying supplies, paying for help and finding customers. Even if you do not make enough sales to cover the expenses, it will be necessary to put more money in the business. Yes, more capital investment though you may not able to take a salary. In the unfortunate event that money runs out and more financing is not available, the business will have to be shuttered.

During the start-up phase with its attendant psychological pressures, the new entrepreneur may find solace by networking with owners of other fledgling enterprises and seasoned business operators. By sharing experiences, you may benefit from the knowhow and expertise that others have. Who knows, they might even give you some referrals.

In a Forbes article, it is reported that eight out of ten businesses fail within 18 months of being started. Yes, that’s correct, 80%. However, your business has found a niche in the market and things are looking good right now.

What then should you look for within what is called the growth stage after successfully navigating the start-up phase?

Building During the Growth Stage

© Johnkwan | Dreamstime.com - Growth In Business Photo

© Johnkwan | Dreamstime.com – Growth In Business Photo

Even with an increasing customer base and higher revenues, you will still need to pay very close attention to your cash flow as cash is the lifeblood of any business. You should also expect to make investments in creating new sales channels such as websites or e-commerce, establish your products and services in new markets, and promote the business with a view to gaining and retaining new customers. It may also be necessary to seek financing and the utilization of accounting and productivity software, to provide greater insights into the operations of the enterprise, is another necessity for any enterprise.

Every business owner starts off with great expectations for his or her enterprise. However, by knowing what to expect at the various stages of the entity’s life cycle, you can better deal with the complexities of owning and running a small business.

 

The Power of the Pitch

Image from Black Enterprise Magazine

Image from Black Enterprise Magazine

The elevator pitch remains relevant. If you are aren’t familiar with it, the elevator pitch is a 30 to 60-second summary of your business, product or message. The premise being that you should be able to describe value to someone in less time than an elevator ride. If they are interested, the conversation may extend beyond that elevator ride. Meaning, the elevator pitch needs to be tight and on point to hit the key elements of your message.

The elevator pitch is also helpful in summarizing your business goals and objectives. In the fast-paced, changing world of social media, a lot of information moves along a continuum, and people need to quickly know the value of the information and what’s in it for them. An elevator pitch is especially useful for meeting people at networking events and business conferences, and is most effective when prepared and practiced in advance.

And while you’re practicing, here’s a great opportunity. For the past 20 years, Black Enterprise Magazine has been sponsoring its annual Entrepreneur’s Summit and one of the highlights is the elevator pitch competition in which $10,000 is awarded to the winning pitch to help build and grow a winning business idea, along with mentorship. The pitch competition is now accepting two to three minute entries through Friday, April 17. Finalists will be invited to participate in a live pitch during the May 2015 Entrepreneur’s Summit in Atlanta, Georgia. For more details, visit here.

Staff at Own Your Idea, LLC have had an opportunity to attend one of Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneur Summit and previewed the pitch competition and can say it is a fun, engaging and educational event.  If your business needs that edge and ready to go to another level, consider entering the pitch competition, if nothing else but for the experience to perfect your elevator pitch.