My Awesome Evening at the AT&T Small Business Roundtable

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AT&T Small Business Roundtable - Susan Solovic, Bill Rancic, Adam Toren

Earlier this month I wrote that I was collaborating with AT&T Small Business at its first 2016 AT&T Small Business Roundtable.

AT&T flew me to Chicago for the event. And what a night that was.

There was swapping of business cards, snapping of photos, and tweeting and Facebooking. And it was also an exchange of important ideas. The event was part of AT&T’s “Power of &” campaign which is about helping entrepreneurs and small businesses engage in continuous learning to solve business challenges through the power of agility.

Bill Rancic, the first Apprentice winner and now a restaurateur, hosted the evening at one of his terrific restaurants, RPM Steak.

In the networking portion, I was delighted to re-connect with people I know such as experts like Susan Solovic and Adam Toren (pictured with Bill Rancic). Long-time friend, author and entrepreneur Barry Moltz, local to Chicago, also was there. I also met other business owners — and ran into some awesome fans of this website, too. The team back home said “no way!” when I texted and said I’d met site fans at the Roundtable. Here’s a video recap of the event capturing the excitement and energy in the event.

I’d love to share my Chicago experience with you. Here are some key takeaways and things I got out of attending the AT&T Small Business Roundtable:

  • The Roundtable was a central piece of the AT&T “Power of &” campaign. If we entrepreneurs and business owners are going to compete successfully today, we have to be agile. We have to sense trends and changes, and adapt to new environments. If we move fast and leverage technology and services provided by great partners, we can pull ahead of competitors and succeed. That’s what the “Power of &” suggests: thinking of what we do as an “and” working together with business partners like AT&T to be more agile.
  • Roundtable small business participants talked about the many ways the world is changing and how those changes affect our businesses. The range of businesses represented at the event was wide — everything from a distribution business, to a web designer, to an air transportation business, to the operator of startup incubators, to an affiliate marketer, to a small nonprofit — and more.
  • Business owners at the event also raised a wide range of issues as their top concerns. Issues spanned from the upcoming new overtime regulations, to social media overwhelm, to rising health care costs, to changing consumer habits, to affiliate marketing regulations. But no matter what industry you’re in, no matter what the challenges, the successful responses tended to be similar: leverage technology wherever possible, learn, adapt, lean on stronger partners, pivot on a dime when necessary, and persevere. It was a reminder to me in my business to stay nimble and don’t get complacent — and don’t try to go it alone, either.
  • I was impressed with the senior support from AT&T. Attending were the heads of several AT&T departments that serve and support small businesses, as well as Cathy Martine, AT&T Senior Vice President of Corporate Business Solutions. Cathy holds a key role within AT&T when it comes to small businesses. And she couldn’t have been more gracious. She sat down at every table, listening and engaging. The fact that so many AT&T execs were willing to go to Chicago for this event said a lot to me about their commitment and the entire “Power of &” campaign.
  • I also learned a lot about AT&T’s solutions and what AT&T is doing to support small businesses to be more agile. One example: I learned about the AT&T Fiber Ready Building program, where AT&T is proactively connecting buildings to its fiber network. In this way, they are helping small business tenants in those buildings respond with agility to new opportunities, without the need to bear all the cost of installing a fiber infrastructure.

AT&T Small Business Roundtable participants

Be sure to check out Business Circle, the online hub for information about the Power of & campaign, with loads of advice, pointers and insights.  And go here to learn more about the power of agility.

Oh, and I’d like to also announce the winner of our Windows Lumia 950 phone giveaway (courtesy of AT&T – thank you!).  The winner is … Jenny Ham from Kansas!  Congratulations, Jenny — your phone will be on its way to you shortly.

AT&T Small Business Roundtable - Barry Moltz in middle

NOTE: This is a sponsored article and I am being compensated by AT&T to participate in the “Power of &” campaign.  All thoughts and opinions are my own, however.

This article, “My Awesome Evening at the AT&T Small Business Roundtable” was first published on Small Business Trends

from Brent Lecompte Blog http://brentlecompte.blogspot.com/2016/06/my-awesome-evening-at-at-small-business.html

How to Use Email Marketing to Drive Social Engagement

Social Media Email Marketing - How to Use Email Marketing to Drive Social Engagement

Despite occasionally being mocked as a relatively archaic marketing method, email marketing remains a fantastic tool for almost any business. Because it doesn’t require any monetary investment (beyond a management platform, which tends to be an inexpensive item), and because it tends to grow in effectiveness over time as you attract more subscribers, it has enormous ROI potential all on its own.

However, the real power of email marketing is its ability to integrate with other marketing strategies. It can be used as a funnel for leads generated by other means, a showcase for your most popular content, and perhaps most importantly, a facilitator of greater social media engagement. How can email marketing best brandish this power?

Social Media Email Marketing Engagement Tips

Basic Prerequisites

First, let’s take a look at some of the prerequisites for this approach. These are a handful of features and tactics that your email strategy needs to have in place before you can even start attracting more social engagement:

  • Include social share icons. This is a basic necessity. The body of your email template needs to include links to your social media profiles in the header or the footer, at a minimum. You should also have “share” icons throughout your work that enable your users to share snippets of content they find interesting with one click. The easier you make it for your users to share, the more they’re going to share.
  • Embed featured posts. Interesting content is highly shareable, so no matter what the core purpose of your email blast is, you should include at least one piece of top-performing content from your content strategy (such as a particularly popular blog post). Embed this into your email, and of course, include share icons.
  • Call users to action. Sometimes your readers will need a helpful nudge in the right direction before they take an action. Don’t be afraid to ask your users to get involved in a social context directly. For example, you can ask users to share your latest post, or include some incentive for sharing something, such as an entry in a giveaway.

Include Shareable Content

In addition to embedding posts from your blog, you may want to offer exclusive forms of content to your email subscribers. If earning more social shares and social visibility is one of your primary goals, you should make that content as shareable as possible. Make it fast, concise, easy-to-read, and make sure you choose a topic that’s valuable for your audience. Even better, establish some kind of emotional connection by evoking humor, sympathy, or surprise. The basic tenets of viral content can help you here, but remember your limitations with email engagement — keep this content above the fold, and make it easy for your viewers to skim and share this content.

Make Exclusive Offers (That Users Can Share Anyway)

Exclusive offers reward your email subscribers, but if you want to make the most of these offers, you should allow your email recipients to share them with their social followings anyway. The degree of exclusivity will still be present enough for your subscribers to appreciate the gesture, but you’ll gain visibility across multiple new audiences. Your readers will be incentivized to share these offers because they’ll feel a sense of pride in doing so — not only are they doing a favor to all their followers, they’re showing off their own status, to a certain degree. The exact nature and significance of the offer is up to you — discounts, giveaways, and specialty items work well here, and consider escalating the objective value of your offer based on how desperate you are for more shares.

Announce Contests (and Winners)

Contests are a powerful form of social media engagement, and email blasts are a great way to increase awareness of them. A good contest, announced over email, could encourage a subscriber who isn’t currently following you to finally make the jump. And if a subscriber is already following you, they’ll be likely to share the contest opportunity with their own friends and followers. Once the contest is over, you can also announce your contest winners via email to further showcase the benefits of being an active member of your brand community.

Feedback Loops

Finally, remember that email marketing and social media marketing are mutually beneficial strategies. Throughout this article, I’ve mostly discussed ways that email marketing can bring you more social media followers, but don’t forget that social media marketing can bring you more email subscribers as well. Show off the benefits of being an email subscriber in your social media news feeds, such as by announcing exclusive content or exclusive discounts, and provide regular calls to action for users to sign up for your lists. Keep these strategies tightly interlinked, and you’ll greatly enhance your performance in both areas.

Email Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “How to Use Email Marketing to Drive Social Engagement” was first published on Small Business Trends

from Brent Lecompte Blog http://brentlecompte.blogspot.com/2016/06/how-to-use-email-marketing-to-drive.html

Expanding Your Staff: The Impact on Your Employer Obligations

Expanding Your Staff: The Impact on Your Employer Obligations

NFIB’s Small Business Economic Trends for May 2016 shows (PDF) more businesses plan to increase employment as compared with the month before. Hiring new employees to meet your company’s growing needs may be a smart business move, but there are consequences to consider. It will cost you more in wages, payroll taxes and employee benefits. You also face an array of federal laws with which you must comply. And you may lose out on certain federal tax breaks.

Employer Obligations When Adding More Staff

Here’s how the number of employees affects you:

Complying with Federal Labor Laws

While most employers always try to act fairly, federal law imposes special obligations on those with staffs that exceed set limits:

  • Affordable Care Act (ACA). This law requires you to provide minimum essential health coverage to full-time workers and their dependents or pay a penalty. It applies if you have at least 50 full-time and full-time equivalent employees.
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). This law prohibits discrimination against workers and job applicants age 40 or older. It applies if you have at least 20 employees.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This law prohibits discrimination on the basis of a disability and requires you to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. It applies if you have at least 15 employees.
  • Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). If you offer health coverage to employees, you must offer those who leave the opportunity to continue their coverage for 18 months (additional requirements apply for spouses and dependents). It applies if you have at least 20 employees.
  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This law requires you to give up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to employees for the birth or adoption of a child or to care for an immediate family member with a serious illness. It applies if you have at least 50 employees.
  • Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). This law prevents discrimination on the basis of DNA information (e.g., not hiring someone because she has a greater risk of getting breast cancer). It applies if you have at least 15 employees.

Employers are required to permit nursing mothers reasonable break time to nurse or express milk. However, employers with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from this break time requirement if compliance would impose an undue hardship.

Losing Out on Tax Breaks

Some federal tax breaks can be used only if you are a small employer. You lose the opportunity to claim them when you become too big. Here are the numbers:

  • Credit for starting a retirement plan. This is a credit of 50 percent of expenses up to $1,000 ($500) for starting a qualified retirement plan, such as a 401(k), for your staff; it can be claimed for three years. It applies only if you have no more than 100 employees.
  • Disabled access credit. This is a credit of 50 percent of costs over $250 but not over $10,250 to make your premises accessible. It applies only if you have no more than 30 employees.
  • Small employer health insurance credit. This is a credit of up to 50 percent of the premiums you pay for your employees. It applies only if you have no more than 25 full-time and full-time equivalent employees.
  • Wage differential credit for activated reservists. You can take a tax credit for continuing the wages of workers called to active duty. The credit is 20 percent of the differential up to $20,000 (top credit of $4,000). It applies only if you have fewer than 50 employees.

Thoughts About Compliance

Of course, even if you don’t meet the employee threshold for applicability, you probably strive to comply with federal laws. For example, even if you don’t have 20 employees, you don’t want to discriminate against older workers because it’s the right thing to do (and you don’t want to expose yourself to litigation).

Don’t assume that federal laws are your only obligations. States may have their own rules, imposing obligations even if you have too few employees to trigger federal law.

You can find a complete list of federal labor laws by the number of employees from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). When you have any questions about these or other employer obligations, talk to an employment law attorney. The cost of legal advice usually is much lower than the cost of government penalties or employee litigation. When you have questions about tax laws, talk with your tax advisor.

Image: NFIB

This article, “Expanding Your Staff: The Impact on Your Employer Obligations” was first published on Small Business Trends

from Brent Lecompte Blog http://brentlecompte.blogspot.com/2016/06/expanding-your-staff-impact-on-your.html

Small Businesses Posting More Jobs Related to Transportation

Small Businesses Posting More Jobs Related to Transportation

Transportation job postings are much more highly concentrated in small business compared to businesses of all sizes, with over a quarter of all small business job postings in the transportation sector. This represents strong demand for jobs like truck and delivery drivers.

The American Trucking Tonnage Index remains above its level from the same time last year, due in part to favorable fuel prices and the continued rise in online shopping, says Daniel Culbertson, economic research analyst at Indeed.

“Small businesses are once again competing with other size businesses for this type of role and there doesn’t seem to be a slowdown,” he says.

Small Business Jobs Related to Transportation on the Rise

According to Indeed’s data on job postings from small businesses, 27 percent of them were in the transportation sector. That is twice as many as the second most in demand jobs being advertised by small businesses nationwide.

Jobs in management rank No. 2 in Indeed’s jobs listings data. A total of 12 percent of job ads were for management.

Healthcare jobs (No. 3 on Indeed’s list) and computer/tech occupations are still in demand from some of the recession-proof industries that are also hiring at a high rate. Still, though, only 8 percent and 7 percent of all small business job listings are for people with these skill sets.

“Healthcare and tech are this economy’s industry stalwarts and will remain in demand for the foreseeable future,” Culbertson says.

The other most in-demand jobs for small businesses are sales, business and finance, personal care and service, food prep and service, healthcare support and productions operator.

Image: Indeed

This article, “Small Businesses Posting More Jobs Related to Transportation” was first published on Small Business Trends

from Brent Lecompte Blog http://brentlecompte.blogspot.com/2016/06/small-businesses-posting-more-jobs.html

What You Must Know About New Overtime Rules; 9 Point Checklist

What You Must Know About New Overtime Rules; 9 Point Checklist

On May 18, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced final updates to the Fair Labor Standards Act’s “white collar” overtime exemptions.

The new overtime rules (known as the “final rule”) increase the salary threshold needed to qualify for overtime exemption from $455 per week ($23,660 per year) to $913 per week ($47,476 per year.) and affect 4.2 million workers.

Also, the total annual compensation requirement needed to meet the highly compensated employee (HCE) exemption will increase from $100,000 per year to $134,004.

Any business that employs workers with salaries under the new threshold will need to consider their best course of action or face paying thousands in higher wages. They could also be subject to employee lawsuits for failure to comply with the rule. No business is exempt, regardless of size.

In addition to the salary threshold changes, the new overtime rules will:

  • Automatically update the salary threshold every three years, based on wage growth over time, increasing predictability;
  • Strengthen overtime protections for salaried workers already entitled to overtime;
  • Amend the salary basis test to allow employers to use non-discretionary bonuses and incentive payments (including commissions) to satisfy up to 10 percent of the new standard salary level;
  • Provide greater clarity for workers and employers.

The final rule goes into effect on December 1, 2016.

Regarding the changes, Mike Trabold, director of compliance with Paychex, an HR technology services provider, in a telephone exchange with Small Business Trends, said:

“Historically, for individuals in certain job categories (including executive, administrative and professional), there was a longstanding salary threshold of $23,660 a year. If you had an employee in one of those categories … who makes over that threshold, you didn’t to have to pay that individual overtime if that person was an exempt employee.

“What happened over the years was an increasing concern with many of the employee advocacy groups that the $23,660 number was too low — and the practical ramifications of that was you had folks that might have been a manager at a restaurant earning $25,000 a year.  But because they were designated as exempt they weren’t eligible for overtime. So we had people working 50-60-70 hours a week and not eligible for overtime.”

To address advocacy group concerns, the Obama administration raised the salary threshold to $47,476 a year, more than double the existing limit, Trabold said.

Employee Payment Options Following New Overtime Rules Change

Employers have some decisions to make when it comes to paying employees under the new overtime rules, according to Trabold.

“The exercise that a lot of employers are going through now is that they have people in that threshold between what it currently was and what it will be now,” he said. “They’re going to have to make a decision whether to increase the salary of those individuals over the $47,476 threshold, so that they will not be eligible for overtime, or they’re going to have to designate them as an hourly worker and pay them for overtime if they work over 40 hours a week.”

Limiting employees to no more than 40 hours per week could be challenging and result in a loss of productivity, Trabold said.

“That potentially impacts the employer because a lot of folks that are currently exempt from a practical standpoint are working more than 40 hours a week,” he said. “You may have a body of work that is currently getting done that you’re going to have to figure out how to address once the new rules go into effect.”

9 Ways Employers Can Prepare for the Final Rule

Trabold provided the following checklist to help employers prepare before the new overtime rules go into effect December 1, 2016.

1. Determine the Final Rule’s Impact on Your Business

Employers should become familiar with the rules changes to determine their overtime situation.

Trabold said that recent research conducted by Paychex found that one out of five employers were not aware of the final rule, and 55 percent did not think it applied to them.

2. Conduct an Audit

Conduct an audit of the employees who are likely to be affected. Trabold advised beginning with a basic review of current staff, exempt status and compensation levels.

Employees currently classified as exempt from the overtime protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act need to meet the duties test for their exemption as well as the salary threshold.

“Work with your accounting and HR teams to review your payroll and identify exempt employees with current salaries below or very close to the new proposed thresholds,” Trabold said.

3. Track Exempt Employees’ Time

Employers should start tracking their exempt employees’ hours — those who make below the $47,476 threshold. It’s critical that employers have accurate hourly data and a clear audit trail for when their employees have worked for a few reasons.

“There will be a lot of employers that, to manage this expense, will move people who are currently exempt to hourly,” Trabold said. “That may make a lot of sense in terms of managing the economics, but will make it more important, obviously, since they’re now hourly employees, to very accurately track their time and the hours they work so they’re paid correctly.”

Trabold also said employers need to track the time exempt employees spend working from home after hours, since it, too, would be compensable.

4. Determine Which Employees Will Transition to Non-exempt Status

Once employers identify the exempt employees who will be affected by the rule, they will need to decide whether to increase their salary levels to maintain exempt status or transition the employee to non-exempt status.

“Employers who choose to transition employees to a non-exempt status will need to determine the basis for pay (hourly or salaried) and ensure they meet the minimum wage requirement for the number of hours the employee is expected to work,” Trabold said. “They should also consider whether overtime will be necessary and permitted. Consistency is crucial to mitigating exposure to discrimination lawsuits.”

5. Develop a Plan

“Look at your historical overtime payments and determine whether your costs are likely to increase due to hours worked,” Trabold said. “Conduct some scenario planning with your advisors and ask the following questions: Should you increase your budgets for essential staff? Should you consider hiring more staff or revisiting your compensation model for specific employees?”

Looking at the impact of the new rules on the business’s financial picture will put employers in a better position to take the most appropriate form of action, he said.

6. Update Timekeeping Policies

Updating record keeping requirements and procedures can be critical to ensure full compliance, according to Trabold.

“Review your time-tracking methods and evaluate if there’s a need for more automation,” he said. “Should the new rule significantly impact the number of employees who need to track their hours worked, an alternative method of tracking, such as time and attendance software, may better suit your needs.”

Trabold indicated that it was also important to establish clear, written employee policies for recording time worked and overtime.

7. Develop Training Procedures

Employers will need to educate staff on the company timekeeping and overtime approval procedure after updating record keeping and overtime policies.

8. Create a Communication Plan

The new rule on overtime pay is expected to impact a significant number of businesses this year. To combat the questions or concerns that arise, Trabold advised developing a communication plan for announcing the changes internally.

“Businesses should clearly communicate changes to policies and procedures with employees, making sure that there is a lot of transparency about any changes and what any new expectations to employees are,” he said.

9. Start Preparing Now

Employers with employees who may be affected should take the initiative now to evaluate the company’s standing, look at how different scenarios will impact their bottom line and determine how they will move forward, to best avoid wage claims and other issues.

“Employers need to start making plans now to ensure they understand what the regulations set means because the implementation date is not very far off,” Trabold said.

He advised that employers consider working a professional HR consultant or compensation partner to understand better the potential impact of the rule changes and their options moving forward.

Print out this new overtime rules checklist to keep the most important considerations top-of-mind:

Download it Now!

Additional Resources

Review these resources to learn more about the final rule:

Image: US Dept. of Labor

This article, “What You Must Know About New Overtime Rules; 9 Point Checklist” was first published on Small Business Trends

from Brent Lecompte Blog http://brentlecompte.blogspot.com/2016/06/what-you-must-know-about-new-overtime.html

6 Ways Handmade Businesses Benefit from a Branded Facebook Group

Six Ways You Can Benefit from a Facebook Group for Business

Currently, I am preparing to deliver a speech to a group of local small business owners about how I use social media as the founder and CEO of the Indie Business Network. I’m planning to cover three key outlets, at their request: (1) LinkedIn, (2) Instagram, and (3) Facebook.

Of course, there will be a few overlapping themes as I cover each specific social media outlet, especially in regard to Instagram and Facebook. As I continue to sort through my materials, however, I am noticing one area within Facebook that stands alone among the three: Facebook groups. Each of the others has its own unique and beneficial characteristics, but a Facebook group is the only one that delivers a variety of benefits that none of the others can, and each one can benefit your business. Here are six of them.

Benefits of a Facebook Group for Business

1. Events Calendar

While you can share your events on Instagram and LinkedIn, Instagram will not allow you to link directly to an event in the body of your post, and LinkedIn does not have an in-group calendar of any kind. The Event tabs within Facebook groups is easy to find on a desktop or a mobile device, and displays your upcoming event dates, times, descriptions, and an accompanying graphic. You can embed as many links as you’d like within each event listing.

2. Live Video

You cannot host a live video on Instagram or LinkedIn. This is a huge bonus that allows you to engage with your customers and fans in real time.

3. An Intimate Ecosystem

If you are proactive about making your Facebook group engaging and informative for your customers, they begin to get to know each other and many form valuable friendships. This allows your brand to become significant for reasons that have little to do with the product or service you offer. People check in to see what is happening in the group not only because there may be a product or service to buy, but because their lives are enhanced by the relationships they form.

4. Sale Option

While you can post items for sale on LinkedIn and Instagram, there is no specific “sale” option within either of those apps. In Facebook groups, you can choose the “Sell Something” option when you post, and include a description of the item for sale, along with the price and an image. Group participants can search specifically for sale postings or discussion postings, making it easy for them to find a product they wish to buy without having to search through discussions.

5. Polls

Asking your customers and fans questions lets them know you care about what they think and are genuinely focused on serving them better. Polls can also give you the inside information you need — direct from your target audience — to fine tune your brand, sharpen customer service or create your next product. While you can certainly ask your followers questions on Instagram and in LinkedIn groups, you cannot create a survey with specific questions that your can answer quickly on the go.

6. A Mobile App

Facebook offers a mobile app that serves as a dedicated space that lets people access their Facebook groups in one place. This is useful for those who prefer interacting largely in groups to interacting via Facebook’s traditional layout. Neither LinkedIn nor Instagram offers anything like it.

As of this writing, the Facebook group mobile app is ad free, so your customers will not see ads for competing products, services, or groups within the app. You can download the Facebook group app on iTunes and Google Play here.

There are other benefits to Facebook groups, but I think these are the major ones I have personally found most useful as I lead the Indie Business Network and serve our members. I hope they will help you to leverage a branded Facebook group to grow your business.

Facebook Group Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “6 Ways Handmade Businesses Benefit from a Branded Facebook Group” was first published on Small Business Trends

from Brent Lecompte Blog http://brentlecompte.blogspot.com/2016/06/6-ways-handmade-businesses-benefit-from.html

Survey: 55 Percent of SMBs Say Video Marketing a Must (Infographic)

Video Marketing Trend: 55 Percent of SMB Owners Say Video Marketing a Must (Infographic)

More small business owners and professional marketers are saying video is a must these days, and that they value video marketing above all other marketing skills for new hires, according to a recent survey by cloud-based video creation service Animoto.

Video Marketing Trend

Animoto’s Social Video Forecast for 2016, which is compiled from the online survey of more than 1,000 professional marketers and 1,000 small- and medium-sized business owners (SMB owners), shows that video has reached new heights in marketing. Fifty-five percent of SMB owners and 84 percent of marketers said that they created or commissioned a marketing video in the past 12 months.

New Heights in Video Marketing

As marketers see good returns on their video investments, they plan to invest further. According to the survey, nearly two-thirds of all marketers are planning to incorporate video in their campaigns for the coming year, as well as invest in video promotion on social media channels. Additionally, the marketers are planning to invest in talent to support video campaigns across the board.

“Social video has become a must-have for businesses of all sizes,” Animoto CEO Brad Jefferson said in a press release announcing the video marketing survey. “While professional marketers are leading the charge in terms of where and how much to invest, small business owners are not far behind. That is a testament to the growing ease and affordability of video distribution on social media platforms, as well as consumers’ inclination towards video content.”

Animoto’s 2016 Social Video Forecast

Animoto’s Social Video Forecast builds on the findings of the 2016 Social Media Marketing Industry Report (PDF) released last month by SocialMediaExaminer.com. The Social Media Marketing Industry Report details how marketers and SMB owners are using social media to grow their businesses, including where they will focus investments in social video to gain a competitive edge.

As it turns out, Facebook continues to dominate as the leading marketing platform for sharing and distributing video content, although professional marketers are beginning to adopt and invest in newer channels like Snapchat and Instagram. Moreover, YouTube remains a stronghold for marketers, and is gaining in popularity with SMB owners, according to both reports.

“This year, we’ve seen social networks such as Facebook prioritize video content and optimization like never before,” said Mari Smith, Facebook marketing expert and social media thought leader. “This prioritization, paired with the rise in video consumption on nearly every social network, has made it impossible for marketers to ignore the importance of consistent video creation and promotion. Animoto’s forecast underscores that ‘social plus video’ has truly arrived.”

2016 Social Video Forecast Infographic

Animoto’s online video creation service offers apps for web and mobile to help anyone easily turn ordinary photos and video clips into professional-quality HD videos. The company fielded its survey between April 25 and May 6, 2016, and created a beautiful infographic capturing its key findings. Check out the infographic below:

Video Marketing Trend: 55 Percent of SMB Owners Say Video Marketing a Must (Infographic)

This article, “Survey: 55 Percent of SMBs Say Video Marketing a Must (Infographic)” was first published on Small Business Trends

from Brent Lecompte Blog http://brentlecompte.blogspot.com/2016/06/survey-55-percent-of-smbs-say-video.html

Biz2Credit: Institutional Lenders Bounce Back after April Drop

Biz2Credit Lending Index May 2016: Institutional SMB Lending Bounces Back after April Drop

Approval at institutional lenders and at big banks ($10 billion+ in assets) increased in May. Meanwhile, credit unions, small banks and alternative lenders recorded a drop in their approval rates.

Those were the findings of Biz2Credit, the online resource for small business finance, in their monthly lending index released this month.

Biz2Credit Lending Index May 2016

In its review Biz2Credit found that loan approval rates at institutional lenders rebounded from their first drop in over two years. The one-tenth of a percent gain to 62.8 percent matched an all-time index high. “For the better part of the last two years, institutional lenders have been one of the stronger driving forces in the industry. The rebound in May is encouraging. High yields and low default rates allow this category of lenders to continue to thrive,” stated Biz2Credit CEO Rohit Arora.

Small business loans at big banks also recorded a significant increase, up one-tenth of a percent to reach an all-time index high of 23.2 percent. It was the seventh time in the last nine months that lending approval rates increased at big banks and in a year-to-year comparison, they are now approving six percent more funding requests on average.

“Big banks have demonstrated their commitment to small business lending over the last two years with investments in automation that have resulted in higher profit margins,” Arora said.

Alternative lenders on the other hand took a hit in May, only approving on average 60 percent of small business loan requests. For the past two and a half years the alternative lender’s approval rate has declined by more than 7 percent from 67.3 percent to the current 60 percent.

More so, for the fourth time in the last five months, the loan approval rates at small banks dipped to 48.7 percent. “As big players such as J.P. Morgan and Wells Fargo expand in small business lending, it continues to negatively impact small banks. When lenders invest in technology, small business owners can now receive funding in a matter of days. This has led to higher quality borrowers gravitating to the larger financial institutions” Arora stated.

Like alternative lenders and small banks, credit unions had also continued their long decline in loan approval rates, only approving 41.7 percent in May, going down two tenths of a percent from April. For the past year the approval rates at credit unions have dropped every month.

From Biz2Credit’s report, it is evident that small business owners that are looking to lend would have a better chance of getting approved by institutional lenders and big banks.

Image: Biz2Credit

This article, “Biz2Credit: Institutional Lenders Bounce Back after April Drop” was first published on Small Business Trends

from Brent Lecompte Blog http://brentlecompte.blogspot.com/2016/06/biz2credit-institutional-lenders-bounce.html

How to Hire a Killer Copywriter

How to Hire a Great Copywriter

Want to have great copy? You either need to learn how to create it yourself, or you need to hire a great copywriter. The right copywriter can help your business increase sales, build brand recognition and garner a number of other positive results.

So how do you find the right copywriter for your business? Here are some key things to keep in mind during your search.

15 Tips for Hiring a Great Copywriter

Be Specific About What You Need

There are plenty of different copywriters out there with different skills and specialties. So before you even start looking, consider what it is you’d actually like your copywriter to do. If you’re looking to spruce up copy for your company’s online ads, find someone who specializes in that format. If you’re looking for someone to write product description, then find someone with similar items in their portfolio.

If You’re Not Sure, Find Someone to Guide You

Of course, there might be situations where you’re not exactly sure what you need or where you might need several different types of jobs covered. In those situations, it could be beneficial to find a copywriter with experience in different areas who can help you decide the best route to take for your copy. You may need to pay extra for this type of guidance though.

Consider the Required Skill Level

You’ll also need to decide how much experience you need in a copywriter. Not every job necessarily requires a seasoned veteran. But if you want your entire web copy revamped, that could require you to hire someone with more experience than if you were just looking for someone to create a single ad.

Have a Budget in Mind

Before you start your official search, consider how much you can afford to spend on a copywriter. Or at least consider what you are able to spend on an overall project. For example, determine your budget for your overall marketing campaign. Then consider any other costs involved in the campaign and figure out how much you have left to set aside for a copywriter.

But Ask for Their Best Quote

You can also ask the copywriters you’re considering for their best quotes based on the work that you need done. That doesn’t mean that you should necessarily just choose the cheapest bid. But make sure that you understand what all is included in the quoted price and then use that to make an informed decision.

Consider Hiring Someone for Regular Work

In some cases, you can get better prices and a copywriter that has a better understanding of your brand if you hire someone for regular work, if your business needs copy written on a regular basis. If you can’t afford to hire someone full-time, consider at least creating a relationship with a freelancer who you can contact whenever you have new copy needs.

Get Someone Who Understands Your Audience

Great copy looks completely different from business to business. What constitutes an effective ad for a computer company probably wouldn’t work as well for a clothing retailer. So if you want copy that’s going to resonate with your audience, you need to find a copywriter who knows how to write for that audience. Take a look at their past work or ask about any experience in your industry to see if they’d be a good fit.

Ask for Examples of Their Work

Even if a copywriter doesn’t have experience in your exact niche, you can get a feel for a copywriter’s strengths by looking at their past work. See if they have a portfolio on their website or ask them for samples. Then see if their writing includes the type of voice and format that you’d like to see in your own copy.

Keep Real Results in Mind

Even if you think a piece of copy in someone’s portfolio sounds good, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to help your business. So you have to consider the results you want your copy to garner. Is a stronger voice going to resonate with the specific audience you’re looking for so that you can grow your customer base? Or are you looking to increase immediate sales through stronger ad copy or product descriptions?

Emphasize Headlines and Calls to Action

Depending on what type of copy you are looking for, there are a few very important sections that can help you grab customers’ attention and get the results you’re looking for. Headlines and calls to action especially can make a big difference. So put special emphasis on those in your search for copywriters.

Learn About Their Preferences

For some copywriters, their personal styles and preferences can make a big difference in how much care they put into their work. So when vetting copywriters, consider asking them about what types of subjects and formats they enjoy the most.

Conduct a Test

You can also ask potential copywriters to work on one job before hiring them for a larger project to see how they do and how their style matches with what you’re looking for.

Be Clear About Revisions

Even great copywriters need guidance from time to time. If you want someone to write in exactly the tone and style you’re looking for, then you need to make that very clear to them. So after you ask a potential copywriter to create a sample piece of copy, go back to them with any revisions and feedback so that they know what you like and don’t like and how they can improve going forward if you decide to hire them.

Let Them Stick to Writing

It can be tempting to ask your copywriter to focus on additional things like SEO or conversion rates. But having a SEO or sales expert try to write copy may not be the best route if you want your copy to really be effective. Instead, let your copywriters focus on writing copy that is actually well constructed and quality. Maybe give them a few keywords to include wherever possible. But search engines tend to prioritize good copy over keyword stuffed generic content anyway.

Have End Goals in Mind

Throughout the process, make sure that you keep your original goals in mind. Not only should you have an idea of the type of copy that you want, but also what you want it to accomplish. If you want to improve your product or ad copy so that you can increase sales, then you need to keep an eye on any changes so that you can evaluate the results.

Writer Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “How to Hire a Killer Copywriter” was first published on Small Business Trends

from Brent Lecompte Blog http://brentlecompte.blogspot.com/2016/06/how-to-hire-killer-copywriter.html

4 Ways to Capitalize on Consumers’ Desire to Support Local Business

4 Ways to Capitalize on Consumers’ Desire to Support Local Business

Good news for small retailers (and, indeed, for all small businesses): Consumers prefer local businesses to national chains, according to a new study by GoDigital. How can you capitalize on this preference, and more effectively market your retail store to local customers in a way that appeals to their natural preference for shopping local? Here’s what the report had to say.

First, consumers don’t need a lot of extrinsic motivation to patronize local businesses: 55 percent say they do so because they like to support their local communities, and 30 percent say they do so in order to support small businesses (even if those businesses aren’t right in their local area). The factors you might think would make a big difference in choosing where to shop — such as convenience, product selection, staff knowledge and prices — are far down the list of consumers’ reasons for shopping local.

The takeaway: As long as you sell what they’re looking for, consumers are predisposed to shop at your store simply because it’s a small, independent business. The key to building on that natural desire, the study says, is to make connections with prospects and build lasting rapport with customers.  Here’s how.

Customers Support Local Business so Make that Work for You

Facebook is by far the most popular social network among surveyed consumers, with Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram tied for second place. Start your social media outreach by building a strong presence on Facebook. To get more interaction on your Facebook page, the report suggests emphasizing your independent, small business status. You can do this by sharing photos, quotes or information about yourself, your employees and your store. The goal is to make customers feel like they know you personally so they’re comfortable walking in. Don’t forget about Facebook advertising, either: nearly half of respondents in the survey say they are somewhat or very likely to click on relevant Facebook ads. Although your Facebook presence should be your primary social media outlet, the report also recommends having a presence on Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter as well.

Fight Showrooming

“Showrooming” is a legitimate concern for local retailers. Some 31 percent of survey respondents say they use their smartphones to look for better prices on products sold in-store. However, you can counteract this tendency by using pay per click (PPC) mobile ads that target a very specific radius around your store. When a prospective customer searches for a better deal for product you’re selling, the ad will serve up a discount at your store. It doesn’t have to be a big discount to get results: Most respondents say just 10 percent off is enough to sway them to shop at a local retailer.

Get Good Reviews

A whopping 92 percent of respondents say online reviews factor into their decision to patronize local retailers at least some of the time. Just eight percent never look at reviews when deciding where to shop. Be sure to claim your store’s listing on ratings and review sites, and monitor your reviews daily to make sure you quickly respond to any negative reviews or complaints. Use window stickers, decals or text on your receipts to encourage happy customers to “Review us on Yelp” (or whatever review sites you use. Watch what people are saying about you on social media, too: Two-thirds of survey respondents say they would review businesses on Facebook or Google+ in addition to the typical review sites.

Plan Your Promotions

Although 27 percent of consumers don’t need the motivation of discounts to shop at local stores, 73 percent say they are interested in promotions (even though that’s not their primary motivator). Discounts and loyalty programs are the most effective promotions your retail store can offer — and it doesn’t take a huge discount, either (remember that 10 percent rule). You don’t need to try to beat big retailers at their game of 40 percent, 50 percent or even 60 percent off. Instead, the report suggests, save big discounts for slower months when you need to bring in customers, or for highly competitive times of year such as the holiday shopping season.

Shop Small Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “4 Ways to Capitalize on Consumers’ Desire to Support Local Business” was first published on Small Business Trends

from Brent Lecompte Blog http://brentlecompte.blogspot.com/2016/06/4-ways-to-capitalize-on-consumers.html