Freelancers and Small Business Owners: What to Look for in a Chamber of Commerce

In a previous article, Why Every Freelance Writer Should Join a Chamber of Commerce, I advised that every freelancer should join a Chamber of Commerce. However, not all chambers are effective.

Here I will outline what every freelancer and/or small business owner should look for before joining.

1. Dedicated Leads Meetings: What are these? Simply put, a time set aside just for passing/getting leads – no hobnobbing, no meet and greet, no speakers – a time just for getting and passing leads.

In my previous article, I outlined how this works, but a quick recap is as follows:

Members are given a specified time (usually 30-45 seconds) to give a short commercial about their product/service. Mine usually goes something like:

My name is Yuwanda Black and I am a freelance copywriter. I write/produce web copy, newsletters, sales letters, brochures and other marketing materials for small business owners. I work quickly and cost-consciously.

Recently, I provided a newly licensed realtor with all the copy for her website in just two days. A good lead for me today is a web designer, printer and/or communications manager.

NOTE: The reason I highlight the word today is that sometimes, as a business owner, you may be targeting a different market. For example, I do a lot of work with realtors and mortgage brokers.

However, I also write resumes. So, the next week, I may target recruiters at staffing agencies. Why? They often need resumes written, rewritten, edited and/or copy edited before they send them to clients.

As this example illustrates, it’s important to think carefully about what you want to say during your presentation – because, as I stated in my last article, people listen peripherally UNTIL they hear something that strikes a chord for them.

After all members have completed their commercial, leads/referrals are then passed (hence, the need to be highly specific in your message).

2. Dedicated Leads Meetings – ON A REGULAR BASIS: One chamber I belong to offers networking events on an irregular basis. In my opinion, this is not effective, for the following reasons:

a) People do business with people they know, like and trust: If you don’t see prospects on a regular basis, there is no chance to build a rapport. So, you never get to build any of these sentiments.

b) No chance to imprint your brand: If you can’t get in front of prospects on a regular basis, there is no chance to imprint what you do on a prospect’s brain. Most people have to meet you 3-4 times before they will remember your name, never mind what you do.

c) No chance to get a pulse of the community: Chambers of Commerce are the local business community – eg, realtors, bankers, web design companies, staffing agencies, physicians, etc.

Via this network, a wealth of information is often gleaned about the local economy – eg, how new zoning laws affect x, which companies are closing, which are expanding, types of industries projected to do well in the next 5, 10 years. It is a readily available research vehicle to learn a ton about what you can do to increase your business’s bottom line.

For all of the above reasons, it is critical to know HOW OFTEN your chamber meets. In my opinion, it should be at least weekly. One of the chambers I belong to has dedicated leads meetings twice a week – one in the morning and one in the afternoon. This allows everyone – no matter their schedule – to attend at least one.

3. Responsive Chamber Representative: As a new member, you are likely to be intimidated meeting other members. Even if this is not the case, you may not know anyone.

A good chamber will have a representative who literally takes you by the hand and introduces you to other members. S/he probably won’t introduce you to everyone – but will at least make 2-3 introductions to get you started. It will usually go something like:

“Mary, this is Yuwanda Black. She owns Inkwell Editorial, an editorial services firm in the area. Yuwanda, Mary here has been a chamber member for the last three years. She owns the local print shop. I thought it would be good for you two to get to know each other.”

Usually “Mary” will converse with “Yuwanda” about what she does and will introduce her to a couple of more people. Any savvy business owner can take it from there.

NOTE: It can be intimidating to walk into a room full of people you don’t know and tell them what you do. But, and you will just have to trust me on this – chamber members are some of the nicest people you will ever meet.

They are usually hardworking small business owners just like you – and most will go out of their way to make you feel comfortable and at ease. AND, once you get a foothold in the organization, most members really do work to give you qualified referrals.

4. Lunch & Learns: Most chambers have enhancement seminars on a variety of topics of interest to small business owners – how to hire the right sales person, how to live a balanced life, the ethics of business, etc.

These are offered free or for a reduced fee to chamber members. Many times, the seminar presenters are chamber members themselves. Why is this important? It’s an excellent chance for you to get your product/service in front of a group of interested prospects.

This also builds your presentation skills – and could ostensibly add another revenue stream to your business. Many times after a seminar I’ve had attendees approach me about doing some type of work for their firm – ie, an in-house seminar, produce a sales letter, an employee manual, etc.

5. Advertising: The final tip I have is that any chamber you join should have some way for you to get the word out about your business via more than just the networking. Eg, via an e-blasted press release, a job posting board, an online member directory, etc.

One of the chambers I belong to offers all of this. It’s usually in some type of limited capacity, eg, no more than one press release per quarter, but is highly effective.

In summary, I was in business for years before I joined a chamber. My thinking was that they were just another organization that wanted a fee and would serve no real benefit. Boy was I wrong!

Building relationships via your local chamber will take some time (remember, prospects have to get to know, like and trust you), but the long-term benefits are beyond immeasurable.

Four Common Misconceptions on Social Media Marketing Among Small Business Owners

Marketing through Social media websites like Google+, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. is called social media marketing (SMM). It is gaining popularity these days and for many businesses, it has become a part of their marketing strategy. Despite the popularity, there are some misconceptions among small business owners on SMM and for this reason, many of them have not adopted it. In this article, we will discuss four common misconceptions on SMM among small business owners.

Misconception #1: Social media networking is only for teens
Most small business owners have a misconception that Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites are meant for fun and entertainment and mostly used by teenagers only. It is true that when these websites started, initially they were mostly used by teens. But slowly, the scenario changed. People of all age groups are using social media websites today. According to State of Search, users aged 45 to 54 years are the fastest growing segment. 55% of the Internet users in this age group have an account on at least one social media website.

Misconception #2: SMM is easy
Registering on websites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. is easy. But, it takes time and effort to maintain profiles and be active. You need to invest time and effort in
• Creating and updating content, videos, graphics, inform developments in industry/products/services, etc.
• Interacting with customers and providing solutions whenever there are queries from customers

Misconception #3: SMM delivers immediate results
Having a good profile in Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and posting blogs regularly doesn’t mean you will get immediate results in the form of sales/leads. It may take few months before you see the results. For that, you have to be patient and interested in building relationship with customers by effective SMM campaign. Over time, you will see the results.

Misconception #4: Social media is meant only for marketing
Another misconception in some small business owners on SMM is that it is meant only for marketing products/services. Though broadly the purpose is the same, it is more than just marketing. Social media also helps small businesses in following ways
• Acquire new customer and retain existing customers – It is one of the best methods to reach out large number of target audiences with less efforts and within less time. By posting informational content, you can attract and acquire new customers and by updating the developments in business and products/services, you can keep your existing customers informed. This helps in building relationship with customers.
• Finding hires and partners for your business – Small businesses can also find people to hire for their businesses on social media sites. For example, LinkedIn is ideal for B2B businesses to find candidates and business partners.
• Search engine ranking – It is believed that Google and Bing search engines consider social signals – shares, retweets, G+ posts, etc. while ranking websites. Businesses that are active on social media websites have chances of ranking on search engine result pages.
• Customer service – According to Social Media Today, 53% of small businesses are using SMM as a two-way communication tool to serve their customers. It enables one-to-one dialogue/conversation with the customers. This leads to building customer loyalty and trust with your service.

It is a good time to have the presence on social media websites and leverage the benefits they offer. We suggest you to hire professionals for monitoring and maintaining profiles on these websites as it is not that easy as it looks.

Hire A Consultant To Find the Right JV Marketing Partners For A Small Business

Small businesses can attain incredible rates of growth with the addition of the perfect joint venture partner however this can take a considerable amount of time and internal resources to pursue new partner opportunities. Small business owners may want to leverage hiring an expert business development consultant to do the research and the “meet and greets” required in developing a new potential business relationships. Make sure the consultant working with your business is in tune with the dynamics of your company and all your core business processes so they may serve your interests to the best of their ability. It may not be easy to hand over these responsibilities during the early stages of developing a joint venture business partner, but for many small business owners using outside support allows them to focus on continuing to service their existing customers, focus on proven lead generating channels and existing marketing activities. This way when the time is right you can meet with vetted businesses that are also seeking new partners and joint venture opportunities.

Finding the Right Partners

If an outside consultant is going to be successful in finding the right joint venture marketing partner for your small business it is critical that they really understand your business. This goes much further than just reading the website, reviewing product spec documents, and having a meeting or two with the executive team. It is best that they spend a day or two in your facility and meet with all of the team members that impact a successful business transaction as well as the individuals that are responsible for providing customer service. For a small business this can be handled in a day or two with several meetings. Not only will your outside consultant be fully prepared to represent your company to potential partners they should have a good understanding of the company culture and include that in their assessment of who might be the right partner for the business.

The biggest reason most businesses even larger firms reach out to professional business development consultants is there existing list of contacts. It is wise to hire a consultant that has recent work experience in your industry or desired geographical region. Having someone that can meet with your team and quickly start making calls to set up preliminary meetings to discuss a business opportunity that they think will fit well for both companies will lead to quickly closing a partnership and moving forward with the implementation phase of a new joint venture marketing partnership.

Compensating Business Development Consultants

Compensation for business development consultants will vary from person to person and what skills they bring to the table. Financial compensation for a consultant with high level business contacts at a specific company will differ greatly than a deal that is put together for a consultant to do research and additional legwork to identify and approach the right partners. The former may want to see a much higher revenue share for the deals that they close whereas the latter may be more inclined to be paid an hourly or on a fixed monthly rate with a smaller bonus for each closed deal. Each business is different and so it is highly recommended that before moving forward with a consultant for business development that the person in charge of the company’s finances, run some basic projections and financial numbers to determine what can be offered to a consultant that can quickly close new deals.

Business consultants can assist a small business grow quickly through establishing joint venture marketing partnerships with the right partners that fit the company culture and can deliver to their existing customer base. Most small business owners need to focus their time and energy on servicing existing business and marketing campaigns thus hiring an outside consultant for joint venture support is a great way to not add additional stress on a sales and executive team. Consider using outside business development support the next time your small business is looking to grow into a new market or geographical region and hire individuals that already know the area and can quickly put together a list of hot leads for potential partners.

8 Golden Success Secrets for Small Businesses

Running a small business is as challenging as trekking to Mt. Everest without having oxygen cylinder, prior practice, and a valid map guide. The challenges are only because there are no authentic rules that can lead a small business towards success while other major obstacles comprise: low budget, limited manpower, and lack of efficient resources. But as a small business owner, you must delve into the passcodes that help you decode the secret patterns of operating a successful startup or small business. It not only helps you to sustain your current growth but also excel your business planning’s to achieve higher objectives. There are a few suggestions based on real-world experiences, which can assist you to hit the bull’s eye.

1- Utilize the power of social media:

Nowadays, the entire world revolves around social media and if you are able to use its full potential, it can immediately help you increase your sales and brand reputation with very minimum resource and effort. Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, help you connect with a large scale of users, where you can directly interact with them, thereby allowing you to convert them into your potential clients. It forms a two-way channel that not only allows you to put your message across but also, listen to what your targeted audience want, which eventually goes a long way in improving and growing your business.

2- Research and analyze your competition:

A business turns to be successful only if it runs on some finely grinned facts and figures. And competition analysis is one of the most important elements of the process. Competition analysis tells you the strength you will require to establish your brand in the market as well as it helps to prepare your business planning adequately so that you could avoid the chances of business failure. An additional benefit of competition research is it allows for designing and developing more feasible and user-oriented products that eventually help you attain a competitive edge over the current market.

3- Work as per your plan but be flexible too:

Efficient planning is a roadmap that drives your business to the top in the long run with predefined routes. It is always advised to stick with our planning even if we face a few hurdles while running our business given that the strategies are designed after in-depth analysis. And day-to-day challenges should not incline you to alter with whatever you planned. The winners always back their business plannings regardless of the stiff challenges, but on the other side, a successful business requires the owner to be flexible enough to embrace new changes. Adapting the new ideas and concepts not only makes a business owner take smart decisions but also, keeps their core planning intact and fresh.

4- Use informative materials to build trust and loyalty:

The Internet is the best medium to reach out to the huge audience with less effort, but you should keep the fact in mind that there is already a heavy flow of advertisements and endorsements all over the web. So, what can be an efficient way to create our presence with a significant impact?

There are definitely some better ways to do it like using informative online materials such as well-written blogs, well-designed infographics, animated videos demonstrating some set of skills, and presentation sheets, etc. Following such practices will attract a huge mass to our platform to learn and engage with us, which gives a sense of trust and ultimately convert them into our long-term clients.

5- Hire your weaknesses:

A small business consists of a team of limited dedicated professionals, having different skill sets of all the corners to tackle most of the business requirements. Small businesses, sometimes, compromise in some crucial areas since they can’t hire specific individuals due to the lack of budget. To get your business positioned to the top, please don’t bear with your inefficient area. Rush into hiring experienced professional(s) so that all parts of your business fire with the same intensity.

6- Be ready for mergers and acquisitions:

Even after working with your full potential, you may not generate enough force to compete with the leading competitors. Other small businesses with the same concept may face the same situations. Just find them and join in the talks to check the possibilities of the merger to form a combined force, which can provide the required pace and power to achieve the common business goals. Mergers have a long, rich history of producing successful businesses, so don’t shy away with it. Similarly, business acquisitions are a noble idea to inject more strength to our business if budget allows us to do so.

7- Keep the quality service always on:

Quality service is the most important source that keeps your client for a longer period of time and it spreads huge positive feedbacks in the mass, driving in a large number of new clients. There have been more than just a few businesses reaching to the top just on the base of excellent service and even without spending a bomb on advertisements and business promotions. While there are other businesses which have failed miserably because of giving no importance to the quality of the services they provided. All in all, having the sound quality of the products/services is the key to succeeding in today’s cut throat competition.

8- Don’t give up:

Running a successful business is not a child’s play since it requires a lot of guts, courage, and risk-taking capabilities. It, sometimes, shakes your ambitions when going through some rough patches, and you need to have the burning desires within you to keep it alive. Keeping patience is also an important character that the small business owner must have, as the formation of a business and climb the ladder of success, demands to wait for long period of time. So, as a business owner, you need to instill never give up attitude to see your dreams come true!!

Summing it up, though the above-mentioned points are not entirely foolproof but yes, following these points will definitely help you to become a smart small business owner who can defy all the challenges and get on the top of the competition. Of Course, the chances of success or failure of your business completely depends on your planning and execution.