Six Essential Partners You Didn’t Know You Needed In Your Startup

Entrepreneurs jump into the formation of their startup businesses full of passion for their product or service. The energy and creativity of their dream is supported by their research, their expertise, and their carefully structured goals for business development. All of your preparation, education, and experience are incredibly valuable, but it is also important to recognize the areas where you need the help of others. There’s no reason for you to be an expert at everything, and trying to do so can take away from your focus on your core area of strength. To avoid unnecessary distraction from your mission, make sure that you’ve connected with experts in the six essential areas listed below. Your startup needs your undivided attention, and when you have these partners on your team (or at least in the bullpen), you avoid preventable problems and ensure that you’re operating from a position of full strength.

Legal

Startups need to have a lawyer to make sure that the crucial issues of ownership, control and intellectual property are completely formalized before the business gets started. Definitive agreements need to be written up early in order to make sure that items such as voting agreements, vesting schedules for equity, right of first refusal are addressed before an argument arises between cofounders. Also be sure you’ve registered your company with an Authorized Agent in the state where you will conduct business.

An attorney will help make sure that you own your intellectual property, particularly if your company is in the technology sector. If you were working for another company before setting out on your own you need to ensure that there are no invention assignment provisions working against you. Other important ownership issues can also be addressed, including invention assignment, confidentiality, and non-compete agreements. Finally, an attorney will be able to help you with the crucially important Non Disclosure Agreements that you will want to have when discussing your product with everybody from investors to clients.

Finance/Accounting

Financial advisory and accounting services are essential for early stage ventures and small businesses. They can help to define growth strategies and secure funding, as well as to advise you as your financial picture changes. They will be able to provide you with perspective that is removed from the business’ day-to-day operations, keep your finances in order, track progress and perhaps most importantly, to structure you company in a way that protects your personal assets. An accountant or financial advisor will explain the various benefits of different corporate structures and help you set up all of your revenue and expense tracking so that you won’t be caught off guard when tax time rolls around.

Human Resources

Startups often rely on friends or former colleagues to staff their companies, yet that approach can hold many pitfalls. New ventures need to be ready for a variety of personnel issues that can occur, and having an experienced Human Resources professional available can help to not only anticipate these problems but to help to navigate them. A strong personnel professional will understand the constant ebb and flow that comes with a startup, and will be able to advise you on important issues such as social media management and confidentiality, government regulations, employee relations and interpersonal dynamics.

Office Management

A good office manager is your startup’s traffic director. They enable you to remain focused on the task at hand without having to be distracted by the small but important tasks that keep a business running smoothly. When you have an experienced office manager attending to ordering and maintaining office equipment and supplies, scheduling various services and making sure that everything is being paid for and billed properly it frees you and other key personnel up to attend to your company’s mission and product. The expense is offset by the time that it gives you to do what you love to do.

Marketing

All too frequently, startups choose to forego marketing services and then end up wondering where all the customers are. This is usually the result of entrepreneurs both overestimating their own marketing abilities and underestimating the amount of time or expertise that marketing a new business requires. Startup founders often make the mistake of deciding to hold off on marketing until they consider themselves ready, or think that they will wait until they start making more money before investing in advertising efforts. Finding a marketing company with experience in introducing new product lines or businesses to the market allows you to implement a solid, comprehensive marketing strategy that will establish a brand identity that will be sustainable and will grow along with your company.

Public Relations

Public relations professionals do far more than generate press for startup companies. They are experts at researching what works for specific industries and demographics and then creating insightful strategies. Their suggestions will be based upon both qualitative and quantitative data that incorporates influence, creativity and what has been successful for your competitors, so that your outreach is based upon the appropriate context. A public relations professional will know how to find the people who will be interested in your business and help you to engage with them.

Signs That It’s Time to Outsource Your Marketing

When you own your own business, it can be very tempting to keep everything close to the vest. Marketing is one of those areas that a lot of small business owners prefer to keep in-house on the premise that the people on the inside have a better feeling for the company’s mission, branding, direction and goals. If you’ve been approached by a marketing firm or are just wondering whether outsourcing can offer you more benefits than your in-house operations, there are certain indications you can watch for that will tell you that it’s time to make the switch.

Too Much Work and Not Enough Time To Get It Done

This one’s pretty obvious. If your in-house marketing team’s projects simply aren’t getting done because there’s too much to do and not enough time to do it, then it’s time to make some kind of a change. With a choice of either bringing on another staff person or shifting to an external service, now’s the time to take a couple of projects and outsource them to see what you think of the end result.

Disappointing Returns On Investment

ROI is always the measure of success for a marketing campaign, and if you aren’t seeing the return that you thought you would then it may be an indication that your current program needs a boost. Unlike most in-house departments, marketing firms rely heavily on a variety of metrics to ensure that they are running a successful campaign that generates revenue, and they’re constantly tweaking their efforts to increase their results. Not only will they be able to measure the effectiveness of their efforts, they’ll also be able to show you how they can build on their success and take your small business marketing to a whole new level.

Deadlines Creep Up Constantly

If it feels like you’re constantly playing catch up and sweating to make a marketing project’s deadline then that’s a clear indication that you need some help. The farther behind you are, the less time and thought you can put into a project. When you have projects that you can’t give the time they deserve, turn them over to a marketing company. They have the resources that you’re struggling to find, and because marketing is all that they do they’re aware of what is working, what’s gotten stale, what’s working for your competitors and what’s likely to be trending tomorrow.

You Know That Your Marketing Would Be Better If You Had More Time

If you find yourself looking at your marketing campaigns with disappointment because you know they could be better, then it’s time to give it to someone who will raise the bar. Marketing companies dedicate all of their resources to achieving your objectives, and their reputation depends on how successfully they do it. They take the time to research your project, discuss a bevy of ideas that are based on quantifiable data, and create a campaign. They have personnel dedicated to testing and metrics so that they can see what is working and where improvements can be made, and then they refine the project until it meets your goals.

Wash, Rinse, Repeat

If you find that you marketing strategy is just a constant rehashing of the same campaign running through the same channels, then it’s time to bring in somebody with some new ideas. Not only will a marketing company have completely different resources and creative directions, it is also their job to be on the lookout for what’s up and coming.

Are You Following These Top Methods of Successful Business Blogging?

If you’ve been working hard to stay at the top of your internet marketing game then you know that having a business blog is essential. Blogs can attract new clients and establish you as a thought leader in your industry, but only if you’re doing it the right way. The truth is that having a successful business blog is a lot easier to talk about than it is to put into practice. After a while it can be hard to come up with topics that will engage your audience, and finding the time to write often enough to keep your content fresh can quickly become overwhelming.

Still, blogging is one of the most effective tools for SEO. A well-written blog will rank well on search engines, driving more qualified traffic to your site and capturing the interest of potential customers. So what’s the right way to do it? Read below for some tips and traits of truly successful business blogs.

Make Sure You Identify Your Goals and Purpose

Blogging isn’t about hearing yourself talk … or write. It is part of a business strategy, and should be treated as such. That means sitting down and identifying exactly what your goals are. Do you know what you want the company to get out of it? More importantly, what is the takeaway message you want your clients to get? If you answer those questions thoughtfully before you ever sit down to write, and remind yourself of those goals each time you start writing about a new topic, your content will be focused and much more likely to accomplish what you’re looking for.

Understand your Audience

The more you know about your target audience, the better you can write content that will interest and engage them. The goal is to write articles that will appeal to them and everyone else in your industry so that as they read and enjoy the article they will pass it on to colleagues. As people begin following you, look to see who else they are following, and check out what is trending in your industry.

Figure Out Your Frequency

A lot of business bloggers make the mistake of setting themselves unrealistic goals for how often they will post new content. The determination is based less on the calendar then on how often you can come up with content that meets your goals. If you have enough interesting content to post daily and you have the time to do it, then go for it. If you feel that the content is more appropriate for once a week, that’s fine too. The most important rule is that you stick to the schedule that you commit to. Your audience will be disappointed if you start out like gangbusters and then suddenly run out of steam. Consistency in quality of content and regularity in your publishing schedule is what’s most important.

Outsource to Quality Writers

If you find you don’t have the time to keep up with a blog, or if you lack confidence about your writing ability, take advantage of the wealth of external talent available. Whether you use a ghost writer or guest bloggers, having somebody with talent, meticulous research ability or industry expertise take on the responsibility is a great way to ensure that the job will be done well and that you’re providing your audience with engaging content.

Remember to Spread the Word About Your Blog and Measure Your Results

Publishing a blog is not enough — you also need to market it strategically. How do you do that? Take advantage of industry groups on social media sites like LinkedIn that will allow you to post content. Find partners who will allow you to add links to their sites. Post links to your blog on Facebook and in your tweets and include them in your newsletters and correspondence to clients. Perhaps most importantly, constantly work to increase your mailing list and high quality subscribers and followers. A successful business blog is a combination of engaging content and having the right people read it. Once you’re established, make use of one of the many useful websites that can help you track the success of your efforts, and if you need more traffic, up your SEO within your content. Google Keywords is just one of many sites that can show you the words that can make a difference.

Attract More Local Customers In 3 Simple Steps

Remember the old days when people did all their shopping on Main Street? Back then grocers, pharmacists and hardware stores made names for themselves based on more than just the goods that they sold. It was also about being a member of the community and somebody that could be counted on for their expertise. Reputations were made by the talk on the street about how a merchant stepped up to help, and they were likewise lost when word got out about a shady deal or a finger on the scale.

Times have changed and the digital marketplace has replaced Main Street, but the truth is that when it comes to local customers the old ways are still the best. The more you connect with customers and establish yourself as a trusted brand, the more positively your business will be perceived and the more likely it is that when consumers need what you’re selling, they’ll come to you. The secret is in knowing how to translate that old-fashioned customer service and brand integrity into the digital forum. Here are my top three recommendations for putting yourself at the top of the list when it comes to attracting local customers.

Get Listed on Local Search Sites

This is a step that far too few businesses are taking advantage of. From Yelp to Yahoo to Google Plus, every local search listing provides businesses with the opportunity to establish a profile for themselves at no charge. These profiles include information on hours, location, how to contact you and even limited space to provide potential customers with a brief description. Additional information can be provided for a fee, but it’s more important to make sure that you’re actually there and that you’ve taken ownership of the free listing than it is to have the biggest and best listing. Getting all of your pertinent data onto each site means that when people in your area search for your service, you show up. And showing up is half the battle.

Ask Customers for Online Reviews

This is crucial. Once you have your listing on local sites, it is essential that you ask your clients to write reviews of your business. The secret to doing this is to make it easy for them. If you are a service business, send out an email thanking your clients after you’ve provided them with a service and in the body of the email include links directly to the sites where a review would be submitted. Explain how much you appreciate their business and how important these reviews are – most people use reviews themselves to make decisions, but they may not realize how critically important it is for a small or medium-sized business to have lots of positive comments, or what a difference it makes. If you run a retail establishment, provide an iPad right in the store next to the register, or when you submit a check at your eating establishment. Most consumers rely heavily on reviews that they find online to make purchase decisions, so make sure that you have plenty and that they’re current.

One more note on this — make sure that you take the time to respond to reviews. Taking the time to post an explanation or make good in response to a negative review or complaint, or to thank somebody for their positive review, are both viewed positively by people considering your business.

Build Your Digital Presence

Today’s consumers want to know more about you than what is on your website — they want to see different sides beyond what you’re selling. This means that you need to use social media sites to provide a sense of yourself as an innovator, a thought-leader, and a trendsetter. Make sure that you have a blog that is providing readers with interesting, well-written content related to your business that is refreshed on a regular basis. Establish a Facebook page and an Instagram account that posts photos and events on a regular basis so that customers can engage with you. The more of your clients follow and comment on your posts, the more people in their networks will see you as well. Finally, learn how to use Twitter and build a quality following by posting and retweeting news that is of interest to your target audience and industry.

Mastering the digital marketplace is not difficult – it just takes an investment in learning about the various tools that are out there. Once you’ve become comfortable and start engaging with each, you’ll find that you’ve given yourself a whole new way to relate to your clients and establish yourself as a trusted brand.

Internet Marketing Techniques You Need to Start Now

When you’re a small business trying to make a big splash, it’s all about finding the most effective ways to engage with your customer and potential customer base. Traditional advertising was all about putting your name in front of the public in a sort of, “If you advertise it, they will come” approach. Today’s successful entrepreneurs are figuring out ways to start conversations on the theory that the more relatable they are, the more people will want to interact, share, and buy.

The top trends in today’s internet marketing revolve around simplicity, ease of use, and ease of sharing. They establish brand identity and authority and do so with a combination of powerful images and memorable content, all of which has to be mobile friendly. Here are some suggestions for techniques you can start putting to work for you today.

Mobilize!

If your site or any of your marketing isn’t mobile friendly, this is the very first thing you need to fix. The majority of purchases and content-sharing is being done via mobile device, and if your site isn’t mobile optimized, people will quickly leave you to find one that is. It’s as simple as that.

Content, Content, Content

The best way to establish yourself as an expert in your industry is by proving it on a regular basis with interesting, engaging content. Writing blogs on your site or as a guest blogger or Tweeting out articles and publishing them on sites like LinkedIn give you the opportunity to have articles shared and reshared. This not only gives you the chance to provide valuable information that establishes you as a thought-leader, it also provides the opportunity to build rapport and develop a following.

Images are Everything

Social media opportunities abound, and successful marketing approaches take advantage of the diversity of opportunities. One of the top trends has been to utilize pages that focus on images … think Pinterest and Instagram. The advantages of these types of sites is that they give consumers the opportunity to find items quickly, form immediate opinions, and act spontaneously. Not only should you use evocative images on these quick hit types of sites, you also should make sure that your blogs include plenty of visuals to give your text context.

Keep it Simple,…

The old KISS sales approach (Keep It Simple, Stupid) is becoming more and more effective in marketing today. With so many options available, consumers appreciate the opportunity to find what they’re looking for easily, make decisions quickly, and then purchase simply. Make sure that you have plenty of hyperlinks to purchase, and don’t overburden your visitors with too many choices – if your site is cluttered, clean out the extraneous. Present information simply and make the purchase process quick, and you’ll find people referring their friends to you for the great experience they had.