8 Ways Your Small Business Can Take Advantage of Small Business Saturday

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Small Business Saturday has gained plenty of steam the past few years as a great way to promote local “Mom & Pop” shops that don’t benefit from the Black Friday mega-retail crowd and the Cyber Monday e-commerce traffic. The “shop small” and “dine small” day was initially started as an American Express campaign in 2010 and many small businesses have begun to embrace the day with their own marketing campaigns and promotions.

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Here are eight ways your small business can benefit from Small Business Saturday:

Spread the Word

Print Small Business Saturday signs to hang by your point of sale or inside your business’ window. Consider creating postcards to send or pass out to remind customers about Small Business Saturday. Also, be sure to update your website. Small businesses with high quality online stores have a distinct advantage. Make sure your inventory has been updated online and special promotions are prominently displayed. Be sure to cater to the busy shopper by ensuring your website is fast, processes transactions quickly, and is optimized for mobile use.

Use Social Media

Social media can be your greatest promotional asset when used correctly. The Small Business Saturday page on Facebook has more than three million fans, so use it as a resource. Always use the official #SmallBizSat or #ShopSmall hashtags on Twitter and Instagram to highlight special offers or discounts since the topics will be trending.

Email Your Customers

If your business keeps record of your current customers’ email addresses, then send them all an email blast to inform them of any events or promotions you are running for Small Business Saturday. Your most loyal customers can become your greatest marketing advocates since they will help spread the word for you.

Advertise Online

Even though many small businesses have a limited budget to spend on online advertising, you can take advantage of ad credits offered by many advertising platforms. If you already spend money on online advertising, be sure to adjust your messaging for Small Business Saturday. Also, keep track of what you spend so you can calculate your Return on Investment (ROI) to see if the advertising was worth the increase in sales.

Offer Coupons and Discounts

Nothing drives more customers to your store than incentives. After all, incentives are the reason Black Friday has become the behemoth that it is. Take advantage of this by offering coupons or discounts for your products or services. Make sure to include your coupons or discounts in your promotional material leading up to Small Business Saturday.

Expand Your Hours

Extend your shopping day for customers on that Saturday by opening earlier or staying open later to make it even easier for customers to shop at your business location. Be sure to include your one-day-only hours in your promotional materials so your customers know they can fit your business into their busy holiday schedule.

Make it an Event

You can create even more excitement for your local small business by doing something different to draw attention. For example, serve free coffee in the morning, display balloons outside your store, hire a musician to play music in your store, or create a contest for a drawing. You can also partner up with other businesses. Build on each other’s customer base by having multiple businesses in the same line of stores or area actively participating in Small Business Saturday with promotions to increase visibility and attention for all local businesses.

Promote a Cause

Small Business Saturday is the perfect time to give back to the community that has given so much to you. Consider donating a portion of your sales to a local charity of your choice, and display this for your customers to see. You may also consider matching donations from your customers to your chosen charity.

 

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4 Ways to Use Email Marketing for Small Business Growth

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One of the best ways to get and retain customers is to effectively use email marketing as a two-way communication tool. For instance, did you know that for every $1 spent on email marketing, the average return on investment is $44.25?

Email offers the ability for you to deliver direct messages to your customers with personalization and hyper-relevancy more than any other marketing execution. So, before we dive in, let’s take a look at a few more reasons why email marketing should be held with high regard when it comes to growing your small business:

  • Email is 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers than Facebook and Twitter. (Campaign Monitor)
  • Eighty-one percent of online shoppers who receive emails based on previous shopping habits are more likely to make a purchase. (eMarketer)
  • Personalized emails deliver six times higher transaction rates. (Experian)

With that in mind, here are four ways to use email marketing for small business growth:

1) Get Customer Reviews

Leverage email as a way to communicate with your customers after the transaction to get reviews and testimonials on your products/services. Doing so will enable you to build trust and credibility, especially since 88 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

2) Promotional Offers

Make sure you segment your email lists so that you can send personalized promotional discount offers to customers who are more likely to buy again. Sending the same offer to an entire list of subscribers without much thought behind it can do you more harm, i.e. incur unsubscribes. Additionally, getting repeat business from existing customers is much easier as it is low hanging fruit versus trying to gain new ones. So, treat your existing customer base with enticing promotional offers that will drive sales for your business.

3) Contests and Giveaways

A fun and creative way to get engagement is to run a contest or do a simple giveaway. There are two ways you can do this – one being that you run an exclusive contest for just customers and second, you promote this contest via social media channels to get more participants. Not only will this help you put your brand in front of current customers, it will also help build awareness for those who have not yet heard about you.

4) Sponsored Emails

Run a co-marketing partnership email campaign by teaming up with other businesses who offer complementary products/services to yours. This will allow you to expand your reach and tap into different markets for growth. Make sure you tie in this campaign with a targeted landing page or implement URL tagging as a way to track and measure any new sales that come through.

In Summary

Make time and have patience for continual testing. Just because one email doesn’t convert, doesn’t mean you should stop your initiative altogether. Harness the power of email marketing to help you grow your business while also nurturing customers for retention.

Simple Ways to Grow Your Email List

Email List 1 (3.28.16)

Email lists have been the bread and butter of online business presence for about as long as the internet has been readily accessible. In the past, it was fun and exciting to receive a new email accompanied by the phrase “You’ve got mail!” Users would rush to their inbox to see what new and exciting gift was waiting for them.

Unfortunately, those days are long gone. Email is so common today that getting a real letter in the mail is often more exciting. Because of this development of time, businesses are faced with the problem of not only gaining but maintaining a solid and reliable list of email subscribers who will actually look forward to seeing a business name in their inbox. While it is certainly harder than ever to get someone to open your email, fear not: all it takes is a little creativity and a good set of typing fingers.

Start with Quality Emails and Diversify

There is nothing worse than a full email inbox, littered with the same three business names over and over, running the same promotion and offering nothing of substance. Everyone has that one mistake, the one subscription they filled out and regretted as soon as the third notification popped up. “Why did I do this?” “How do I cancel?”

Don’t be that business.

The goal is for subscribers to want to read your emails. Simply getting a foot in the door, or email in the inbox as it were, isn’t enough. Provide your subscribers with quality, relevant content that keeps them coming back for more and anticipating your weekly email blast.

Email List 2 (3.28.16)

Emails should contain more than just excellent subject matter if the goal is growing an email list. They should also encourage sharing amongst friends, and can benefit from links to landing pages encouraging people to subscribe. Try adding these links to the signatures of regular business emails for an extra boost. Email lists can also benefit from diversity and narrow field marketing, such as separate lists for different types of content.

Social Media

Social media continues to prove itself to be a useful tool to the marketing strategies of all businesses, big or small. Websites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, and YouTube are all excellent sources for getting a business name out there and recognized, and are great devices for building a sustainable email list. Try adding a call to action “Sign Up” or “Subscribe” button to any of these websites your business may be represented on, or consider running promotions that require an email submission.

Email List 3 (3.28.16)

The Business Website

Though it may seem obvious, many businesses make it quite difficult to find the required information to sign up for updates and newsletters. Make sure this information is visible and readily accessible, even if it means adding a subscribe button to every single page of the site.

Blogs are also a great way to build email subscriptions. By posting an informative, helpful blog post every now and then on a website, consumers are assured that the business is active and concerned with the needs of its clients. They’ll want to sign up and will look forward to more information whenever you post it.

Partnerships and Promotions

Powerful email lists require more than an online presence. It is necessary to spread the word in the real world as well. This can be done a number of ways, none of which are as easy as simply asking consumers to sign up (though that can still be beneficial). Try partnering up with a sister business (real estate and insurance, food truck with a bar, etc.) and hosting an event together to share customers. This is a great way to find customers who are already interested in a service similar to your own. Use these events to gather emails, create online promotions, or hand out business cards with QR codes on them that link directly to a subscription page online.

Maintain the List

Once your list has been bulked up, it’s important to maintain it. Reset each quarter or year by allowing current subscribers to opt into a new list and delete the old addresses. This may seem counter intuitive, but quality returns are far more important than sheer quantity. Keep the list updated, keep adding new subscribers, and always provide quality content that customers can look forward to.

Business Email Marketing 101

Email concept.

All businesses have priorities, and how to focus your marketing is among the most important. The wrong approach can cost your money and business, while the right approach may be the secret to success. For companies without a significant marketing budget, digital techniques can be highly effective, offering an affordable way to reach thousands of potential customers. For companies who see value in sharing content and creating an audience of active readers, email marketing can be exceptionally valuable.

An Introduction to Email Marketing

Since the inception of email, businesses have been using it as a marketing strategy. Unlike many methods, like social media marketing and content marketing, email targets your audience rather than your audience seeking you out, creating a compelling way to advertise offers, show off new content, and make your readers aware of what you and your business have to offer. Email marketing can come in many forms, but newsletters, coupons, promo codes, and updates on new products and services are among the most common.

Writing an email, however, is the easy part of email marketing. Think for a moment about how many company emails, whether a favorite store’s weekend sale or a restaurant’s new menu offerings, you send in the trash each day. Thus, the challenge in email marketing is not writing an email, but rather writing an email that your audience will want to read.

Start With a Compelling Title

When you want someone to open your email, the title is the first way to catch their attention. Headlines are most effective when they are short and to the point, witty and unique, and offering something customers are interested in. Avoid overused words, clichéd phrases, and overly promotional material – readers will overlook your emails easily if the subject sounds too much like the other emails they’re used to getting.

When you have a great discount, sale, or new service, make sure you let your customers know. An enigmatic or comical headline can be effective at times, but may make customers overlook your message. In addition, do your best to avoid clickbait. While getting customers to open your email is generally a positive, raving about a deal your readers will never believe isn’t worth it when what you have to offer doesn’t live up to the hype.

Speak One on One

All readers knows that your emails aren’t coming personally addressed to them, and that’s okay. However, studies indicate that readers respond better when they’re addressed by name or in a way that includes personal information, like location or industry.

This sort of personal approach isn’t possible in every email communication, but it is fairly simple to code an email to include personal information rather than an anonymous greeting. In addition, many companies have separate distribution lists in order to keep emails targeted at the right audience. Try to make sure your emails are relevant, topical, and appropriate for each person you are marketing to, rather than blanket communications that will create an unwanted reputation from your readers.

Target the Right Time of Day

Believe it or not, when you send emails has a large impact on whether or not they are read, making your schedule vitally important. Most busy adults are likely to ignore emails that come in on the weekends or at night, as these times are frequently associated with leisure activities. In addition, Mondays are generally poor days for communication, as many individuals are tired and sluggish after the conclusion of a few days off.

In order to inspire the most readers possible, send your newsletters mid-day, mid-week. When your readership has an opportunity to take the time to read what you have to say, you’re much more likely to get your message across.

Keep Your Text Short and Clean

Your readers may have time to read what you write, but that doesn’t mean that long-winded sentences will win them over when they only have a few minutes between tasks. Instead of putting entire articles in your emails, add snippets with links to the full text with short, complete headlines. Your readers will get the message of what you have to offer without being burdened by unnecessary details.

Instead of providing too much, give your audience just enough. Keep your text clean, concise, and easy to read in order to get your point across without irritating anyone with the next great American novel in email form.

Use Tools to Make the Process Easier

Some companies struggle with email marketing because it just seems too complicated and overwhelming to do without a huge team of professional writers, but this honestly isn’t the case. Many marketing solutions exist, ranging from automation tools to organizers and templates.

Applications like CakeMail make it easy to set up an email and send it within a matter of minutes, taking the frustration out of the formatting process. Options like MailChimp can help you lay out, design, and edit your work, as well as providing tools for mobile optimization. Other programs, like Benchmark, help you create emails and track the metrics associated with them to help you see what’s working and what isn’t. Instead of going with your gut, today’s marketing options make the process straightforward and simple.

When you’re new to marketing, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the options and details facing you, but you don’t have to let that stand in your way. Email marketing is an effective, affordable way to target customers locally and around the world, offering you a simple solution targeted at lead generation and conversion. By taking time to focus on details like content, subject line, time of day, and audience objectives, it’s easier to ensure your next email campaign is a success.

Getting Paid to Drive? It’s Too Good to Be True

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Image courtesy of Pexels.com

When you’re in between jobs or in need of some supplemental income, it’s hard to say no to the prospect of earning fast, easy money. But honest income generally doesn’t come without putting in some effort, so be cautious of any money-making opportunity that offers a high return for little to no work on your part. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

When Sue, a consumer from Lakewood, Wash., received the below email, she was excited at the idea of making money just by putting a company logo on her car. The email said she would be “paid to drive” $800 a week—more than a lot of people earn with a full-time job—just by wrapping her car with an advertisement.

From: Michael
To: Sue
Subject: Toms Job Position
Date: Tue, 12 May 2015 00:31:04 +0200
Greetings,
We are currently seeking to employ individual’s in the USA.
How would you like to make money by simply driving your car advertising for Hennessy, JOHNNIE WALKER, Pepsi, Coke, Apple Product or TOMS shoes.
How it works
Here’s the basic premise of the “paid to drive”
Concept: AUTO WRAP seeks people — regular citizens, professional drivers to go about their normal routine as they usually do, only with an advert for “AUTO WRAP” plastered on your car. The ads are typically vinyl decals, also known as “AUTO WRAP” that’s almost seem to be painted on the vehicle and which will cover any portion of your car’s exterior surface.
What does the company get out of this type of ad strategy? Lots of exposure and awareness. The AUTO WRAP tend to be colorful, eye-catching and attract lots of attention when you are stuck in traffic and people can’t avoid seeing the advert on your car alongside them. This program will last for 6 months and the minimum you can participate is 3 months.
We are offering $1,600 every 2 weeks and also an advance payment of $500, the logo will be placed on both doors or the hood of your car if you are interested.
No fee is required from you, “AUTO WRAP” will provide experts who will be responsible for placing and removal of the logo when your contract expires.
Kindly send me the required information’s below.
Please respond only if interested.
Michael
Promotional Manager
TOMS

When Sue responded to the email, she was asked for her personal information, including full name and address. She was then told a check would be mailed to her for an up-front payment and to cover the car-wrapping costs.

Fortunately at that point, Sue grew suspicious and reached out to BBB for guidance.

While there may be a handful of legitimate companies that pay you a bit of money to stick their logo on your personal vehicle, the unsolicited email Sue received is not how they go about hiring people.

What generally happens in this all-too-common scam is the victim will be sent a check for more money than was promised. He will be instructed to deposit the check in his account, wire a portion of it to someone else, and keep the rest. Little does he know the check is fake, and he becomes responsible for the bank’s losses after he’s wired real money to a fraudster. Scammers ask for money to be wired to them because it’s virtually untraceable, like handing someone a wad of cash.

Here are the warning signs of a car-wrapping scam:

  • You’re told all you have to do is sign up, and you’ll be selected. The truth is that the odds are against you. A legitimate company told Bankrate.com they have more than one million drivers in their database—and they’ve hired only 6,000 of them in the last six years.
  • You’re offered the job on the spot. A real company will want to talk to a candidate before hiring him; they won’t offer a job to someone without going through an interview first.
  • The company wants you to send them money. You should never pay up-front fees to receive employment. And no legitimate job would ever overpay an employee and ask him to wire the money elsewhere.
  • The company promises a free car. There is no such thing as a company that will give you a free car.
  • There are typos and bad grammar. If a job offer is truly coming from a well known brand such as TOMS or Pepsi, the email or letter won’t be riddled with mistakes and poor writing.

Watch Out for IRS Scams

Image courtesy of Adamophoto | freerangestock.com

During the final two weeks of the tax filing season, scammers are increasing their efforts to impersonate the Internal Revenue Service in attempts to steal money or personal information from consumers.

Taxpayers should be alert for these two common IRS scams.

1. The Phone Scam

You receive a phone call from someone claiming to be an IRS agent. They demand immediate payment via prepaid card or wire transfer, and they threaten you with jail time, deportation or driver’s license suspension. They may even know the last four digits of your Social Security number or other personal information.

The truth: The IRS will never call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill or giving you the opportunity to appeal the amount they claim you owe. They will not ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone, nor will they require you use a specific payment method. They will not threaten you.

How to spot the scam:

  • You have received nothing in the mail from the IRS.
  • They demand payment immediately.
  • They threaten to get the local police or an immigration agency involved.

What to do:

  • If you know or suspect you do owe taxes, call the IRS at 800-829-1040. They can help you with a payment issue.
  • If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to believe that you do, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 800-366-4484 or report it online at the IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting Page.
  • File a report through the Federal Trade Commission’s FTC Complaint Assistant. Include the words “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.

2. The Email Scam

You receive an email that claims to be from the IRS, telling you that you’re eligible to receive a tax refund for a given amount. It instructs you to click on a link in the email to access a form for the tax refund. The form requires the entry of personal and financial information.

The truth: Taxpayers do not have to complete a special form to obtain a refund; refunds are based on the tax return they submit to the IRS. The IRS does not initiate taxpayer contact via unsolicited email or ask for personal identifying or financial information via email.

How to spot the scam:

  • The email requests detailed personal and financial information.
  • It dangles bait to get you to respond to the email and threatens a consequence for not responding.
  • It gets the Internal Revenue Service or other federal agency names wrong.
  • It uses incorrect grammar or odd phrasing.
  • It links to a site that’s not the actual IRS website (www.irs.gov).

What to do:

  • Do not open any attachments or click on any links in the email.
  • Contact the IRS at 800-829-1040 to determine if the IRS is truly trying to contact you.
  • Forward the suspicious email to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov, then delete the email from your inbox.

Is the Amazon Refund Email in My Inbox Legit?

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Attention readers! Any E-book purchases made between April 1, 2010, and May 21, 2012, may qualify you for a refund. And lucky for me I’m getting a whole $2.19 back!

According to the Alaska Attorney General’s Office, “Hachette Book Group Inc., HarperCollins Publishers LLC, Simon & Schuster Inc., Holtzbrinck Publishers, LLC, d/b/a Macmillan, and Penguin Group (USA) Inc. [have] settled the claims against them for a total nationwide payment of $166 million, of which approximately $750,000 will be distributed to Alaska residents.”

Oregon and Washington were not formally involved in the multi-state litigation process; however, residents of those states who made eligible E-book purchases are still entitled to refunds.

The case claims that the major publishers colluded—or secretly worked together in order to do something dishonest—to fix and raise the prices of digital books, which is illegal. The publishers deny the allegations but have agreed to settle the lawsuit. Note: Amazon is not a party to these lawsuits and is issuing refund credits on behalf of the publishers.

Better Business Bureau has received multiple inquiries from consumers across our service area about unexpected emails informing them of credits to their Amazon accounts. Being wary of phishing scams, many customers have reached out to BBB for verification. While BBB cannot guarantee that every email purporting to come from Amazon is legitimate, this settlement is real and refunds are being credited in March 2014.

An example of a legitimate notification email is pictured below; reports indicate that emails are also arriving from Barnes & Noble. Remember, these notifications are intended as information-only and although there may be links within them, recipients should avoid clicking on links or downloading attachments.

Amazon Settlement Email Large

A thorough FAQ from Amazon is available here. For more information on this settlement or your refund eligibility, visit ebooksagsettlements.com.

Alaska Attorney General Geraghty reiterated that “consumers are entitled to a fair, open and competitive marketplace. When a company violates the antitrust laws, consumers who have suffered as a consequence of that violation are entitled to compensation.”

Refund credit amounts are $3.17 each for New York Times Bestsellers and $0.73 each for other titles. All I can say is that this refund is perfectly-timed; I still haven’t read the latest Twilight book…

Full Disclosure: Amazon.com is a BBB Accredited Business headquartered in Seattle, Washington.

BBB Scam Alert: Small Business Blackmail

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When I started working at Better Business Bureau a few years ago, I considered myself a pretty sharp consumer; I knew the basic scam red flags: Requests to “verify” personal information, poor grammar, wire transfers out of the country, et cetera. But as with most things, the more I learned about effective scam tactics the more I realized how little I actually knew. The problem is that as soon as a new scam—or more often, a variation on an old scam—is recognized, the perpetrators are already moving on to the next scheme; but BBB is here to help.

A large part of my job is identifying, tracking and verifying emerging scam trends—like this phone scam, this charity scam and this door-to-door scam—that are likely to affect consumers or small businesses in Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington. Fortunately, there aren’t that many completely novel scams left, making my job just a little bit easier. However, every once in awhile I’m reminded that the scammers who commit these crimes are just as smart as the agencies that try to shut them down. The Negative Review Blackmail Scam is no exception. The following email showed up in my inbox:

A "Negative Review" Blackmail scam email.
A “Negative Review” Blackmail scam email.

TL;DR: “Pay me $1,500 or I will blast out negative reviews about your company.” and “Failure to comply means the end of your business.” Complete with a bunch of spelling and grammar mistakes…

Small Business Owners: Take these threats very seriously. Online reviews and word-of-mouth are significant factors that drive purchasing decisions and can have a considerable impact on reputations.

BBB offers advice to recipients of similar emails:

  1. Do not pay any money. It is unlikely that scammers will cease harassment once they realize that businesses are compliant.
  2. Collect all relevant information—like senders’ names, email addresses and any threats that are made—and print copies.
  3. File a report with the local police bureau; many areas have special departments for Internet crimes.
  4. File a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov.
  5. Aggressively monitor online listings for new reviews and immediately flag those that are fraudulent or unverifiable; many review sites now offer options to report suspect reviews or blackmail. Google Alerts is a great way to monitor online mentions.
  6. Consider posting updates on social media, directory listings or other business websites to notify potential customers.
  7. Contact BBB. Many scams move from region to region and if this ploy begins to happen in our area, BBB can notify and protect other local small businesses from falling victim.

Remember, third-party review websites are not legally responsible for content that is submitted by their users so it is unlikely that expensive lawsuits would be successful; while most of these sites employ strict scrubbing policies to prevent fraud it is still estimated that fakes account for 10-30 percent of all online reviews. The most important tool that small business owners and employees have to protect livelihoods is learning how to spot fakes. Check out Consumerist’s article: 30 Ways You Can Spot Fake Online Reviews

Encourage your customers to submit reviews at bbb.org, where they will be reviewed before they are posted. Verified reviews from a brand you trust.

If you have received an email like this, please share your experience in the comments.