Economy looking healthier to small-business owners

NEW YORK — The economy is looking healthier in the eyes of small-business owners, according to a survey released Tuesday.

The Citibank Small Business Pulse shows that 48 percent of owners rate business conditions as good or excellent. That’s up from 43 percent a year ago, and twice the 24 percent of three years ago, when the bank began conducting the survey. The number of owners who see business conditions as poor fell to 14 percent, the lowest since the survey’s inception.

Small-business owners are also upbeat about their own companies. Half say they expect their revenue to rise this year, and 54 percent expect 2014 to be even better.

Twenty-six percent of the owners surveyed said they plan to hire full-time employees in the next 12 months, up from 15 percent last summer. Only 5 percent said they planned to cut their staffs.

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Not Just For The Paranoid Anymore

Privacy Apps And Services Are The Only Tech Companies Winning The NSA Surveillance Scandal
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Once considered tools for tinfoil-hat wearing conspiracy theorists and stealthy corporate executives, software that allows you to hide your tracks online may have found its moment. Continue reading…

Google’s $5 Million Plan To Rid The Internet Of Child Porn
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Kickstarter Map Reveals Regional Quirks
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Apple Releases Its Spy Numbers, Too
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Google’s Top-Secret Plan To Get The Entire Planet Online Revealed
Samsung Will Make An S4 That’s Twice As Fast As Before
Facebook Shares Numbers On Government Data Requests
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Why We’ve Passed Peak Apple, Facebook And Google
Netflix Is Getting New Shows With Familiar Faces
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Google’s Top-Secret Plan To Get The Entire Planet Online Revealed
Protest Pushes Facebook To Crack Down On Rape Content

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Intro to Google Hangouts
As someone who’s been using Google Hangouts for over 18 months, I am often asked to help people understand Hangouts. Here’s an intro to Google Hangouts. Continue reading…
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Beyond the Politics: Space Exploration Is Imperative to Innovation and Inspiration
As a nation, we must put politics aside to ensure that expanding the space frontier occupies a prominent place on our national agenda. We need strategic, adequately funded and aggressively paced programs to keep America at the summits of technical innovation and exploration. Continue reading…
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Didn’t Ask? Don’t Share
If you are under 30, have an online dating presence, and have ever opened the messages you receive online, you’ve probably encountered a d*ck pic before. Continue reading…
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And Now, the Second Battle of the Internet
The worldwide digital space is in danger. We, the citizens of the world, are equally in danger. We need a better and more truly democratic multistakeholder model and we want governments to be bounded by treaties to obey international law when most needed. Continue reading…
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Behind Turkey’s Viral Revolution, There Are Mad Men (Actually Women)
Wandering around the barricades near Istanbul’s Taksim Square, I kept asking myself, “How could a few ‘occupiers’ manage to mobilize millions here and beyond, in 77 provinces of Turkey and dozens of cities in the world?” Continue reading…

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The Perks of Being an Intern in Tech

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Regulating 3D-Printed Guns Won’t Solve Any Problems Jun 14th 2013, 22:30
A clip from In the Line of Fire; an assassin uses a plastic gun.New York has unveiled legislation meant to regulate the 3D printing of guns. Here’s why it’s not going to do anything.

This week Brooklyn democrats introduced legislation that would make it illegal for any New Yorker who’s not a registered gunsmith to make a 3D-printed gun.

“If left unregulated, these would be weapons without histories–potentially no identifying marks or sales histories,” City Councilman Lew Fidler told the New York Daily News. “We wouldn’t even know these weapons exist, until they were fired.”

We’ve debated the ethics of 3D-printing guns before, so this isn’t really a new subject, especially for the “maker” community, which has generally addressed the gun-printing issue by distancing itself as much as possible from the hardcore, gun-printing evangelists like DEFCAD. Makerbot, for instance, which makes one of the more popular 3D printers, removed all gun designs listed on its site late last year.

But do we really need to create legislation for this? The idea of lunatics printing AK-47’s in their basement is terrifying, sure, but to my mind it’s pretty divorced from reality.

First, consider that to make a “Liberator” pistol, one of the more popular gun designs, you’d first need to invest between $1,500 and $8,000 in a 3D printer. Then, you’d have to make sure the plastic thing doesn’t fall apart. And lastly, you’d need to figure out a way for the gun to shoot more than one bullet–because the current design only allows for one shot.

Speculative media articles like

, which have existed since the 1950s.

Even cops are skeptical that legislation like this could curb any sort of real, menacing threat.

“I don’t think it’s going to be that big of a problem, people making their own guns,” one former detective told The Epoch Times. “Why would you use a cheap gun when you can get a regular one on a black market?”

Good question.

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Fix Your Mobile Site–or Face a Google Demotion Jun 14th 2013, 21:58
Long load times, blank screens, and customer headaches are a recipe for demotion in Google’s search rankings, warn two engineers. Here’s how to fix it.

Small business owners, beware: If your site isn’t mobile friendly or creates a headache for smartphone users, Google will punish you.

Yoshikiyo Kato, a software engineer, and Pierre Far, a Webmaster Trends Analyst, announced Tuesday Google will start demoting websites who don’t fix their problems. Google also made a jab at Adobe Flash, reminding site developers that neither iPhone nor Android–with version 4.1 or higher–host its content. Matt Cutts, head of search spam, said Google is in the process of readying a speed ranking factor for mobile.

Fortunately, Google pointed out two areas where you might be going wrong: faulty redirects–i.e., when a page redirects users to the same mobile site–and mobile-only errors, which are often blank screens.

The hope is to make the mobile web a better place, which is what Google wanted all along.

These days, mobile is where every company wants to be, with users accounting for one-fifth of all web traffic. In fact, a Google-Nielsen study found 73 percent of mobile searches “trigger follow-up actions, whether it be further research, a store visit, a phone call, a purchase or word-of-mouth sharing.”

Because 45 percent of all mobile searches are goal-oriented, having an efficient website encourages users to explore, which could result in a sale or registration.

Will you update your mobile site this weekend? Let us know in the comments.

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The Perks of Being an Intern in Tech Jun 14th 2013, 19:50
Interns at Google receive eye-popping salaries, but some tech start-ups offer much more. Check out some of their awesome perks.

A glittering resume no longer cuts it. If you want a job, or even a graduate degree, you’ve got to put in time as an intern.

Some internships evolve into full-time positions. Others offer little beyond busywork. But in tech land (a.k.a. Silicon Valley and New York City) some start-ups are Wonderlands, where interns can get real responsibilities and cool perks.

We’ve rounded up the best perks out there for interns working in tech today:

Google

Fresh faces–i.e., Nooglers–get a real taste of the Silicon Valley experience, as depicted in the movie The Internship. Software engineers receive a hefty $6,763 salary, plus access to microkitchens, cafes, and gyms. They also work on real production code and get to meet with possible mentors.

Microsoft

Microsoft’s interns have flexible schedules, and like Nooglers, they too have access to gyms and cafes, and solid compensation ($6,004 per month).

Quora

Interns working at the question and answer site are basically treated like real engineers. They get to attend panels, design APIs, and work on homepage feeds.

Twitter

An internship at Twitter offers catered meals (for those in San Francisco), dry cleaning, and weekly in-office yoga and pilates classes. One intern got to meet Russian president Dmitry Medvedev when he was still in office and Kanye West.

10gen

Interns enjoy weekly events ranging from bowling to movies, Q&A sessions with 10gen’s CEO, and events with Union Square Ventures’ portfolio companies. Interns also get to meet bigwigs like software engineer Joel Spolsky.

Palantir Technologies

These interns feast on chef-crafted meals, play in media rooms, and go outside for a pickup game of Frisbee. Inside, they have access to a small gym offering yoga classes, a chiropractor, a doctor, and … massages. Evenings feature weekly wine and cheese tastings.

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50 Shades of Scandal (and How to Deal With It) Jun 14th 2013, 18:58
Chances are someone will uncover the skeleton in your closet–even if it’s tiny and insignificant. Take a page from America’s new No. 2 spy on how to deal.

President Obama broke a barrier at the CIA recently by appointing the first woman, White House lawyer Avril D. Haines, to be the agency’s deputy director. Search for Haines in Google, however, and news of her appointment competes with what Washington really seems to think is most important:

From The Daily Beast:

Two decades ago, when she was in her 20s, Haines occasionally hosted erotica readings at an indie bookstore she owned in Baltimore.

And The Washington Post:

It’s a quirkier resume than you generally find among Beltway super-achievers of her generation, who often went straight from college to Capitol Hill or Wall Street or Harvard Law. Haines, 43, instead had a stint as an urban entrepreneur, running Adrian’s Book Café … [T]here were the times that Adrian’s welcomed patrons for the occasional readings of high-toned erotica …

That’s it; that’s what passes for scandal these days and rises to the top of Google results–reading from books like the bestselling 50 Shades of Grey, in public.

Nobody suggests the news should have any bearing on whether Obama should have picked her for the CIA job, but that doesn’t matter. We live in a world now where gotcha politics, social media, and an Internet that never forgets, combine to mean that just about anything any of us ever does can come back to haunt us. That’s true whether your aspirations are in politics or business.

Undeniably, sexism plays a role in the sexy stories about Haines’s bookish past. Sex and tawdriness sell and lead to clicks, of course. (Exhibit A: the suggested features on the Daily Beast article page include — and I could not make this up–Bea Arthur’s Boobs–and What It Says About Art on Facebook.)

Regardless, I think there are good lessons to be learned–not just for government officials but for anyone who aspires to positions of leadership.

Nearly everyone has something in his or her past that they wish wasn’t there, at least that others can twist into something at least quasi-controversial. So, taking a play from Haines’s book, here’s how to handle it:

1. Think Before Acting.

Back in 1995, Haines clearly wrestled with the question of whether to host these kinds of readings at her bookstore. She wanted to balance what her customers seemed to want with what it meant for her store and her reputation. She said at the time that she had originally “balked” at hosting the readings back in 1995, but relented after thinking it through.

2. Revel in Your Decisions

Haines hasn’t made any public comment on the whole erotica-reading-tempest, but it’s worth noting that once she made the decision to hold the readings back in the 1990s, she embraced the choice. She not only advertised it–she invited a reporter from The Baltimore Sun to interview her and write about them. There’s something disarming when a person takes tempered pride, even as critics snicker and snipe.

3. Grow Thick Skin

Haines is young by Washington standards, and her appointment marks a meteoritic rise. I would never be so naive as to think that jealously doesn’t play a role in what stories make their way into print. The only way to deal with that kind of ankle-biting is to learn not to care.

Besides, it’s lonely at the top. If you really want a friend in Washington, get a dog.

(Like this post? Check out Bill’s weekly email.)

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The Dalai Lama: Women Are More Compassionate Leaders Jun 14th 2013, 18:19
Whether you think his comments were sexist or not, his Holiness Tenzin Gyatso says the next Dalai Lama could be female. Here’s why he thinks the fairer sex was born to lead.

The Dalai Lama wants women to lead the world so much, he thinks his successor could even be female.

“If the circumstances are such that a female Dalai Lama is more useful, then automatically a female Dalai Lama will come,” he said in a recent press conference held in Australia.

The suggestion, which His Holiness has made previously, followed his reference to the gender debate that is taking Australia by storm. Prime minister Julia Gillard recently accused the Liberal Party of being “grossly sexist and offensive” after she attended a fundraising dinner in which her body parts were listed as dinner items on the menu.

In the Dalai Lama’s mind, a world that is suffering a “moral crisis” of inequality needs those who can truly empathize with a person in need and offer meaningful ways to help.

“In that respect, biologically, females have more potential,” he said. “Females have more sensitivity about others’ well-being. In my own case, my father, very short temper. On a few occasions I also got some beatings. But my mother was so wonderfully compassionate.”

Whether you agree with the statement or not, His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso is certainly onto something. As we’ve written before, many character traits traditionally associated with women tend to be very effective at work.

Among them are humility–seeking to serve others and sharing credit–vulnerability–owning up to one’s limitations and asking for help–and (you guessed it), empathy–being sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others.

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Would You Give Customer Data to the Government? Jun 14th 2013, 18:04
The nine Internet companies implicated in the PRISM leak aren’t the only companies handing over customer data. Apparently, thousands of companies do this. Would you?

Yesterday, I wrote about the shady role of a few start-ups in the government’s bid to gather more and more intelligence about people and businesses around the globe. It appears I underestimated just how many companies are involved.

Bloomberg’s Michael Riley reports this morning:

Thousands of technology, finance and manufacturing companies are working closely with U.S. national security agencies, providing sensitive information and in return receiving benefits that include access to classified intelligence, four people familiar with the process said.

It’s unclear what, exactly, “classifed intelligence” means here, or what type of data these companies are providing to the national security agencies. But Riley’s main point is that it’s not just the “Big 9” colluding with the NSA–the government’s reach among private enterprise is far deeper. And it may involve many of the companies average consumers transact with on a daily basis.

Which, of course, brings up some important questions–both ethical and strategic–for business owners. If faced with a decision to work with the NSA, or some subsidiary security agency operating under the NSA’s claws, what would you do?

The lure of access to “classified intelligence” might sway you to comply, or perhaps even a prospect of helping protect the U.S. against threats–and offering information about customers’ online activities might seem harmless at first. But what if you’re “caught”?

Since Google was implicated in last week’s NSA scandal, people began looking for search alternatives. VentureBeat reports that DuckDuckGo, a search engine that says it does not track its users’ searches, saw its biggest boost in traffic ever this week.

“I believe the surveillance story is paramount right now, and people are talking about it,” the site’s founder told VentureBeat. “DuckDuckGo users are telling their friends and family about the private alternatives.”

In other words: customers are willing to shift their usage patterns if they feel their privacy is at stake.

If Riley is right, and businesses do indeed “receive benefits” from the government in exchange for pawning off information about their customers, this may be the time for those businesses to reconsider whether this transaction is worth the potential PR nightmare and loss of trust if the relationship is ever exposed.

Of course, it’s also an opportunity. Plenty of business owners routinely work with security agencies–like the Enhanced Cybersecurity Services in the Department of Homeland Security, for instance–when the government needs special assistance in tracking down people suspected of terrorist activities. And perhaps they should.

The point is that businesses need to be more transparent and come clean with customers about how their data is used–and who it’s getting handed off to.

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Apple Announces $10 Billion App Market and You Should Pay Attention

Twitter Now Provides Free Analytics Feature

Link to Small Business Trends

Twitter Now Provides Free Analytics Feature

Posted: 14 Jun 2013 01:30 PM PDT

twitter analytics

If you’re trying to learn more about the impact you have on Twitter, some basic Twitter analytics are now available for free from the site.

The new Twitter analytics feature was first spotted this week by at least two online marketers who posted about their findings. We’ve seen no official notice of the feature on the Twitter blog so far.

Christopher Penn, vice president of marketing technology at SHIFT Communications, and Danny Olson, a digital strategist at Weber Shandwick, both posted about it, but we couldn’t find any official announcement.

The Twitter analytics tool can be found with a few quick clicks from your main Twitter dashboard.

To get there, simply use the pull down menu on the right side of your task bar on your Twitter account page and look for the Twitter Ads link under Edit Profile. (We’ve heard that some users are having difficulty accessing the new feature because the proper buttons don’t yet appear on their task bar.)

Once you click through to the Twitter Ads section, look for the Analytics tab near the top of the page and choose “Timeline activity” on the pull down.

That’s it.

A timeline along the top of the page graphs out your mentions, follows, and unfollows in six hour increments over a several week period.

Below this, a history of recent tweets shows you a more detailed analysis with the number of Faves, Repeats and Replies each tweet has received. It also gives notifications of the number of times that links in your Tweets have been clicked.

Twitter also provides notification for tweets that have received above “normal reach” and how many times over your normal reach each tweet has gotten. (Though there’s little explanation of what this actually means.)

There’s also a button allowing you to download a customized history of your Twitter analytics over the past two days, 7 days, 30 days or 90 days as either a CSV or XLS file.

Pick the “followers” selection under analytics in the Google Ads section and you’ll get a brief overview of your Twitter history, wrote Penn. But be aware, some users may get a notification there is not enough data to display these analytics yet, perhaps because the feature is new.

Of the service, Penn comments:

That’s all you get for now from Twitter. It’s a good start, but it’s not nearly enough if you want to go crunching serious numbers to find out Twitter’s impact on your marketing efforts. For that you’ll still need to heavily rely on third party tools.

What do you think? Will you find the new Twitter analytics helpful in measuring your impact on Twitter?

Twitter Photo via Shutterstock

The post Twitter Now Provides Free Analytics Feature appeared first on Small Business Trends.

Apple Announces $10 Billion App Market and You Should Pay Attention

Posted: 14 Jun 2013 11:00 AM PDT

apple app market

If your business has an app or you are thinking of developing one, it’s time to take note.  We’ve reported that Google recently announced immense sales growth at it’s own Google Play app store.

Now, Apple CEO Tim Cook has gone a step further in clarifying the exact size of the market for apps from third party developers including small businesses.

During the opening of the annual Apple Worldwide Developers Conference this week, Cook told attendees that Apple has paid out $10 billion to third party developers over the first five years of its app store’s existence. And $5 billion of that was paid out in the last year, he said.

Nor are downloads limited only to the store’s most popular titles. Of the 900,000 apps the Apple Store currently has available, Cook estimates 93 percent are downloaded monthly.

We don’t know the distribution of the earnings among app developers who offer downloads from Apple’s store. But we can assume there is room in this market for apps offering value to a variety of niche audiences.

Not Just for Game Developers

Potential earnings aren’t limited to just game developers either. Though the biggest money makers in a recent report were gaming apps, at least one non-game download has made it into the top 10 in revenue.

Turbo Tax Snap Tax was one of the top 10 earners in the Apple app store in February, no doubt benefiting from the looming U.S. tax deadline.

There are probably apps you could develop based on your business’s products, service or expertise.  A useful app created for your primary customers or audience could generate extra revenue, even if it isn’t among the top income producers.

In App Purchases are the Biggest Sellers

Recent numbers also show most revenue isn’t generated from app downloads themselves. In fact, in the same survey cited above by analysis firm Distimo, 71 percent of revenue was generated from in-app purchases.

Those purchases were all made from apps that were originally downloaded for free. These “freemium” apps then require users to pay for additional features.

Is there an app you could develop for your business with added features available at a premium?

Apple Photo via Shutterstock

The post Apple Announces $10 Billion App Market and You Should Pay Attention appeared first on Small Business Trends.

HubSpot’s Mike Volpe on Why You Need Context AND Content In Marketing

Posted: 14 Jun 2013 08:00 AM PDT

When you think of marketing today, the first word that typically comes to mind is content – whether it be blog posts, images or video. But the one thing that may be keeping your marketing content from reaching its intended audience is context, or lack thereof.

Mike Volpe, chief marketing officer for inbound marketing platform provider HubSpot, talks about the importance of understanding context in order to create content that builds long-term relationships. Below is a portion of our conversation from the exhibition floor at Dreamforce 2012.

* * * * *

importance of contextSmall Business Trends: What does inbound marketing really mean to a small business person trying to make their mark building relationships with customers?

Mike Volpe: Inbound marketing is really the ability to attract more people into your business…. It is really about creating content with context, so it is connected with the right people at the right time, using those two concepts together to attract more people into your business.

I actually think for small businesses this is even more critical than larger ones because small businesses have smaller budgets and less time. Making small changes in their lead generation and their sales can make a huge, huge impact.

Small Business Trends: So you hit on that whole context thing. You hear the term content is king, but is it really now? Isn’t context and content about the same today?

Mike Volpe: I think content and context need to work together. We are getting better at having personalized messages on email, and I think even to some degree on social. But why is your website home page the same for every single person visiting it, the same for your customers, the same for people who have already or already in your sales pipeline?

You should be able to display personalized context on your website and have personalized relationships there just like you do on email and just like you do on social. So it is really figuring out what ways you can bring all that stuff together and have those good contextually based conversations.

Small Business Trends: How has inbound marketing changed over the years with the entry of all of these social networks, mobile tools and the Cloud?

Mike Volpe: I feel like the theory of inbound marketing hasn’t changed at all, but the actual tactics used have. I think in 2006 and 2007, a lot of inbound was really SEO and blogging and that was when we first connected. You were starting to blog and you were a big podcaster and doing all of those things. It has gone from that to Twitter and Facebook and mobile has become more important over time with tons of proliferation of smart phones.

All of those things have become more and more important. But I think that those are all tactics and channels that will continue to change over time.

I think what is not going away is that consumers don’t want to consume advertising, they want to consume content that is useful and interesting to them. That needs to be the cornerstone of your marketing and that is why we talk so much about inbound.

Small Business Trends: Can you talk about the power of LinkedIn and what it can offer small businesses?

Mike Volpe: I think that for small businesses, especially if you are a B2B small business … selling to other businesses. The data we look at for Web traffic – LinkedIn vs. other social networks – if you are a B2B company the conversion rate can be three to four times higher of that traffic converting into leads and then the conversion rate of revenue is much higher.

We found with B2B companies, LinkedIn can be a fantastic community. There are some great ways for small businesses to get involved with LinkedIn. You have company pages and LinkedIn just launched functionality in companies for segmentation of your audience company pages. There … are groups you can form. So there a lot of ways to get involved there. I think that LinkedIn, especially if you are a  B2B company, should not to be overlooked.

Small Business Trends: How does Pinterest fit in to how a small business can actually leverage inbound marketing?

Mike Volpe: I think the key to Pinterest is visual context because it is such a visually based medium. So a lot of consumer B to C companies have made really, really good use of Pinterest by posting pictures of cool, innovative, interesting products and being active within those communities. There are a lot of consumer retailers that have done well branding products on Pinterest.

Even within B2B we have a Pinterest account because we do all of these things ourselves. We have found that photos, images, pictures of charts and graphs of data, are interesting to our audience and have performed well. Images of the covers of our ebooks and then linking out to where you can get the ebooks, things like that have performed well for us.

Small Business Trends: How important is video to a small business?

Mike Volpe: Video is one of the things that is both easy and hard. I say that video is easy to create but it is really hard to do well. You do a lot of podcasting and you do a bunch of videos as well and you have a huge background in radio, which helped you become good a doing those things.

For many small businesses, video is not the place that I would necessarily start first. You can do it and it can be effective, but I would start with many of these other things. Blogging, creating content, ebooks, webinars – all of these things I would do before I really worked my way up to video.

Small Business Trends: We talked a lot about inbound marketing, content and the top of the funnel? l know that you guys are really getting into the middle-of-the-funnel, or as you call it ‘MOFU.’ Can you talk about ‘MOFU’ and where automation fits in and how that can help a small business?

Mike Volpe: What is interesting about the middle-of-the-funnel, or further down in the sales marketing process is that, as you learn more about people, context becomes more important and brings us back to the beginning part of the conversation.

As you learn more, you need to really respect that. When you’re communicating, show them that you still know a lot about them. It is annoying when you have interactions with the company and then someone else calls you and they don‘t even remember or recognize any of the things that they have been talking to you about.

With email communications you are sending out there are ways to automate that stuff. But make sure you are segmenting and personalizing those so that you’re recognizing the context of the conversation. The same thing with social and the content of your website. Again someone is already talking with your sales rep and then maybe a meeting is setup for the next day. You should be showing something that is relevant to that type of conversation on the home page or other pages of your website.

The middle-of-the-funnel is really about context. Yes, you can do a bunch of automation, whether it is automating emails or other work flows or other content that is appearing on your site. So automation can help there. But make sure that you use the automation in a smart way to respect the context of what’s happening within that portion of the conversation.

Small Business Trends: So we know that content is really important for marketing, branding and promotion, but what about customer service? Retaining customers, not just looking for new ones?

Mike Volpe: We all know companies drive a lot of ongoing value from their customers. More and more of the companies are moving to a subscription model, or keeping customers for a long time becomes more and more important; so continuous marketing to your customer base is a really smart thing to do because it helps to drive the top line and the bottom line.

One aspect of it is to continue to understand the context of the relationship of the customers. But there is also a lot of content. If you have a customer community or customer feedback, you can take that content and use it for marketing to your customers. You can also use it for marketing to your prospects.

Sales people can take customers stories and things like that from the customer community and use that and use social for marketing at the top of the funnel and getting new prospects in, as well as communicating with people at the middle-of-the-funnel. After that, your customers use all of the content from all of the stages to help you.

A lot of people know if you can get content from your customers in front of your prospects, then more than likely, you can convert. Because they’re going to trust what your customers are saying more than your sales people. So those types of things can be really, really effective.

Small Business Trends: That’s cool to see because we are used to seeing integration with services like HubSpot, with the front for marketing and promotion. So it is nice to see that integration is starting to carry through to the service side.

Mike Volpe: Absolutely. We talk about the notion of a funnel more because there is not another great model out there to really understand the process. But it is not something that ends. There are so many opportunities. I think there are a lot of synergies between what’s happening between customer support and marketing, because social is what ties it all together.

* * * * *

Watch the video below of my interview with Mike Volpe of HubSpot.


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This interview on the importance of context to the success of inbound marketing for small businesses is part of the One on One interview series with thought-provoking entrepreneurs, authors and experts in business today. This transcript has been edited for publication.  

The post HubSpot’s Mike Volpe on Why You Need Context AND Content In Marketing appeared first on Small Business Trends.

Are You a Bit of a Control Freak?

Posted: 14 Jun 2013 05:00 AM PDT

control freak cartoon

I’ll admit it, I’m a control freak.

When I used to print out and mail cartoon packets to publications I had a way I liked to do it: Letter on top, return envelope folded thusly, mailing label centered but up just a bit.

As I got more successful and was sending out more and more packets every week, my wife was kind enough to help stuff envelopes occasionally. I remember watching her work and offering suggestions (correcting her every move) and her eventually getting fed up.

“Oh for (blankety blank), I can fold something in half you know! Really! I can!” She growled, “Also, stamp placement? Maybe not as big a deal as you think.”

She was totally right. Now I email out my cartoons and I don’t have to hassle her anymore.

But I also like those emails just so…

The post Are You a Bit of a Control Freak? appeared first on Small Business Trends.

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Economic news about supply and demand

Supply and demand – it’s time to change our ways

There has been a significant change in the supply and demand for building materials recently. The economic crisis has made us all tighten our belts, but for merchants, keeping their heads above water has meant stock control is under particular scrutiny.

If merchants can keep their product availability high with less stock, there’s less financial pressure. However, this is a big “if” and it puts a lot of pressure on logistics. Manufacturers and contractors alike now need to change their mindset, which is why Alumasc is working hard to improve lead times on materials.

I took the additional responsibility of Alumasc’s rainwater & drainage teams in the summer of 2010. Over the past three years I’ve seen rapid changes in the supply and demand chain. Having an established relationship with merchants and contractors simply isn’t enough nowadays; we all have to be more financially aware, while ultimately putting customers at the forefront of our business.

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How To Keep Your Small Business Afloat During Hard Times

How To Keep Your Small Business Afloat During Hard Times Jun 9th 2013, 17:00
If an economic storm has your business taking on water, we have some tips for bailing yourself out.

After Sandy, a new threat: Soaring flood insurance Jun 9th 2013, 15:29
After Sandy, a new threat: Soaring flood insuranceGeorge Kasimos has almost finished repairing flood damage to his waterfront home, but his Superstorm Sandy nightmare is far from over. Like thousands of others in the hardest-hit coastal stretches of New …Media files:
fc8f87de530f4613340f6a706700f85a_original.jpg

Go To One of These Events and Improve Your Business

Featured Events, Contests and Awards

Making Money Online: Ecommerce Done Right with John LawsonMaking Money Online: Ecommerce Done Right with John Lawson
June 25, 2013, New York, NY

After this live workshop, you’ll be ready to immediately build your own online eBay or Amazon store, source products for it, and start selling. You’ll learn how to market your online store strategically using social media, SEO, mobile and more.

Join John Lawson, award winning Social Commerce Strategist, American Express featured businessman, author, and founder of 3rd Power Outlet – an online clothing retail outlet that has exceeded $25 million in sales.
John will be sharing his practical, down-to-earth methods for building your own ecommerce business from the ground up in this two part workshop, packed with resources, tips, and how-to instruction.
Discount Code
SBTRENDS ( $25 off)


WBENC National Conference & Business FairWBENC National Conference & Business Fair
June 26, 2013, Minneapolis, MN

The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) will convene 3,500 decision makers from the nation’s leading corporations, government entities and women’s business enterprises (WBEs) to generate business together and stimulate economic growth at the 2013 WBENC National Conference & Business Fair in Minneapolis, MN, June 25-27, 2013.


Big Awards for BusinessBig Awards for Business
August 14, 2013, Online

The Big Awards started with a mission of recognizing real talent and performance. Real business people, those with experience and knowledge, judge the Big Awards. Request an entry kit today and submit your nomination by August 14, 2013.
Discount Code
SBT50 ($50.00 off)


More Small Business Events

More Small Business Awards and Contests

This weekly listing of small business events, contests and awards is provided as a community service by Small Business Trends and SmallBizTechnology.

The post Go To One of These Events and Improve Your Business appeared first on Small Business Trends.

Top Small Business Stories for the Beginning of JunePosted: 08 Jun 2013 12:00 PM PDT

small business news stories

Smaller smartphones, cheaper tablets, and Vine for Android — they’re all top stories for small businesses this week.

You’ll also learn about a new acquisition by sales and CRM software giant Salesforce.com that adds email marketing and marketing communications to the company’s offerings.

As always, the Small Business Trends editorial team gives you the news important to small businesses — and puts it into context for what it means to you.

Tech

iPhone grows ever more popular. The iPhone is the most popular make of smartphone, with 39% using an iPhone. But Google’s Android platform dominates, with over half of the market using Android on various makes. That snapshot of the U.S. smartphone market is courtesy the latest report from comScore. Smartphones are increasingly important to small business owners and entrepreneurs who must stay mobile. Which is your favorite and why?

Asus introduces Android tablet for under $150. It’s an economical 7-inch tablet. Called the Memo HD7, it will include a 16 GB device for just $149. The new tablet features two cameras and comes in the colors black, white, shocking pink and lime green. It’s an economical solution for small business users who need a mobile device when out of the office — although it’s not suitable to be your full-time computing device.

Internet Explorer stays on top in the world of browsers. If you have a small business website, you may be interested in what browser your visitors are viewing it with. Internet Explorer continues to dominate the online browser world with 56 percent of the market — at least by one measure. Firefox is the next most popular choice of Web surfers. See the full rundown to discover what browser your visitors might be using.

Samsung takes it down a notch with the Galaxy S4 Mini. It’s not only a smaller smartphone, it’s also a cheaper one. Samsung’s Galaxy S4 Mini is a smaller version of the Galaxy S4. The device is 4.91 by 2.41 inches and has a 4.3-inch display screen. It is expected to cost less than the bigger phone, too.

Small businesses learn to use the anchor tag on websites. Do you use the anchor tag on your website? The tag is a clickable link. It takes you directly to a specific area of a page. Here is how you can use it for your business from Amanda DiSilvestro, writer for Viral Content Buzz.

What is a database? Entrepreneurs must often know tech basics these days as tech tools have become so important for building a company. You may think you know what a database is and is not. But we suspect we may offer some useful new information about a variety of tool called the “desktop database.”  Annie Pilon has details.

Google Local Plus offers neat benefits for local marketing.  SEO pro Vedran Tomic at SEO Rabbit chats with Mike Blumenthal, one of the world’s foremost experts in Google Maps, local search and the Google Plus Local service. Blumenthal offers a Google Plus Local 101 guide to making this tool work for your business. A must read for businesses that get most of their customers from their local area and want to do a better job attracting them online.

Social Media

Vine is out on Android. For all the Android users out there who have been waiting to use the Vine short-video application, the time has come. Since Twitter introduced the app on iOS in October 2012, 13 million users have downloaded it. And, an estimated 12 million Vine videos are posted to Twitter daily. How can the service help your business communicate?

Foursquare expands paid promotions to select small businesses. Right now Foursquare is working with small businesses in New York City. The location-based social network will help these businesses target new customers or perhaps customers that have been away from your business for a while, based on a cost-per-action fee structure.

Sponsored posts get a bigger footprint on Tumblr, appearing in the dashboard. And some Tumblr fans are none too happy. But before you go blaming Yahoo, which announced it would acquire the social blogging site a few weeks ago, read this.

Social media monitoring comes of age. From Facebook to Twitter, from LinkedIn to Google Plus and more, social media sites today abound. Each could offer a different value for your business, says Pratik Dholakiya, lead Strategist at E2M Solutions. The key is to learn how to monitor the many places your business has a social media presence. Here is the latest on how to go about it.

Entrepreneurship

Tip: Being too nice in business can be a bad thing. No one says you have to be a meanie all the time. But Rieva Lesonsky, President and Founder of GrowBiz Media, says there is such a thing as being too nice for your own good or for the good of your business. Here Lesonsky offers some ways to evaluate and to change course if necessary.

Subscription-based business models flourish. Today, business success is less about individual sales than maintaining customer relationships. Take Amazon’s Prime Membership, a $79 per year subscription giving you free two-day shipping on pretty much anything Amazon sells. Analyst Brent Leary interviews R.J. Hottovy of Morningstar about the value of building subscription-based membership programs in business.

Finance

Getting home equity for micro businesses becomes harder. In fact, Scott Shane, Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies at Case Western Reserve University, reports the number of home equity loans lines of credit dropped from 23.9 to 18.7 million between the fourth quarter of 2007 and the fourth quarter of 2012.

Services

Salesforce.com fits ExactTarget into its marketing puzzle. Salesforce.com has announced acquisition of ExactTarget, an email marketing and marketing communications software provider. The deal fills a gap in Salesforce.com’s offerings by providing the company with something much closer to a full-range marketing suite.

Prepaid cell phone plans offer options for small businesses. There’s no question cell phones, particularly smartphones, are important for the entrepreneur or small business owner. Prepaid wireless phone plans offer options small businesses might want to consider — and they differ from traditional multi-year mobile phone contracts. TJ McCue offers a review of one such plan.

Freelancer.com expands contests for services. The site already offers a way to hire freelancers for small businesses. It allows small businesses to create contests for design projects, for example, and lets business owners pick from submissions. The site is expanding its contest offerings — you can now structure contests for writing projects, software projects, and more. However, structuring such projects requires extra thought.

Yahoo retires its classic email. If you had some Yahoo Classic email accounts hanging around for business, they’re likely gone now. This week, Yahoo announced it would require any remaining account holders to either change over to update to the new Yahoo email or close their accounts. The update comes with a new Communications Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Planning

42 tips to consider for a successful business event. There are so many kinds of events and so many ways a business can benefit from them. But planing them can be a chore and overwhelming if you aren’t prepared. Here is some advice from the pros that can help you do it better.

Shutterstock: News on tablet

The post Top Small Business Stories for the Beginning of June appeared first on Small Business Trends.

Entrepreneur Creates Publishing Powerhouse With Niche Romance NovelsPosted: 08 Jun 2013 08:45 AM PDT

Jaid Black aka Tina Engler of Ellora's CaveTina Engler didn’t set out to start a multimillion dollar publishing company when she began writing romance novels in the late 1990s.

She just wanted to write the kind of books she wanted to read. Those kinds of books weren’t widely available from popular authors at the time.

Like a lot of entrepreneurs, when she couldn’t find what she wanted on the market — she created it.

Engler, who is best known to romance novel fans under her pen name Jaid Black, happened on — some say invented — a niche.  The niche was erotic romance novels.

Engler’s novels were rejected at first by traditional publishers.  That’s because she shunned the typical euphemisms used in romance novels, instead using explicit language paired up with a romance story line.  Publishers at the time said her descriptions were too graphic.

Those rejections just spurred her on to publish her own stories electronically.  She built a website herself and sold stories as PDFs at first.

Soon she was publishing stories written by other authors, too.  Voila, she had moved from author to become a publisher.

Today her company, Ellora’s Cave, grosses about $15 million per year and sells nearly 200,000 books each month.

Engler’s mother, Patricia Marks, is the CEO, although Engler is still the majority owner.   The company also produces an annual conference for romance fans, called Romanticon, now in its fifth year.

Expanding far beyond the days when Engler offered one book that she had written, Ellora’s Cave now has over 800 authors. A number of authors make in the six figures and at least one, Laurann Dohner, reportedly will make 7 figures this year — proving there’s money in writing and in publishing.

Books are now sold as ebooks and print books, through booksellers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble — and through  the company’s own website.

The company even has its own male models for cover shots — shots that will seem risque to those outside of the romance publishing industry.  The company, headquartered in Ohio, has even trademarked a name for erotic romance: “Romantica.”

Publishing Electronically – Before the Kindle

The company sold books electronically long before there was a Kindle e-reader.  Marks tells their startup story in an interview at Publisher’s Weekly:

Ellora’s Cave started out selling e-books with a PayPal account. Engler, Marks said, would stay up late e-mailing stories to her customers. By 2001, Engler had set up a Web site with a shopping cart and began publishing other writers. As revenues began to rise, Marks — she calls herself an “overbearing mom” (with a business degree) — was watching and helping out where she could. “I helped her set up spreadsheets and figure out royalty payments and other stuff. By 2003 she was making enough money to hire me,” she said.

By the time the Kindle came along and got popular, Ellora’s Cave already had annual sales in the millions.

Ellora's Cave title

The Kindle, however, added to the company’s success.  “The popularity of the Kindle has undoubtedly affected our revenue for the better and made us even stronger,” Engler said.

Ellora’s Cave still focuses primarily on ebooks. It also sells print-on-demand paperbacks.

While growth in ebook sales has slowed somewhat in the past year, there’s still plenty of runway.  A report from the American Association of Publishers and Book Industry Study Group concluded that ebook sales made up 20% of net sales in publishing in 2012, compared to 15% in 2011.

And romance fiction is huge. The Romance Writers of America estimates romance fiction sales from 2012 to be about $1.3 billion.

The erotic romance genre got wider attention in the past two years with the mainstream popularity of “Fifty Shades of Grey.”  But Engler said the book hasn’t had much impact on her company. “The only thing Fifty Shades did was bring the media up to speed on what readers were already buying,” she said.

Advice for Authors and Entrepreneurs

The Ellora’s Cave startup story is all about a “follow your instincts” approach and a refusal to be held back by traditional standards.  It’s disruptive innovation brought to fiction writing.

It’s also about being “real.”  The unusual culture of Ellora’s Cave, and the personality of its owner, come through in the company’s communications, its deep red website, its annual conference, and in everything they do.  It’s not a plain-vanilla business.  It doesn’t try to be a conservative corporate publisher.  So it stands out.  It’s memorable.

For authors who are considering self-publishing or selling e-books, Engler aka Jaid Black has some advice.  She says that it is important to not just fall in line with what is popular at the time. Instead, find, invent or expand on a genre that has the potential for demand but very little supply.

For entrepreneurs, she offers this advice about differentiating: “If you can find a new spin on the market, your chance of success is higher than the person who tries to imitate what’s already out there.”

You also need focus. “Do one thing and do it well,” she said. “Don’t expand into new territory until you have the first one conquered and claimed.”

The post Entrepreneur Creates Publishing Powerhouse With Niche Romance Novels appeared first on Small Business Trends.

Is Your Professional Service Among “Leading Firms?”Posted: 08 Jun 2013 06:00 AM PDT

leading firmsWhen Margie Zable Fisher of Zable Fisher Public Relations shared an interview here on Small Business Trends with Built To Sell author John Warrillow, she noted the idea of the service firm trap – an over-focus on hourly rates instead of packages.

In fact, pricing is just one of the traps along the way to developing professional services.

For those who need to break the traps, rejoice.  Leading Firms: How Great Professional Service Firms Succeed & How Your Firm Can Too by David Kuhlman offers tips to improve your professional services beyond smaller jobs and services.

I received a review copy the book from the publisher SelectBooks, and I was pleased with Kuhlman’s blend of insights and supporting material.  Kuhlman has advised numerous senior leaders at prominent professional firms for over 25 years.

When Your Perception of Professional Service Grows Up

Kuhlman’s approach to the material is applicable to small businesses growing up. He examines the operations in a professional firm, highlighting opportunities.

The chapters particularly highlight fallacies and truths. If you are running a professional firm, you’ll quickly learn why some ideas may not be all that they are on paper.

Take strategic advantage, for example. Professional firms believe that their people provide a strategic advantage, but Kuhlman cautions on how and why such assets can be really difficult to develop, noting:

“Most professional firms are good at creating professionals, particular in the process of forming principals, but not as good at creating ‘business people’ …. The process of becoming a complete, fully functioning Actuary or Forensic accountant or Lawyer leaves little time and energy for breadth of knowledge.”

Kuhlman works to broaden the reader’s knowledge, to put mere ideas into workable outlooks that lead to workable solutions.

With a textbook-like tone, Kuhlman reveals graphs, charts and terms that shows the value service firms can bring to customers.   The end result is a better plan for strategy, from execution of customer service to pricing fees.

Top Grade Ideas for Top Professionals

Three aspects of a business model are outlined and are well worth a read if your business plan needs adjusting.  These are introduced early in the book:

  • Client Value Proposition (essentially what is the deficit the client experiences without the service)
  • Client Service Model (the delivery of service)
  • Performance Envelope (the environment in which a firm is best equipped to compete — and my favorite term in the book)

As you can tell from the phrase  ”Performance Envelope,”  you can expect the terms throughout the book to inspire meaningful concepts, not just sales-speak or overly technical jibber-jabber.  Readers from professional firms undergoing growth and who have some years of experience will not read a dumbed-down thought.

The chapter “Resource Deployment” was among the most applicable material. It offers pragmatic approaches to managing people and time.  There are graphs throughout, but the terminology introduced in the chapter explains what can happen as a professional firm operates.  The concept behind leverage, for example, is that value from firm operations varies according to who performs the tasks.

Processes in Leading Firms are also explained against what a client can experience, so the reader can understand why some practices may not be all that they are on paper. There’s also a game theory sensibility with respect to workplace concerns. The chapter of meritocracy notes what can be encountered despite principal claims that merit is a factor for workplace success.   Read how Kuhlman applies his experience to note a potential challenge to senior principals:

“Senior principals represent a unique challenge to the firm’s sense of meritocracy.  In this sense “senior” does mean oldest or closest to retirement rather than senior in terms of status or contribution — and therein lies the problem. Different principals follow different paths toward their inevitable departure from their firm. Some principals begin to slow down and contribute less in current economic terms.…  Other principals continue to deliver big results, commanding large clients and significant revenue streams. These principals play a dominant role in the firm’s economic and client life, influencing the fates of a large proportion of the firm’s personnel…. Senior principals who remain dominant represent a different sort of cultural challenge: they soak up opportunities that could more productively be used to enable other up-and-coming principals.”

The viewpoints made this book a really enjoyable resource. A lot of phrases were just eye-catching such as this one:

“No major initiative can be so fully specified that it will survive a collision with actual facts and circumstances on the ground.”

Comments like this are linguistically interesting – a few were a challenge to digest, but not overwhelming on the second read.  But overall every suggestion supports the main thesis:  assets can take time to develop.

Who Could Benefit From Reading Leading Firms?

Legal and financial professionals with dreams of their own firm are certainly the audience for this book. But its appeal does not stop there.

Other businesses whose clients receive professional services can gain insight.

Startups with the latest B2B software-as-a-service application can gain some sensibility about the conditions experienced at professional service firms it intends to sell to.    There is no silver bullet, but your strategy for working with a professional firm can be better refined after reading Kuhlman’s views.

A quick aside:  Those professionals having launched a professional service should also consider reading the book Service Innovation.   It provides some ideas on how to frame service plans to match what you are seeing in the field. The combo can give you some ideas on not only how to be innovative, but what business skill sets your firm would need to deliver the result.

Read Leading Firms to explore how your professional service firm can avoid most traps and to understand what it truly means to lead.

The post Is Your Professional Service Among “Leading Firms?” appeared first on Small Business Trends.