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3 Reasons Why You Need a Business Logo

 

 

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.?

 

 

  • 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.

 

Small Business Saturday: How To Generate Buzz and Attract Customers

 

Small Business Saturday, the Saturday that’s after Thanksgiving and on the heels of Black Friday, falls on November 26 this year. As one of the busiest shopping days of the year, it presents a wonderful opportunity to springboard your business into a successful holiday season.

 

Are you preparing to make the most of it?

 

If you haven’t given it much thought, there’s still time! The American Express Shop Small® website has numerous ideas and resources to help you make this Small Business Saturday the best ever.

 

Here are some additional tips to help you gear up for the day and build excitement that will last into the weeks that follow:

 

  • Craft a Small Business Saturday promotional offer to draw customers to your business that day. Shoppers are always looking for great deals around Black Friday, so make yourself stand out with an offer they can’t resist.

 

  • Create flyers to advertise your Small Business Saturday offerings and drop them into customers’ shopping bags in the weeks leading up to November 26.

 

  • Partner with other small businesses to promote each other’s products and services. Share each other’s marketing materials and talk up your fellow merchants to customers. Small business is all about mutual support. Everyone in the local business community wins when that happens!

 

  • Use social media aggressively to promote Small Business Saturday and your special offers. On Facebook, consider paying to boost posts so they’ll have greater exposure. On Twitter and Instagram, use the hashtags #SmallBizSat and #ShopSmall in your updates so people looking for participating businesses and special offers can find you.

 

  • Run an email marketing campaign to raise awareness of Small Business Saturday and the special deals you’re offering to customers that day.

 

The Shop Small website has free customizable Small Business Saturday marketing materials (for your website, social media, and your storefront) that you can download and print to help you in your efforts to promote the event and your business.

 

And don’t forget to tap the knowledge and experience of a SCORE mentor as you formulate a plan for driving sales this Small Business Saturday. SCORE volunteers offer expertise in all aspects of starting and running a small business. Who better to help you make this Small Business Saturday a success?

Blog Brainstorming Tips

 

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.

Get personal

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.

 

 

Professional Development Benefits Your Business

Whether you’re a brand new entrepreneur or a small business owner who has been in business for years, expanding your knowledge and fine-tuning your skillsets are crucial for sustained success.

Professional development never goes out of style, and if you make it a priority, it can set your business apart from your competitors. Dedicating time and energy on a continual basis to honing your talents and learning new things will show your customers that:

  • You’re dedicated to providing them with the best products and services.
  • You can provide them with more value than your competition can.
  • You have a grasp on the bigger picture and are better able to propose solutions.
  • You’re worth every penny they’re paying you.

Finding Opportunities For Professional Development Isn’t Difficult. Finding Discipline To Follow Through With Professional Development Can Be.

As you explore how you might boost your knowledge and improve your skills, consider these effective and affordable options:

  • Reputable industry or topical blogs—Look for blogs that specifically address topics related to your types of products and services and for those about managing a business.
  • E-books—Ditto on what we said about blogs.
  • Business podcasts—With a vast selection of podcasts about leadership, marketing, business, and industry trends out there, you have plenty of options. To stay productive when you sit down to listen, consider hitting “play” while you’re taking care of “no brainer” busy work.
  • SBA online training center courses—In addition to a wealth of informative articles, the SBA also offers a number of free online courses to guide you through different aspects of starting and managing a business.
  • Local lunch & learns, seminars, etc.—Chambers of commerce often offer these types of programs to help their members manage their businesses better. They also provide the opportunity to network with other professionals in the community.

To make the most out of any of the above professional development tools, also consider signing up for free face-to-face or email mentoring with certified SCORE mentors. They have knowledge of and experience in every aspect of starting and running a business, so they’re well equipped to guide you as you navigate the opportunities and challenges of entrepreneurship.

Ready to get your small business off the ground or take it to the next level? Contact us to get started!

Is Email Marketing Worth the Investment?

With social media, texting, and other instantaneous ways of marketing your products and services, you might be wondering if anyone really pays attention to emails anymore.

Statistics say they do.

  • According to eMarketer, 69.7 percent of internet users say email is their preferred method of communicating with businesses.
  • And Salesforce Marketing Cloud’s 2015 State of Marketing report shows…
    • Seventy-four percent of marketers believe email produces (or will produce) ROI.
    • Seventy-three percent of marketers agree that email marketing is core to their business

How Could Email Marketing Help Your Small Business?

You can use email marketing to fulfill a number of objectives. For example you can…

  • Introduce new products and services.
  • Announce special offers, promotions, and contests.
  • Provide tips to help customers use your products and services more effectively.
  • Share industry news that will affect your customers.
  • Share event highlights.
  • Introduce new team members.
  • Highlight recent awards or press coverage your business has received.

You can get the most from your email marketing efforts when you integrate them with your other online marketing strategies. For instance, you can share links to your blog posts and other pages of your website in your email marketing messages, share your email marketing message links on social media, and incorporate links to your social media accounts in your email marketing messages. All of those things will boost the visibility of each platform you’re using.

Small Business Email Marketing Platforms

Several small business email marketing solutions exist. Some are free, and some have fees (which typically start out small and increase as you increase the size of your mailing list).

As you explore the options, consider these things:

  • Your budget
  • The frequency at which you’ll be sending email marketing messages
  • Your level of comfort in using technology tools (some platforms are more user-friendly than others)

Most importantly, know the rules and regulations set forth by the Federal Trade Commission for email marketing. There are laws in place to protect people from unwanted solicitation emails. Fail to comply with them and you could find yourself paying a hefty fine. No small business owner needs that!

If you’re considering making email marketing part of your business marketing strategy but don’t know where to begin, talk with a SCORE mentor. At SCORE, we have a team of dedicated volunteers who can help guide you in your marketing efforts and help you with all other aspects of growing your business.

Can I Use that Image from the Web?

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.)

A Reminder

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.

How to Use # Hashtags

Although hashtags are seen on nearly every social media channel and promoted on just about every TV show, they still confound many small business owners. Marketers everywhere are using them to amplify their brand awareness, but how can they benefit your small business?

Hashtag Basics

According to Wikipedia, “a hashtag is a word or an unspaced phrase prefixed with the hash character, #, to form a label.”

Hashtags help people identify what specific pieces of online content are about. By categorizing content, hashtags make it easier for readers to search for and find social media posts focused on the topics they have an interest in.

Where To Use Hashtags

Most major social media platforms give people the ability to search using hashtags to find relevant posts. They include:
• Twitter (the network that introduced us to hashtags)
• Facebook
• Pinterest
• Google Plus
• Instagram
• YouTube

When you click on a hashtag on these networks, you’re taken to a list of posts that have used that hashtag and presumably contain content related to the topic.

How can you use hashtags to drive more traffic to your social media posts? Here are a few ideas:

  • Include hashtags associated with keywords related to your industry, products, and services (for example: #jewelry or #lawncare) in your posts. First search on the social media platform to make sure you’ve selected a hashtag others are using to categorize posts. If you use a hashtag no one else is using, it won’t help you.
  • Use business and location hashtags together to help people find you. For example: #PortlandME #restaurants.
  • Create a hashtag for a special event you’re hosting, a marketing campaign, or your brand. But be careful when using hashtags for branding and promotional purposes. Look on Hashtags.org or Twubs.com and search on social networks and on search engines (such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo) to see if a hashtag might already be in use by another company. Using a hashtag already associated with another brand will potentially confuse people, and you might find yourself in legal hot water. As legal protections for hashtags representing brands are a mounting concern, consider consulting an attorney who’s knowledgeable about social media before creating and using a hashtag to promote your business or event.

A Few Other Hashtag Tips

When using hashtags in your social media posts, keep these best practices in mind:

  • Don’t use too many hashtags at once. One or two is best. Three is OK, but don’t go beyond that. More makes posts look cluttered—and a bit desperate for attention.
  • Place hashtags at the end of your posts rather than mixed into the main message. Posts with hashtags in the middle of their sentences are harder to read because the flow of words is interrupted with the #.
  • Don’t use hashtags that aren’t relevant to the content in your post. You’ll disappoint—and maybe even anger readers—if you use a popular hashtag to draw attention to a post that has nothing to do with the topic.

#Finalthought

It may take some time and trial and error to learn to use hashtags effectively, but they’re worth the effort because they can help you expand awareness of your small business and draw more of your target audience to you.

Branding Your Business

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.

 

3 Tips to Boost Your Linked In Profile

With over 300 million users, it’s no secret that LinkedIn is one of the most effective online social networking platforms around. But could you be missing out by not paying attention to some simple details? Even if you don’t have a lot of time to devote to interacting on LinkedIn, tending to some basic “housekeeping” on the platform can help boost your credibility and make people more inclined to connect with you.

  1. Put a face to your name. Use a professional-looking headshot. Other professionals are more likely to connect with you if you’ve taken the few minutes it requires to replace that generic shadowy silhouette with your photo. A profile with a photo is 11 times more likely to be viewed than one without. It’s a rookie mistake not to have a photo. Likewise, steer clear of using profile pictures like couple’s photos, glamour shots, and anything excessively casual (e.g. wearing a t-shirt and baseball cap while proudly holding up a 4-foot sailfish).Need help?  Check out the pointers for choosing the best LinkedIn profile photo in this SlideShare from SUCCEED Powered by Staples.
  1. Use first-person voice. Yes, LinkedIn is a professional platform, but that doesn’t mean you need to sound overly formal. Your profile is YOU sharing your professional experience. Avoid sounding aloof by writing it in third person. Which of the samples below sounds more open and engaging?  For over fifteen years, Joe Smith has worked with clients, helping them increase sales and improve productivity. He is dedicated to educating and empowering business professionals with game-changing knowledge, tools, and resources.orFor over fifteen years, I have worked with clients, helping them increase sales and improve productivity. I’m dedicated to educating and empowering business professionals with game-changing knowledge, tools, and resources.Your LinkedIn profile’s purpose is for you to connect one-to-one with other professionals. You’ll risk appearing disconnected if your profile reads like you didn’t write it yourself.
  1. Include your contact info. Nothing is more frustrating than looking up a public LinkedIn profile in search of a phone number or an email address and discovering the person hasn’t included those things. Go to your profile RIGHT NOW and add that info if it’s not already there. Remember, it’s not just your first-level contacts who might seek someone with your credentials and expertise. Make it as easy as possible for any prospective clients to find and contact you.

While none of the above action items take a lot of time or effort to tackle, they can make a big difference in how others perceive you on LinkedIn. They’ll make you more approachable and accessible to other professionals, so don’t wait if your profile needs those basic updates. And remember, SCORE mentors are here to provide feedback and advice as you hone your presence on LinkedIn and your other social media platforms.
In fact, we’re here to help you with all aspects of starting and running a business. Learn more about SCORE’s FREE mentoring, affordable workshops, and other resources.

How to Pitch Your Business

When you have been developing a product for months or years, there comes a time when you have to focus on getting seed funding or other sources of investment. Pitching, just like networking in general, is about building relationships and communicating well about why your product or service is a winner. Take the time to hone your pitch and try to avoid common pitfalls.

Consider these tips:

  1. Focus on the problem you’re solving.

New entrepreneurs often talk about their companies in terms of what they do (“we make X, we offer Y”). Instead, focus on describing WHY your product or service matters. Frame your story from the end user’s perspective, e.g. “Dog owners are struggling for control when walking their pet, so we help them by…” Explain the pain point, and how you’re solving the problem. Use stories to help bring concepts to life. Bill Feldman, Portland native and entrepreneur, created the Liberty Wristband after walking his dog Henry. His dog was constantly pulling the leash of out of his owner’s hand, and Bill engineered a unique solution that he is now taking to market.

  1. Don’t use jargon.

Ditch the buzzwords, acronyms and any industry jargon that requires a dictionary or advanced degree. You want everyone to understand and connect with what you’re saying instantly.

  1. Adjust your pitch to each situation.

You likely have an elevator speech you’ve practiced. This pitch makes a compelling investment case in a minute or less, and there is a time and place to use it. When you are engaged in casual conversation, be sensitive to the give and take; don’t deliver a monologue about your idea.

  1. Don’t pitch your resume.

A good pitch focuses on what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and how it’s going to make a difference. This isn’t the time to cover the general work and educational background of everyone on the team. Don’t include all the companies where you worked or schools you attended during initial conversations.

  1. Hold off on the crazy projections.

Perhaps your friends and family are impressed with how you will grow from 10 to 10 million users in two years. Investors and experienced businesspeople don’t want their time wasted with growth projections, which are best guesses. Describe your business now and what resources it will take to scale.

  1. Consider feedback a gift.

There’s a lot of personal pride involved in any venture. Put it aside when pitching your company. Expect people to have tough questions. They’re not attacking you personally; rather, they’re thinking about your idea from their points of view. Learn how to take critical feedback to make improvements.