How Can Twitter Benefit Me as a Small Business Owner?

foodistablogTwitter is defined as a social networking and micro-blogging service.  If you aren’t on Twitter yet your first question might actually be “What the heck is micro-blogging?”

According to the all-knowing Wikipedia, “Micro-blogging is a form of blogging that allows users to write brief text updates (usually 140 characters) and publish them, either to be viewed by anyone or by a restricted group which can be chosen by the user. These messages can be submitted by a variety of means, including text messaging, instant messaging, email, MP3 or the web.”

That’s really it in a nutshell.  The best way to understand what the fuss is about is to actually use it for yourself.

Platforms available include Twitter, identi.ca and Yammer among others.  Twitter is one of the most popular services and the one I personally use. I have been “twittering” daily for about a year now and have to say, it’s pretty darn addicting.  At first I wondered, as I suspect others do when they first use it, “what’s the point?”  After using instant messenger for ten years I didn’t really get it.

As I used it more it started making sense from a small business perspective.  Twitter’s been out over two years now but I still know lots of people who look at me funny when I start raving about it.  I don’t quite believe it’s gone completely mainstream yet, but I highly recommend it as another great way to get the word out about your products or services.

Here are my top five reasons for using Twitter as a part of your overall business strategy:

They Say it’s All About Relationships

1) Communication: How many times have we heard that people do business with those they know, like and trust?  Keeping in line with what social networking is all about, Twitter promotes conversation–in nice little bite-size chunks.

2) Marketing: As long as you’re not self-promoting all day every day, it is perfectly acceptable to “tweet” about that new teleseminar or e-book you’ve cooked up. If you are regularly contributing to the conversation in other, non sales-y ways then the idea is that you’ll strike a nice balance.  I always say try to keep it to about 85% non-promotional to 15% promotional just to give a rough idea.

3) Branding: If you are following a healthy number of people and vice versa, you are in effect able to “touch” them several times a day.  From your avatar to the link to your website or blog, you can promote your brand through your profile and have people “get” what you’re about without forcing it down their throats. Your presence and tweets serve as impressions on your potential customers.

4) Knowledge Sharing: I’ve picked up quite a few good tips, recommendations and just plain nuggets of wisdom on Twitter.  It is another great channel for the exchange of ideas between entrepreneurs and small business owners.

5) Networking/Idol Worship: This is pretty obvious.  If you are following others in your industry or the industry you would like to be in, you can rub shoulders so to speak without even leaving your couch. I’ve exchanged a few direct messages with several people I really admire and think it’s pretty cool.  Besides, you never know if you’ll bump into them at a seminar or something and they’ll remember your exchanges.  You could end up pitching them your latest project or find that they’re looking for a JV partner you would be a good fit for.

Let’s connect:

Sign up for Twitter

Follow me on Twitter

Download the free Twitter client that I prefer, Tweetdeck

If you see any other benefits to Twitter that are not mentioned here, let me know in the comments.

Also, be sure to sign up for my free social media e-course if you haven’t already.

Photo Credit: Foodistablog

Perfectionism Has No Place in Small Business

Perfect TenThis was a hard lesson for me to learn. I’m not sure I was born with perfectionist tendencies but if I wasn’t, school definitely gave them to me.  So much so that when I entertained starting my first small business, breaking free of them involved a lot of kicking, screaming and banging my head against the wall.

Perfectionism may have its place in school because you are always aiming for that A+ grade, that 100%, that shiny little star sticker.  But when launching something new as an entrepreneur it can be deadly.  Sure, we all want to do our best work and be prepared and serve our clients as much as we possibly can.  Those things are a given.  But if it causes us to stay on the fence and never really get out there then that’s when it can become a major problem.

It’s more about fear than wanting it to be perfect.

One of my Twitter friends, the very cool Katherine Reschke of Passions That Pay brought up this point recently when I tweeted about writing this post.  I absolutely agree with her.  In fact this is why it was such a struggle for me.  The whole idea of “good is good enough” was extremely uncomfortable to me.  “But, but, but I still need to…I don’t think it’s completely ready to…I just want to tweak it a little bit more…”

Sound familiar?

Perfectionism in my case was just a form of procrastination.  I suspect this is common, especially among first time business owners and solopreneurs.  After all, it’s hard to argue with wanting to improve your product, service, article, blog, e-course, etc.  Who wouldn’t want to? But we would be wise to look at what is really keeping us from taking action and going live.

Are you afraid that once you put it out there it might not sell and you’ll be disappointed and stressed over it?  Are you afraid of what people think because you are constantly comparing yourself to others and how you stack up?  Fears and anxieties like these are all normal but how badly are you short-changing yourself by not jumping in and at least testing the waters?

The thing is, there are so many opportunities you may be missing out on by not going for it.  What if there are wonderful things waiting for you on the other side of your fears? The perfect time will never come, just like the perfect business doesn’t exist.

You don’t have to get it right, you just have to get it going.

No doubt this stuff is tough to overcome.  But like that oft-repeated tenet of being able to learn from our failures and mistakes, we can’t progress and improve if we don’t even give ourselves a chance.

By getting your product or service out there and knowing you’ve done a good enough job, you’ll start to see that momentum is on your side.  The universe rewards action.  Once you get this, you will wonder what you ever waited for.  You can always go back and update and improve but something is often better than nothing.

Many times just the awareness of how you use perfectionism to avoid the possibility of a negative outcome can go a long way toward re-training yourself to take action instead of obsessing over every detail.

So how will you overcome the perfectionist trap that’s holding you back?  How much more time will you waste hanging in the shadows?  Believe that there are people in the world who need what you have to offer and stop cheating them and yourself.

Photo Credit: Woodleywonderworks

8 Useful Twitter Web Apps

futileboyBy now there’s been a ton of applications created for Twitter: desktop, web, mobile…

I decided to create my own small dent in the app universe by listing those that I either use currently or have used in the past and find especially useful.  I limited it to web applications and broke them down by type.

Search Engines

Twellow: This tool analyzes and categorizes users by fields of interest.  This is great for finding others in your target market to start following.  Also lists users by geographic area or “TwellowHood” so you can find local Tweeters.

Monitter: Searches Twitter in real time for a set of up to three keywords.  Watch what people are saying by location or monitor keywords via RSS feed.

Follow Management

Friend or Follow: Offers a quick way to search by your user name to see who you are following but is not following you back and who is following you that you are not following back.

Qwitter: E-mails you when someone stops following you.  Not recommended for the overly sensitive. :)  I never got into this one very much—would rather not worry about statistics and just concentrate on the conversation. ;)  However, some people seem to really like keeping up on those who un-follow them.

Posting and Alerts

TweetScan: Emails Tweets to you on a daily or weekly basis that match your particular chosen keywords and phrases

TwitPic: Allows you to share pictures easily on Twitter through the web or your phone

Widgets and Badges

TwitStamp: Widget that displays your latest tweets as an image and comes in several different sizes and designs.

Follow Me on Twitter Badges: 36 badges of various colors and designs reading “Follow Me” below the Twitter bird.  Site also offers backgrounds to match.

For more application lists you can also take a look at these sites:

Twitter Apps PBWiki

i-Stuff Twitter Apps

By all means, please share any apps you like to use and find helpful.  This is just a small fraction of what’s out there–with the list growing every day.

Photo credit: Futileboy

Facebook for Small Business Marketing: 5 Apps to Help You Grow Relationships with Potential Prospects

pc-loadletterUsing Facebook to help you grow your business and gain new customers and clients is a hot topic right now.  For those new to Facebook or even those who have been using it for a few months, it can all be a bit overwhelming.

When it comes to marketing using Facebook many small business owners and solopreneurs have trouble figuring out where to begin. Somewhere between the request to throw snowballs at someone and the invitation to save the whales it becomes easy to wonder what you are even doing on there in the first place.

Take a step back and remember the reasons why you heard it could be beneficial for your business in the first place.  Facebook has approximately 150 million users as of this writing and it’s on track to only grow more. That’s a huge audience and a great opportunity to find your target market within it.

Before you dismiss this social networking site because you don’t know exactly how to make it work for you, consider installing the following applications on your page.  If you have a profile up and running and have started building a list of friends, you can add these items to give your prospects a way to interact with you and learn more about what you have to offer.

1) Profile HTML:  This can be used in several ways, but if you use an auto responder service like AWeber for your online newsletter or e-zine, this application allows you to add an opt-in box right on your Facebook profile.  This is a fantastic way to build your list and stay in contact with potential clients and customers.  I found good step-by-step directions on how to set up Profile HTML and add it to your page.

2) Notes: This application allows you to add a blog post, article, or anything else you want to share with others as a “note.”  You can even bring your note to the attention of other Facebook users as this application allows you to “tag” others.  In doing so, your note then shows up in the news feed of these users. (Use this wisely—only if you are actually mentioning or referencing the person directly.) This means more visibility for you and what you have posted.

3) Video: If you are comfortable with this medium, video can be a powerful way to get your message in front of more people.  Small video cameras such as the Flip are relatively inexpensive and easy to use these days.  Your clips don’t have to be long or involved, even a short video of you giving a few tips related to your business can go a long way.  Video is especially appealing for its ability to add a very human element to your marketing.  People love seeing you as a real, live breathing person! :)  In this way it really contributes to that all-important know, like and trust factor.

4) Pages: You can create a page for your business–which is essentially its own profile.  The most important thing about this is that these pages are indexed in Google.  With Facebook being one of the most searched for terms daily, this means great search engine optimization (SEO) for your business’ presence on the site.

5) Networked Blogs (formerly Blog Networks): This application allows you to feed your blog posts right into your profile, invite others to be fans, list your blog in a topic-based directory, and more.  This means more exposure for your posts, more traffic to your blog and more subscribers!

If you end up trying any of these applications, let me know what you think of them and how they work for you.  Concentrate on adding one at a time and playing around with its functionality.  Then explore other applications and come to back and share what you have found and would recommend.

Photo credit: P.C. Loadletter

Twitter Newbie? Top 3 Jump-Start Tips for Small Business Owners

7son75Twitter is still relatively new to a lot of people and it can be a bit confusing and overwhelming at first.  The question I seem to hear most often from small business owners and solopreneurs is “What’s the point?  How can this help me and how do I use it to my advantage?” I realized there are a few tips that can help people make the most of their time on Twitter when they are just getting started:

1) Follow more people.

You don’t want to do this indiscriminately.  However, getting your tweets (your messages typed in 140 characters or less) in front of more eyeballs will lead to more conversations, the discovery of more people you want to follow and more exposure of your brand or offerings.

Decide what your friend-ing and following “policy” is and let that guide you.  My personal preference is to follow and friend a mix of people who are in my target market, people I admire and learn from and people who simply look interesting based on their bio or sometimes even their picture!

2) Engage others more.

Even if it’s just a comment about something run-of-the-mill that someone has tweeted, it can spark opportunities down the line.  What you are doing is building a relationship and becoming part of the community.

Make it a practice to re-tweet (basically meaning re-posting) others’ messages that resonate with you, ask for opinions and share your interests.  A recent example of how this worked well for me was when I was asked to be a guest on a Blog Talk Radio show as result of a blog post I tweeted about. Someone following me on Twitter had seen the topic of this post and this started a discussion about it which led to the guest spot.

3) Promote naturally.

Because you will do a fair share of relationship building by using steps 1 and 2, it will be fine to plug your newsletters, products, blogs etc. here and there. Just keep a healthy balance between the sales-y tweets and the personal ones.  You can even share what you do for a living in certain ways without screaming “HIRE ME!!” by just contributing to the conversation.  It’s a subtle art.

I’d love to hear what you would recommend for Twitter newbies.  Or, if you are new yourself, what questions do you have about using Twitter?

Photo credit: 7son75

Embracing Social Media: Why You Must in 2009

shashi-bellamkonda1There are still many people out there who are not convinced that social media can help build their business.  The reasons are varied: social networks are for teenagers, they take to much time to be involved in, my target market isn’t there, and on and on.  I get these doubts.  I understand the resistance.

But there is no question that if 2008 was the year that social media broke into the big time, then 2009 is the year it will go more mainstream than ever.  It is vitally important to your success to understand how it can benefit you and why it is worth the time it will take in the beginning to learn it and make it part of your marketing routine.  Use it to support your business or risk getting left behind.

So why care about social media right now?

Proves You are a Living, Breathing, REAL Person

This sounds kind of funny but it’s crucial.  Humans need to feel they are connecting with others and that they are being heard.  You can’t get away with being a faceless entity doing business on the web as much anymore.  Those who are still doing it that way risk alienating those making the buying decisions.

Branding

There is plenty of opportunity to build and make visible your particular brand—while still being human. You don’t need to think of this in terms of the big boys like Coke or Pepsi-type branding.  It could even just be a logo, colors, your avatar picture or tagline.  If your usage of the tools is regular, each impression strengthens others’ awareness of what your services or products are about.  Keep your messages and branding activities cohesive and consistent and you have a powerful way to promote yourself and what you are offering.

Viral Word of Mouth

Is every follower or friend you have on social sites going to be a member of your target market?  No, and it doesn’t matter.  If you are providing great content, helpful links and regularly contributing something useful to the community, the viral nature of social media will help push this content through the networks to the people who need to hear it.

Speed of Results

While building up page rank takes time and often cannot be predicted, the impact of social networks and tools is often instantaneous.

Traffic

Sites where you list your link in your profile or direct people to your latest post or article is just another way to drive traffic to your blog or website.  I’ve had good results with Facebook and Twitter especially by looking at the traffic source stats in my Google Analytics page.

Value Contribution

You’re in business because you have something of value to offer others.  The conversational nature of social media makes it easy to engage others in discussions which naturally reveal what you may be able to help them with. Be authentic, give regardless of how much you get back, and stay involved.

It’s Not Going Away

The names and faces of the latest and greatest networks and tools may change but the benefits that the interactive nature of Web 2.0 provides are real and working very well for countless small business owners and solopreneurs.  Isn’t it time you discovered that for yourself?

Let me know your thoughts.  How active are you in social media currently?  If you aren’t, what’s holding you back?

Photo credit: Shashi Bellamkonda