Social Media for Small Business, Part 1: Why You Need to Jump on the Social Media Bandwagon

Social media isn’t dead, and small businesses still need it
More than 60% of businesses say that they haven’t seen a return on investment for their social media efforts, but there’s a reason for that: social media is all about patience. You can’t just set up an account and watch the sales roll in, because social media success for small businesses is far more nuanced than that.

So how does a small business owner win on social media? It’s not as complicated as it sounds.

What can social media do for my small business?
Social media is all about making connections with your customers. Now more than ever, customers want to do business with companies that feel human. They love personality, especially the growing Millennial demographic.

Social media is the most effective way to give your company a voice and a personality, and customers are increasingly turning to social media when they want to praise or slam a company. A company that responds to this positive and negative feedback can earn a spot in the customer’s heart (and wallet.) And the best part? It can eventually tap into the rest of that customer’s social network, hopefully gaining more devotees in the process.

Social media is not a place to generate leads, at least not in the beginning. Building a relationship based on trust and loyalty takes time, and that’s what the social media game is all about. In the end, the time spent is typically worth it.

I don’t want to mess this up... what are some common mistakes small businesses make with social media?
Many businesses try to dive into social media by creating accounts on every platform that’s available. Let’s clear something up right now: there’s no golden rule that says a business has to be active on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, Tumblr, YouTube, and that new social media platform that will inevitably be created next month.

There’s only one real caveat to this: you should have a Facebook page, sinc e71% of all adults are on Facebook.

Trying to excel on every social media platform is the quickest way to screw up your social media marketing
Take a moment to think about your target audience. Who is your perfect customer, what are their demographics? This is the most straightforward way to determine your social media plan.

In September 2013, Pew released a comprehensive study detailing who uses what social media networks.

Do you want to reach men? You can find them on LinkedIn (24%) and Twitter (17%.) For women, find them on Pinterest (33%) and Instagram (20%.)

Targeting 50-64 year olds? The social media platform they’re primarily hanging out at is LinkedIn (24%.)

Give Pew’s report a read, and try to figure out where your customers are spending their time online. It’s better to ignore the platforms that your customers aren’t using, because then you can be a social media rock star on the sites that matter.

If you aren’t sure how to get started on social media, stay tuned. In Part 2 of our Social Media for Small Businesses series, you’ll get the lowdown on how to get started, and don’t worry- it’s not tricky.

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Going Local: Growing Your Small Business with Local SEO

The Best Tools and Methods for Improving Your Local SEO Presence

Small businesses often find it nearly impossible to rank on the first page of a Google search for competitive keywords. Most of the highly-searched terms are being used by their much larger competitors.

A smaller business, however, can rank high in local searches by using local SEO tactics. According to SE Talks, nearly “30% of the total searches in Google per month are localized searches”. This means that this 30% isn’t looking for the “top mechanics in the nation”. Instead, they want the “top mechanics in the New Orleans area”. A local business probably may not rank nationally, but it can take advantage of this large search pool that wants to find a business closer to home. Local SEO helps level the playing field, allowing local businesses to rank on the first page SERPs in their service areas.

Why Use Local SEO
Yet, small businesses need to rank near the top of the SERPs since sites on the first page of results get over 90% of total search traffic. Also, people want to research businesses before they buy anything, but they tend to buy within 10 to 20 miles of their current location.

Taking advantage of readily available localized search sites puts a business ahead of competitors that are not aggressively utilizing these channels. Also, when a business claims their local SEO listing, it will show up on Google maps, local business directories and even on mobile devices. The Google Hummingbird algorithm update more closely entwined mobile and local search to provide better, faster results to mobile device users. Taking advantage of mobile is very important since it accounts for nearly 30% of total web traffic, a huge audience of potential customers. Plus, over 80% of people who use their mobile devices to look for businesses “tend to make call or visit the location within 24 hours so the conversion rate of the local searches is very high”.

Going local can increase conversions and build brand awareness since businesses will show up in local searches more often. For a little amount of work, this increase in visibility will result in a high return on investment.

Methods for Building A Local Presence
Use this checklist to ensure that your business is fully take advantage of local search:

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The Benefits of Creating a Blog for Your Business

Blogging can be a large commitment, especially for small businesses or freelancers who don’t have a lot of time. Plus, many people don’t see the need for a company blog. There are, however, some major business benefits to blogging.

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The Standing Desk Craze: Is It Right For You?

Standing desks have skyrocketed in popularity lately. Believers cite increased productivity, higher energy levels, less back pain, and other benefits as concrete proof that making the switch from sitting to standing is the best thing office workers can do for their health.

Before making the switch, it’s important that you understand the risks, too. You’ll likely have a long adjustment period before standing around all day feels normal and comfortable, and there are some health risks associated with being on your feet for eight or more hours each day.

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Your Small Business Website Needs Google Analytics, and Here’s How to Get Started

Why does your small business website need Google Analytics?
Knowledge is power, and Google Analytics gives you all of the knowledge you need to understand your website’s success.

Analytics shows you where your visitors come from, how they got to your site, the actions that they took while on your site, and so much more. All of this information is useful for creating marketing campaigns, pay-per-click campaigns, accessing the success of social media campaigns, and testing SEO campaigns… to name only a few benefits. Essentially, Google Analytics helps small business owners get to know their audience and their potential customers.

Plus, it’s free. You can’t beat free.

How to get started with Google Analytics
Firing up Google Analytics isn’t as simple as just signing up for an account. The process is easy enough, but there are a few steps you’ll need to take before Google starts curating your metrics.

Signing up for an account is the first step, but you’ll also need to install a tracking code on your website. Google details the process thoroughly in its Getting Started Guide, so give that a read.

Important metrics to understand
Monitoring your website’s analytics won’t do much good if analyzing the metrics feels like reading Latin. You can create custom reports for nearly every metric imaginable, but here are a few numbers to pay attention to:
·Bounce Rate: The Bounce Rate measures the percentage of your site’s visits that weren’t quality visits. A visitor is considered “bounced” out of your site if they’ve only viewed a single page, hit the back button or typed in a new URL as soon as they entered your site, or anything else that results in a brief stay. For example, a bounce rate in the 70s is high because it shows that 7 out of 10 visitors didn’t interact with your site.
·Pages Per Visit: This number helps quantify engagement. How many pages did people view on your site? A “good” number for this metric will depend on the content of your site and it’s design. If your site’s content is on a few pages, a lower Pagers Per Visit metric isn’t terrible. If you have a ton of pages with loads of products or services and other information, you’ll want that number to be higher.
·Average Visit Duration: How long did a person spend on your website? 20 seconds, or 5 minutes? Again, whether this number is “good” or not will depend on the type of content on your site.
·Traffic Sources: Google Analytics breaks down all of the traffic sources that got visitors to your website. You can view the metrics for search-related sources, referrals from other sites, or direct hits from bookmarks or typing in the URL. Under the Search portion you can see which keywords visitors typed in before landing at your domain. Similarly, Referral numbers are important. Do your top referrals come from links on popular industry sites, social media, mobile, or some combination of these? Knowing these numbers can help you plan an effective marketing strategy. There’s no reason not to use Google Analytics
Google Analytics can truly be the foundation of a successful online marketing plan. There are plenty of experts who know the metrics and their consequences inside and out, but even casual users can glean plenty of useful data from Analytics.

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How the Evernote Suite of Products Can Help Your Business

Features and Benefits of the Evernote Suite of Products
Evernote is a suite of software tools designed for taking notes, saving information and organizing files and documents. The basic products are free, but you do have to pay a fee for the premium services. The software runs on all major desktop and mobile operating systems, including Windows, iOS, Android and Blackberry.

Evernote Products
The Evernote product suite includes the following eight products:

Evernote: The signature product allows you to create “notes”. Notes can be nearly anything, including images, text messages, podcasts or even web pages via the Web Clipper feature. Since Evernote is a cloud-based app, all of your notes can be accessed from any device, and all notes are updated simultaneously. Share your notes with coworkers or colleagues, making it easy to collaborate and keep everyone up-to-date. Use this software for a variety of activities, including taking meeting notes, collecting research, or planning your business itinerary. Use the audio feature to capture important talks from conferences.
Skitch: Skitch allows you to markup documents, images or presentations with text or by adding arrows and shapes. Rather than adding a lot of comments to a document, use arrows to point directly to an element in an image or add a green check to a document to show that presentations have been reviewed and approved.
Penultimate: Penultimate is Evernote’s iPad handwriting app. Using a stylus, Penultimate allows you to take handwritten notes directly in to your Evernote notebooks without the paper. Add drawings, doodles or side-notes just as you would in handwritten notes. For those who prefer writing to typing, this app makes note-taking more convenient. And because your notes are stored within your Evernote account, your Penultimate notes are searchable and easy to share with collaborators.
Evernote Web Clipper: Bookmarking web pages used to be the only way to save important research or interesting articles. With Evernote Web Clipper, you can clip either certain sections of a page or an entire web page and save it to your account. If you’re collecting stats for a presentation or just for a business use case, the app lets you pull together all of your research into a single file. Web Clipper is a cloud-based application, meaning that you can access your saved web pages from any device, including your desktop, tablet, laptop and smartphone.
Evernote Hello: It’s hard to remember all of the people that you meet when networking or at meetings and conferences. Evernote Hello allows you to create a virtual Rolodex of people, including where you met them, how you interacted with them and other history.
Evernote Food: Evernote Food keeps track of all your favorite recipes and food. For business people on the go, you can also use this app to find new restaurants when you’re out of town.
Evernote Clearly: When you’re reading a blog, pop-up ads can obscure the text and even slow down how fast the page loads on your device. Evernote Clearly removes these distracting ads from the text, leaving you with a clean version of the post. Aside from making for a better reading experience, it also provides you with an ad-free post if you need to use it for a presentation or marketing materials. Plus, the product allows you to save the post for later reading, i.e. when flying home from a conference.
Evernote Peek: Evernote Peek is an iPad app that turns your notes into virtual study guides. It works in conjunction with the iPad Smart Cover or the Evernote Peek Virtual Cover, and it essentially allows you to create “virtual flashcards”. Peek under the edge of your Smart Cover to view the question or clue, then lift the cover all the way up to see the answer. Questions and clues are created from your own Evernote notes; the title of your note is the clue, and the body of the note is the answer. Use this app to prepare for a presentation, learn new material, or even to learn a new language to improve your overall business skills.

Evernote’s product suite combines the functionality of a note-taking app with a virtual filing cabinet that you and your team can access anywhere.

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4 Things You Need to Know About Marketing Your Business to Millennials

Why do businesses need to use different marketing techniques to reach Millennials?
Generation Y, more commonly called Millennials, are one of the largest generations around – with an estimated group size of 86 million. Born in the mid-80s to early-90s, this group boasts plenty of consumer buying power, especially as they reach adulthood and enter the workforce. Businesses that effectively market to this demographic can grab a piece of the estimated $2.45 trillion in spending power by 2015... and that’s just in the US.

That said, marketing to Millennials is different than marketing to other groups, like Baby Boomers, because this unique group has been growing alongside online technology since childhood.

Not only are Millennials online constantly, they’re also increasingly marketing-savvy. How can a forward-thinking business win these buyers over without seeming pushy? There are a few key things to keep in mind when marketing to Millennials, and thankfully, they aren’t difficult to implement.

1. Use social media to form relationships with Millennials
This infographic from Social Media Today sums up Gen Y’s use of social media quite nicely. 70% of Millennials react to businesses and brands on social media. 54 percent of Millennials post about products, brands and businesses. In comparison, older generations only post about these things 45% of the time.

New social media platforms are constantly being created, and Millennials will be using these platforms frequently.

2. Be digital
Beyond social media, it’s vital to make sure that your business operates in the online world. Can customers make purchases online? Do you have a well designed website that is simple to navigate? Millennials are notoriously faced-paced, so are they able to find the information that they’re looking for easily? These things influence the purchasing behavior of a Millennial customer.

Millennials have grown up with the extreme convenience of online buying. In a study about millennial online shopping behavior, The Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit research group, found that 45% of respondents spent 1 or more hours per day perusing retail sites online. If your business can take advantage of this trend, it should.

3. Be authentic with your marketing to Millennials
You can’t just start a Twitter account and begin tweeting incessantly about your business. Marketing, especially to Millennials, is a conversation.

Instead of talking at this demographic, talk with them. Be entertaining and show that your brand has a human side to it. There’s nothing Millennials hate more than inauthenticity. This applies to social media marketing, email marketing, content marketing, and every other form of marketing you can think of.

4. Don’t even try to disguise your marketing campaigns
Millennials know that you’re trying to market to them, and as long as your tactics aren’t slimy, they’re okay with it. Really.

Everyone loves a heart-wrenching video designed to go viral, and Millennials will definitely share that type of content. But, if you’re trying to sell something to them, just go ahead and do it by focusing on how your product or service will improve their lives. Again, being authentic will help win over this demographic.

What is the most important takeaway about marketing to Millennials?
To reach Gen Y, your business will need to be online and utilize social media, but none of that will matter if you aren’t building relationships. More than any other generation, Millennials crave relationships with the businesses they frequent. If your company can market with this in mind, you can successfully tap into this massive cohort of consumers.

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Small Business: Leveraging the Cloud

“The cloud” is one of the latest buzz words within the business community;but what, exactly, is it, and how can you leverage it for your business?

What is the Cloud?
You and your business are probably already using cloud computing in some form. For example, if you’re using Dropbox or Google Docs, then you are already using cloud-based applications. With cloud computing, you virtually “rent” both software and hardware for as long as you need it, including servers, backup and virtual storage, firewalls, load balancers, and apps like word processing, design, customer relationship systems, payroll, etc.

Cloud computing is just a new name for an old IT technology - virtualization. The technology is just more available nowadays. In the past, you had to work in the IT department to understand how virtualization works and how to use it. Now, cloud service providers are willing to handle all of the logistics - for a simple monthly fee.

Small businesses can use cloud computing for a variety of services and tasks. For example, your server will run out of space, run slow as it gets older or even crash. Servers are expensive to replace. You can use a virtual server to run processes and software for a monthly fee that is often less expensive than buying a new server. You can also use simple backup tools like Mozy or Carbonite, saving your files externally in case of power failures or lost equipment. Or outsource all of your storage to a virtual cloud storage drive that holds both data and files, ensuring that you always have access to your processes, data and files even in the case of a natural disaster, server failure, hacking, etc. Plus, since everything is cloud-based, your cloud applications will seamlessly run on cloud servers without deployment issues.

Benefits of Cloud Computing
The major reasons for the buzz around cloud computing have to do with the business benefits. Here are some reasons to consider the cloud:

Savings: With cloud computing, you’ll eliminate major capital expenditures since you won’t have to buy servers, on-site storage/backup and other infrastructure needed to run an office.
No Maintenance: When you have on-site infrastructure, you have to maintain and upgrade it, which can be extremely expensive and time-consuming. When you rent storage and servers from a provider, they’re responsible for all the maintenance/upgrades.
Control Over Software: In the past, you had to buy the whole software program and licensing even if you only needed it for a month or a project. For example, if you wanted to use Adobe Photoshop, you would have to buy the entire program or even a version of Creative Suite, which is very expensive. Nowadays, Adobe offers a cloud-based version of all its software, allowing you to “subscribe” to the program as long as you need it. Cloud computing allows you to use the software for only as long as you need it. Further with cloud applications, you just log into a website to access your apps, and you don’t have to download anything to your computer.
Access from Anywhere: Need a document when you’re on the road? No need to stress or VPN into your office desktop. Instead, just go online, access your cloud drive, and get everything that you need – no matter where you are in the world.
Scaling: Running out of space on a server or storage unit is a real concern for businesses. Cloud computing provides you with virtually unlimited server capacity and storage space. Scale up or down as needed. No need to buy that extra server just for the busy time of year.
Backup/Recovery: You’ll never lose all of your data because of a lost laptop or a server failure. Back up your data to the cloud, and you can quickly recover any missing files – without any loss of business continuity.

How to Get Started
Finding a good cloud service provider is the hardest part of getting started with the cloud. Do your homework, read reviews, and only sign up with a trusted name in the business. Also, do an inventory of your actual needs, i.e. how many software seats, estimated amount of storage, server capacity, etc. If you work with IT consultants, they can help you with this task.

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Why Startups Are Going Green

5 Ways to Cut Down on Your Business Carbon Footprint
Businesses have begun embracing the “green movement” in recent years. The value of going green is two-fold: it helps the environment, and – more importantly for most businesses – it improves their bottom line.

According to a report by the World Wildlife Fun and Carbon Disclosure Project, if American businesses were to cut greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 3 percent per year, businesses could “save up to $190 billion in 2020 alone or $780 billion over 10 years”.

Green Business
Businesses of all sizes are seeing the benefits of going green. The Aspen Skiing Co. ski resorts decided to start small by changing out the incandescent light bulbs with more energy-efficient ones. This move has saved the company $10,000 each year since 1999. They have gone on to add solar panels and replace old boilers, all saving the company more money and improving overall efficiency.

Search engine giant Google has even embraced the green movement. In 2012, “it invested $200 million in a Texas wind farm, and in 2011, it invested $280 million in a fund that helped now-public Solar City finance more solar installations in America, focusing on the residential and business markets.”

Ideas For Your Startup to Go Green
While larger businesses have actively led the “green” charge, startups can take advantage of the environmental and cost savings that come with reducing your carbon footprint.

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StayFocused Chrome Extension: Helping You Remain Focused Throughout the Day

StayFocused Can Help Users Become More Efficient and Productive
Staying on task is difficult for everyone, whether you’re a small business owner, freelancer or employee. The Internet provides enough distractions to drastically decrease overall productivity. One way to combat this issue is with StayFocused, which is a free app that reduces access to certain sites by limiting the time spent on them.

It’s an add-on for the Chrome web browser, and it tracks the length of time that is spent on distracting sites like Facebook, Huffington Post, eBay and reddit. Once a certain time limit is reached, users will no longer be able to access this site the rest of the day. This time limit ensures that everyone is doing their jobs and increases overall productivity. Most users want to stay on task and get their work done, but oftentimes just forget how long they’ve been on these sites. This app works as a reminder to help users get back on track and avoid going down the rabbit hole of gossip, social media, news or similar sites. Further, it’s also easy to install and very intuitive to use.

How to Get Started
As mentioned, StayFocused reduces the time spent on certain websites. Setting up this extension is quite easy even without a technical background or an IT department, and it works on desktops, laptops and mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. To get started, go to the Chrome Web Store, and click the “Add to Chrome” button. Once installed, there are several options within the setup menu.

StayFocusedcan be accessed from either the app site itself or by clicking on the clock icon on the right-hand side of the screen, next to the address bar. The icon only has a limited number of options, including being able to block a site and immediately accessing the Advanced options, Nuclear Option, Settings and Help/FAQ.

Features and Benefits
The main goal of the app is to keep users from wasting valuable work hours on non-work websites. It provides ways for users to restrict how often they visit or stay on blocked sites. Sites can be blocked by going to the Blocked Sites tab, and adding the URL of the website, or by selecting a site from a list of recommended sites. Users can also create an “Allowed” list of sites. To create a list of blocked or allowed sites, go to either the Blocked Sites or Allowed Sites tab, and add the URL without the http://. To block an entire site, remove the www, or block all domains by using an asterisk, i.e. *.org.

As this is a free extension, there are no advanced admin rights that lock down the settings, meaning that users can change them if they really want to know about the latest celebrity gossip or to continue reading their Facebook newsfeed.. The Require Challenge, however, can be added, which makes it difficult for users to change the settings by making them complete a “challenge” before manipulating anything. Just the thought of having to do the challenge may be enough for users to quit trying and get back to work.

The main features of this extension include being able to sync it between all devices, which is a nice feature, especially in this Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) world. Active days can be set - shutting off the app on the weekends - and active hours, i.e. 8-5, which only blocks sites during business hours. The maximum time allowed on blocked sites will be applied to all blocked sites. The daily reset option reboots the daily allowed time on these restricted sites.

StayFocused also comes with a backup option, which saves the programmed settings by exporting them to a backup file in case the settings get wiped or users change devices. These can be easily imported back in - no need to re-setup devices.

Other possible settings include the Stalker option, which keeps track of the time on sites that are accessed by clicking on a link from a blocked site, i.e. etsy, MySpace, etc. Sites can be blocked for whole periods of time (i.e. 1-2 hours) with the Nuclear Option, and the time when this option takes effect can also be set, i.e.at a certain time of day, right now or when the max time allowed has been exceeded.

StayFocused Limitations
As mentioned, this is a Chrome extension, which means that it only works on Chrome. If users want to get around the blocker, then they can simply use other browsers. Also, it doesn’t appear to work on iPads. In the age of BYOD, this could also be a major limitation from keeping users from accessing blocked sites.

It would be nice too if individual timers could be set up for different sites. Some sites may be required for work, i.e. Facebook and Twitter for freelancers or social media specialists that work in content marketing, or the Huffington post for a research analyst. They may need to scan news feeds for their job, which may take longer than the 10-15 minutes allowed for other blocked sites. StayFocused should have an option to extend the time on these sites, but still limit it to a certain period of time to avoid users from getting sucked into reading the feeds longer than they should.

Overall Thoughts
For anyone who has trouble staying on task and being productive throughout the day, the StayFocused Chrome extension works very well. It’s easy to use and set up. While it has some limitations, overall it’s a great tool to help users remain focused throughout the day.

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What Defines an Entrepreneur?

Merriam-Webster defines an entrepreneur as someone “who starts a business and is willing to risk loss in order to make money”. Basically, an entrepreneur is a person who doesn’t mind taking a chance on something new, hoping that the return on investment outweighs the risk and capital expenditures.

While anyone can take a risk, successful entrepreneurs have certain characteristics that help them succeed in crowded and competitive marketplaces and economies.

Common Characteristics of Successful Entrepreneurs

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What is a Virtual Receptionist?

How a Virtual Receptionist Can Help Your Business
The role of business owners is to grow their businesses. This often involves attending current and potential client meetings, working on plans or actually performing the business work for the day. This doesn’t leave much time for doing paperwork and answering phone calls.

Receptionists can easily handle these tasks, but many small businesses don’t have the time to find, hire and train one. Plus, they may not have the capital to pay for a salary and benefits.

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Small Business Trends You Shouldn’t Overlook in 2014

Some small business trends are obvious, but less common trends are equally noteworthy
Each year, news outlets and small business blogs rush to discuss trends for the coming 12 months. The Huffington Post pointed to increased mobile use, continued paid marketing and social marketing, more e-commerce, and a surge in local searches as trends that will see businesses through 2014. Other outlets predict a surge in entrepreneurship and small business that will continue through the year.

These trends are well known and often discussed, but what about the often-overlooked small business trends? There are a few points that people might miss when it comes to small business, but these trends appear to be lasting.

Coworking spaces remain popular
Coworking was all the rage last year, but don’t expect this trend to go away. Nine out of ten coworking spaces are expected to increase their membership this year. It’s clear that there is a continued demand for the benefits that coworking provides, and the popularity of coworking is one trend that should continue throughout 2014.

Coworking has widespread positive feedback amongst freelancers, small business owners, and telecommuters, and is worth looking into.

Email still converts better than social media
Social media has been coveted as the “it” thing to catapult small businesses into the spotlight for quite some time. But is the return on investment as great as it seems?

Nope. When it comes to customer acquisition, a recent survey by McKinsey and Co. shows that email marketing is 40 times more effective than Facebook and Twitter combined.

Small business should still cultivate online relationships with their customers using social media, but the trusted email newsletter is far from dead.

The rise of Software as a Service (SaaS)
Cloud computing is an extremely popular business trend these days, but there’s another level that’s often overlooked: Software as a Service, or SaaS.

SaaS is often called “on-demand software,” and is a software delivery mechanism, where the software and data are hosted on a data center owned by the company providing the software. Salesforce, Basecamp, QuickBooks, and GoToMeeting are all examples of SaaS solutions.

SaaS is great because of it’s low cost and scalability. Now, a one-person firm can compete with larger firms, using the same software and keeping costs in check.

Online reputation management will continue to grow in importance
It’s estimated that 90% of consumers read online reviews before deciding to make a purchase, and that probably doesn’t come as a surprise. Many small businesses actively claim their accounts on review sites, but that’s not enough. Businesses must be proactive to garner the benefits of online reputation management.

Negative reviews on Yelp or Google can severely damage a business, so it’s important that companies observe and respond to negative customer feedback.

Conversely, small businesses should also pay attention to their positive reviews. Customer praise can be displayed on a company’s website and social media accounts, for example.

Trends will come and go every year. Some will be around for the long haul, and others will dwindle. Small business owners should remain aware of the common, newsworthy crazes, but shouldn’t forget to dig deeper to unveil some of the lesser-known business developments that are just as helpful.

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