Thursday, June 30, 2016

We Can Hear You Now! How to Keep Business Communication Crystal Clear.

While the adage is true, “watch what you say,” it’s equally important to consider how and where you say it, too. The success of your small business relies on professionally-executed communication. A strong combination of the what (content), how (style) and where (channel) in your communication will prove triumphant and productive for your brand.

SAY WHAT? You receive an email from a colleague who needs a favor. It includes a lot of slang and ends with “know what I mean?” And you think to yourself, “no, I have no idea what you mean!” It’s common practice to be too casual when we communicate in professional settings. Perhaps, it’s in an effort to appear cool or suggest that something is “no big deal.” The thing is, if we don’t understand what's being requested, how can we judge if it’s a big deal...or not?

  1. Do your best to not leave someone guessing. A request to edit a budget shouldn’t be comparable to working through a Sudoku puzzle. Take time to be clear and concise. Personalities, gender, age and differing levels in the office hierarchy can all affect someone’s interpretation of your message.
  2. Be mindful and considerate of punctuation (it matters) and animation. Emoji’s have a time and a place and ALL CAPS almost always get lost in translation.
  3. Invite opportunity for follow-up and or feedback. For example, ‘great job’ is vague. ‘Great job on that sales pitch -- it was engaging and inspirational’ is clear and constructive.
  4. Don’t assume. If in doubt, leave it out. Your sense of humor is not a carbon copy of your co-workers’ and there is a good chance they’ll be left wondering, if you were kidding. Save your stand-up routine for friends and family.

MORE THAN WORDS. Successful exchanges aren’t just the content you deliver. Your reception, willingness to participate and reaction are all factors that play into effective communication.

  1. If you say you'll be “available,” it’s important to also be approachable. Wearing headphones when you’ve said you’re ready to help, sends mixed messages. However, if your door feels like it’s forever revolving, think about posting and hosting Office Hours. Set aside time when people can come by to see you. It’s flattering to be popular but you’ve also got work to do, we get it. Being organized about communication doesn’t downplay its importance. People will appreciate and respect your time, too.
  1. With that said, not all office interactions are perfectly planned. Even if it’s spontaneous, people will leave a conversation with a formed perception. Take a deep breath or ask if they can come back in 5 minutes, so you can tie-up loose ends before chatting. That prep-time could prove valuable in managing and maintaining a relationship and make a positive outcome more likely.  
  1. Body language sends people a nonverbal message. If it’s poor, the communication can lose a lot of its value. Pointing fingers and folding your arms are negative behaviors. Also, a lack of eye contact during conversation is a no-no. Your facial expressions or lack thereof could leave someone feeling disrespected. Regardless of your role in a business, being engaged and focused on the other party will leave them feeling relaxed and empowered instead of perplexed and disregarded. Do unto others as you’d want done unto you.

TUNE IN. The channel you choose for your communication plays a hefty role in its success rate. Your medium of choice should match your message. Would you leave a sticky note to address a Human Resources issue? If so -- abort that mission. The sticky note might be easier but not always appropriate or considerate.

  1. Technology breathes life into most businesses. But not all platforms are created equally when communication is concerned. Remember your audience when you choose your channel to communicate. Is texting or a group text the best arena for detailed conversation about next month’s big picture project?
  2. Social media is a powerful tool but it’s easy to get comfortable using it personally and blur lines of communication professionally. Just because you chat with your co-workers in Whatsapp when outside of the office, doesn’t mean you should discuss Q2 goals there as well.
  3. Email is probably your go-to means of office communication, right? Since this is probably true for everyone -- that’s a lot of emails. Keep them to the point, if possible -- one screen long. Make the subject line relevant to the topic(s) covered and adjust it as needed.
  4. Phone calls are a dying art -- guilty as charged -- but they do still happen and can be very necessary. Respect others’ time and keep the conversation focused. There’s a (really) good chance neither one of you want to be on the call but it could save you 2 days of email exchanges.
  5. Maintaining a face-to-face -- or at the very least verbal -- connection will always hold value in the workplace. Don’t get stuck in a technology rut. Distance making the heart grow fonder doesn’t exactly apply to business. Of course, there will be scenarios where you can’t be in the same place at the same time but making it a habit could create unnecessary friction. Make effort to congregate with colleagues, even if it’s only a monthly event. And if something involves feelings, default to in-person or phone.
  6. If in-person meetings are infrequent or geographically challenged, try incorporating an organizational tool into your team structure. Our office uses Trello to communicate due dates, check lists and status updates on projects. It’s especially helpful for collaborative efforts. When you’re working independently towards a common goal, it’s helpful to be on the same page or in the case of Trello, the same “board.” I do caution, a tool like this isn’t a standalone. Communication about expectations and strategies is best left to in-person meetings when possible.

Well-delivered, well-timed and considerately crafted communication saves you time and frustration. Why create a reason to repeat yourself (only more clearly), re-meet, or communicate on multiple channels? I’m exhausted just thinking about it. Not sure what tone or channel is best in a particular situation, take a moment to ask yourself, “how and where would I want to learn about this.” We can hear you now.

BBB’s News and Opinion Blog serves as your source for business topics and industry news like tips on hiring for your small business and ways to grow engagement with your audience using social media. For more information you can trust, visit us at, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

Written by Stephanie Benz, Senior Social Media Associate for Better Business Bureau Serving E. MA, ME, RI & VT.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

10 Ways to Increase the Reach, Popularity and Success of your Business

Are you having a hard time finding folks who want what you’ve got? It could be time to (re) evaluate the state of your business. There’s no shame in wanting to improve the reach, popularity and success of your business. You can -- and should -- make time to investigate where you’re falling short.

Wherever they go, you go. If your business is in a competitive marketplace, especially if your model includes a storefront, it might be worth considering moving communities to be closer to your primary audience.  If you can’t or don’t see a move as a manageable option, pursue your audience via marketing. Where does your customer base or potential clientele spend their free time? How do they travel to work? Maintain a presence through advertising to passively get your message in front of your ideal crowd.

Show up. It’s vital that your product and services are positioned in the right places online, in order to get noticed by your target demographic. BBB’s online Accredited Business directory serves as a reservoir of trustworthy businesses for the consumer when they make a purchasing decision. Will a potential client find you listed as Accredited? 83% of people are more likely to purchase from a business displaying the BBB Accreditation Seal. Plus, 7 out of 10 consumers prefer to do ‪‎business‬ with a BBB Accredited Business.

If you’re using social media to connect with potential customers (and you should be), don’t forget about YouTube. Producing how-to’s on topics that relate to your business or helpful tips trending in the industry can be excellent for framing your business as a marketplace leader. Demonstrating use of your product, your business’ participation in events you support in the community, and testimonials of your current customers sharing positive experiences are all worthwhile video content to further your reach.

Elementary, my dear business owner. Always err on the side of simple when it comes to messaging. Short customer attention spans are an obstacle all businesses face. With that said, thank you for continuing to read this post! Overcome the customer’s tendency to move on by keeping your message straightforward. Also, make it easy to share, so they can spread the word on social media when they “like” it. Shed all the fluffy stuff while painting a clear picture of what you’re offering and how it will solve their problem(s).

Yo, I’ll solve it. Speaking of which, is your product or service in fact solving a problem for the customer? Because, this is gold. Measure the importance of this concept in gold doubloons and it would be worth, well, A LOT. If you aren’t sure that you’re providing a solution for your customers, try polling them to determine if you’re filling a need. Social media makes conducting a survey painless.  Or, when you send email to your customers, ask them to write you a Customer Review. You’ll get priceless feedback on their experience, while they share what they’ve learned with others. 92% of consumers read reviews. They give you a leg-up on the competition and, bonus, it’s free marketing. Is your customer service stellar or stinking? Is the product or service living up to its promises? Find areas for improvement via what your loyal customers are saying and apply it to getting more exposure for your business. Brilliant.

Shout it from the rooftops. Once you establish what problems you’re good at solving, communicate this to the universe. Your social media accounts, blog and newsletter can be great vehicles to tell your story. If there’s a benefit -- such as the aforementioned problem-solving powers -- you offer, unlike others in your space or just one your customers love, highlight it! It could be your turnaround time on shipping orders, a “hidden gem” use for a product, or simply how effective your service has proven to be. Whatever it is, leverage it! Don’t be keep it a secret.

Comparison shop. Look at other businesses in your space, or one with a similar business model, or better yet -- one you admire. What is that thriving business doing to get their product or service into the hands of the people who want it most? How can you differentiate what you offer from what they offer? It’s never too late and always wise to be up to date on what “the others” are doing. Check out business(es) on to see what complaints they have against them and what the issues focus on. Maybe there’s something missing in their business model that you have. Oh, and make sure you’re responding to your complaints, too. Sometimes a complaint is just a misunderstanding. Addressing it in a timely manner could alleviate an issue altogether and potentially offer insight into your business.

Convert them with care (and class). Make it easy for customers to leave the competition. Once you highlight your big benefit or service and it catches on, welcome them with open arms. Offer a new customer a sneak peek at your latest product or maybe it’s free shipping on their first order. Most importantly, if they leave someone else to choose you -- it’s imperative that you deliver. Be careful what measures you take to entice them. Biting off more than you can chew when luring in competitor’s clientele could come back to bite you. No one wants to try a new product or service, only to be disappointed.

Take advantage of your assets. Draw from your business’ strengths such as talented staff, a strong Board of Directors, connections in the industry or healthy financial backing. Tweak what needs tweaking, by using your existing resources. One free and easy-to-execute but easy-to-overlook strategy? Looking to your employees for answers. Your team is on the front lines dealing with the customer day-to-day and learning firsthand what isn’t working. What do they think could be at the root of the issue? They could hold the key to getting your brand into the right hands.
Don’t close the door on change. Just because you’ve been doing something for 10 years, doesn’t mean you should keep on keepin’ on. For example, be mindful of your sales cycle. When is product moving? When is it stagnant? If something isn’t selling and weighing you down, consider taking it out of the pipeline. If that invites anxiety over the thought of unsold merchandise, try creating a demand. Offers like “limited time only” could go a long way in moving product to be phased out. The market evolves and your business needs to as well.  Intimidating to-do lists are the hardest to tackle but the reward is far greater than the medial ones. Embrace change and look at it as an opportunity, especially if the writing’s on the wall that something needs to give.

Be the best, around. Ultimately, focus on what you do best. And if you’ve realized that you aren’t, get back to basics. Determine what it is that makes you unique and build from there. You already know what your strengths and weaknesses are because you asked your existing clientele. Use that feedback to determine how the customer benefits from choosing you and share it with the ones you’re trying to reach.

BBB’s News and Opinion Blog serves as your source for business topics and industry news like tips on hiring for your small business and ways to grow engagement with your audience using social media. For more information you can trust, visit us at, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

Written by Stephanie Benz, Senior Social Media Associate for Better Business Bureau Serving E. Massachusetts, ME, RI & VT.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

How to Make Smart Hiring Decisions for your Small Business

Facing a competitive and crowded labor market is a common challenge for small businesses. Rather than “the talent” competing for your job openings, it’s other businesses competing for the same talent.  Add into the mix -- that as a small business owner -- a new hire essentially means adding a new family member. The employee becomes part of your presumably small inner circle. So as an entrepreneur, how do you acquire top talent -- against stiff competition -- who will also fit into your existing tribe? 9 ways to step-up your recruitment strategy:

REACH OUT. Consider looking outside your business’ immediate area to grow your team. If the locals don’t seem to fit the bill, or don’t answer your call for openings, stretch your reach to neighboring communities. The right candidate won’t mind making the move geographically and/or commuting a little further for the right workplace scenario.

SEEK OUT THE SEEKERS. Try looking on job search sites in the job ‘wanted’ section. This might include Craigslist and even the relevant newspapers. Candidates who are proactively and eagerly looking for work are likely ones you can count on to perform. Looking for new grads to fill empty shoes? Ensure your opportunities can be easily located and applied to via mobile apps and social media networking sites like LinkedIn and Indeed. Millenial job seekers are not just doing their job searching online. According to Accenture Strategy’s 2015 U.S. College Graduate Employment Study, 64% of 2015 graduates have used a mobile app to search for a new gig.  

TRY FLEXING. Still not finding the right full-timers or the local labor pool seems particularly barren? Consider hiring a freelancer. Freelancers are often excited about helping a growing business. They can learn something new and contribute in the early stages of building your brand. Most come armed with a variety of experiences and a diverse portfolio. Plus, freelancers can contribute to your business on an as-needed basis.

START SPREADING THE NEWS. Referrals from successful employees -- who are already happy working for and with you -- or investors in your business can provide qualified leads. A passive job seeker who is connected to you via a respected colleague might just be a star candidate. Consider this, they are experienced and dedicated to their craft and are recommended by someone you trust. Oh -- and they aren’t job searching, so the only competition you’ll have is their current place of employment.

HIRE FROM INSIDE THE LINES. 72% of 2015 college graduates participated in an internship program during their collegiate career (up from 65% in the prior year). An intern will have the opportunity to learn your business from the inside out and potentially get involved with a number of departments/projects/colleagues during their tenure. It’s a plausible solution to finding talent that fits. You have the advantage of determining if they will work well with your existing employees, while at the same time learning the business.  

BE MEMORABLE. There is both risk and reward in working for a small business. Do your potential hires know the reward, if they’re expected to set the DVR and burn the midnight oil? Promote your culture -- for example, what is unique about your business? Show candidates what they can expect via a tour of your space on their interview visit. It might even be worthwhile to have them shadow someone besides the hiring manager (namely you) before a decision is made. If an applicant rejects an offer, as for feedback about your culture. Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate. Ask your current crew what’s missing and you not only win brownie points for including them in the process but you’ll be poised to attract other people looking for the same benefits. Success for your growing business starts “at home” and if your employees aren’t “feeling” the culture you’re creating, they won’t be a long lasting investment.

GIVE A LITTLE. Be willing to offer more to your employees. The “more” doesn’t necessarily have to come in the form of dollar signs. Many new hires are satisfied with a well-rounded package of salary and benefits. Sixty percent of the class of 2015 said they would prefer to work at a company with a positive social atmosphere and earn a lower salary than make more money someplace where it's less fun to work. Flexibility also goes a long way and can gel nicely with the vibe of a young business. Think about allowing some role players the option of working remotely as a perk.

SCHOOL THEM. Skills can be taught but personality is a plus and drive is a must. During a search, consider potential employees who are ready to embrace the adversity that often crops up with a small business. Also, ask yourself if you'd enjoy lunch with the new worker bee because if personalities don't click, how will you connect on projects? Having skilled employees who match both your vision and your enthusiasm is inevitably important. If someone is in a constant state of discomfort, it will show in team meetings and in front of a client. A willingness to train the right person will prove fruitful in the long run.

TALK IT OUT. When you hold an interview, ask what a candidate does outside of the workplace? An employee’s hobby could prove to be a hidden gem skill set for your business. And this same line of questions, could also help you determine his/her potential fit in your workplace. Do they like to play softball and your business has a team or maybe he or she is active with local charities and your business encourages philanthropy. In a similar vein, how do they envision the future? While working at your small business may not be their life-long dream (although, bonus if so!) having this conversation can unveil how motivated the individual is to grow as a professional. Ambitious leaders-to-be will see working for you as a valuable experience and this exchange could reveal ideas worthy of being implemented by your brand when the new hire hits the ground running.

Does your small business have proven recruitment strategies? Share them in the comments!

BBB’s News and Opinion Blog serves as your source for business topics and industry news like tips for customer retention and how to use social media engagement to grow your business. For more information you can trust, visit us at, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

Written by Stephanie Benz, Senior Social Media Associate for Better Business Bureau Serving E. Massachusetts, ME, RI & VT.

Friday, April 15, 2016

4 Things that Really Matter for your Business’ SEO Strategies

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is one of the many ways of marketing on the Internet and it is becoming synonymous with content marketing. How effective a business’ SEO is, depends on many different factors. At the end of the day, every online business, small or big, needs to have a proper SEO strategy in order to make the most of their search engine rank and overall online visibility to improve their online traffic. There are other methods for businesses to remain visible and easily searchable online but proper Search Engine Optimization is the most effective because it gives you visibility on search engines where billions of searches are performed every single day.

Businesses have to be extra careful with their Search Engine Optimization these days because Google has made SEO a serious business. It was quite easy for SEO professionals to work for a website’s ranking in the past but with the passage of time, things have been made more strict. Though there is a lot that can be talked about when SEO is in question, here are a few things that must be given proper attention in order to guarantee the success of any SEO strategy:

Content is Still King. Search Engine Optimization should not be discussed without talking about the importance of content. When Google’s Panda update was rolled out, it was thought in the beginning that content would lose its worth and value. Little did people know that Google was running that update to improve the quality of content on websites. When the Panda update from Google rolled out, it had a great effect on the websites that were ranking high on Google at that time. It was soon realized that Panda was supposed to make SEO experts improve their website’s content.

SEO notebook and pen.jpg
For example, if your website contained duplicate content you could be sure you were going to get punished by Google. If the content of your website did not add value to the corresponding web pages, you were going to get punished for that as well. Slowly, websites moved away from stuffing keywords in their content only to get indexed and ranked higher in Google’s search results. In the same way, Google came up with the Hummingbird update that also focused a lot on the quality of content on the websites. In a nutshell, it’s crucial to offer quality content on your website and be sure that your pages are not light on content. Of course, don’t just add content to game the search engine system, add content that makes each page more valuable for your visitors. Remember it’s all about creating a nice online experience for your customers.

Speed of the Website. It has been proven over and over, that the speed at which your website loads has great effect on search engine ranking. The reason why Google pays so much attention to website’s loading speed is that it matters for the visitors. If visitors did not pay much attention to website loading speeds, we would expect Google to ditch this element from ranking algorithms. Most recent statistics have shown that website visitors will not stay on a website, if it takes more than 3 seconds to load. The percentage of visitors that will leave the website for a loading time more than this is 40%.

In simple words, if you want your website to rank high amongst Google’s top search result pages, you will have to improve your website’s loading time. If your website takes longer than 3 seconds, you can say goodbye to the 40% visitors who could be potential customers, too. You will have to work on the website’s coding and design in order to know all the things that are causing your website to load slowly. The web host you have chosen for your website, might also need consideration from you because the performance of their servers and bandwidth could affect your website’s loading time directly. Be sure to check your site with Google Speed Test tool.

Quality of Backlinks. The latest search engine optimization is all about quality links. When Google’s Penguin waddled into the world of SEO, it punished all the websites that had too many links that were of poor or spammy quality. Websites that had a huge number of backlinks were happy to welcome Google’s Penguin update initially, because they thought they had everything in place to stay in the top results. That was not the case when the Penguin update drew closer and was implemented.

seo link building tips

Soon the websites with poor, spammy links were penalized and saw their rank start to fall. Google then allowed the websites to ward off some of the beatings from the Penguin update through their link disavow tool. All of this was only done to improve the quality of backlinks. If you wish to see your website in the top results you will have to work diligently on quality backlinks. It’s best to get links from websites that have a good reputation on the Internet (high Domain Authority) and that are not involved in anything shady. You can visit the Better Business Bureau to look up a business and reference customer reviews, complaints and other resources regarding their practices before engaging with them in an online relationship. Websites infested with viruses and malware -- and those promoting bad content -- are going to pull you down in search results with them. It’s best to focus your link building efforts on the top 5 companies in your industry that are considered very trustworthy by your industry peers. Then have another list of sites that are perhaps not quite the A players in your industry but the B Team. You will probably have better luck with these B players initially because the A’s typically receives a lot of requests for guest blog opportunities and use of external links. You might even want to target a third tier of sites too, the C Team. You can use the Moz bar tool which is free to assess each of these sites to determine their Domain Authority (DA) score.

Important On Page Factors. There are many on-page factors that decide how high your website will rank on Google search results. For example, it is important that you make your title tag with the keyword in it. When your website’s web page appears on the Google search result pages, it’s the title that appears most prominently. Furthermore, the description tag of your website should also contain your main keyword along with other secondary keywords. Another thing that most experts suggest is that the content on your web pages should be long enough to look informative to people. As a good rule of thumb, each page should have at least 500 words.

Canonical tag is another important item needing attention, if you have a huge website with many web pages. This tag plays a hefty role for ecommerce websites because duplicate content for ecommerce websites is inevitable. With the use of canonical tag, signals can be sent to Google that even if there is identical content on two pages of the website. Google must not consider the content duplicate but treats both the pages as one. Don’t forget about the images on the pages since they are unavoidable too. Always put a description with the image and a clear caption.

If you follow these core SEO tactics, your site should be in good shape and over time -- with consistent effort -- your rank should rise. Please note, the tactics and factors mentioned in this post are just some of the top strategies and not all inclusive. Want more on the topic of SEO? Get tips on effective keyword strategy for strong SEO results.

BBB’s News and Opinion Blog serves as your source for business topics and industry news like how to use social media engagement to grow your business  and tips for customer retention. For more information you can trust, visit us at, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

Written by Guest Blogger, Christian Habermann of BBB Accredited Business, Auctus Marketing

Christian HabermannChristian Habermann is the founder of Auctus Marketing and is a leader and innovator in the online marketing world. He is very involved in the local startup scene in Boston, MA. He co-founded, now, which is one of the fastest growing online insurance companies and has made the Inc. 500 List the past 3 years.  He loves to help companies of all sizes, from startups to Fortune 500s, embrace the online marketing world to grow their business. He is the author of "SEO for 2014” and holds an MBA in marketing from Vanderbilt.

Are you an Accredited Business and have interest in guest blogging for BBB? Connect with Senior Social Media Associate, Stephanie Benz for details.