It’s not who your customers are, it’s how they behave

Wow. I’m humbled by the commentary from my first post. I hope I can maintain such passionate interest!

Businesses cannot exist without customers, so it’s sadly ironic that many, if not most, businesses, actually understand so little about them. As a company grows, a smaller and smaller percentage of the staff interacts with the customers. In fact, those folks on the “front line” (think call centers, service counters, retail stores) are typically among the lowest-paid and have the least authority.

Meanwhile, back at headquarters fundamental decisions are made with extremely limited information about customers. There, understanding the customer is often considered someone else’s responsibility, because, “we have a department for that.” No department has a complete view of the customer, however, and so in place of true understanding are models and frameworks that attempt to describe the customer. Many companies don’t go beyond demographics and market segmentation. While it’s helpful to know how they break down by age, sex, income, region, and other easily measurable characteristics, there’s actually very little you can actually do with that information. In order to become customer experience-driven, you need to go beyond who your customers are, and understand what they do. …more at It’s Not Who Your Customers Are, It’s How They Behave – Peter Merholz –, published on 11 February 2009

Flickr photo credit: Roger B.

By | February 23, 2009|Blog, Small Business|0 Comments

Hidden tax tips for entrepreneurs

Are you missing tax deductions you’re entitled to? Small business owners, self-employed workers, and independent contractors can write off many legitimate business expenses immediately, reducing the amount of income on which they pay taxes. But if you overlook applicable deductions or fail to keep adequate records that will back up your write-offs during an audit, you give up opportunities to cut your tax bill.

The Schedule C tax form used by sole proprietors to report business profit or loss has 21 line items for business expenses—including such catch-all categories as “office expense,” “supplies,” and “other expenses.” The tax forms for partnerships, LLCs, and S-corps are similarly broad. “It doesn’t even begin to hint at all the things that a business can legitimately deduct,” says Bernard Kamoroff, a certified public accountant and author of 422 Tax Deductions for Businesses & Self Employed Individuals. Don’t expect your accountant to find all the deductions you qualify for—your accountant doesn’t know your spending as intimately as you do.  …more at Hidden Tax Tips for Entrepreneurs – Business Week, published 17 February 2009.

Flickr photo credit: ANATOLI AXELROD

By | February 23, 2009|Administration & Finance, Blog|0 Comments

Sweating over your business card? That’s psycho, America!

LinkedIn is revolutionizing networks for American small businesses. These videos show you how.

Before TMZ released the infamous tape of a foul-mouthed Christian Bale on the set of Terminator 4, our Batman hero had played Patrick Bateman, just your everyday serial killer in the film American Psycho. Say what you will about the story’s controversial message, the scene in which Patrick Bateman proudly displays his new business card is simply classic.

Oh my god, it even has a watermark.

I wouldn’t advise it these days. And I am not talking about the killing.

For all the old school businessmen who are still salivating over the creamy colors and raised lettering of their colleagues’ business cards, there are, thankfully, more savvy professionals today advising their colleagues and clients to run, not walk, to LinkedIn.

I recommend it to people myself. Often.

So, boy, wasn’t I surprised the other day when a client said that she basically doesn’t understand it. And I was equally surprised, after posting a question on Twitter about it, to not be inundated with tons of instructional video links.

Surely someone has created a video on what makes LinkedIn so powerful for small business?

After scouring YouTube for material, I found 9 solid clips to help you learn about LinkedIn and harness its power.

(If you’d like to head straight to the videos, skip to the bottom of this page for the list of links. If you are already lost — LinkedIn??? Twitter??? — I recommend starting with CommonCraft’s video, Social Networking in Plain English.)

Three Keys to Understanding LinkedIn

It’s more than a social space. If you’ve jammed on all the music you can handle at MySpace and learned 25 things about 25 times on Facebook, you’ll see the obvious differences with LinkedIn. While it is technically a social networking space, what distinguishes it from its peers is its target market: namely, an international community of professionals that see the future of business online . LinkedIn’s focus is its asset: it is the premiere portal of its kind, dwarfing Xing, its closest market competitor with 35 million users to Xing’s 7 million.  And, according to a November 2008 report by Anderson Analytics, the majority of LinkedIn users (66%) are “decision makers or have influence in the purchase decisions at their companies.”  While LinkedIn may not have the Internet traffic ranks that Facebook (#5) and MySpace (#8) have, it is gaining considerable ground, rising 52 position points to 149 in just the last 3 months alone, according to Alexa. Want to see aggressive growth for your own business? Ride that horse to the top.

It’s the networking on steroids. If all you have done with LinkedIn thus far is register an account, you’ve overlooked 99.9% of its effectiveness. At its core, LinkedIn is about, well, linking. As before, it’s not what you know, but who you know that creates business opportunities. While the most obvious first step is to connect with old friends and colleagues, do not neglect the next steps: of joining a LinkedIn group, of asking and answering questions in its forums, of inviting the people you meet in those spaces to connect with you. Yes, yes, some purists will deride the open networkers who boast 500+ connections on their profiles. (“What’s the point if you cannot personally recommend someone?”) But there is a middle ground between your 5 most trusted friends and 5,000 anonymous network connections. Find it.

It’s the cold call made a lot warmer. Remember those days when Gertie Gatekeeper stopped you right at “May I speak to the Director of Marketing?” Those days can be placed firmly behind you with the power of just two words: a first name and a last name. On LinkedIn, members within your extended network (i.e. the friends of your friend’s friends) are fully visible by name and title. For example, just 150 strategic connections can connect you with nearly 5 million professionals. That means that the next time you want to reach the marketing director in an Austin, Texas agency, chances are good that you can ask for her directly. Even better, because she has already voluntarily posted the most current information about her duties in the company, you can be sure that she is, indeed, the person with whom you want to speak. Power tip: using a calling list or a lead database? Cross reference it with LinkedIn.

Finding professionals in your target markets has gotten a whole lot easier because of LinkedIn. It is, as one of the video gurus puts it, “the grown-up version of your address book.” That is just the tip of the iceberg. Increasing the visibility of your small business, sharing resources with your industry peers, and leveraging your connections for new business: that’s the power of LinkedIn.

So are you going to get online? Or are you going to continue stroking your business card?

Tammi, who reminds you that hiring ArcherTC to polish your LinkedIn profile is business smart

YouTube video links:

Related shopping:

– Flickr photo credit: Jerry Luk

By | February 23, 2009|Blog, Online Marketing|1 Comment