Encouraging Repeat Business with Exceptinal Customer Service

Maybe it’s a cliché but the old adage, “the customer is always right” is truer than we think. We all know that customer service is a huge component in repeat business. Going above and beyond what is asked of you and your service will not only produce a reliable and devoted customer, it may also create wave of repeat and referral business.

Lets look first at going above and beyond the client’s expectations. If your customer needs information, give him all that he asks and more in a timely manner. Provide more than is required. If it is a service you provide, say virtual assistant work, be willing to make your client shine. We all appreciate someone who works hard on our behalf. We all admire the one worker who carries out his or her duties thoroughly and humbly. When you let your client look good due to your efforts, he will return to you with more business and be sincerely grateful for your efforts.

What about when things go wrong? In this scenario, be frank. An error has occurred, there is no need to grovel, and you will take a personal interest in setting the matter straight. Also, keep your customer informed of your progress. Fix the error and move on, these things happen. Your speedy and candid professionalism will speak greater volumes than the fact that an error occurred in the first place.

Lastly, keep in touch. Always take an opportunity to express your appreciation for the work your client provides you with. You may communicate daily in a business sense, once in a while send a card to say thanks. Also, find out their hobbies, interests, and important anniversaries. Let them know you interested in them as a person. Business is important yes, but you are concerned for the individual behind the business. People love that kind of genuine involvement and thought from others. You will be creating an open and hospitable feeling that extends far beyond the needs of business.

Fostering Your Child’s Instinctive Entrepreneur Skills

Every child is a natural-born entrepreneur. Perhaps it is the innocence of youth, the excitement of playing grown-up, or the challenge of trying something new, but children have a keen business mentality. Let me elaborate; how many lemonade stands have you passed in your lifetime? Perhaps you ran such a stand long ago on a warm summer’s afternoon? When you were young, did you travel the neighborhood asking to mow the grass next door for a few dollars?

Without any prodding on my part, my children are demonstrating this forward-thinking, self-sustaining attribute: one is imagining someday opening a clothing design shop while another wants to turn our living room into an art studio to sell his paintings. It is amazing to think that they have a concept and talent and wish to monetize it.

Now I ask myself, what can I do to foster their entrepreneurial desire and give them an education above and beyond their school curriculum? There are three key strategies I want my children to know as they progress through the initial steps of this rewarding and fulfilling enterprise.

Upon recognizing a child’s innate skills at creation, entrepreneurship, and even marketing, I want to be a guiding hand, gently leading the way. A proactive approach of guidance will serve them here and now as well as here after. Remembering back to my childhood, I do wish my parents had been more proactive in fostering basic business and money concepts. Perhaps they did and I wasn’t paying attention, however, I do not wish to sit back and assume my children will inherently know the ins-and-outs of running a small business (lemonade stand or home art studio).

I will let my children know they are the business owner after all. However, I would like to assist, this is their venture; I will make suggestions, but theirs is the ultimate decision. Along those lines, weekly meetings are important to give and receive feedback. How is the business going? What is the next phase envisioned? Though granted certain attributes, children often suffer from short-term memory or thought. This leads to the next point.

Most adults lack clear, focused vision as to where they are headed in life. This is doubly true with children and teens. It seems a cruel twist that adolescents think in terms of the immediate when the teen years are optimum for future preparation. As mentioned earlier, I want to encourage my children to think of the next step: how can we monetize this wonderful gift or creation of theirs? What should we do to fulfill the dream?

I want my children to know that the procedure is as important as the invention/service. To this end, a clear road map is needed. The old adage of beginning with the end in mind will serve our children well. Thinking beyond the moment, not focusing on the current minor setbacks, creating vision of the possibilities will lift the young entrepreneur past the unfocused meanderings of youth. Children naturally begin and end projects with great rapidity; I hope to encourage fortitude and commitment.

Lastly, I want my children to understand that their endeavor is a family enterprise. They can be the CEO, but we are in this together. Family comes first in our household and entrepreneurial undertaking is a joint venture. As I said, I will happily be a junior partner and a gentle guide. My children can dream, plan, experiment, and market as they see fit.

I do not wish to stifle the youthful creativity and optimism that so many adults lack. However, I will not be a silent partner. Of course, kids need to learn the trade but my job is a guiding partner. This is a win-win, family venture that we all partake in and enjoy.

Everyone is endowed with gifts and unique abilities. Children seem to have an excitement about sharing and shaping these capabilities. Coupled with a childlike interest in optimizing and monetizing these skills, these young entrepreneurs eagerly await their opportunity.

It is my role as parent that leads me to be proactive in their interests and education, help them form and maintain the vision they see, and create a win-win, family oriented environment. What I need to do most is educate myself and practice these principals in my daily concerns.

Top Ten Things You Need to Know to Start Business Blogging

So you’ve decided to start business blogging. Good move — just ask 40% of the Inc. 500 companies (pdf). When done properly, a company blog can be a convenient and cost-effective communication channel for your business. It establishes your online presence, builds your brand, encourages conversation with your customers, and generates better search results so that your market can find you more easily.

Keep in mind, however, that business blogging is not just a matter of setting up a new site and then scattering keywords and promotional jargon all over it. You need to invest time, effort, and human resources in order to ensure that your blog works effectively, and that it is aligned with your business goals.

If you are unsure of how to start, then read below the Top Ten Things you need to know about business blogging.

1. Don’t just start it. Stick to it. The difference between a website and a company blog is this: while the former is static, the latter is always fresh. So update your blog regularly. Dedicate yourself to writing interesting posts, sharing company and industry news, adding videos, and posting pictures, such that blogging becomes a habit. If you are able to generate activity in your blog frequently enough (ideally, about 4-6 posts a week), then syndicate your content by adding RSS feeds to your blog, so readers are notified immediately of updates and new content.

2. Here’s a not-so-well-kept secret: blogs can optimize your search engine performance. That’s why you should first secure a domain name and URL that aren’t only memorable, but also relevant to the subject matter of your blog. If a potential customer is typing in a search phrase in Google for a product or service that you are offering, wouldn’t you like to be at the top of the rankings? The title of your blog should already give an idea of what your content is about.

3. Define your objectives clearly. Ask yourself: what’s the blog for? What the subject matter in focus? Who are the target readers? Be sure to identify your audience and the topics that are relevant to them. Then develop content strategically — based on what your communication objectives are. A business blog can be used to achieve various goals: drive sales, manage PR crises, foster customer relationships, garner feedback, provide a forum for internal communications, or develop a client community. What’s yours? If possible, assemble a team of bloggers who are familiar with your business and who are passionate about what you are offering. These people are the best candidates to tell the story of your company.

4. Write creative quality content. You want to draw in readers and build a following; not keep them away. Misspellings and grammatical errors just cannot happen. Write clearly, concisely, and creatively, and be consistent with the writer’s voice that you are using. Be original in the way you articulate your thoughts, opinions, and perspectives. Conduct research whenever necessary, and use facts to support your views. Proofread and edit painstakingly. The way you write in your blog demonstrates to readers the way you think and the way you work.

5. Use a voice that is at once professional and personal. A professional voice in business blogging is critical in that it captures the essence of what you do and how you do it; it speaks volumes on how you run your business. Your customers don’t want to read about what you did last Sunday or the former classmate whose party you had recently attended. On the other hand, don’t be too thorough and grave to the point that your readers will not understand a word of your corporate cant. Feel free to share anecdotes, as long as they are relevant to the subject matter.

6. Blogs are meant to be interactive communication channels. So don’t fall into the practice of company-centric business blogging; instead, show that your brand cares about its customers as much as the customers care about your brand. When you blog, include your readers and potential customers in your thoughts. Ask them questions. Promote discussions. Encourage them to send their feedback. Understand their wants. Reply to their comments swiftly and satisfactorily. Don’t let an E-mailed inquiry go unanswered. Connect with you audience on an emotional level, such that a two-way conversation is being fostered.

7. Affiliate programs add a touch of professionalism to your blog. Aside from having a link to your company website, also be sure to link up with your affiliates, your partners, and even your stakeholders. Not only will this help your blog rank higher in the search engines; it can also be, according to the pay-per-click mantra, an additional source of revenue. Most importantly, linking generously shows your willingness to participate in a broader dialogue with other influential entities in your online community.

8. A blog isn’t just a promotional tool. It’s a channel through which you can give your brand a personal face, fresh and friendly. So dare to be different. In your About page, don’t just insert contact information; tell a story. Implement designs and color schemes that reflect the personality of your brand. Post pictures and videos and interactive content that offer a behind-the-scenes look into your business.

9. Blogs aren’t advertorials. Readers get turned off by blatant sales pitches, so stay away from that. Instead, you can stay relevant and interesting by being as objective as possible. Speak out on issues that customers care about. Share your opinion and expertise in the industry. Do the occasional guest blogging stint. The key is to establish your thought leadership and authority — and to earn the readers’ trust.

10. Don’t forget to have fun. Keywords and search engines are important, but they are not of utmost importance. So don’t let that get in the way of business blogging. If you are passionate about what you do, it will show in your writing. Blogging is a creative outlet through which you can reach out to the people who matter.

Ten Podcasting Tools and Resources

With more and more people listening in, podcasting has grown to become one of the most popular and viable online marketing avenues for businesses and individual users. As a way to distribute digital audio content over the Internet, podcasting has a unique, practical appeal. Not only does it ease the creation and broadcasting of so many mainstream activities (music, reading, general discussions and commentaries); it also makes possible countless business applications.

Chances are, if you had decided to utilize the power of podcasting and already researched on ways to create a podcast, you might have been overwhelmed by the number of choices available out there. You might have asked yourself questions such as: Which recording software will I use? Where do I upload my audio files? How can I distribute my podcast to family, friends, and fans?

Don’t fret. Below, you will find a list of the top ten podcasting tools and resources for your recording pleasure.

1. Audacity: This free software program is one of the most popular podcasting tools available for people who wish to creat and publish their own podcasts. In fact, it’s at the top of many podcasters’ lists, be they amateur or professional. Audacity is an open-source sound editor which can be downloaded from the Internet for free; it is rich with features that are easy to learn and comes in versions for Windows, Mac OS, and Linux/ Unix. Audacity can also used by advanced users who want to utilize editing tools and options such as background noise removal, silence truncation, and bass boosts.

2. LAME: This free, powerful, and easy-to-use MP3 encoder is not lame at all. It enables you to convert your audio file (i.e. those Audacity projects) into high-quality MP3 format. LAME is also an open-source project, which means that it is continuously being developed to improve the software’s quality and speed.

3. GarageBand: This program is much like Audacity, except that it can only be used in Macs and was created to target musicians. Like a full-featured studio, GarageBand’s library of music loops and virtual instruments which artists can fuse to create personalized sound distinguishes it from other sound editing software programs. But it doesn’t mean that non-musical podcasters won’t find GarageBand useful. On the contrary! It’s an intuitive podcasting tool, too, for those who wish to publish multi-faceted, scripted recordings.

4. Propaganda: One software program that enables you to create podcasts just like the professionals is Propaganda. Armed with a gorgeous interface, Propaganda lets podcasting beginners create commercial-quality audio content — and label, organize, and store files easily. Other features include music and sound effects, XML, HTML, and MP3 support, and multi-track recording.

5. Odeo: One of the easiest ways to create a podcast and make it available immediately to online communities is through Odeo. It is a Web portal through which you can record audio within your Internet browser, not to mention an online community for podcasters to discover each other and subscribe to fresh, independent audio content.

6. SnapKast: Another easy software solution with which to create podcasts and share recording sessions online is SnapKast (for Windows). Not only can you deliver fast and easy MP3-formatted files with this program; you can also create MPEG-4 content to podcast your PowerPoint presentations for web collaborations. Even better is that you can deliver content via RSS podcasts — such that your audio and video files are distributed as soon as you need them distributed.

7. Hipcast: This podcasting tool and resource allows you to create an unlimited number of podcasts in three different ways: record online, by telephone, or via uploads. Priding itself for its “click and publish” convenience, Hipcast is for individuals who wish to publish simple podcasts for hobby, trade, class, or personal use. What’s more, Hipcast is compatible with iTunes!

8. ClickCaster: If you are looking for a robust yet convenient podcast publishing platform on the Web, then be sure to check out ClickCaster. The online application allows you to upload audio and video podcasts, record within a Web browser, enable customized RSS feed distribution, tag your own channels, and even sell your rich media content. ClickCaster is especially recommended as a podcasting tool for business and education users.

9. FeedForAll: This low-cost software is used to streamline the creation and the publication of RSS feeds for podcasts. If you are a podcaster, you’d be glad to know that FeedForAll can help increase your exposure. If you are a voracious listener, FeedForAll can give you more control over the content you listen to, and when.

10. Podalyzer: If you are podcasting for business purposes, then you would want a podcasting resource with which you can track the success of your efforts. Enter Podalyzer, a free Perl script that analyzes your web server logs and produces reports on podcast downloads — complete with first-seen and last-seen dates and information on downloads by day.

The Top Ten Social Media Tools Experts Use

By now, you’d have been bombarded by the sheer number of social media tools and technologies that are supposed to help your business — and your brand — grow. Networking sites. Blogs. Bookmarks. Content sharing platforms. Online collaborations. It’s overwhelming, this campaign for supremacy in the battlefield of Web 2.0.

But here’s the inconvenient truth: you will never have enough time to create a profile for every social media site out there. Otherwise you’d be spreading your identity too thin, and all the efforts you made in building your reputation and your brand will have gone for naught.

So where do you really start? And how do you make yourself memorable? What do the experts consider as the essentials? Amidst the clutter of conversation and communication on the Internet, where do you establish yourself?

Below is a list of the top ten social media tools that experts use. No list can claim to being the definitive one, but you’ll find that these ten tools are more than just recommendations. They are requirements.

1. Facebook: No, it’s not just for college students. With over 100 million active users worldwide, Facebook is a rich social networking application that allows you to get to know people — potential clients, customers, friends, contacts from the other side of the world, audiences with similar backgrounds and interests. And they, in turn, can get to know you — intimately, at a level that’s far deeper than the information provided on your business card. Simply put: there is no better way to leverage the potential of an online community and reach its members than by socializing in Facebook.

2. Twitter: Alright; with Twitter, you’re limited to 140 characters. You may ask yourself how on earth can 140 characters help you with your marketing, branding, and loyalty-building strategies? Well, if you come to think about it, Twitter is your direct pitch to customers with short attention spans. It’s your chance to be memorable and concise. With two to four “Tweets” a day, you can create, join, manage, and follow conversations with contacts both business and personal. That’s how communication is best carried out, isn’t it? Two-way.

3. Flickr: A picture paints a thousand words, so imagine what you can say with Flickr, an online management system for photos which you can tag and share with other people. With Flickr, you can promote your business. Sell and display your product. Convey what your company, your brand, and your people stand for. Create your own online persona. Engage with people who are interested to literally see who you are and what you are offering.

4. LinkedIn: This tool gives you much more than the chance to create a virtual resume. With an impressive network of professionals from a wide variety of industries, LinkedIn is your online bridge to fruitful business relationships. Membership in this site will help you manage your contacts, build your professional reputation, search for associates, and prove to seven million users how special you are. And you won’t have to disclose your relationship status.

5. Blogging: Don’t mistake blogging as a dear-diary exercise for individuals. A blog for your business is a powerful tool to deliver fresh, strategic content as well as to personalize your brand. It’s the channel through which you can engage with your key audiences, an opportunity for you to make them keep coming back. Through blogging you can impart the latest information on your company, market your products and services, share your opinion, express your unique perspectives, establish your professional authority on a given subject, and foster meaningful communication between yourself and your market. At this day and age when everyone wants to be relevant, blogging lets your voice be heard.

6. YouTube: Don’t just be heard. Be seen, too. YouTube allows you to execute strategic branding through video and broadcast your desired messages to the rest of the world. Whether you’re sharing a “behind-the-scenes” documentary, a videolog — or “vlog” — of your key business activities, a corporate presentation, or a montage of positive customer testimonials, Youtube is a perfect channel to reach out to your key audiences.

7. StumbleUpon: StumbleUpon just might be the most useful social bookmarking site out there. It allows you to organize your favorite sites online and recommend them to a network of over 5 million users. And it’s not just an online version of the “Add to Favorites” tab on your Web browser; the option to tag, review, and categorize stumbled-upon content paves the way for shared discoveries and unique social interactions.

8. Technorati: Under one roof: that’s how you can sum up the usefulness of this blog search engine. Not only does Technorati provide you with the “Ping” option to index your content in real-time (and publicly, too); it is also a great tool to monitor the online presence of your blog or business. What are people saying about you and your brand? Technorati is where you find out. Moreover, Technorati is a comprehensive source for all kinds of tagged social media and information on the blogosphere. Looking for content relevant to your business? Thanks to Technorati, it’s all under one roof.

9. Wiki’s: Social media tools bring people together in shared activities — to find shared meanings. This is best exemplified by the idea of wiki’s, which encourage individuals from around the world to collaborate on a project and promote meaningful topic associations. After all, is there a better way to network than by working with people and accomplishing a common goal?

10. Ning: What is Ning? There’s a chance that you might not have heard of this before, as many people have been quick to dismiss its viability as a social media tool. With the promise of letting you create your own social network about anything, Ning is an amazing intuitive and easy-to-use tool which you can use to answer specific business needs or support your main website.

How To Build A Quality Landing Page

The Internet is the marketing engine of the 21st century. It has changed the manner in which business organizations reach their customers and prospects, and it has challenged marketers to come up with more dynamic ways to capture the ever shorter attention span of consumers.

This is why it is essential to build a quality landing page, that to which visitors are directed once they click on ad, a search result, an offer, or a link. Landing pages are different from main websites in the sense that they are more specialized, and more focused on getting a visitor to make a purchase of a particular product or service.

These days, it is not enough that users click on your ad and are directed to your landing page. How can you keep them from losing interest and leaving your website for another? Alright, you may have gotten them to land on your page, but what if you’re not able to persuade them into taking an action? (The money you pay on pay-per-click ads would then go to waste!) You must be able to convert these clicks into sales — and you can do that by building an optimized, quality landing page. Here are helpful tips to doing just that.

Provide answers to the clickers’ questions. What is the offer? What are the benefits of the product or service? How do I get started? How do I make a purchase? Your landing page should communicate with clickers and motivate them to want to stay on your site. Answer their search queries. Usually, visitors arrive on your landing page for a reason — i.e., your ad showed up in the search results of the keywords they had typed in — so be prepared to provide them options to and information on what they are looking for. Support the links that direct you to your landing page by being relevant to the very people who click on those links.

Call to action. Okay, you’ve gotten visitors this far. Now what? Take advantage of the opportunity that a visitor on your landing page presents — call him to action! This is your chance to boost the pay-per-click conversions on your landing page. Instead of succumbing to the temptation of including uneventful links to company information (About Us, Our Portfolio, Press Releases, etc.), make sure that they know what the next step is. Provide them the details they need to make a decision. Highlight your unique selling proposition. Link to the order page. Or encourage them to complete a subscription or web form. Don’t forget to leave your phone number and E-mail address, too.

Develop creative, simple, concise content. Your landing page calls for the copywriter in you. The content in your landing page should bring to light actionable items that will grab the visitor’s attention. Don’t beat around the bush, though; remember that your visitor will only have a few seconds to scan and scrutinize your landing page to make a decision. So write in juicy but easy-t0-digest chunks — bullets help. The key is to lend visitors a quick recognition of the value of what you are offering.

Design wisely, not prettily. When building a landing page, implement a design scheme that will draw attention to your offer — and not distract the visitor from it. Since a clutter of design elements can slow down loading, a quality landing page doesn’t have to be flashy or glittery or frightfully colorful. And it doesn’t have to be something through which a visitor can navigate. In fact, experts suggest that you put the most critical elements of your landing page only in the upper 300 pixels — or what is called “above the fold”. This will help get your point across at the first screen view.

Consider adding testimonials. But not too many. It’s good to have believable and traceable positive reviews of your product or service from people with whom your visitors can relate. Not only does this build authority; it also lets the visitors know that they can trust you and your brand. And the greater the trust you can earn from visitors, the more likely it is that you’ll get a response to your call of action.

Test your landing page — over and over again — and then make small adjustments. A quality page can be a dynamic marketing tool, but you must keep in mind that consumer behavior varies from individual to individual. To gauge the effectiveness of your landing page, you can add a simple feedback form for visitors to accomplish. Or you can invite friends and colleague to go to your landing page so you can observe how they react. Based on these, you can make minor adjustments — such as change colors, revise your main copy, or add a new photo. (Don’t change your landing page too drastically.) See what works and what doesn’t.

Always remember that a quality landing page encourages visitors to make a decision. If they don’t find what they’re looking for, they’ll abandon your site faster than you can say “How come my clicks aren’t boosting my profits?” So follow the above landing page optimization tips, and you’ll have a greater chance of leading a click to a sale.

Starting a Business Online? Here Are A Few Things To Consider

Everyone is talking about how easy it is to start a business online. It’s an appealing concept, convenient and low-cost. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can jump into the online business bandwagon and succeed from day one.

Starting is one thing; building is another. To achieve results and earn money from the Internet, you’ve got to follow the basic steps in starting a business online.

Idea, idea, idea. Before anything else, sit down and ask yourself, “What am I most passionate about? What do I love to do best?” From your answers, you will discover the things which you are most interested in, and ideas which you can dedicate yourself to nurturing and applying.

You will find out that what you love will bring out the best in you. The key to succeeding in business — be it online or otherwise — is enjoying what you do. Said Napoleon Hill, an American author: “All achievements, all earned riches, have their beginning in an idea.”

Before diving into the business, do your research. Research here means identifying a niche market to which you will cater, and then identifying the products and services that this specific market demands and will find most useful.

What do the people want? What are their problems and what kinds of solutions are they looking for? Knowing the answers to these questions will help you come up with truly unique business ideas. To make sure that your market is receptive to what you will be offering, find out what they are most hungry for.

You can implement several Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategies — such as keyword research — to sharpen your focus and gain greater insights about your potential customers.

Choose and set up an appropriate domain name. If you are going to start a business online, start it right. Baptize your website with a domain name that is relevant to the business you are in. The search engines will rank you higher if your domain name contains the keywords that you’d like to be found for.

Unless you’re world-famous, avoid choosing a URL that promotes only your name and not what you have to offer. An appropriate domain name will also make you look more credible and professional, as will a real E-mail address (not one that’s hosted by a third-party server), a reliable web host (that won’t irritate people with frequent downtimes), and sufficient bandwidth (to support your website).

Build a professional website. The content, design, and layout of your website are critical customer touch points, so don’t scare visitors away with signs of amateurishness, such as annoying graphics, regurgitated content, and frustrating navigation. Develop interesting copy.

Communicate to visitors the benefits of what you can offer them. Use simple but catchy design that reflects your brand personality. Make your pages easy to read and easy to navigate. Include details about your business that make it unique. Share only relevant news and information, and exclude the rest.

Create an FAQ section for the convenience of those who’d like to make inquiries. Remember: a website that creates a professional impression of what your brand is all about and what you can offer will be a big boost to your online business.

Automate! Keep in mind that you can take advantage of Web-based tools and technologies to automate certain tasks needed to run your online business. For example, you can add a simple “Subscribe to my RSS feeds” button to your web page to keep customers and interested prospects in the loop.

And auto responders will help you keep in constant touch with customers and prospects by regularly sending them content in the form of E-newsletters and free E-courses. That way, you won’t have to build your online business and your customer base manually.

Outline a marketing strategy and implement it. So you now have a website up and running. Thing is, an online business won’t succeed unless it generates plenty of visitor traffic. This is why you need to outline a strategy for your marketing efforts, most of which won’t cost you a single cent. Brush up on the use of social media and basic SEO techniques to promote your business. Include your web address in all your promotional literature, including your E-mail signature.

Get listed in search engines by submitting your website to online business directories. Participate in relevant forums. Create a blog. Sign up in top social media websites. Join affiliate programs to establish your authority as well as generating additional income streams. If you have the budget, maybe you can even invest in pay-per-click advertising programs to let yourself be known — by the search engines and your market alike.