Archives for posts with tag: Popular Thoughts

When you think of team-building, what comes to mind? For many of us, the mental picture is a cringe-worthy image of trust exercises, corporate retreats and “mandatory fun” (we all know there’s no such thing). You might even think of this funny-because-its-true commercial about team-building that American Airlines put out a few years ago:

It’s not a big shock that team-building doesn’t really work. People don’t work together because they’re friends or because they like each other – far from it, sometimes. Forcing colleagues to “be a team” through silly exercises (or by making them travel away from their friends and family to “bond” with each other) is often completely ineffective and can even create a negative situation. Yet many companies still jump through the team-building hoops because they want a workforce that truly is a TEAM. They want their staff to get along, work together, focus on goals, be productive and help build and grow the company.

So how can you get those results without team-building exercises?

John M. Fischette of StartupNation.com advocates something better than team-building: Community-building.

The key to community-building lies with the company. The company must make the employees feel like they really are part of a community, not just cogs in a machine. Many corporate office workers in a variety of fields have told me that their companies have long since stopped making them feel appreciated or supported – Instead, they say they face excessive expectations, hostile work environments, a lack of raises/perks, and a general feeling from the management that they should be lucky just to HAVE a job. It’s like the policies of their companies were enacted by the sadistic Catbert character from the Dilbert cartoons.

The companies that treat employees this way might save a little dough in the short-term, but their lack of a community culture will lead to a lack of employee loyalty, a lack of productivity and a lack of growth.

The solution, Fischette says, is to use these tips to build a community in your workplace, one that fosters growth and, yes, a team environment:

  1. Encourage your staff to think differently (read: not the “usual way we do things”), participate in lively conversation/debate about ideas, and raise objections if they have any.
  2. Make sure that all employees have an easy way to share ideas and connect with one another, and encourage ALL employees to bring their ideas to the table.
  3. Be transparent – Employees can get understandably suspicious and feel isolated if management is making decisions behind their backs. Make sure that your staff can follow any projects in real time, not just hear about them after the fact.
  4. Empower your employees – Make it clear that the company is willing to work with them to reach their goals, and make them feel that their career destiny is in their own hands.
  5. Don’t ignore milestones and achievements! Make your employees feel appreciated, because without them, you wouldn’t be in business. Acknowledge work anniversaries, awards, outstanding performance and other positives, and make sure everyone knows what has been accomplished. Do regular reviews and give merit raises annually if possible. In short, make sure that your staff get more positive feedback from you than a simple “nice work on that account, Bob.”
  6. Look for ways that you employees can blend work into their personal lives. You don’t want your staff to feel like they have to choose between work and family – That creates resentment and lowered productivity. Don’t simply roll over and allow workers to walk all over you, but do try to be flexible with hours if you have a staffer with young children, or consider letting your office workers bring well-behaved dogs to the workplace. The more welcoming and family-friendly your business is, the less likely your employees will be to call in sick or otherwise skip out on work obligations.

All of these tips will help your company foster a community environment that encourages your staff to feel more like a team. I’d also add the following suggestions:

  1. Have a sense of humor – Of course, inappropriate humor has no place in the workplace, but if you can’t laugh at yourself or laugh with your staff, you’ll come across as unemotional, uncaring and distant.
  2. Let your employees be themselves – Some offices don’t let staffers keep personal items on their desks, and sometimes, there are good reasons for that rule. But most of the time, it’s better to let your workers personalize their space. It will make them more comfortable at their desks and more likely to work happily there. In my cubicle days, I had a few family photos, some artwork that make me smile, a handful of toys (people are often really creative if you let them play a little while they brainstorm), and a drawer of snacks that anyone was welcome to enjoy. I felt happy in that space, and it made me a better worker.
  3. Keep your door open when possible – you might SAY you have an open door policy, but if your door is actually closed most of the time, people will be less likely to risk knocking on it. If your door is open and your office space is welcoming, your staff will be more likely to approach you with ideas or concerns.
  4. Don’t let too many perks slide – It’s amazing how pleased a group of people can be if the boss brings in donuts for the morning, or orders some lunches for a noon meeting. On the flipside, it’s equally disheartening to be told that one must attend a mandatory meeting over lunchtime AND supply your own lunch. Make sure your employees have some time during the day to themselves (lunch is the most common, but other short breaks are good, too), and encourage them to take that time outside the office. If you must keep them at work for a meeting or event, feed them. And before you point out the bad economy and the belt-tightening that most companies are doing, take note: Employee perks don’t have to be expensive drains on the company budget! Donuts are cheap – far less pricey than the cost of making staffers feel taken for granted. Oh, and there’s no such thing as an “employee appreciation lunch” if the food is pot-luck – No one feels appreciated when they have to cook something.

The important thing is to keep in mind while building your office community that it isn’t “us vs. them,” and it should never seem that way for your staff. Your employees will be more loyal, more eager to do their jobs and more eager to work together if they think that their voices will be heard, their ideas will be considered and their efforts will be appreciated.

Advertisements

So you own a small business, or you’re thinking about starting one. You’ve got the know-how in your field and the passion for your craft, and you’ve got energy and confidence to spare. But are you savvy when it comes to business lingo? Just because you excel at what you do – whether it’s repairing cars, making chocolates, inventing new gadgets or anything else – doesn’t mean that you automatically have the business expertise you need to turn your talents into success.

One of the first things that might trip you up in your forays into the business world is the terminology. Business terms can be new and foreign to those just getting started with their businesses, and standard dictionaries don’t always help with deciphering the meanings. Since we at Popular Thoughts are all about helping you launch, maintain and grow your business, we’ve compiled a short list of some common small business terms here, along with their definitions. Get to know this glossary (and others out there), and don’t get caught off guard as you wade through the currents of business ownership!

Angel Investing – Angel investors give capital to a start-up company, usually in exchange for equity. Angel investors tend to be well-off individuals, but some of them group themselves into angel networks. They usually invest their own money into the endeavor. Many companies get angel investments as a second-round funding source to keep them going when they’re between the money given to them by friends and family and the money they’ll eventually get from venture capital (see below).

Assets – This is just about anything your business owns that would have value in a transaction. It includes cash, investments, inventory, accounts receivable, office computers/equipment, machines/manufacturing equipment, etc. Assets are generally regarded to be the things that can be used to pay debts, and they can be long-term or short-term in nature (whether long-term or short-term depends on how long they last and what the company accountants decide is the benchmark for measuring the term). For tax purposes, if you buy something for your business and you call it an asset, you can’t deduct that purchase from your taxes, but you can list it under “Assets” on your financials. If you want to deduct a purchase from your taxes, you must label it an “expense,” but then you can’t list it among your assets later.

Brand/Branding – Many people think that your brand is your logo, your product or your tagline. But in reality, your brand is how people perceive you. One of the most important things you can do in your business is control your brand so that all of your potential customers have the same impression and experience with your product or service. Consider the golden arches: when you see them, you probably think of McDonalds, but you may also think of french fries, Happy Meals, smiling kids and Big Macs. Almost everyone has a similar reaction when they see that symbol, and that’s because McDonalds works hard to maintain their brand, keep it consistent, and give everyone the same impression of what they offer.

So how do you handle your branding? First, when you have a logo and/or tagline, keep them consistent in all of your interactions. Don’t randomly change the colors of your logo, the font of your web pages, the phrasing of your tagline, etc. Keep your messaging and color scheme consistent across the board. Next, protect your branding with Service Mark (SM) or Trade Mark (TM) protection- you can learn more about that here. Also, determine usage guidelines for your brand so that, if someone else wishes to put your logo on their website or in an advertisement, you have a ready list of rules for the use of your stuff (for example, you might want to require a certain amount of white space around your logo, you may want to insist that your logo not be stretched out of shape or changed in color, etc.).

After you’ve got your protections and guidelines in place, the key thing to remember about branding is that you and your company ARE the brand. In the end, it’s not your product or service that will define your customers’ experiences; it’s their interaction with you and your business. Keep in mind that you represent your company at all times, even while off-duty, and remind any staff members of this, as well. Put customer service guidelines into place for all to follow, and be sure that everyone at the company understands the need to maintain consistent quality standards in the product/service, the usage rules for the logo/tagline, and the need for positive interaction with consumers. This above all will help you to associate your brand with good things in the minds of your customers.

Business plan – This is pretty much what it sounds like: the written plan for how you’ll start and run your business. It generally needs to include a vision (where you’d like to see the company eventually), what’s needed to get there, what the chosen markets are like, what the current status of the business is, and what the results are projected to be. The business plan is essentially a “who, what, why, how and when” for the proposed company, so when writing yours, be sure not to ramble, get emotional or go off on tangents. Keep it clear, to-the-point and organized, from “why I’m starting this company” to “this is where I intend the company to be in a year.”

C Corp/S Corp – These are the two main forms of corporations in the U.S. S Corps tend to be small businesses and family-owned companies. Most major (read: large) companies in the U.S. are C Corps. A main difference between the C Corp and the S Corp is that, with the S Corp, profits go right back to the business owners directly, while in C Corps, the profits are taxed separately first.

So why would anyone want to have a C Corp? One big C Corp advantage is that it’s got the biggest protection for the owners against personal liability. A C Corp is a totally separate entity that pays taxes, and the owners are in the best position to protect their personal assets should the C Corp have trouble. A C Corp is generally the best choice for companies that are going public (or are planning to), or companies that want to grow significantly and/or raise large amounts of money.

S Corps generally have limits on how many owners there can be (these limits vary by state but tend to hover around 25 owners). Also, only individuals can hold stock in an S Corp – no corporations can be stockholders in these small companies. Neither of these limitations exists for a C Corp.

When choosing to incorporate, weigh the options and get advice from a lawyer and CPA on which option is right for you. In most cases, the S Corp is the best choice for a small business owner.

Cash flow – Cash in a business means how much money your company has in the bank, and cash flow refers to how that bank amount changes. Being “cash flow positive” means that the balance at the end of the month is higher than it was at the beginning, while “cash flow negative” is the opposite. Many businesses start out cash flow negative as they spend money to build the business, get needed equipment and advertise their goods. Ultimately, of course, you want to be cash flow positive on a regular basis so that your company can grow and you can make money.

Click-through rate – You know those ads that appear on webpages? The click-through rate is a measure of how many times someone actually clicked on one of those ads, compared with the number of times the ad appeared (the appearances are known as “impressions”). So if the ad showed up 100 times, and viewers clicked the ad four of those times, that’s a 4% click-through rate. Click-through rates tend to be pretty low, so don’t be discouraged if you run an online ad campaign and see very low numbers.

Conversion rate – How many people do what you want them to do when they visit your website? That’s basically the definition of the conversion rate. Whatever the measurable action is that you want them to do – buy something, sign up for something, download a file, watch a video, etc. – the conversion rate counts how many people do that thing and how that compares to the total site visitors. So if you get 100 visitors to your site, and five of them buy your product, that’s a 4% conversion rate.

DBA (Doing Business As) – This term means that the person running the business is using a different name for the business than his or her own name. It’s also called a “fictitious business name.” If your name is John Smith, but you want to open a company called Lemonade and Mangoes (a name that certainly does not match your name at all), you’d need a DBA to show that you legally own the business so that you can get bank accounts in the company’s name and do other business-related things. Getting a DBA is fairly easy to do on a county level and usually involves a registration fee and perhaps a notice in the newspaper (all of which tends to run under $100 total).

Fiscal year – This is your accounting year, which doesn’t have to match the calendar on your wall. Your fiscal year can start in any month and go a full year from there. To keep it from getting too confusing, accountants number fiscal years by the year in which they end, so if you have a business with a fiscal year that starts and ends in March, then March 2011 would be the end of Fiscal 2011.

Limited Liability Company (LLC) – LLCs are one way to set up a company. They’re similar to S Corps (both have advantages in how profits are treated for taxes and in how personal liability for the company owners is limited), but they can be harder to set up. Usually, the LLC has to be lacking two of the following that define a corporation: continuity of life, limited liability, free transferability of ownership interest, and centralized management. Check with your attorney if you think an LLC might be the best company structure for you.

Mission Statement – Most companies have one of these. This is essentially a short statement that defines what the company does, what the business philosophy is, and how it intends to deal with customers. Mission statements are often the butt of jokes for being overblown, wordy, obvious or incomprehensible – there are even mission statement generators out there (like this one) that poke fun at how “corporate” and interchangeable many mission statements are. Still, it never hurts to have one; you may want to include your employees in crafting a mission statement that encapsulates your company’s purpose.

Sole proprietorship – Businesses don’t get any simpler than this. A sole proprietorship is a business in which you don’t do anything to create a legal entity separate from yourself. You can operate the business under your own name or under another name (in which case you’d need the DBA defined above), but either way, the business is just you. This means that you bear personal liability for the company; if the company has debts or losses, you are personally responsible for those.

Venture capital – This is money that is invested into a company in the early stages, usually by a venture capital (VC) firm or group. The money invested tends to be from a fund that’s managed professionally by the firm. Generally, the companies that receive venture capital are high-risk but also high-potential. In return for their investment, the VC gets equity in your company, and it often gets a major ownership stake and decision-making power in the company. VC is sometimes a good choice for a young company that has a new technology to offer and that isn’t yet to the point of being able to get bank funding or other loans to grow the company. VC isn’t for everyone; explore your options thoroughly when considering funding sources, since many small business owners chafe at the idea of turning over decision-making power to a VC in exchange for the needed funds.

Sources: Business Term Glossary, Wikipedia

To start and run a successful business requires a lot of knowledge, support and resources. Most of us don’t have all of those right out of the gate. Luckily, many who have gone before (and built successful businesses) have opened up about their experiences. Some great CEOs and entrepreneurs have put pen to paper to share how they’ve grown, how they’ve failed and what they’ve learned, and those of us who are just getting started can get a head start on our own successes by standing on the shoulders of these giants.

Over the years, we at Popular Thoughts have read a lot of business books, and we’ve compiled this list (in no particular order) of the ones that were the most helpful, informative, entertaining, inspiring and thought-provoking for us. Some of them offer concrete advice about running a business; others are more about making big-picture improvements in time management, outlook, attitude and perception, all of which contribute to business success. Our CEO recommended these books personally, so the next time you browse the business section of the book store or library, check them out and let them help you lay the groundwork for the business and personal life you want!

Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com – Zappos is well-known for its exceptional customer service and commitment to quality, and it’s also known as one of the best companies to work for. This book shares the corporate philosophies and attitudes that make such success with both employees and customers possible.

The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss – This wildly-popular book is at the top for a reason! This latest version has been expanded and updated from the original. It’s a must-read for anyone who wants to live with more leisure, drop out of the 9-to-5 rat race and maximize the time spent working to achieve the ideal lifestyle design.

Play to Win! by Larry Wilson and Hersch Wilson – This book is excellent at getting the reader to think about what’s possible, rather than what’s impossible. Simply put, you can thrive if you learn to think in terms of winning instead of thinking in terms of not losing (it sounds like a difference of semantics, but really, it’s a huge change in outlook that means much greater success).

177 Mental Toughness Secrets of the World Class by Steve Siebold – The philosophy here is aimed at helping readers go from middle class (how most people think and act) to world class (how the truly successful think and act). Being mentally tough can make all the difference in life and success, and this book makes mental toughness attainable.

Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service by Ted Kinni – Taking the best care of your customers can mean the difference between struggling in your business and achieving real success. This book explores the customer service principles developed and used at Walt Disney World and uses them as a model for how to make customers keep coming back, time after time. Use this book to ensure that every aspect of your company is consistently delivering for your customers!

These five are just the beginning – there are many other great books out there for entrepreneurs, small business owners and anyone else looking to achieve success in work and life.

Got other suggestions for great business books? Post them in the comments and we’ll try to check them out!

So you want to start a business, but you don’t want to go it alone. A partner might be a good way to split the work, risk and profits from a new venture, but working with others (even people you know and trust) can be a dicey proposition. Many a friendship has been destroyed over sharing a business; even families can be damaged through partnership efforts in the workplace. So how can you share your business with your potential partner and not become a victim of the many pitfalls involved?

The Wall Street Journal’s how-to guide for starting a business suggests that, before you go in with a partner, be VERY sure you want or need a partner in the first place. You should only partner up with someone when the partnership is vital to the success of the endeavor. If you’re leery about the partnership, you can possibly hire the other person or even ask them to do contract work for you; that way, you can still benefit from their expertise without worrying about splitting the business in half.

If you really want to create a partnership for your new business, the number one thing to keep in mind is communication. Partners MUST communicate and be comfortable enough with each other to talk about whatever might come up. The experts at eHow suggest you sit down with your potential partner and hash out your roles, strengths, responsibilities, etc. BEFORE you get started. Recognize your own weaknesses and admit to them. If, for example, you’re not so good with creativity but you balance a mean budget, stick to the money duties and let your partner handle the ideas.

Before taking on a whole new business, you might want to try a smaller project with your partner to see how well you work together. Can you focus on common goals and compromise when needed? Can you overcome obstacles together without assigning blame or pointing fingers? If you can successfully complete a smaller business project together, then you might be ready to try a full partnership together.

Don’t forget to play the “what-if” game as much as you can up front, to avoid potential issues later. For example, what if one of you has a child or spouse who might later want to join the business? What if one of you wants to move the company elsewhere, but the other doesn’t? What if one of you is caught doing something unethical, immoral or illegal? Talk out as many possible scenarios as you can think of, even the ones that make you chuckle from ludicrousness… You might be surprised at the points on which you and your partner differ, and it’s better to get everything out in the open now.

Still not sure about partnering up? You could always go old-school and check each other’s references. Talk to your potential partner’s colleagues, friends and family members. Find out if your potential partner is trusted and respected by others. Character references, professional opinions and honest assessments can go a long way toward putting your mind at ease about the person you might be working with. And if it’s someone you’ve known a long time, look to your own experiences with that person in previous social or business situations. Did he or she ever bail out of a tough spot and leave others holding the bag? Do they have a tendency to party hard or run through money fast? No matter how close you are to someone or how much you like them personally, this is business; you must consider the health of your potential company before sharing an office space with someone.

Once you’ve decided on a partnership, have a lawyer and accountant help you with the partnership agreement. Do NOT say, “We’re friends, so we don’t have to sign anything,” or “We trust each other, so there’s no need to put it in writing.” Put everything in writing that you can to avoid confusion, disputes and major problems. The written partnership agreement is a must. It should include who is investing what, who owns what percentage of the business, how and when partners get paid, how much they get paid, exit clauses, responsibilities and roles, at the minimum. It should also include how the agreement could be adjusted as the business evolves, and it should contain an outline for what to do if both partners want to get out.

How do you think your business should be run? Set up a plan with your partner and stick to it. Work out a routine for talking to each other, checking in on projects, updating each other on developments and assessing how the company is doing. Establish your separate roles and stick to them so that there’s no confusion about who does what or who reports to whom. Plan to have a meeting every few months to make sure the business is still on the right track and to determine the next steps and direction. You really can’t overcommunicate when you have a partner!

If possible, keep the business side separate from the social side. Your partner might be your best friend in the world, but you should try not to let business topics (or worse, business arguments) get in the way of your friendship. And of course, don’t forget why you chose this particular partner in the first place. You must like and trust him or her, so when the going gets tough, remind yourself of what’s positive about the arrangement and what good may still come out of it.

In a lot of ways, a healthy business partnership is like a good marriage: lots of give and take, lots of compromise, and above all, lots of communication. Good luck!

Whatever your product or service is, you know it’s great. You know that, if people only paid attention, they’d be lining up to get what you’re offering. But therein lies the rub: how do you get people to pay attention in the first place? In this world of nonstop chatter and sensory overload, standing out from the crowd is tougher than ever. Word of mouth and organic growth are important, but most businesses can’t rely entirely on the traditional WOM marketing techniques. You must work to get noticed in other ways, as well, but how?

Dave Navarro wrote at Small Fuel Marketing about how to get your small business noticed. He offered 35 tips, but we’ve combined some and highlighted others to create the following list of ten. Take these tips, get your business (and yourself) on the map, and watch your success increase!

1. Conquer your fear of public speaking. One great way to become more visible is to speak in front of people. Find meetings, organizations, clubs and groups that are relevant to your offering, then make yourself available to speak to them. Many of these groups are regularly on the lookout for guest speakers for their meetings, and you might fit their bill.

One important thing – Don’t make your speech one big sales pitch. Instead, pick a topic that relates to your offering and to the group, position yourself as an expert (or expert-ish), and give an informative, entertaining talk. You can reference your own offering in subtle ways, and of course, the group will have your business card and other info in hand once you’ve met them. You won’t get paid for these speaking gigs (and you shouldn’t be paying to do them, either), but they can do wonders for your visibility.

If you REALLY can’t conquer your fear of speaking, invite a speaker to your own office instead, and send invitations to people that you would like to connect with. Invite them to come hear the speaker, and then take the opportunity to interact with them when they arrive.

2. Invite a media outlet to interview you. Many media outlets, especially local or very niche-specific ones, crave news about local businesses. Interviews are especially attractive because the interviewers can get in-depth while still making the subject human and accessible (and they’re more fun to read than a big block of non-dialogue text). Again, offer insight into a topic relevant to your product or service; the better you position yourself as someone with the knowledge, the more likely people will turn to you for what they need. Being interviewed will also put your name and business in front of a wide variety of potential customers.

3. Be part of a worthy cause. There are lots of great causes out there, and being a sponsor or regular contributor can put you in the spotlight. You don’t have to be a platinum-level sponsor for a major fundraiser, of course; simply contribute how you can, be it through money or goods/services. Causes are always seeking business sponsors who can help them reach their goals, and the publicity and good PR for you are helpful to your own desire to get noticed. If you can manage to get your brand associated with a cause that people care about, you will have succeeded.

4. Get your blog on. We’ve talked before about why you need a blog to build social capital and get more attention for your offering online. But having a good, high-ranking blog is more than simply writing a post here or there about something helpful or entertaining that relates to your product (although that’s very important, since fresh, quality content is key). Take your blog further by inviting other professionals in your field to write guest posts, and offer to guest-post for others. This sort of “you scratch my back, I scratch yours” arrangement means a bigger audience for you and increased recognition for your blog. You can also interview someone for your blog, further driving traffic to your pages; don’t forget, you should comment on other blogs to maintain your participation in the conversation surrounding your niche.

5. Do an ad space swap. Buying advertising space can be pricey, but if you swap ads with another company, it can be free and beneficial. Find a company with an audience you’d like access to (perhaps a company with an offering complementary to yours) and suggest that they place an ad for your company on their page. Put an ad to their company on your own page in return. This can widen your visibility significantly.

Along the same lines, if you’d like to buy ad space but can’t afford it on your own, think about splitting the cost with another company. You can share the space and divide the cost, which could be great for both of you. Your business relationships really can help you be seen!

6. Take Word of Mouth up a notch. Word of mouth matters a lot, and we know that people are more likely to buy from companies that are recommended by their friends. So how do you get people to talk about you? Usually, people talk at one of two times: after a really bad experience, or after a really good one. Try to be the latter! The more outstanding your service is, the more likely customers will refer others to you in glowing terms. Be the standout in your field for how you treat people, and word will definitely get around.

7. Don’t cast too wide a net. Many companies try to do too much and focus on too broad a market. Narrow your niche to get more visibility quickly among a more specific group of potential customers. Once you’ve established your superiority in that niche, you can start to widen your field a bit, drawing in other niches or a broader customer base. Starting small can be the key to getting really and truly set as a success before you branch out.

8. Make a video. Lots of companies try this and fail. They try to be cute, funny, shocking or unique in the hopes that their video will go viral, but in the end, they generally end up falling on their faces. Instead of trying to one-up the “evolution of dance” guy, do what you should be doing with your blog: create content that’s helpful to those in your niche. If your company makes a specific engine part for cars, make a how-to video that illustrates how your part can be installed and used. You can also use video to interview experts, illustrate case studies or otherwise share info with those who really care to see it. Once you’ve made and posted your videos on YouTube, share them on your blog, website and forums. You might not reach viral spread to the tune of 14 million hits, but your videos might become the go-to content for your niche market, raising your visibility still further.

9. Make new friends, but keep the old. Don’t burn bridges in your business. Instead, get to know the influencers in your niche, and make yourself useful to them. Help them solve issues and make new contacts, and they’ll probably return the favor by spreading the word about you. In addition, keep in touch with your older contacts regularly! You never know when someone might be in a position to refer a customer to you, so you want to stay on all the relevant radars.

10. Stay above-board. You might have heard recently about the online businessman who used negative feedback from his angry customers to boost his own page ranking. He abused and threatened clients and, as a result, he saw his position rise, at least temporarily. But now, that guy is in jail, and Google is tweaking their algorithms to try to keep negative content from raising a company’s rank. That guy thought he had the system figured out, but he got his visibility in a bad way, and it came back to bite him.

When you’re working toward getting noticed yourself, don’t break the rules. Avoid spam (in emails, comments or forums), don’t go for link farms to artificially inflate your page rank, and don’t make people angry just to get ahead. Google has ways of punishing those who game the system, banishing them to low rankings and bad reputations. It’s not worth it! Keep your nose clean and get noticed the right way. Good luck!

We’ve talked before about using blogs as a way to raise social capital, build a community of followers, create some great writing samples, build a strong brand/reputation and participate in the conversation about your niche. But once you have a blog (one full of helpful, useful or entertaining content), and you’ve done what you can to optimize it for search engines, what other steps can you take to ensure people are reading what you write? Travis Campbell attended BlogWorld and came away with some helpful tips that he shares in an article here. We’ll put some of his tips below so that you can get started now in bringing more eyeballs to your content!

1. Comment on other blogs, both those in your niche and those written by your readers: Sharing your thoughts about what others write is flattering to those writers, and it also brings attention to you and your own site. Just make sure that you give a real comment about the blog post in question! Don’t just write a brief, general comment like “nice post” with a link back to yourself. Offer some opinion, insight, approval or even further questions for the author. DON’T include a link to yourself in the main comment field; instead, be sure to fill out the name and URL fields when you leave the comment so that your name becomes a hyperlink to your site. That way, your comment is less likely to be treated as spam.

2. When you post links to your blog, link to specific posts/content of yours, not just your general domain: People and search engines alike enjoy it when you can be as specific as possible in your links. Example: If you’re posting your link in a comment thread or forum about the best landscaping plants to use in Florida, make sure your link goes to the post you wrote about landscaping plants in Florida, NOT to the general blog page that contains every post you’ve ever written. Don’t make people search for your relevant content; link it for them directly.

3. Don’t enable comment moderation: At first glance, this seems insane. If you take away comment moderation, then any spammer, foul-mouthed idiot or negative commenter can have their comments posted directly to your blog in seconds. But while moderation can control spammers for you, it also discourages the dialogue with your readers. As Campbell notes, when someone posts a comment and receives the message “comment awaiting moderation,” it can be disheartening. If you’re still worried about spam or inappropriate comments, remember that you can always go in and flag spam comments so that the users posting spam can’t post to your site anymore.

4. Respond to your commenters, and quickly: If someone posts a comment, post a reply as soon as you can. That’s how you encourage the dialogue with your readers. Better yet, email those who comment on your blog with a personal note that says something like “thanks for commenting, here’s a link to the blog post, and we’ll let you know if anyone else comments there.” Your readers will be surprised and pleased to get that personal response from you, and your community will probably grow as a result.

5. Use Yahoo! Answers: When I worked for a company that worked to build traffic to blogs in a non-spammy way, one of the things I would do was to go to Yahoo! Answers and find questions relevant to the niche I was promoting. If I was promoting a weight loss blog, I’d find recently-posted questions about weight loss, nutrition and fitness. I’d answer the question as honestly and conversationally as possible, and then in the “cite your source” box, I’d include a link to the weight loss blog (specifically, to the blog post that was most relevant to the question asked). I might say something like “Here’s a short answer to your question, but if you want more info, check the link below.” This method for inviting new readers was engaging, friendly and helpful, which made it quite successful.

These tips should help you bring more readers to your blog. Remember, keep your content fresh, relevant and helpful if you want those new readers to keep coming back! Before you know it, you’ll have a loyal community for your audience. Good luck!

Photo by Elle Ko

“Friend” me; “like” this; “follow” that guy.

In this age of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, the concept of business cards might seem like a dated one. After all, how can you hand someone a cardboard rectangle when you communicate almost entirely online? And isn’t all of your relevant info already out there on your profiles anyway? We’re going “green,” which means LESS paper, remember?

As it turns out, there’s still a need for business cards in the 21st century. John Wheeler of ControllersAdvice.com wrote an interesting blog post about the use of business cards today, and we’ll paraphrase it here so that you have the info you need to merge the real-world and online-world components of your business in the best possible way.

First, let’s clarify what a business card is. It’s a small, rectangular or square piece of card stock that’s printed with your name, title, contact info and company. A logo and/or a brand message can be found on some of the better business cards out there. But that is, quite literally, all there is to a business card. No bells, no whistles, no interactivity; just a card that has your relevant info on it.

Wheeler notes that, in his decades of experience in the corporate world, he got his hands on a lot of business cards, and he graded them by a fairly simple system. He kept the cards of people he regularly did business with up front in his card holder – this included his CPA, attorney, IT guys and other frequently-called people (of course, in this mobile era, most of the contact info we regularly use is stored in our phones, computers or social networks, so we don’t need cards for this reason anymore). Wheeler also kept cards for people he might do business with in the future (those with an interesting product or service), and he held onto some cards because the people presenting them offered goods or services that he might eventually be able to suggest to other people, even if he never used the goods or services himself. Finally, some cards that came from people who rubbed him the wrong way, or who offered a product or service he’d never use or recommend, ended up in the trash.

Today, business cards perform slightly different duties than they used to. We don’t keep Rolodexes of cards on our desks anymore, but here are the reasons that Wheeler says business cards are still a good idea:

They make you seem legit – For some reason, businesses that have business cards appear to be more stable, solid and legitimate than those that don’t.

They let people know that you’re in the business – Business cards are essentially a visual reminder for the recipient that your company offers a particular good or service. Your potential customers might not realize or remember that you’re in a particular line of work without a business card to spell it out for them.

They are vital to branding – In any business, building and maintaining a solid brand is key. Having a business card with a clear brand, logo and tagline helps your company become more recognizable and memorable. Just as the golden arches make people think of McDonalds, you want people to think of your company (and what your company offers) if they see your logo or read your tagline. Business cards help with this.

They make it easier to spread your contact info around – Business cards let you easily give your contact info to potential customers, but even better, they make it possible for those potential customers to share your info with OTHER potential customers. Wheeler calls this “the holy grail of most networking groups” – many people do indeed carry around business cards that they’ve received and share them with their own contacts. I’ve done that very thing myself: “Oh, you’re looking for a kennel for your dog? We board our dogs at a great kennel near here… Wait, I’ve got their business card in my purse.” Just like that, the kennel gets a new client without having to do anything except have a business card.

So those are all the good reasons to have a business card. But Wheeler cautions that there are some things a business card CAN’T do for you. Here’s the list of areas in which business cards fall flat:

They can’t sell for you – Wheeler calls this the first misconception about business cards. If you hang up some cards on a bulletin board or set out a stack on a table somewhere, people are not very likely to actually pick up your card and go buy what you have to offer. A business card isn’t an advertisement; it’s just contact info, and if people don’t have context for that contact info, they won’t be contacting you.

They can’t network for you – I’ve met businesspeople who constantly want to trade business cards. “Here’s my card…. Did I give you my card?…Have my card!” Trading cards is not networking, Wheeler notes. It’s simply giving each other a means to contact one another. In general, simply having someone’s card doesn’t give you a whole lot of incentive to contact them.

Most of the time, people won’t be sharing your card with others – Think about what you do when someone gives you a business card. Usually, you probably either throw it away, or bury it in your wallet until you eventually clean out your wallet and THEN you throw it away. You have to give people more of a reason to hang onto your card and share it with their friends; simply thrusting the card into their hand or putting it out on a table somewhere won’t cut it.

So what’s the lesson here? The key with business cards is to treat them as a networking tool, not as the be-all end-all of networking. Wheeler likens them to a handshake: they’re a good way to get a conversation going, but you can’t stop with a card exchange. You need to talk to your potential customers, explain who you are and what you do, and give them a reason to care about your offering. If they like what they hear, they’ll be more likely to keep, use and share your card. I’ve seen this work well when two business people start talking first, and then, once they’re both intrigued, the moment comes: “Let me give you my card; then we can talk further about this.” The card exchange comes as a result of a connection that’s begun to be made; it’s not used as a replacement for actual networking.

Not everyone you give a card to will buy what you’re selling, and that’s okay. Like handshakes, business cards are merely an introduction to get the ball rolling on successful networking connections. If you want your business to gain legitimacy and brand recognition, and if you intend to use business cards as a PART of your networking efforts (instead of the whole of those efforts), then definitely get some business cards.