Lucy Sanders


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Use Google Trends To Reach Your Customers

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If there’s one thing we like to remind small business owners about their copy, it’s that it’s not about them. Ever.

In order to attract, connect, and convert, the words in all of your marketing materials must speak to your target audience. Understanding the way your ideal customer thinks, feels, and acts is the key to an effective campaign.

Read on for how Google Trends can help small business owners get into the minds of the masses.

What Is Google Trends?

Google Trends is a free search tool that provides graphic data on internet users’ search patterns.

Unlike Google’s keyword tool, Google Trends allows users to search one or several terms for their popularity over time. If you want to narrow your results, you can search by region, or compare trends in different regions. Business owners with an office on either side of the country will appreciate the ability to create more effective marketing plans, tailored to their customers wherever they live.

Benefits Of The Google Trends Tool

Visit Google Trends and you’ll find a loop of “Hot Searches” — current trending headlines and stories on the net. This is great information if you want to tie a popular topic into a blog post headline, tweet, or status update; you can bet people will find you, and if your post amuses, entertains, informs or surprises, there’s a good chance it will make the rounds online.

Here are a few ideas on how you can maximize this search tool to better understand and reach your customers:

  • Keyword Research: Confirm whether the keywords you have on your site are losing traction. If there’s evidence of a downward trend, test alternate keywords. Always check them again in Google’s keyword tool to ensure your terms are popular, but their competition isn’t too high.
  • Content Research: Compare search terms on a regular basis to keep your editorial calendar relevant. I was planning to start using the word “mompreneur” on my blog. A Google Keyword search showed it wasn’t being used as often as I’d suspected and my search on Google Trends confirms this.
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Scaling Up Your Business

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Perhaps you have been in business for some time and you have decided that it is time for your business to grow.   This is a very exciting time and you have a lot of homework to do before you make your move. How will scaling up your business affect your bottom line?

Economies of scale

Anyone who has ever made a pot of soup knows that it barely takes any extra effort or money to make a double batch.  This is an example of the economy of scale.  While the output increases by a lot (in the case of soup, 100%) the inputs only increase by a small amount.  In your business, you will need to take a look at what your current margins are, and how those margins will change if you greatly increase you r number of sales.

Overhead costs

If you decide to get bigger, you may outgrow the space you are currently operating from.  You may find that you are too busy to perform all of the functions that you have been accustomed to doing for your business free of charge (while it is great for the CEO to answer the phones and assemble the products in the bootstrapping days, there comes a point where this gets to be rather inefficient use of time and some employees will have to be hired.)  You may have to keep your business open for longer hours and as a result incur higher utility bills.  Once again, it is important to calculate how your newly larger revenues will stack up to these increased costs.

Cash Flow Issues

When you expand your business, you may experience a lag between expansion and revenue realization.  How many months do you think you could carry your business with what’s in the bank right now?  What will your increased monthly expenses look like?  How many months could you carry the business at the increased monthly rate?  The answer to this problem is likely borrowing or investment.  Either way, lenders or investors will want to see a solid business plan to show how your expansion is a good business decision for your company.

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Realigning Your Business Strategy: A Real-Time Case Study

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Small organizations can undergo drastic shifts when employees come and go. In a small team, each person’s role is integral to the business’s function. Everyone works on tasks that aren’t in the job description. So when an employee leaves the company, things really change. But an employee exit doesn’t have to be a negative thing. It can be an opportunity to realign, refocus, and redefine what the company offers and how it delivers its best service.

Such is the case here at Write Ahead. Sabrina has left her position as Market Research Assistant to work at Colliers International. While we’ll miss her greatly, we’re also thrilled about the opportunities she has, and we’re grateful that we got the chance to work with her. She’ll stay on for some contract work and I’m certain we’ll remain great colleagues.

In Sabrina’s absence, the areas we need help in our business are abundantly clear. Social media support, web site support and ongoing marketing are all crucial to our continued success. Now that Celeste and I are handling all of those important tasks again, we’re asking ourselves some key questions:

  • Is our overall business model the right one to support our own goals while exceeding our clients’ expectations?
  • Do we have adequate systems in place to measure the ROI of our marketing efforts?
  • Is it time to adjust our marketing and business strategy so we can keep helping our clients become wildly successful?

We ask our clients a lot of these questions when we’re writing their business plans. But like any business, it’s easy to become immersed in the delivery of our products and services while internal strategy takes a back seat. With one team member gone, it’s clear that some of our processes need to be reworked. I’m really excited about this process and when we’re ready to hire again (which will be really, really soon), we’ll be even more prepared.

When was the last time you reviewed your business strategy? Let us know in the comments!

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Entrepreneur, How Does Your Business Grow?

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Did you go into business to be  your own boss? Did you dream of breaking the limit on the cash you could earn in the 9 to 5 world?

Did you see an opportunity you had to take, filling a gap in the market? A burning passion you just had to explore?

Your definition of success will depend on the reason you got into business in the first place. Your idea of success will also define your plan for, and comfort level, with growth.

Running your own business can be more about work-life balance and the freedom to control how you spend your time versus a quest for more profit, more employees and more acquisitions.

It can be about staying small, or just big enough, to meet all your criteria for a business that makes you happy.

For Some Entrepreneurs, It’s Not About Going Big

For entrepreneurs with competing priorities, like school, family, or a commitment to homemade versus mass-produced, the idea of growth can cause panic. For creative freelancers, too much growth can quickly take them away from the work they love to do. While outsourcing can work for other professionals, for artisans it can mean concerns about consistent quality, and time spent away from their craft in order to manage someone else.

When striking the right balance is the goal, as it is for many mompreneurs, students, and creative types, managing a business with new and overwhelming demands quickly resembles someone else’s dream. Growth becomes stressful and being the boss isn’t any fun.

What Does Growth Mean For Your Business?

If you’re the kind of entrepreneur who aims to keep things small, “growth” can simply mean earning the privilege of choice. The sweet spot is a large enough clientele that allows you to turn away work that isn’t suited to your skills and interests. It’s the ability to do things on your own, without dividing your time managing other people*. Growth can also mean the ability to enjoy doing less of the things you don’t want to, by hiring the right person for the job.

What does the perfect business look like for you? How would you like your business to grow?

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Business Expansion: Grow Better, Not Larger

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Expanding? What’s wrong with the business you’ve already got?

Entrepreneurs are bold- they are brave enough to start businesses in uncertain times, they throw convention out the window, quit perfectly good “jobs” and define themselves by the way they are changing the world through their products and services. Sometimes, though, entrepreneurs bite off more than they can chew.

One of the major reasons that businesses seek funding is in order to expand into new markets. The question they need to be asking is: Why now?

Well, I need to make more money…

When net profits are not ideal, there are many things to look at. Sometimes, the reason that entrepreneurs feel like they are not making enough money has more to do with margins and overhead than gross revenue. Pretend for a minute you sell mall food-court cookies – at a buck a cookie, you are taking in a lot of cash from customers every day (that’s your gross revenue). Your cookies only cost you about $0.20 each to make, so your mark-up is pretty good (in fact your gross margin is 80%). However, you are working a 7 day week on your cookie chain gang and making very little money to take home. Your family is getting sick of you and your mall cookies. Is expansion to a second location the answer? Heck no- fixing the business you already have is the answer. In the case above, it is likely the location that is killing our fearless entrepreneur. Malls have notoriously high rents, but if you are only making $0.80 on each transaction, you have to do a whole lot of transactions to cover your overhead costs.

Rather than sinking a lot more (borrowed) money into another location, our cookie warrior can look into coffee sales, or perhaps gift baskets, or even gift cards as ways of getting people to drop a little more cash per transaction. Perhaps the location that they are in needs some reconsideration- if the foot traffic at this particular mall is not high enough then maybe it is time to see about getting out of that lease.

Have you expanded your business recently? What was the primary driver in your decision making process?

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Build A Blog That Rocks Their Socks Off

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If you want to create a blog that attracts a growing audience, builds a relationship with your readers — and provides *you* with enough enjoyment to maintain it over the long term — you’ll need to start with a focused plan for success.

Consider Your Blog Parameters: What’s Your Focus?

With millions of blogs in existence on every subject imaginable, and likely a dozen or more competing businesses just in your own city, you’ll need to find a focus. Think about what you have to offer your readers, and how you can offer it in a way that sets your brand apart from all the other bloggers already out there.

Although it may seem counter-intuitive, how you blog for a massive audience is to write for the few. Think you’ve narrowed your focus too much? Now narrow it a bit more by writing for your audience in a way that no one else does. You’ll gain a loyal following by offering something truly unique and relevant to that core group of people who absolutely love what you do — even in the crowded blogosphere.

Make It Easy For People To Find You — And Read Your Posts

If you’re new to blogging, you may not have a lot of experience writing for the web or with search engine optimization. Take some time to learn the basics. Writing for the web is easy to learn; it’s all about using techniques that keep the reader’s needs in mind. Our post on Quick Tips To Improve Your Web Writing will help you format your posts so your readers can easily digest them.

By taking the time to learn about keywords, title tags, and meta descriptions, you’ll give search engines the information they need to correctly index your blog posts so would-be readers can find you. If SEO is all new to you, this post on making your website SEO friendly will give you a quick intro.

Include Marketing And Promotion In Your Blog Plan

Many newbie bloggers believe that by consistently writing blog posts that don’t suck they’ll attract an audience. Not so. You will need to include marketing and promotion in your blog plan if you want to attract readers.

There are many websites that offer strategies for marketing your blog. However, if you’re new to blogging I’d highly recommend signing up for Social Triggers blog updates. Why not get your blog marketing and promotion right from the get go? Derek Halpern offers incredibly valuable advice based on the psychology behind how people behave (and buy) online.

Are you ready to start a blog for your new business? We’d love to hear your ideas for building a blog that stands apart from the crowd!

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Business or Hobby-Is your start up idea worth pursuing?

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One of the many reasons that people decide to start small businesses is that they are passionate about something. Following your dream and opening a business can be very rewarding, but not every passion is a profitable business. How can you tell if your entrepreneur idea can be taken to the next level?

If you plan to make some kind of goods or provide some kind of service, you need to first figure out what your ballpark costs will be.  Costs include more things than just materials, so it helps to take your time and really brainstorm all of the different things that you will need to run your dream business.

Let us take an example of a person who has been crocheting baby clothes for friends and relatives for some time and wants to take the next step and start selling them.  There are several different costs that they need to consider.  First there is the cost of yarn, crochet hooks, and patterns.  These are the supplies and tools of the trade, and while vital, these are hardly the biggest costs to consider.  How will the clothes be advertised and where will they be sold?  If there is to be some kind of website, what will the associated costs be?  Perhaps there will be craft fairs or other events at which to launch the product line.  Will there be some kind of packaging?

These are all important- but we haven’t yet taken into account the most valuable business resource of all- time.  What is the proprietor’s time worth?  Cottage industry businesses such as this one thrive on the labour of the owner.  If the owner had to pay an employee minimum wage to do all of the things that they do for free for the business, they would soon go broke.  It is a good idea to look at the time that you will spend on producing your good or service and see what it would cost per hour in your own labour if you were to pay yourself minimum wage.  Look at it again in terms of what you would like to get paid per hour.  This simple exercise has stopped many a dreamer from going much further with their business plan because it is so telling.  If it takes 3 hours to crochet an item, then assuming the minimum wage (in British Columbia, Canada), our  entrepreneur will have to charge over $30  in order to come close to breaking even.  If that seems reasonable, then let’s carry on and start that business plan.  If not, let’s rethink a bit- is there some way to cut those costs or is there something else that you are passionate about that might be a more business worthy idea?

What start up ideas are you mulling over this year?  Have you done any brainstorming as to whether or not they can be brought to fruition?

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To Plan Well, Plan to Fail

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Too often, entrepreneurs leave risk analysis out of their business plans. But a really strong plan takes the good with the bad, and recognizes that the projected business model will probably not play out as described. There are too many unknowns – too many external factors that could undermine your assumptions.

A thorough (and realistic) business plan identifies the specific risks of the business. It also explains what the business owner will do to mitigate those risks.

How do you identify the risks of a particular business? Once you’ve described what has to happen for you to reach your sales and profit goals, think about all the things that could cause the opposite to happen.

What might cause your marketing plan to fail?

What could make your sales lower than projected?

Could your suppliers disappear? Could your lease agreement be cancelled?

Then, describe what you would do in any of these situations to make sure your business could stay afloat.

What are the risks of your business?

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Marketing Tips For Startups: Advertising On Craigslist

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New startups with small advertising budgets can find great success attracting new clients by posting their products and services on craigslist. In addition to being free, advertising on craigslist allows you to reach a very large audience — an estimated 60,000,000 visitors each month in the US alone. Read on for tips on how to maximize the effectiveness of your craigslist ad.

First Things First, Target Your Audience

With so many visitors scanning through free ad sites every day, it’s important to follow these guidelines for more effective marketing:

  • Target the people specifically interested in your services. Narrowing down your ad will attract those who are ready and willing to buy what you have to offer.
  • Write a catchy, keyword-optimized title — if you don’t hook your prospect right away with a headline that stands out, they’ll move on to the next ad.
  • Take care to post your ad in the correct category for your product or service. Not only will you lose potential customers if you don’t, you run the risk of appearing spammy, and may find your ad is deleted.

Maximize Exposure Of Your Product or Service

These tips will help you attract more traffic to your ad by using keywords.

  • Write two or three ads with different keywords, and rotate through them on a consistent basis. Updating or revising your ads every few days will keep them near the top of the list.
  • Write ads that are focused on one key service. If, for example, you run a writing business, you could create one ad specifically focused on copywriting, another on editing services, and a third more general ad for business writing.
  • In each ad, include a list of every service you offer. This way, people may find your ad for any number of keywords, even when your ad is targeted to one particular service

How To List On Craigslist: Final Tips

These final suggestions will help your ad stand out among the many other business listings on craigslist.

  • Post when the site tends to receive the most traffic — between 4 and 9 pm
  • Add an image to increase interest in your ad
  • List your phone number at the top and bottom of each ad to make it easy for people to contact you

I hope these tips help your startup find new clients immediately. If you have had good — or bad — experiences using craigslist to market your business, we’d love to hear about it. Please leave us a comment below!

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Four Ways to Promote your Business in a New City

Posted by Lucy Sanders on

video of Danny Iny of Firepole Marketing discussing how to find an online market’s demographics, value and interests. We think it’s a very useful resource for learning more about an online market. However, this week we wanted to spin the business problem slightly. This month at Write Ahead we are working on connecting with entrepreneurs in the Seattle market for the first time. Ever wondered how you can promote an offline business in a new geographic market using social media and other online tools? Let this be the year when your business goes abroad. Here are a few tools that we’re putting to work right at this moment.

Connect with groups on LinkedIn.

A quick LinkedIn groups search with keywords containing your target location and audience will usually produce a long list of relevant groups to check out. We like connecting with active groups that often have person to person engagement in the comment threads. Some groups aren’t moderated very well and members shamelessly self-promote repeatedly. Not so helpful. Join a group that hits the right note for you, sign up to receive updates, and start commenting on posts that are relevant to your business. The more you post insightful and useful replies, the more you’ll be recognized for your expertise and enthusiasm, and members will be more open to engaging with you.

Say hello through Twitter, Facebook or by E-mail.

Start building a list of influencers and businesses you want to connect with in your target area. Add them on Twitter or Facebook and send a short hello or send an introduction and question by e-mail. Don’t be afraid to reach out and say hi to someone you haven’t met before. If you’re at a loss for how to start doing this, Derek Halpern of Social Triggers has written an excellent guide for getting people you don’t know to help you out.

Blog about regional current events.

Business clients in particular want to know that you are knowledgeable and informed about their market before they contact you. Blogging about current events and market news in their region is an excellent way to send the right signal to a business client. Blogging about regional events is also a great opportunity to use SEO tools to improve your organic search results in your target area.

Keep track of your progress.

We hope you have some sort of analytics software installed to keep track of your website traffic! Tools such as Google Analytics make it easy to keep track of where your visitors are coming from. Set SMART objectives  for benchmarks such as time spent on your website, visitor counts, and conversions. Then set up campaigns that track visitors from your target geographic area and make a note of which promotional tactics are giving you the best conversion rates. This is more of an art than an exact science. Be creative and experiment!

Have you branched our into another geographic area before? Which tactics worked best for you? Let us know below.