How to Hire Quality Seasonal Workers

Over eighty percent of hourly employers expect to face challenges filling holiday positions in 2016, based on data released from online job marketplace Snagajob. According to its annual Holiday Hiring report, 44% of employers cite a lack of qualified workers, while 34% cite a lack of available workers, and 30% report increasing competition with other employers.

Many of the businesses surveyed, however, are well-known big box retailers, and that presents a challenge. As a small business, how can you compete with bigger competitors such as these for a seemingly small pool of seasonal workers this year, and more importantly, how do you ensure that the people you are bringing in will actually do a good job?

5 Steps to Hiring a Great Seasonal Workforce

One of the most important things to remember is that even though the positions you are trying to fill may be temporary, they can have a big impact on the overall performance of your business. This means you need to go into the hiring process thinking about the bigger picture. Here are five steps to consider:

1. Start the process early. Don’t wait till the last minute to begin your holiday hiring. Not only will that create pressure to quickly fill the positions- even if the applicant pool isn’t so great- but it may put added pressure on your regular staff as well since they will need to work with and likely train these individuals. The holiday season is a stressful time to begin with; you don’t need to add to it unnecessarily. You also will want to take your time finding the best people for the job. So, begin your search process months in advance.

2. Create a profile of your ideal seasonal worker. Before you start your search, make sure you are very clear about what you want your seasonal staff to do and when. Then, breakdown the kinds of skills, qualities, and experience needed to fulfill that role.

Keep in mind that there are different ways to hire holiday help:

  • You could bring in temporary employees who perform work on a short-term basis, say for a few weeks or months. You could hire these people directly or rely on a temporary staffing agency.
  • You could hire an independent contractor. These professionals provide their services to on a contractual basis. Some examples are mangers, marketers, and freelance writers.
  • You could on-board part-time staff. Part-timers generally work 10 to 20 hours per week. One benefit to this strategy is that these people could stay on as permanent employees and eventually take on full-time positions.

3. Decide where to look for your seasonal hires. While the majority of big employers consider online job postings to be the best way to hire seasonal candidates, small businesses really need to think beyond the Internet. Here are some effective ways to attract short-term talent.

  • Consider using a staffing agency. As I mentioned above, if you are looking for temporary workers to give you more man power through the holiday season, then relying on a temporary staffing agency may be a good option since they will do a lot of the screening work for you. You can give the agency a list of what you are looking for, and they will sift through the applicants. While you will have to pay a fee to work with a staffing agency, you will free up precious time and other resources, and if one of the workers isn’t a good fit, you contact the agency, and they can send you someone else.
  • Rely on referrals. You can also ask your current permanent staff for referrals. The benefit to this is that your workers already have an idea which kinds of people would be the best fit for your business and the job that needs to be done. To ensure a steady pipeline of referral candidates, you could even start a formal employee referral program that rewards employees for quality suggestions.
  • Tap college students. Another option for businesses next to a college or university or even in a town with a young population is to seek college students for holiday job openings. College students are usually not taking classes during the holiday season and/or they may be in need of extra cash. To reach this population you can recruit on campus a couple of months before the break and also post your openings on college job recruitment sites.

4. Ask for feedback. Once the holiday season is over, ask your staff for feedback on their experience. In particular, you want to know how well they understood the responsibilities given them, how comfortable they felt on the job, how your permanent staff interacted with them, and what things they wish they could change or improve. While this may not help the current holiday season, the information you receive can help you create a better experience the following year.

5. Stay connected with your seasonal staff. Finding quality staff is a challenge for all employers- big and small- throughout the year. Your seasonal hires may be there to fill a short-term need, but they could also become a pool of potential talent for future positions- even permanent ones. So, try to maintain the relationship.

In short, though you may not think of it this way, when you hire seasonal workers, you are making an investment in them and in your business. If you want to get the most ROI from this investment then you need to go into the process with the right attitude from the start.

How to Have Business Meetings that Everyone Actually Wants to Attend

Anyone who has ever worked in a business or owned one, is familiar with the business meeting conundrum. On one hand, there is a vital need for face-time among employees and partners and on occasion, suppliers, vendors, and even customers to touch base, exchange ideas, and work out any problems. But the truth is that most people dread business meetings and would much prefer to avoid them if they could. Underlying the collective groan is the fact that attendees tend to view these get-togethers as a contrived, painful process as well as a waste of precious time. Instead of boosting productivity and morale, it seems business meetings are creating the opposite effect.

The business world has tried all sorts of remedies in order to make meetings more enjoyable and productive. Notable entries to this initiative include: unusual positions (such as standing), or holding meetings in an gimmicky place (how about outdoors riding on a “conference bike”?) or even including a variety of cheesy activities, such as childish group-building exercises, games, and quizzes.

But to be honest, most of these strategies just end up making the process even more painful for the vast majority of the people who are being subjected to the experience (whether or not they will admit it).

Given that we can’t just do away with all business meetings, how can we really solve this issue in a way that truly makes the participants happy? Here are five points to consider that most businesses don’t realize:

1. Only meet when necessary. With so many modes of real-time, collaborative communication available to us these days, we really don’t need to be conducting so many official meetings. If something can be effectively communicated to a group of employees or partners, etc. without having to meet, then do so. Meetings are appropriate for issues and information that is more easily or quickly communicated in person, or for things that require some kind of “human response,” such as getting reactions and feedback from employees before a major change in the business.

2. Stick to a very clear agenda. Make sure that everyone is aware of what will be discussed before the meeting. This helps to keep everyone on the same page, but it also gets participants thinking about the topics beforehand so that they show up adequately prepared for the discussion.

3. Pick a time that works for everyone. Depending on how busy your participants may be, scheduling a meeting effectively can get tricky. But, if you are following the first two tips, then it is an event that your participants can prepare their own schedules for. They may even look forward to it. Also, pay attention to the time of day as well as the day of the week that the meeting is scheduled for, and make sure this time aligns with the goals of the meeting. You shouldn’t, for example, schedule a long problem-solving meeting on a Friday afternoon. But, you could use that time for a strategy update or for an encouragement session.

4. Pick a meeting length that fits the goal. If the purpose of your meeting is really just to touch base, and there are only a handful of people attending, then 10 to 15 minutes may be enough time. Scheduling too much time will just cause everyone involved to procrastinate and get off track. On the other hand, for bigger agendas you need to make sure that there is enough time allotted for everything to get adequately discussed and for decisions to be made by the end of the meeting.

5. Only invite the people who need to be there. Collaboration is great, but only when the right people are involved. Otherwise, it can end up being a distraction. A lot of time can get wasted and morale dampened when there are people who don’t need to be there. They are distracted and bored, and can bring down the energy and attention span of everyone else.

In short, business meetings don’t have to be painful. Just don’t set them up for failure before they have even happened.

How to Take Your Craft Business to the Next Level

Whether you are tired of working at your day job, you want to earn some extra money on the side, or you are looking to monetize the passion that already consumes a good part of your week, turning your craft into a profitable business may be a good option.

But, just because it may seem good doesn’t mean that success will come easy or that it will even come at all.

What most business experts out there don’t tell you is that one of the hardest parts about turning your hobby into a viable business is the mental flip that has to happen. If you want your hobby to become a serious source of income, then you have to treat it this way. Without this initial, internal shift, it will be very hard to put the systems, processes, and goals in place needed to build a sustainable business.

That said, here are 9 steps that you need to take if you really want to cash in on your hobby:

Step 1: Get out of the “hobbiest” mentality. There’s nothing wrong with being an artist, designer, or crafter. But, until you start looking at yourself as perusing a professional career designing handmade items, you will never get to the next level.

Step 2: Get to know your ideal customer. The second step is finding out if there is a market big enough for your products. If the answer is yes, then you need to settle on a profile of your ideal customer. This is important because it helps you to figure out what your customers want, how best to reach them, and how to craft your marketing strategy.

Step 3: Build up your systems. By “systems,” I’m referring to appropriate time management, inventory management, payment processing, as well as accounting programs and tools. Having the right systems and processes in place will help you to create structure in your craft business which will allow things run smoothly and efficiently. Don’t give in to the urge to resist them. As I mentioned above, making the transition from crafter to business owner is critical, and that process starts with figuring out how all the aspects of your business will come together in a professional way.

Step 4: Embrace technology. Even for the most tech-phobic craters and artisans, in just about every niche imaginable, there are powerful, yet extremely easy-to-use programs that are designed to help small business owners run their business better. Find out what businesses similar to yours are using, and pick 2 or 3 core products to try out.

Step 5: Invest in yourself financially. There is no such thing as a business that you can start and run for free. Every successful business requires an investment of some sort- whether it is an investment of time, money, tools and equipment, or some kind of combination. Don’t sell your business short by skimping on the tools, professional services, training, and other support you need to be successful.

Step 6: Identify your niche. You can’t be everything to everyone, so don’t even bother trying. Generally, the more defined your niche, the better. You just need to make sure that your niche is big enough to earn the income you are looking for. Once you’ve established your business and have built up a customer base, then you can think about expanding into other areas.

Step 7: Create a memorable brand. Don’t just let your products speak for themselves. Create a unique identity of you and your company in order to connect with your customers in a more personal and memorable way. So, don’t be afraid to show your personality and some of the behind the scenes parts of your business.

Step 8: Partner up with other businesses and entrepreneurs. As the saying goes, there is strength in numbers. If you want to expand your reach, then one of the best ways to do that is to join forces with other businesses and craters that compliment your own products. You can, for example, co-host an event or cross-promote your products. Such collaborations tend to uplift all the businesses involved.

Another aspect of making connections is getting support and feedback from those who have businesses similar to yours. Don’t underestimate how important this is- especially if you are new to running a business!

Step 9: Get feedback from your customers. This last step is vital to the continued success and growth of your craft business, but so many new business owners overlook it. Make it a point to regularly ask your customers what they like and dislike about your products and the way you serve them. You can also find out what other types of products they may be interested in over the future.

Obviously, the kind of feedback you get will depend on how loyal and engaged your customer-base is; it also depends on what questions you ask and in what format. You can get this valuable feedback in several ways, such as emailing your customers a short list of questions, using a free app like Survey Monkey, or asking questions over social media.

Turning your hobby into a viable business may take an initial change in attitude and some hard work, but the potential rewards are great. Pay attention to the steps mentioned above, and your favorite hobby or pastime may soon become a source of serious income.

Preparing Your Small Business for the New Overtime Rules

Two months ago, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced its final adjustments to the overtime exemptions included under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The new overtime rules almost double the salary threshold needed to qualify for overtime exemption to $913 per week or $47,476 per year, up from $455 per week or $23,660 per year.

What this means is that any salaried workers who are earning less than $47,476 a year will be entitled to over-time pay if they work more than 40 hours in a given week. Since the new rule goes into effect December 1, 2016, a mere 5 months from now, small businesses are encouraged to act quickly in order to figure out which employees will be affected and then decide how they will handle the change.

NFIB estimates the new overtime rule will impact 44% of small businesses, while the DOL has announced it could affect over 10 million employees.

How Does the New Overtime Rule Affect Small Businesses?

Aside from the short deadline and significant increase in the threshold, two additional features of the rule will make compliance difficult for many of the nation’s smallest businesses. For one, unlike a raise in the minimum wage, which has a phase-in period, the new overtime rule takes full effect come December 1st. This means that small businesses will be left scrambling to the adjust to the changes in an extremely short amount of time. Another challenge is that the new threshold is expected to be the same across the country, with no adjustments for local conditions. This can put added pressure on businesses operating in regions with a lower median income, such as the state of South Dakota, since a larger portion of their salaried employees will likely be below the threshold.

In order for small businesses to avoid the costly overtime pay or significantly increasing employee salaries above the threshold, the rule could force many owners to move some of their salaried employees into hourly positions. This move, however, has several negative ramifications. First off, some salaried managers and supervisors are expected to work when needed in exchange for flexible hours and other benefits, such as bonuses and health care. It would also effectively take away many promotion opportunities, giving lower level workers less hope for upward movement in the company. Finally, employees moved from their salaried positions to hourly jobs will now also need to keep close track of their time and be prohibited from working overtime. This can make things difficult for businesses that depend on their salaried workers to help when help is needed, and a it could be a big blow in general to worker morale.

The Obama administration estimates that the new rule may cost employers about $255 million per year, however, the National Retail Federation estimates that the cost will actually be as much as $874 million.

What You Can Do in Your Business to Prepare for the New Overtime Rule

Learn all the details of the new overtime rule. The first thing you need to do is head over to the DOL website and read everything that there is regarding the change in overtime. Only when you are clear about the changes can you then start figuring out how best to respond.

Determine which of your employees will be affected by the new rule. Pay particular attention to those who earn just above the threshold, yet they regularly work more than 40 hours a week.

Determine the financial impact. Consider what your business’ expenses would be under the new rule if you didn’t make any changes. Getting an idea of how the new rule impacts your business financially, and most importantly where those expenses are coming from, will help you to choose the best course of action going forward.

Play out a few scenarios. Consider the pattern of overtime payments you have made over the past 2 to 3 years and determine if and by how much your labor costs will increase. For positions that often result in overtime pay, you may have a few different options. You could move salaried positions to hourly ones and then be more strict with the hours worked. Alternatively, you could hire more hourly full-time, part-time, or seasonal employees to fill in the work gap, or you could restructure some of the jobs in you business to help spread the workload around.

What ever strategy you end up choosing, the new overtime rule is around the corner, and you cannot afford to ignore it.

How to Choose the Right Software for Your Business

As the Internet and mobile technology expand into more areas of our business, there need to be systems in place- both on a personal and professional level- to ensure that these changes are actually bringing us the benefits they promised.

Small Businesses Are Slowly Integrating New Technologies

Over the past 15 years, there has been an increasing pull among small business in particular to adapt emerging technologies. Along the way, there have been many enticing “assurances” that all of these digital tools will enhance the way they do business.

For example, according to a recent study from SAP SE, the small and medium-sized companies that have integrated digital technology into their operations tend to experience faster growth than the companies that do not.

But, many of the nation’s small businesses are still dragging their feet when it comes to adopting some pretty essential new technologies. According to a recent State of Small Business Report, by Wasp Barcode:

  • 48% of small businesses either do not track their inventory with a digital tool or use a manual process
  • 55% of small businesses do not track assets digitally or use a manual process.
  • While 62% of larger small businesses (101-499 employees) use or plan to use Web-based or subscription-based software, only 36% of smaller businesses (5-10 employees) do.
  • Just 43% of small businesses prefer to purchase software directly from the manufacturer; most prefer to purchase it through online or brick and mortar retailers.

These numbers reveal a big gap between where many small businesses are now versus where they will likely need to be in the next 5 to 10 years technology-wise in order to stay competitive.

But, as more and more of the nation’s smallest businesses jump on board the digital bandwagon, success will be affected by how systematically this technology is integrated into their operations.

How to On-Board New Technology in Your Small Business… The Right Way

Whether you are buying a new accounting tool, setting up a point-of-sale system, or incorporating a whole project management suite, bringing new technology into your business should be a process that takes into consideration the needs and preferences of all the key players in your business. This includes your employees, your customers, and your business’ leadership. If you fail to consider the needs of any of these groups, then you could end up choosing the wrong solution.

How do you bring it all together? Here are a few things to consider for each of the three main groups mentioned above:

Employees. Since your employees will be the ones most using the new technology, you should really start here. Deciding which technology to bring in will depend on a few factors, namely:

  • How many employees will be using the platform or device?
  • Where will technology be used: in an office, on the road, in-person client meetings?
  • What other platforms and devices are your employees currently using? Does the new technology need to be compatible with it?
  • What kind of technical support do you need? Do you have on-site IT help? If not, then how savvy are your employees with the new technology?

Customers. While your customers may not directly interact with the platforms you are considering, their habits and needs may affect the types of platforms that would be most appropriate. There are a few factors to consider, including:

  • Do you offer your customers a personalized experience? If you need to save a lot of personal data, then how sensitive is this data? Information, such as addresses, phone numbers, and credit card numbers, will need to be stored in a way that offers some protection against hackers.
  • Will the product affect the user experience in any way?

Leadership. Last, but not least, you need to consider how the technology you choose will fit into the big picture of the business. In other words, how will it help the company’s leadership to reach both short-term and long-term goals.

  • Do you need technology that can be easily learned and used?
  • How much can your company afford to pay for this technology- both now and in the near future?
  • Finally, what are your growth projections over the next 5 to 10 years? Do you need a solution that will scale with your business?

Once you are in touch with the needs of all the major groups within your business, you then need to narrow down your options by focusing on the following criteria:

The nexus between price and features. In short, you need to determine what you can reasonably afford to lay down for this new platform. But, this budget should be made after you have thought about what features you will need- both now and over the next few years.

Where, when, and by whom. Many platforms come with restrictions on the number of users or the types of devices that can be used. Make sure you are clear about your needs before you invest in a new technology.

Integration and collaboration. Finally, you need to take a look at the platform from a big picture perspective. Will it integrate with existing technology, as mentioned above? Plus, will it enable collaboration among various teams, customers, and business partners? While this may not seem so important now. It could be if your business is on the verge of a major growth spurt.

In short, by being clear about your business’ needs- both now and in the future- you will stand a better chance of choosing the technologies that can bring some real returns.

How to Repurpose the Content on Your Business Blog

In an effort to attract new clients and build up their professional reputation, there are many small business owners who pour a tremendous amount of time, effort, and money into the content they have on their blogs. But, once they hit the publish button on a new piece and promote the content they worked so hard on (or paid a lot of money for), they move on to the next article, video, or graphic.

Simply forgetting about this older content in favor of new stuff, means they are throwing all that time, money, and energy down the drain. Moreover, if the content is evergreen (meaning, that is focused on a topic that is continually relevant to your targeted readers and viewers) and it struck a cord with customers, community members, and potential clients when it was first published, then it is an untapped resource for future lead generation and reputation management.

Put another way, if you are maintaining a blog for your business and you are not making an effort to re-use or repurpose some or all of its content, then you might as well spend your time and money elsewhere!

Repurposing Content is an Essential Part of Blogging in 2016 and Beyond

So what are savvy business bloggers doing differently? They aren’t just creating more and more content. Instead, they know how to reuse their current content in order to reach the greatest amount of potential customers and fans.

Think about it for a moment. How many people or business professionals in your target audience spend a significant amount of time on other platforms or sites online? If they are not getting to your blog, then it makes sense to go where they are in order to catch their attention. This is the goal. If your content consistently provides these people with real solutions to their problems or useful insights into the things they are interested in, then you would almost be doing them a dis-service by not reaching out to them in the places where they are.

While creating content on your blog is an important tool to start building a relationship with prospects, it shouldn’t end there. Next comes the repurposing of that content. Repurposing means repackaging one piece of content across various media channels. In each occasion, the content is added to, or sometimes a section or a topic is taken out and highlighted, expanded upon, or tackled from a different angle.

The goal is to get the most amount of exposure and value from the original piece by reaching the maximum amount of prospects and driving more traffic back to your own website.

The other side benefit to this is that all this content floating around the web will create a kind of organic link wheel to your website. This will help your site’s SEO, since the number and quality of links are still an important ranking factor for organic search. This means, repurposing content will also make it easier to rank for relevant keywords.

5 Simple Ways to Repurpose Content

Now that we are on the same page about why repurposing content is so important, here are five simple things you can do to a current article to extend its reach:

1. Create slides that offer a summarized version of your article

2. Turn your article into a PDF with embedded links and upload it on to document sharing sites

3. Take one aspect of the article and expand on it in a new post on sites, such as LinkedIn publishing, Medium, or Business 2 Community, and then where possible, link back to the original article on your site.

4. Find a interesting, quality image and attach it to the article. Then share this image with a summary of the post on platforms, such as Pinterest, Google+, and Facebook.

5. Create a short video that summarizes or builds upon one point brought up in the article.

Of course, these options are just suggestions. There are many, many ways to repurpose content, and you should use the strategies that work the best for you, your business, and your target audience. The bottom line is that you work so hard on creating on good content, that you want your content to also work for you. Repurposing is one of the best ways to do that.

Is Brick and Mortar Retail Making a Rebound?

If you have been paying any attention to the headlines coming out of the retail industry over the last few months, you may think that off-line retail is going the way of the dinosaur. In the first half of 2016 alone, the industry has been flooded with unfavorable news, such as that poor sales are to blame for the closing of numerous Kmart, Macy’s, Target, Walmart and Sears stores throughout the country. Then there was Nordstrom’s embarrassing stock downgrade. Later, reports came out that Sports Authority and Aéropostale are filing for bankruptcy

Few would argue that the dismal performance of both big box and small, mom-and-pop retailers is not being affected by the growing prevalence and preference for ecommerce. Platforms such as Amazon, eBay, and Paypal, as well as the emergence of mobile technology has forever changed the way we make purchases. But that change need not be a death knell for brick and mortar retailers. In fact, over the past year or so, behind all the doom and gloom, the retail industry has actually been showing some signs of healthy growth and expansion.

According to Douglas Hope, of GlobalShop, in his session at the Microsoft Envision 2016 conference, some corners of the retail industry appear to be going strong. In 2015, retailers spent some $62 billion on in-store “shoppers’ experiences,” and it seems that at least some of this investment is making an impact. Even as several big box retailers began pairing down their operations, retail revenues hit $5 trillion last year- that represents a 72% increase in sales since the year 2000. Plus, there are currently 3.8 million storefronts in the U.S.- which represents an increase of 190,000 within two years. Perhaps the biggest eye-opener of all: about 90% of those storefronts are small, independent shops.

So, what could be driving this resurgence of off-line commerce? The retailers that are expanding in this age of digital commerce tend to have a couple of things in common:

1. They are very focused on providing a good customer experience. For example, consider the case of hunting and sporting goods chain Cabela’s. Stores feature in-door rock climbing, and an in-store cafe, animal and cave exhibits and a wide selection of products. The chain is now building two new 70,000-square-foot retail locations, one in Georgia and one in Missouri.

2. They don’t ignore their digital footprint. Successful retailers today work to seamlessly blend their online presence with their off-line one. In fact, many bring the two together. Some great examples of this in action include: Geo-Targeting and Proximity Marketing as well as in-store virtual dressing rooms.

While it may seem like the sky is falling when it comes to “real world” retail, the industry is going through an evolution and it is one that will likely include physical storefronts for a long time to come. Those who adapt now will be the ones in the best position to survive.

The Minimum Wage Increase Hurts Small Businesses and the Economy

This month the future cost of labor just went through the roof. Both California and New York have passed legislation that would gradually increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022. After the 2022 deadline, wages would then rise with inflation, yet the governor of each state would have the option to delay these increases during periods of economic difficulty.

California and New York are not alone in their push to increase the minimum wage. Several other state and local governments have or are in the process of initiating their own legislation. As of 2013, more than a dozen states and local governments have increased their minimum wages. This includes Connecticut, Maryland, Hawaii, Massachusetts and Vermont, as well as Seattle that has committed to raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2018.

While in California and New York small businesses with fewer than 25 employees would have an extra year to figure out how they are going to deal with the increase in wage costs, it is going to be a big challenge. As an example, according to the Employment Policies Institute, a small business who has 20 employees making minimum wage will see a $10,000 annual increase in wage costs for every 25 cents the minimum pay is raised.

That’s a hefty cost to bear for a small business working with a tight profit margin. In fact, many experts, activists, academics, and politicians across the political spectrum have pointed out that sudden and significant increases to the minimum wage puts a strain on American employers, leading to widespread layoffs, budget cuts and business closures.

Moreover, an increase in minimum wage will also lead to an unpopular increase in consumer prices, since businesses will need some way to cover the significant increase in operating expenses. Trying to cut costs in other ways may render the business ineffective and uncompetitive. Yet, there may not be so many alternative options available to them.

Finally, for some smaller businesses there is also the issue of being competitive in a global market place. There are two main ways that an increase in wage costs will put American small businesses in a disadvantage. First, if the cost of American products or services are more expensive than the equivalent products and services found in other, less expensive countries, then there will be less demand for them abraod. At the same time, if Americans can get cheaper imported products, then there will be less demand for things that are Made in America.

While an increase in the minimum wage may sound admirable in theory, in practice it may be doing much more harm than good, and it may only end up hurting the very ones it is trying to help.

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How to Use Facebook Search FYI to Promote Your Small Business

With over 1.5 billion active monthly users and a feature-rich platform, Facebook has continued to be a dominant part of the social networking landscape since its founding in 2004. All this activity has also attracted the attention of businesses big and small which have been trying to figure out how to capitalize on the social network’s user appeal and reach.

But the use of Facebook as a business marketing and customer relationship channel has been rocky at best. Over the past few years in particular, businesses have had to deal with significant changes to Facebook’s features, design, content algorithm and streaming. Most business users have seen their organic reach plummet, and this has been happening while they are simultaneously being encouraged by the social network to invest in Facebook’s advertising platform. Frustration over the lack of ROI and cries of foul play have caused many businesses to simply abandon the platform.

But, before you close the doors on your Facebook presence, you may want to think again. Facebook still offers lot of real potential for business marketing. The only catch: you have to dig a little to get at the information that will be the most helpful to your marketing promotional efforts.

The biggest opportunity lies in being able to access important information about your Facebook fans well as the fans of your competitors that you can use in your marketing campaigns and product or service development.

Facebook recently announced the creation of a search platform that makes all the public posts it has indexed (now a staggering 2+ trillion) more easily available. Dubbed Facebook Search FYI, the new feature allows you to search through users and posts and even get real-time information regarding what is happening in the world.

What You Can Do With Facebook Search FYI

Why is this important? For one, Facebook’s updated search feature allows you to:

– Identify your own fans

– Learn about their interests and likes

– Identify employees of a business who have liked a business’s Facebook Page

– Identify interests of competitors’ fans

– Identify potential business partnerships

This also means that all public posts will gain more visibility since they now appear in Facebook search results, and this happens in real time while the discussion is happening. It’s kind of like a screen shot of a Twitter stream.

So if you can post about a big story, event, or popular product or service that your current and potential customers are talking about, then your post will be included in the results. Just make sure your privacy settings for the post is set to “public.”

Another benefit is that you can now see what people are saying about your business even if the people making the comments are not part of your fan base.

Bottom line: Facebook isn’t going anywhere any time soon, and neither is its potential to help small businesses focus and refine their marketing efforts.

Geo-Targeting & Proximity Marketing are a Big Deal for Small Business

I have mentioned here before that small businesses in particular cannot afford to ignore mobile marketing and the enormous potential it has to reach consumers. Countless studies and surveys all point to the fact that consumers are spending more time on their mobile devices to access information and connect with others via the web. In fact, according to a recent Statista report, by 2017, over 63% of mobile phone users will be accessing the Internet through their mobile phones.

These devices are also playing an increasingly prominent role in the purchasing process. U.S. mobile commerce sales via smartphones and tablet computers are projected to surpass $142 billion dollars in 2016.

As consumers have become more confident and comfortable with their mobile devices there has been a rapid development of marketing techniques and tools directed at attracting the attention and purchasing dollars of mobile device users. While it is safe to say that the field of mobile marketing was in its infancy 5 years ago, today we are beginning to see some signs of maturity. Numerous low-cost, easy-to-use tools and platforms are springing up, making mobile marketing doable and approachable. Even social media giants like Google, Facebook, and Twitter have been scrambling to incorporate mobile marketing and commerce into their feature set.

Mobile is currently the fastest growing segment of digital advertising in the US. Research conducted by Business Insider has found that spending for mobile advertising will surpass $42 billion by 2018.

Why Geo-Targeting and Proximity Marketing are Important

All of this is good news for small business owners working with limited marketing budgets. With mobile marketing it is easier to ensure that marketing dollars are being directed at the right people and at the right times. Herein lies the greatest key to success. On mobile, the marketing race will be won by the businesses that truly understand their customer base and their purchasing habits.

If you are just getting started with mobile marketing then there are two key concepts that you need to be aware of:

The first is geo ad targeting. In the most basic sense geo targeting involves determining the geographic location of a mobile user and delivering customized content to that user. Location targeting helps you focus your marketing efforts on the places where you will find the right customers, while at the same time restricting it in locations that are not relevant. You can specify a location to target based on the user’s country, region, city, zip code, organization, IP address, or ISP, among other criteria.

One popular area where geo ad targeting is taking off is pay per click advertising. These ads appear only to users who live in selected locations and are doing location-specific keyword searches. Google’s AdWords location targeting, for example, gives advertisers the ability to choose in which geographic locations their ads will appear. So, people who do a search for “coffee shop Boston free WiFi,” will see PPC ads in their search results for relevant local cafes and shops. Another example, a person living in Dallas, TX doing a search for “music lessons guitar,” may see ads for locally based music teachers and schools offering music courses.

The second technology that small businesses should be paying attention to is proximity marketing. Proximity marketing uses Bluetooth or WiFi technology to send real-time marketing messages to mobile-device users who are in close vicinity to a business.

In other words, with proximity marketing you can reach the right person with the right message at the right time. So, if you own a cafe, you could send a promotional message or coupon to a customer who happens to be near the location of your store during the lunch hours.

The benefits to both approaches in terms of ROI is self-evident. But more than this, mobile marketing enables a more intimate form of advertising that can not only generate more sales, but also more loyal customers. And, that’s something all small businesses can use.