Blogging Tips for Small Business Owners

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Looking to grow your online presence? Want to boost your website’s ranking in search engine results pages? Creating and maintaining a small business blog takes work, but when done right, it can deliver a great return on investment for your enterprise.

A blog gives you the opportunity to position yourself as a subject matter expert in your particular field; it can also give your audience a chance to get to know your company and develop a personal connection with you, your business, and your brand.

Here are some simple tips you can use right now to establish and grow your small business blog:

Establish a Consistent, Approachable Voice 

A blog provides small business owners a chance to connect with clients, customers, and prospects on a personal level. Use your blog to demonstrate your personality, not just to promote and market your business. Think of your blog as a one-on-one conversation with your audience – aim to establish a consistent, friendly voice that reflects how you actually talk when discussing your products and services.

Stick to a Schedule 

Once you establish a small business blog, make sure to keep your audience engaged by posting new content on a regular basis. Many companies make the mistake of starting a blog and then failing to follow up with fresh content – this can give the unwanted impression that a company has gone out of business, or has lost interest in connecting with their customers.

Provide Value to Your Audience 

Give your readers a reason to read and return to your blog by providing them with real value. This value should be in the form of information —for example, ideas on how they can save money, save time, or improve their lives in some way.

Look for topic inspiration in the questions you’re asked as a small business owner. For example, if you operate an automotive repair shop, chances are you’re often asked for maintenance tips, information about choosing the right tires, or ways to save money on car care. These are all topics you can expand on within your small business blog.

Keep It Brief

Remember that most blog readers are looking for quick, easy-to-read content that they can consume during their down time – that means your audience will likely be reading your blog during their lunch break, while standing in line at the grocery store, or during their daily commute. Aim to write easy-to-read content that can be broken down into short paragraphs and lists, since this type of content is easy to view on mobile devices like smart phones and tablets.

Integrate Your Social Media Links

Promote your small business blog through your social media channels like Facebook and Twitter by posting a new update on your feeds whenever you update your blog. This is a great way to encourage your followers to navigate to your website and read your new content. It also makes it easy for your audience to share your blog on their own social media feeds.

Use Your Spell-Checker

As simple as it sounds, it’s worth saying – always check your blog content for spelling and grammatical errors. Regardless of what industry you’re in, the quality of your blog reflects you and your business, so it’s important to ensure your blog is clear, accurate, and well-crafted.

By creating a consistent, engaging blog that delivers value to your readers, you can harness the power of small-business blogging to position yourself and your company, as a go-to resource within your community.

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Podcast: 7 Ways to Research a Business Before Hiring Them

In today’s BBB serving the Northwest podcast we discuss seven ways to research a business before hiring them. Listen below to learn how to avoid fake businesses looking to scam you out of your money.

Subscribe to our blog to get updates on future podcasts!

A Guide to Choosing the Right Contractor

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For anyone planning a remodeling project or expansion, you likely know that hiring the right contractor is crucial, but how do you find one? Here are a few tips to help you find the right contractor for your project.

Check with Friends, Relatives and Neighbors

Friends who have had work completed may know of someone and they can give you great tips on if the person was reliable, friendly, finished their projects in a timely manner, were under budget, etc.

Check the Reviews

The Better Business Bureau recommends referring to their site to check the background of the person, their license and any negative feedback from past performance. You can also see the rating for them and/or their business as the rating goes from A+ to F being the lowest.

Interview Candidates Over the Phone

Another area that can help is to pick out a few top candidates and set up a time to actually interview them. Ask questions like:

  • What size projects do they usually work on?
  • Have they worked on a project like yours? Do they have proof? Examples?
  • Do they have financial references – like from their bank? Suppliers?
  • Can you call their previous customers? Can you see their previous work?
  • How many other jobs are they working on?
  • How many subcontractors are in their team? How many other staff?
  • Ask about their current licensing?
  • Do they have any violations or complaints on their record you should know about?

When you interview a contractor, their answers can tell a lot and if they sound rushed or impatient, they may not be the contractor for you. It may be an indication that they are trying to hide something or they may be difficult to work with. If you encounter this, you may have to decide if you want to skip this person and move onto the next candidate.

Contractor Blog 4.6.16

Meet in Person

By meeting in person this can help you see whether or not the contractor will be someone that you will get along with. Because you have to communicate during the length of a project, it helps to be able to have someone who is personable, honest and can put your mind at ease. While you’re still going to do a background check, check with the Consumer Protection Agency and BBB, the meeting can help you narrow down your selection of candidates.

Do Your Homework

The next step is to go online to the sites we’ve just mentioned and check out the information that you find on the contractors you are considering hiring. You also want to check under their business name. You can also check with your state’s licensing agency to confirm they haven’t had businesses under other aliases and check public records information, as well. When you call past customers, ask if the contractor was reliable, if they were safe at all times, neat, careful with their belongings and property and other details they may divulge. Also ask if they would honestly rehire the person again.

Start Getting Bids

Another area that can help once your list is narrowed down is to keep track of the bids and estimated time lines your potential contractors give you. Your potential contractor should have a blueprint and time frame in mind. They may also let you know what your project will cost and you can ask for a breakdown on parts, labor, materials, profit margin, etc. As the supplies will account for about forty percent of the overall costs, the remainder should be allocated to labor and profit.

Get Everything in Writing

Before any work is started, make sure you set up a payment schedule that will help the contractor adhere to the time frame they’ve given you. If they say that they’ll “throw this in” and “add that”, always get it in writing when it’s first mentioned that way you have proof if you have to refer back to it. Let them review the contract, too. Also ensure it has included a section for the completion date that’s been projected, as well as contractor lien releases to protect you if they don’t pay their bills. If you’re unsure about the wording, you can always check with an attorney.

Keep in mind that there may be changes and additions to your agreement if you want to add something to your project. Just be sure to include everything and have your contractor sign off on dates, new projected time frames and totals. That way you’ve covered all your bases and you can rest assured that legally you have everything in place to start working with your new contractor!

Preparing Your Business for the New Year

Is your business ready for 2016? From security to social media, our infographic will help your business prepare for the coming year!

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Be Safe When You Shop for the Holidays!

Written by Mary Lou Boles, Programs Assistant

The holidays are typically a joyful time of the year but unfortunately, there will always be thieves that try to take advantage of innocent shoppers during the holiday season.  One of my friends placed her holiday gift purchases in the back seat of her car, leaving them completely visible to anyone that walked by. She didn’t think that someone would be horrible enough to break in to her car and steal her gifts while she was out having dinner with her family. She came back to her car and saw that her rear window had been smashed and all of her purchases were gone. Don’t let this happen to you – here are some safety tips from your BBB to prevent con artists from making you their next victim:

  • Shop during the daylight hours whenever possible. If you must shop at night, go with a friend or family member.
  • Avoid carrying an excessive amount of bags so that you can stay alert to your surroundings. Thieves tend to go after people that look like they are not paying attention to what is happening around them.
  • Be extra cautious when carrying a wallet or purse. Crowded shopping areas make it very easy for thieves to reach into pockets and bags.
  • Avoid carrying large amounts of cash. If you must carry cash, keep it in your front pocket. If possible, try to pay for purchases with a debit or credit card.
  • Always store your purchases in the trunk of your car so they are not visible to anyone that can see inside. Also, make sure that your car is always locked to prevent thieves from accessing your belongings.
  • Be wary of strangers that approach you while you are shopping. Criminals often work in pairs – one person distracts you while the other tries to steal from you while you are distracted.

Remember these tips when you are out shopping so that you have a safe and wonderful holiday season!

10 Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Shopping

The holidays mean family, friends, parties and shopping. The more friends and relatives you have, the more shopping you are required to do. Not only do you have gift shopping to worry about, but there is also all of the shopping you have to do for the parties, dinners and other events you will be attending and hosting.

Holiday Shopping Blog
Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

The bottom line is that shopping is a big part of the holiday experience, and many people get stressed when it comes to holiday shopping. But there are several things you can do that will take the edge off your holiday shopping, and let you get back to enjoying the season with the people you love.

Get Organized

If you start your holiday shopping without lists of what you need to buy and for whom, then you are asking for trouble. Get on your computer, or grab a pen and a pad of paper, and make shopping lists for everything from gifts to Christmas dinner. When you start your shopping, all you need to do is satisfy your lists, and you are done.

Don’t Wait

Many of the most efficient holiday shoppers are usually done with their shopping before the holiday season even begins. These are the people who check online for great deals, and who spend a lot of time in stores comparing prices. Even if you don’t have the time to shop all year round, you can still get a jump start on the holiday season by starting your shopping in September and getting done before Halloween arrives.

Utilize the Internet

The ability of the Internet to reduce holiday shopping stress cannot be overstated. Some retail websites will have holiday promotions during the summer that offer prices better than you would find on Black Friday. There are plenty of apps you can use (and Internet programs that can be used on your desktop computer) that will let you know when the products you want are at their lowest price points. You should utilize these resources and save yourself a lot of money and time.

Develop Some Black Friday Tactics

When it comes to holiday shopping, avoiding Black Friday could turn out to be a mistake. Instead of getting crushed by the crowds in the retail stores, you should try to use some smart tactics to get the great deals without the stress. For example, try visiting major department stores in smaller towns to avoid the huge crowds. Some of those smaller stores still have Black Friday inventory later in the morning, so you can use those rural stores to sleep in and still get great deals.

Don’t Forget Cyber Monday

The Monday after Black Friday is known as Cyber Monday because many of the larger online retailers put up special deals that morning. Since Cyber Monday does not require you to find a parking spot or beat any crowds, you should consider teaming up with someone to expand your resources and take advantage of as many deals as possible.

Make Gifts

If you are a handy person who is good at arts and crafts, then consider making some of the gifts you will give away this holiday season. Some people enjoy good handmade gifts, and you can save a lot of time and money by being able to make your own presents.

Always Be Shopping

When you are out and about, you should always have your holiday shopping in mind. You can even carry your gift list with you and make a note when you see something in a store that you think a friend or relative would like. Window shopping throughout the year gives you specific items to look up when you start your holiday shopping, and can make the entire process much easier.

Make A Budget and Stick To It

A big source of stress for holiday shopping is spending money you do not have. If you have the option of starting a Christmas club at your job or your bank, then do so and put a little money away each week for holiday shopping. When it comes time to start buying for those lists you have, stick to the budget you have created and reduce your stress.

Spread Out Your Shopping

A large majority of holiday shopping stress comes when people try to do all of their shopping in one day. If you start early enough, then you have plenty of time to spread your shopping out and keep the stress level down.

Avoid the Traffic

If you want to avoid stress during holiday shopping, then do your shopping when the traffic is at its lightest. Weekday afternoons and weekend evenings are usually the best times to shop and avoid the traffic.

If you have the right plan, then holiday shopping can be fun instead of stressful. Take the time to be prepared, and don’t let the holidays get the best of you.

Back to School Preparation Tips for Parents

Back to School Preparation Tips for Parents

Preparing children for the end of summer vacation and the start of the school year is something all parents look forward to yet dread at the same time. After three months of unfettered freedom, children are no longer in “school” mode, i.e., going to bed early, getting up early, completing homework, and often experience a rough transition period when abruptly faced with these changes. Fortunately, there are many ideas and activities that can help parents make the switch from the lazy days of summer to the more structured regimen of school less stressful and more enjoyable for parents and kids.

5 “Must-Do” Back to School Preparation Tips for Parents and Kids

  1. Get kids back on a school sleep schedule two weeks before the first day of school. Put them to bed by 9:00 pm and gradually get them used to getting up early. For example, let them sleep as late as they want the first couple of days, then start getting them up 15 minutes earlier each day. By the time school starts, their brains and bodies will be used to the schedule and you won’t have to deal with grumpy children in the morning.
  2. Take your child to your family physician for a check-up and your eye doctor for a vision examination. Treating any health or vision problems before school starts will greatly improve your child’s ability to succeed academically and may help prevent unnecessary absences.
  3. Establish a quiet study area in your home or in your child’s bedroom where they can do their homework without being distracted. Include your child in picking out a desk, desk lamp and other accessories to show you are truly interested in your child’s education.
  4. Some younger, more introverted children may worry about whether their new teacher is “nice” or “mean” but rarely talk about this fear with their parents. You can help calm your child’s fears about a new teacher by taking him to visit his teacher a day or two before school. If your child is going to attend a new school, this would also be a great time to familiarize him with the school by showing him the layout of the school (location of his room, the cafeteria, restrooms, etc.) and where the bus will pick him up and drop him off.
  5. Let your child take an active role in picking out his school supplies, bookbag and school clothes. Splurging on a few, nonessential items while ensuring she has the necessary supplies will make any child feel better about going back to school.

Quick and Easy Back to School Preparation Tips

  • Start organizing carpools or other transportation arrangements several weeks before school starts. Have “just-in-case” back-up plans ready to streamline last-minute disruptions
  • Read through school conduct rules and regulations with your children. Make sure they understand them and advise them there are serious consequences for violating them.
  • If your child is walking to school for the first time, take him along the route he is supposed to follow several times. If possible, scout out neighbors who live along that route and let your child know they can stop at certain houses while walking to school if they need help for any reason.
  • Encourage children to be self-sufficient as they can be, according to their abilities. For example, all school-age children can lay out their school clothes the night before a school day or have their backpacks ready before going to bed. Anything you can think of that can be done at night will help streamline the morning routine.
  • Remember to make sure your child either has lunch money or a packed lunch to take to school. Pack lunches the night before so you don’t have to spend time packing them in the morning or have your child pack his own lunch before going to bed.

And the Best Back to School Tip for Parents?

Get as much done as possible before school starts. Waiting until the last minute to buy new clothes, gather school supplies, develop a transportation plan or prepare your child’s brain and body for the rigors of school life only places needless stress on you and your child. A stressed child naturally feels less motivated to do well academically since all their energy is directed towards coping with the powerfully decentralizing force of anxiety.

To learn more about preparing you and your child for another school year, visit these helpful resources:

http://www.thelearningcommunity.us/resources-by-format/tips-for-parents/back-to-school.aspx

http://www2.ed.gov/pubs/parents/LearnPtnrs/ready.html

http://www2.ed.gov/parents/academic/help/partnership-tips.html

http://www.hfrp.org/publications-resources/browse-our-publications/getting-parents-ready-for-kindergarten-the-role-of-early-childhood-education

http://www.schoolfamily.com/back2school