With this year’s Small Business Saturday approaching on November 24, 2018, are you prepared to seize the momentum and boost your business?
Writing content isn’t every entrepreneur’s strong point, but bootstrapping startups don’t always have the funds to hire professional writers or marketing firms to craft content for them.
Fortunately, some online tools are available to help even the most unaccomplished writers among us improve our writing and make a great impression.
4 Writing Apps to Help You Create Better Content
Hubspot’s Blog Ideas Generator
When you’ve hit a wall and can’t think of what to write about, Hubspot’s blog topic generator can help you break through writer’s block. It prompts you to add up to five different nouns of your choice, and then it will generate seven blog topic ideas related to those nouns. While some of them might not be a perfect fit at face value, you can modify them to your liking, or they might help you develop new ideas.
The Hemingway app helps ensure your writing isn’t too complicated and over the heads of most readers. It assesses your content and tells you at which grade level it is readable. Anything above a grade-9 reading level is flagged as less than ideal. Hemingway also alerts you to overuse of adverbs, use of passive voice, and complex phrases and sentences.
If you love the assistance of online thesauruses but get annoyed by the advertisements on their websites, meet Power Thesaurus. For the most part, the app is ad-free (except for some non-intrusive advertisements by premium sponsors). It has a simple, uncluttered interface that suggests synonyms for whatever word you type in its search box. Fast and effective, Power Thesaurus helps you power through finding just the right word more quickly than when using other thesaurus websites.
Grammarly is quickly becoming a tool of choice (for writers and non-writers alike) for fine-tuning writing. Its free version detects critical grammar and spelling errors. Grammarly Premium has enhanced capabilities including offering vocabulary suggestions (if you appear to have used words out of context), flagging complex sentence structure, and evaluating content according to its intended purpose, audience, style, and emotional impact.
Not only can these tools help you fix weaknesses in your content, but also they can help you improve your writing skills over time. As you use them, you have an opportunity to learn to think out of the box, increase your knowledge of grammar rules, and broaden your vocabulary.
Of course, apps can’t do it all! Another resource available to help you assess the content you create for your business is a SCORE mentor. SCORE volunteers have experience and expertise in all aspects of entrepreneurship, including marketing, and they are here to offer honest feedback to help your business succeed.
As more and more consumers look online before buying products and services, basic search engine optimization is essential for your business. If you don’t prioritize your company’s visibility in online searches, you could end up at a competitive disadvantage.
According to a consumer survey by BrightLocal, “97% of consumers looked online for local businesses in 2017.”
SEO is a complex and multifaceted discipline, but by following just a few best practices, you can help boost your business’s chances of getting found in searches on Google.
1. If your website isn’t mobile-friendly yet, make it so.
Fifty-seven percent of all online traffic comes from smartphones and tablets. Google has estimated that 9 out of 10 people will leave a website if it isn’t easy to use from their mobile device. So, even if your company has better products and services than your competitors, you could miss out on business opportunities if you don’t have a mobile-ready website.
Mobile-friendliness also affects your website’s ranking in Google searches. Beginning in April 2015, Google began giving mobile-ready websites an edge over sites without mobile support on the search engine results pages.
Adding to the importance of having a mobile-ready site is the rollout of Google’s mobile-first indexing, which began in March 2018. In Google’s own words, “Mobile-first indexing means that we’ll use the mobile version of the page for indexing and ranking, to better help our – primarily mobile – users find what they’re looking for.”
Although mobile-first indexing has not rolled out to all websites yet, Google is encouraging webmasters to make their content mobile-friendly to perform better in mobile search results.
You can check to see if Google considers your site mobile-ready by using Google’s free Mobile-Friendly Test. If your site has room for improvement, talk with an experienced web development resource to discuss your options.
2. Establish a business profile (or claim your business listing) on online directories and review sites.
Well-known sites such as Yelp, Facebook, Citysearch, and TripAdvisor, often rank higher than business websites in search results. If you’re listed on them, prospective customers will have an easier time finding you. Also, the links to your website from these sites (“backlinks”) can help improve your website’s ranking in search results.
The benefits of better visibility and backlinks also apply to listings on local directory sites like those provided by your chamber of commerce, tourism bureau, and other organizations.
If you operate your business from a physical location, you’ll also want to make sure you appear on Google My Business. Doing so will help your business show up higher in local search results, including on Google Maps.
Important Note: Wherever you list your business online, make sure your NAP (name, address, phone number) information is consistent. If you’ve moved or changed your name or phone number, you’ll want to update that information on every website that lists your company. Most SEO experts agree that search engines look for uniformity to validate that a business is legitimate. Inconsistency can result in your business information showing up incorrectly—or Google might choose to omit your business from the search engine results page altogether.
3. Have a keyword strategy that goes narrow rather than broad.
Keywords remain critical for helping Google determine what your website pages are about. However, they need context and must appear naturally in content that satisfies what your audience wants to know.
Rather than use keywords that consist of only one or two general words, focus on long-tail keywords that more closely resemble—in your customers’ words— the exact types of products and services your customers are looking for and the area where they hope to find them.
So, say you have a dog training business in Portland, Maine. Rather than using the general keywords of “dog training” or “dog trainers” (which have a tremendous amount of competition in search results), consider using wording that’s reflective of what your customers will be looking for online. For example,
- Dog trainers in Portland Maine
- Aggressive dog training Maine
- Therapy dog training Portland Maine
While these don’t have the same amount of monthly search traffic coming to them as “dog training” and “dog trainers,” they have far fewer businesses competing for them and will better your chances of ranking higher in search results. Also, they will help ensure that the people who do find your website are potential customers for the services you provide.
Bonus Tip: As you’re deciding which long-tail keywords to use, also consider the increase in voice-activated searches. Think about how people talk, not just how they type!
Where Can You Find More Information About SEO Best Practices?
If you want to learn more about ways you can improve awareness of your business online, consider following SEO and digital marketing blogs like Yoast, Moz, Search Engine Land, and Search Engine Journal. Also, contact SCORE to talk with a mentor who can direct you to reputable SEO specialists in your area, and who can advise you on all aspects of your business’s marketing endeavors.
Whether crafting an email to a prospective client or delivering a workshop to peers at a chamber of commerce event, your prowess in communicating affects how others perceive you
If you think logos are only important for big brands, think again. Logos provide big branding benefits for small businesses. How will a logo help your business?
- It will provide a way for prospects and customers to more easily recognize your brand. A logo can help make your brand more memorable by giving people imagery to associate with your company. So when people are looking for products and services like those you offer, they’ll be more likely to have your company in mind.
- It will facilitate consistency across your branding efforts. When you use a logo on your marketing and sales materials, whether printed or online, all pieces of collateral will present a unified front. That makes your brand appear more polished, professional, and consistent in how it presents itself.
- It can boost your credibility. A logo in and of itself doesn’t make your business any better at what it does. However, it can bring more legitimacy to your company in the eyes of potential customers and clients. A logo can help show you’re a credible, bona fide business.
What to Consider When Having a Logo Designed
Unless you’re a graphic designer by trade, chances are you personally don’t have the creative chops to design your own logo, so you’ll need to outsource that work. You might seek the help of a marketing firm, independent designer, or an online service like 99designs. We used 99designs to get a custom logo designed for FocusME, game changing support for women entrepreneurs. We were very pleased with the results and the cost!
Regardless of whom you hire to design your logo, keep the following things in mind as you collaborate with them:
- Your brand personality: How you want your business to be perceived—traditional, trendy, sophisticated, rugged, creative, high-tech, exciting, calming, etc.?
- Color scheme: Do you have other branding in place with which your logo’s colors need to match or complement? Also think about the psychological impact of different colors in marketing and branding.
- Adaptability: How will the design translate into different media? You’ll surely be using it in print marketing collateral of various sizes, and online, it will be seen on the screen of mobile devices and on desktop computer monitors. Also consider how it looks not only in color but also in black and white. Regardless of the size or color, you’ll want your logo to appear bold and distinctive.
The Lowdown on Landing an Effective Logo
Realize that before you ask someone to design your logo, you must first understand what your brand stands for. Think about your company’s core values and the traits and characteristics that define it. Communicating what you’re looking to convey through your logo is the first step in having one designed that will effectively and accurately represent your company.
If you’re thinking about having a logo created for your business and want help zeroing in on what it needs to project, contact SCORE Maine. With mentors who specialize in marketing and branding, we have volunteers who can provide you with expert guidance and feedback.
For businesses serving their local communities, ranking near the top of Google search results provides a key marketing edge. According to Google research into local search behavior, 4 in 5 consumers use search engines via mobile devices and computers to find local information such as store addresses, business hours, product availability, and directions. People choose from the first few search results rather than dig deeper in the search engine results page (SERP), so it is vital to get your business near the top of the searches.
Here’s a checklist of simple steps to help ensure your company doesn’t get lost in the local search shuffle:
- Make sure your business information is accurate and complete—everywhere that it appears online. If you haven’t already, make a list of all the places your company is listed online and verify you’ve provided up-to-date and consistent information across all channels. Google My Business, industry directories, social media channels, Yellowpages.com, etc.—your name, address, phone number, website URL, and other information should be uniform and relevant.
- Focus on delivering ease-of-use to your website visitors—and avoid applications like Flash media. Usability of your website can play a role in how long website visitors stay on your site, which in turn plays a role in the online authority Google attributes to your company. Flash media may create some fancy visuals, but it can slow the load time of your pages and detract from the user experience.
- Optimize your website for search. Aside from consulting an SEO (search engine optimization) specialist to help you with this, you can take some measures on your own. Pay attention to the page title tags on your site so they provide not only your company name, but also give a brief description of your business (just be sure to stay within 50–60 characters so your title isn’t cut off in the results). Your meta descriptions, the 150–160-character long snippet that displays with your title in search results, should provide searchers with information that captures their attention. And on your website, make sure you include contact info on every page.
- Blog consistently, so you’re regularly adding fresh content to your website. A website that updates its content often will stand a far better chance of ranking higher in local search than one that is stagnant. Your blog posts will enable you to provide fresh content targeting local keywords and search terms related to your business. Not only does blogging provide SEO benefits, but it also gives you an opportunity to demonstrate your expertise and build trust with your audience. And don’t forget to share your blog posts via your social media channels to generate more traffic to your website. Engagement on social media in combination with blogging works well in boosting your local search mojo.
- Make sure your website is mobile friendly. Google’s research revealed that 88 percent of local searches are done via smartphones. And those local searchers tend to take action quickly when they find what they’re looking for. According to their study, 50 percent of consumers who performed a local search on their smartphone proceeded to visit a store within one day. Those statistics say it all for stressing the importance of having a mobile-friendly website!
When you sell your products and services to a customer base that’s primarily local, these small efforts can make a big difference in your success in securing business through online searches. If you need guidance in getting on the right path with your online and other marketing efforts, remember that our SCORE mentors bring a broad spectrum of expertise and experience to small business owners in all industries. Contact us about our free mentoring services.
Ask nearly any small business owner and you’ll find that most struggle with keeping their company blog up to date. Although it may be tempting to forgo maintaining your blog in the midst of all else you need to do in running your business, research shows blogs boost business. Companies that blog regularly experience 97% more inbound links to their websites, and, according to HubSpot, marketers who have made blogging a priority are 13 times more likely to enjoy a positive return on investment.
While writing and publishing posts requires time, half the battle of blogging consistently is finding ideas for what to write about.
Here are some quick tips to help you land winning blog topic ideas:
Tap into FAQs
What types of questions do you often field from prospects and customers? Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) can be a virtual goldmine of potential topics because they’re undeniably centered on services, products, and processes your audience has interest in.
Check out what’s trending on Twitter
Even if you don’t have a Twitter account or actively engage with customers on the social network, you can still use it as a resource for discovering what’s hot in your industry. Search various hashtags related to the products and services you provide to see what others are writing about. Of course, you never want to steal anyone else’s content, but you can get inspiration and ideas for what you might give a fresh perspective on.
Think about how industry-related news affects you and your customers
Whether your industry is undergoing regulatory changes, supplier difficulties, or other developments that affect your company, you have a prime opportunity to share your insight to inform, educate, and sometimes put customers’ minds at ease if they’re worried about how the changes might affect them.
Talk up technological advances
Readers love to know what’s new and cutting edge. As with other industry-related news, improvements in technology that make your products, services, or processes better serve as worthy blog post topics.
Go behind the scenes
Prospects and customers love to get the inside scoop. Consider sharing an insider view about how you create your product or deliver your services.
Brands that connect with prospects on a personal level are generally more likely to gain customers when all things otherwise are equal with competitors. To create stronger customer relationships, allow readers an opportunity to get to know the people in your business. Consider sharing about their unique interests or hobbies (with their permission, of course!), their volunteerism efforts, or distinctive aspects of their professional credentials.
There’s plenty to draw from as you brainstorm topics for your blog. The key is to become more attuned to recognizing ideas when they present themselves—and taking the initiative to write them down before they escape your memory.
If you struggle with thinking of creative and relevant blog topics, we have SCORE mentors with marketing know-how and a broad range of industry experience who can help. Contact us to schedule a free mentoring appointment today.
Periscope, the live video streaming app for iOS and Android, has been making waves on the social media scene since it was purchased by Twitter in March 2015. Businesses and individuals ranging from Oprah to Spotify to Red Bull to Bernie Sanders use the app to reach millions viewers with live broadcasts of events, products and services. As Periscope’s tagline states, it allows its users to “explore the world through someone else’s eyes.”
How Does Periscope Work?
With the Periscope mobile app, you can make live broadcasts of whatever you’re doing, whenever you’re doing it. Live broadcasts can be shared through Twitter, shared with your Periscope followers or shared with their followers much like how a friend shares a post on Facebook. You can also invite select followers to a private broadcast.
Viewers can “heart” and comment on your broadcasts in real-time and you can respond to those comments immediately, creating an interactive experience.
If users miss a live broadcast, they can watch a replay of it for up to 24 hours after it has ended. Although broadcasts are removed after 24 hours, you can save them to your mobile device and post them online as often as you desire.
Using Periscope to Boost Business
You may be thinking, “Sounds great, but how could Periscope help my business?”
Here are a few ideas for making the most of Periscope’s marketing potential:
- Behind the scenes tour—to give viewers a glimpse of where the magic happens and who is making it happen at your business.
- Announcements—to launch a new product, introduce a new hire, announce new certifications or awards, etc.
- Product demos—to introduce new products or show how your products are made.
- Interviews with team members—to introduce new hires or showcase the expertise and skills of employees.
- Q&A sessions—to tackle FAQs about your company and its products and services or industry issues.
- Events—capture the action at an open house, customer appreciation day, award presentation, etc.
- How-to sessions—to give viewers step-by-step instructions to accomplish or use something.
- Focus groups—to capture honest input and feedback about products and services (either those that you’re considering or that you already offer).
While Periscope is still in its infancy, the key to making it work for your business is no different than for any other online social media platform:
- Be active.
- Be engaged.
- Be consistent.
To learn more about Periscope and how to use it, check out these resources:
- What Is Periscope and How Do I Use It via Small Business Trends
- Boom Social Periscope 101 Jumpstart Guide
- Reach out to SCORE Maine to connect with a small business mentor. Mentoring is free, and we have mentors well versed in marketing strategy who can help you brainstorm ways to most effectively use Periscope in your business.
The use of images in your marketing efforts can help draw attention to and build interest in your products and services, and it can make your brand more memorable.
But unless you are a photographer, pay one to take professional photos for you, or are satisfied with solely using amateurish pictures from your smartphone, you’ll likely find yourself using images created by someone else who has shared them online.
No problem, right?
Actually, it could be a big problem if you’re not careful.
Most Online Photos Aren’t Fair Game
Just because a photo is on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s fair game to use in your own online communications. Using images without permission, without attribution, or without paying for them (or some combination of the three), could land you in trouble for infringing on copyright law.
According to the U.S. Copyright Office, “Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture.”
Photographs are protected by copyright law, and that gives creators the right to determine whether or not they can be re-used—and how they can be re-used—by others.
Creators of images don’t have to file anything legally to be protected by copyright law. While registration is needed to fully enforce rights of ownership, the creator doesn’t have to go through the process of registration to legally use the © to indicate an image is copyrighted.
And it’s important to know that if an image doesn’t have the copyright symbol associated with, it doesn’t mean it’s not protected.
Do Your Homework Before Using A Photo That You Found Online
Before you use an image on your website, blog, social media, or in other marketing and advertising materials, it’s important to find the original source and find out if you can have license to use it. Some will allow you to use it for free with attribution (explicit credit given to the artist/owner of the work), while others might only allow use if you pay for it.
It’s well worth finding out the requirements before you download or save the image and use it for your own purposes. Penalties can be steep for copyright infringement, depending upon the particulars of a situation. They can range from $200 to $150,000.
Willful infringement typically results in higher penalties than unknowingly infringing on a copyright, but ignorance doesn’t get you off the hook.
That’s why it’s so very important to play it safe and ensure you know whether or not an image is OK to use.
Use Reputable Image Sources With Clear Guidelines
Luckily, there are a number of stock photography websites where the rules are clear about what you need to do to legally use the images available on them. Some allow you to download digital images on a transactional basis and others require you to subscribe to a plan.
Several that you may want to check out include:
Canva (Not only can you download professional images for $1 each, you can also create your own designs sized for blog graphics, various social media platforms, presentations, and posters.)
Freedigitalphotos.net (The Standard License allows you to use photos for free with attribution presented and placed according to their terms and conditions. Or you can purchase images in various sizes to use them without attribution.)
BIGSTOCK (Subscriptions for image plans start at $79 per month.)
Shutterstock (Options include “Pay As You Go” starting at $29 for two image downloads and monthly subscriptions for those with more robust needs.)
Morgue File (Provides photographs freely contributed by artists to be used in creative projects by visitors to the site. The site advises that before using images for business purposes, you should contact the photographers to ask permission and find out if and how they want attribution made.)
While it’s easy to download or copy images from any website or from Google Images, resist taking shortcuts. Remember, you could get slapped with a lofty fine, and even legal fees. When there are websites like those mentioned above and others, you have plenty of options to allow you to find and use images ethically and legally.
No matter how small or large your business, you need branding.
Branding, according to Entrepreneur Magazine, is “the marketing practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product from other products.”
For any solopreneur or small business owner, creating a memorable brand stands as a cornerstone for success. Behind the exceptional services and products you offer, you need a strong brand presence in your market to attract new customers and make you top of mind.
Branding involves instilling in prospects and customers a sense of what your company is all about. Branding, through your logo, business name, taglines, signage, website, print collateral, etc., sets expectations and drives people to feel a certain way when they see and recognize your company.
What Should a Small Business Consider When Establishing A Brand?
According to SCORE Portland Maine mentor and digital marketing specialist Lauren Guite, small business owners find few things more difficult than distilling their businesses into imagery, colors, and a few words. But that exercise is important for creating awareness and building a customer following.
“My advice to folks starting this process is to start big, putting everything down on paper,” shares Guite. “Have many brainstorming sessions with your trusted network of family and friends—with the people who get you and your business. Explore how you feel about your business and how you want your customers to feel—emotion is the strongest tie to your customers.”
Do’s and Don’ts of Branding for Small Businesses
If you’re at the start of your branding process, Guite suggests that you:
- Do research to understand how certain colors and fonts resonate with people.
- Do test your ideas before making a final decision! What your customer base thinks matters most.
- Don’t over-explain. Less is more! Keep branding simple to make it memorable.
Small Business Branding Help
Not all small business owners feel comfortable with or capable of making the right branding decisions. At the over 320 chapters of SCORE across the U.S., you’ll find mentors (like Guite at our SCORE Portland Maine Chapter) who have marketing and branding expertise. SCORE mentoring is free of charge, and many chapters also offer low-cost workshops and seminars that cover the topic of branding. You can also find webinars and articles relevant to small business branding via the SCORE national website.
If you would like some marketing and branding guidance for your small business, contact us!
More about SCORE Maine Mentor Lauren Guite
Lauren Guite is a digital marketing specialist for Environmental Defense Fund where she considers social sharing strategies and audience needs while implementing a content marketing strategy. Wanting to give back to her home state, she started volunteering for SCORE in November of 2013. After many years in Washington, D.C., she’s glad to be home and helping local businesses with their marketing challenges.