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Problems With Social Media Networking For Business: Part Two

Once a business owner understands the basics of social media, the next challenge is implementation. The challenge here is making, then learning to manage, the commitment to consistent engagement.

First, you must understand three basic points for successfully implementing social media:

1. Social media does not operate in a vacuum in and of itself.
2. Social media was not initially intended for commercial use and contains inherent etiquette protocols that must be followed.
3. If you’re a business person serious about using social media for business, you must first prepare.

OK, to elaborate on these points:

1. “Social media does not work in a vacuum… “
This means you can’t just create your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, abandon them and expect this to help your business. Social media involves “socializing” with people.

Social media accounts help you communicate and engage in conversations with your prospects and customers. Once you begin talking with people, to walk away is rude. This applies to social media just like in the physical world. Thus, you can’t simply establish the (social media) accounts. You must engage in them, WITH your followers and friends. Consistently.

This certainly can be a challenge for busy, business people. How are we supposed to fool with that stuff everyday while trying to run our businesses?

It’s a challenge that business owners typically either foresee and decide to avoid by not involving themselves in social media at all, or don’t foresee and become overwhelmed because they don’t know how to manage it once they get started.

The thing is to realize that social media is the new marketing ingredient that can’t be ignored. It can make your marketing efforts much more economical and effective once you understand and embrace it.

The solution is to PREPARE, PLAN and SCHEDULE your business time with social media. That preparation includes creating profiles and content in advance and selecting options that “automate” the process for you. An obvious, highly effective and increasingly popular option with “in-the-know,” savvy business owners, is outsourcing. Dedicate staff or hire social media consultants to get the job done for you or a social media coach to work with you.

In any case, at this point, if you’re in business, your business must be involved in social media or your business will be left behind.

POINT NUMBER 2: “Social media was NOT initially intended for commercial use… “
OK, since social media was all about the “socializing” online and building of like-minded communities where people could congregate, share and have a good time online, nobody wanted to see commercials or anybody trying to sell them something in those spaces. They still don’t. But information and creativity are highly sought after.

All these people in all these online social “communities” are still human, they still live in the physical world and they are all, still consumers. So, while it’s rude to push sales in social networks, it is understood that people do want and, subsequently, buy things. The trick is to “inform,” serve and provide. THIS is how you engage in business using social media. You have to BE there with your prospects and customers.

Imagine, if you’re at a party and someone at the party mentions that they are looking for a plumber… and you happen to BE a plumber, then it’s OK to promote your service. Isn’t it?

OK. Let’s look at another analogy. You’re at the bookstore… and the woman standing next to you asks you if you know a good recipe book because she can’t decide from all the titles in front of her. On talking with her further, you discover more precisely what she needs and you are very knowledgeable on the subject. Consider that in this instance everyone in the book store more than likely has an interest in books. Everyone standing in the cooking section with you and your new acquaintance is interested in cooking. You’re there too and you just happen to be author of a series of cookbooks. NOW, you can see when it IS OK, expected and WANTED- for you to raise your hand and say, “Hey I’m here and I have what you need!”… can’t you?

This accepted behaviour is opposed to simply joining a social space and beginning to list your sales “specials.” Proper social network etiquette is simply, sharing, befriending and serving. This is “engagement,” and yes, you can do it through your business.

With social media, you need to be there -or at least- show up on a regular basis. Join the conversation and contribute either, expertise, information or resources. This is how you and your business gain. It’s relationship management and strengthens incrementally, over time.

One of those resources is the practice of providing “content” for your audience. This dramatically speeds up the process, and increases your credibility and your edge over industry colleagues and competitors. Providing content allows you to increase your visibility, appeal and VALUE that ultimately results in increased business. This way, you’re not struggling to have one-on-one conversations with everyone in each of your social networks, instead you’re engaging with them by providing them something they need and/or want. Done correctly, sharing your content builds your friends and followers trust, that you’re the person -or your company is the business- they should do business with.

“The serious business person must first prepare to use social media for business… ”
As with anything else, preparation is ‘a good thing’ that improves your efficiency and chances of success. Preparing for social media for your business includes the following:
1. You should have a marketing plan already. Now you need to at least outline where your new commitment to social media falls into that mix. If you haven’t done this, get it done first.

If you’ve never done this or need a “quick-start” strategy, simply list all the marketing methods, outlets and media you will be deploying, then schedule when you will implement each and their respective costs.

2. Write a “key person” bio and a business profile. Edit each one of these pieces so you end up with at least three versions including 200-word, 500- character and 200-character versions.

3. Write your business tagline.

4. Conduct keyword research then list your keywords so that you have those -READY- to place in the keyword and/or “tag” sections of your accounts.

5. Write a brief “keyword-rich” description of your business. Include what you sell, who you provide it for and the benefit. Again, create multiple versions so that if you run into word count limits, you already have it PREPARED.

6. You’ll want a company photo of the owner/president or the representative of your choice. Understand that social networks are about people. If you don’t do this, you’ll greatly diminish the opportunity to present your business as “transparent” and build long-term trust. Thus, your business needs at least one face. Have it ready for your social network accounts.

7. Company logo.

8. Produce an initial introductory press release that can be provided at a moment’s notice if need be. Don’t attempt this if you don’t know what you’re doing. Pay a freelance publicist or journalist to write it for you. Format it for e-mail and PDF so you may use it as necessary, when necessary. This business “content” is an extra option that places you ahead of most. On occasion, review this release, edit and update as necessary to keep it current.

9. Prepare a selection of photos and images you can use when needed. These might include customer logos if your business services or sells to other businesses, or photos of your retail space, office building, and products. You get the idea. If you’re a photographer or designer produce a digital portfolio for immediate presentation when requested.

10. Because you actually ARE in business to sell something, prepare your sales materials specifically for online “social response.” Produce your product or service list. Include features, benefits and pricing. Create your contract or invoice forms. Last but not least, produce the sales “pitch.” Again, if you aren’t skilled at writing (sales) copy, hire a professional copywriter. At least understand that this material is best written by marketing and sales pros NOT journalists. It’s a completely different discipline. Even better, hire an SEO copywriter. If you must do it yourself, before you begin, use Google to research copywriting, sales copy and writing for SEO.

11. When you are engaging with your prospects and customers in your social networks, your ultimate goal to gain the sale, is to send them to your business destination. While they’re online, and you are holding their interest, you need to be able to send them to your Web destination. Thus, you should have your Web site up and running BEFORE you go full speed ahead with your social media marketing. Not only does this enhance your credibility, it also allows you to transact business online which, as a business person, is the whole purpose for your social media engagement.

This online business “transaction” isn’t necessary a purchase, it could be having your prospect print out a coupon to come to your real-world location.

12. Content is the primary driving force that gains you friends, followers and customers. Make producing content for your social networks on a regular, consistent basis part of your business. Basically, online content is:

• posts
• articles
• photos
• audio recordings (podcasts and Webinars)
• video

Those are the essentials. Additional content you can produce and use includes but is not limited to:

• surveys
• press releases
• tutorials
• advertisements
• testimonials/reviews

Using social media to drive people to your Web site, what you can do from there is only limited by your imagination or lack of information (a.k.a. knowledge). Bottom line with all of this is to PREPARE and KEEP LEARNING and mastering your social media skills for business.

Building a Solid Business Foundation for Financing

The single most important thing a business owner can do for their business is to build their business to sell it.

Sell it you ask?

Yes. Build to Sell.

Every decision a business owner makes should be based on that thought. If an entrepreneur can base their business decisions with that underlying idea (in terms of financing), they will be set up for long term success.

The lending institutions base their acceptance or declination on one thing.

Is the business an attractive lending risk.

There are 20 key points every business owner must have in place to be approved by financial institutions when their underwriting team is determining to approve or decline a loan app. Many of these are small, seemingly meaningless ideas. However, lets take a look at it from the eyes of the lenders.

Banks and lending institutions get so many applications from business owners who, quiet frankly, have no business applying for a loan. Their business is not set up to be lent to. The banks are not even viewing these entities as a viable businesses. So the first stage of getting past the computer guidelines is to have these in place.

Additionally, if you were to go to the bank and not have these in place, the loan officer would get a two digit code back from the computer system and all it was say was “Loan application declined.” Your loan officer, without investing some time into the issue, would not know exactly what you needed to do differently to be approved. The loan officers surely do not have the underwriting guidelines for their firm.

In this article we will examine the top three reasons business owners fail at business credit building and business financing.

The first is simply the business owner does not have all the I’s dotted and the T’s crossed in their business. Things like having an 800 number, being listed in the 411 directory, and having a dedicated fax line is a must to a business owner seeking financing. Many business owners I speak with are small businesses, who are just seeking their financing options. It’s impressive to see the amount of businesses that do not even have these first three steps accomplished. Remember, the goal here is to have your business look attractive on paper. In the eyes of a lender, if you do not have an 800 number it is suggested you own a “mom and pop shop” and are not setup for success.

Secondly, business owners have not started to build their business credit. There are right ways and wrong ways to go about building your business credit structure. In the eyes of the lender business owners who go out seeking to open revolving lines of credit and are turned down (due to reasons outside the scope of this article) it appears as though they are fishing for financing. It’s imperative to apply for the right types of credit lines and being approved for those lines when establishing your business credit from the get go.

Thirdly and most relevant to most entrepreneurs: they have not separated their personal liabilities from their business. It’s important for a business owner to have good receivables in his/her business. But, and what’s equally important, is that business owners personal credit is not tied to the business, in any possible way. There are two reasons why you’d want to separate yourself from your business. If something happens to your personal financial situation, you do not want that to be the reason your business is unsuccessful in obtaining financing. Secondly, should something happen to your business, you do not want that to affect your personal credit.

Contents Of A Business Plan – Key Information Required By Banks

Many small business owners and entrepreneurs produce business plans quickly and without much thought or analysis. While having one is critical when seeking loans from a bank, the actual contents are even more important. This is often over-looked as most business owners are not familiar with what banks are really looking for.

The contents of a business plan are critically important to the banks’ lending decision process. It’s not enough just to have all the headings covered off in the table of contents.

So what are banks really looking for? In this article, we will discuss the important of market and competition analysis in the contents of a business plan. Both of which are critical to a banks’ decision-making process.

Demonstrated understanding of the key target market

The contents of a business plan include a detailed analysis of the industry and market segment within which the business operates. Beyond merely providing the estimated size of the market, and market share, banks look for analysis on the relevant market.

The following list of questions will be asked in one form or another by a potential lender to gain an understanding of the market segment the business operates in:

  • What is the size of the market – what geographic area does it cover and what is the estimated turnover of the whole market in the relevant area?
  • Where is it in its growth cycle, ie. Startup, mature, declining?
  • What is the business’ estimated share of the market?
  • How much will it cost for the business or competitors to enter that industry, ie. What are the barriers to entry?
  • How competitive is it?
  • Is it regulated?
  • Is their demand?
  • Who are the business’ direct and indirect competitors?

A potential lender will also focus on a detailed assessment of the business’ ability to:

  1. Attract new customers
  2. Attract and retain good employees
  3. Fully utilize operating capacity
  4. Reach its target customers
  5. Retain existing customers

These attributes are the key success factors for that business to operate successfully in their target market and are usually included in the Industry and Market Analysis section.

Understanding and analyzing the competition

Banks will keenly examine and question the contents of a business plan covering competition analysis. The competition analysis section needs to show that the business owner has an understanding of their business strategy and model, and how they might respond to any competitive behavior in the market place.

The content needs to identify the strengths and weaknesses of top competitors and identify the needs in the customer base that are not being fully met by the competition.

Getting an understanding of how competitors are performing financially will also help support estimates made about the returns a business might make in the market it operates. This feeds into the financial section as one of they key factors that will form the basis of realistic sales projections.

This analysis will also identify the opportunities and threats to the business. Opportunities that can be capitalized on and incorporated into a well articulated business strategy, and threats that need to be mitigated or managed.

What perspective do banks take when assessing the merits of a business plan?

Banks make a fixed return on loans made to small businesses, unlikely equity investors who take the first loss risk, and all the upside profits as recompense for that level of risk. This is why banks will always focus on the downside risks to a business in their assessments of the contents of a business plan.

Business owners and entrepreneurs need to highlight and address the existing and potential risks to their business in the contents of a business plan being presented in support of a bank loan application. Addressing and mitigating risks in this document will reassure banks that management is fully aware of the risks involved and have provided reasons why they are acceptable or show how they will be minimized.

By ensuring that the contents of a business plan cover off risk mitigation, the business owner will gain some credibility with the bank and thereby increase their chances of a favourable outcome.