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Thursday, September 29, 2005
TrendTracking: Government Websites, Blog Niche-ification, More
Welcome to the third edition of TrendTracking, a weekly place for small businesses to see and be seen.
  • CRM Lowdown is a blog about customer relationship management topics. Some of the posts are about CRM software applications, but others are about the general attitude and mindset of managing customer relationships. Craig Cullen writes the CRM Lowdown blog.

    This is a perfect example of the increasing niche-ification of blogs. Once it used to be enough to write about business on your general blog (2001 - 2002). Then you had to start a "business blog" (2003 - 2004). Today if you want to stand out, you have to start a blog on a specific business niche (2005 - 2006).

    CRM Lowdown is also part of another growing trend, the blog network. Blog networks are individual blogs under common umbrella management. In this case the network is BizNicheMedia, which appears to have 15 sites about niche business topics.

  • Buzzoodle is an online tool that helps companies create and manage buzz and word of mouth marketing. If you've been hearing more about "word of mouth" marketing, there's a reason. Recently I heard an executive from American Greetings speak. When asked what had changed about marketing compared with 10 or 20 years ago, the first thing she said was "word of mouth is much more important today than it used to be."

    Buzzoodle is the brainchild of Ron McDaniel, an entrepreneur I know here in Ohio. Ron also has a blog (but of course!) called Buzzoodle Buzz Marketing. Blogs are great for newly introduced products like Buzzoodle, because they help explain them and how to use them, in plain everyday language.

  • SearchSMB is a specialized IT search engine for small and midsize businesses. It offers resources about such information technology issues as "white papers on small biz security, disaster recovery, outsourcing and more."

  • Blogs: A Global Conversation is a master's thesis by James Torio, a graduate student in Advertising Design at Syracuse University, New York. You can download it in PDF format. Small Business Trends is mentioned in it. James also writes a blog, called EveryHuman.

  • StopFakes.gov/smallbusiness is a new website of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The site is designed for small businesses, to help them understand and protect their intellectual property rights.

    As compared with the main website for the USPTO, this site does provide some additional information in an easier-to-understand format. Right now, however, the site is not as useful as it could be for small businesses -- just not enough of the right information. Let's hope the site is just a first start and that we can look forward to improvements.

  • Business.gov is the "Official Business Link to the U.S. Government." Color me impressed. If you were expecting a mere portal, with links to government programs, regulations and laws, and all very bureaucratic-like -- think again. Business.gov is a great example of how much some of the U.S. government's websites have improved over the past 12 - 18 months.

    This site has a great collection of resources, tips and advice on running a business. The focus is implicitly on small business.

    Everything is nicely organized and easy to scan quickly to find what you need. Even the design is impressive -- very 2005-ish, with the colored background and white centered content area.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Rise of the Entrepreneurial Class
John Koten, Editor in Chief of Inc magazine, recently spoke about the "rise of the entrepreneurial class" at a talk I attended at the Cleveland City Club.

He called it one of two key factors in our economy today. A wide range of people today see themselves as entrepreneurs, he says -- everyone from Martha Stewart to Snoop Dog to college kids to retiring Baby Boomers. In his words, "entrepreneurship is a huge underexpressed force" today, even in large companies.

What's more, people have a desire to be creative in business. That's the other key factor in the economy, he says: the rise of the creative class. People today desire to express themselves, often through art. And artists realize that by integrating business principles with their art, that they can further their art.

He says these two factors are converging, and we are seeing a new mercantile class develop just as there was a new mercantile class in the 1800's underlying the industrial revolution. This phenomenon can be graphed out this way, with art and entrepreneurship being two sides of a triangle, and startups forming the foundation:

The talk was recorded and turned into a podcast. Listen to the podcast here (MP3 file, approximately 55 minutes -- he speaks about the rise of the entrepreneurial class about 23 minutes into the recording).

Monday, September 26, 2005
Are Small Businesses Avoiding or Embracing Online Banking?
Entrepreneur magazine has an article by C. J. Prince about small businesses being slow to adopt online banking.

One of the main issues that holds back small businesses from adopting online banking is security. Small business owners fear for the security of their accounts when transactions occur online. (I happen to be quoted in the article on the reason that some small businesses do not adopt online banking.)

However, there is considerable nuance under the surface of the Entrepreneur article. I note that the article points to a January 2005 study by Edgar Dunn & Company. That study suggests that small businesses have become bullish on online banking. The Edgar Dunn survey reports that 58% of small businesses use Internet banking at least weekly -- a solid majority.

A different study cited in the article, this one conducted by Forrester Research in mid-2004, showed a much lower percentage -- 19% -- using online banking (download PowerPoint presentation here).

So why the discrepancy? Is there some explanation for this considerable difference in the two studies?

While I do not have access to the underlying survey data, one possible answer may be in the size of companies sampled. It is simpler for very small, no-employee businesses to do their banking online, compared with larger small businesses that may find the challenges associated with online banking to outweigh the benefits.

The Edgar Dunn survey sampled businesses with $50,000 up to $2 Million in revenue. Now, $50,000 in revenue means a very small business. Most likely a business with that level of revenue is a no-employee business -- in other words, a self-employed individual. The number of self-employed, no-employee businesses dominates in the U.S. -- there are some 17 million no-employee businesses according to the SBA, compared with 5.7 million with employees.

I would not be surprised to find that the majority of no-employee businesses use online banking, while the majority of businesses having employees do not. Their fundamental banking needs are just so different.

First let's examine the no-employee business. Often the self-employed person views his or her business banking as an extension of personal finances. This self-employed business owner places off-hour convenience at a premium, and online banking offers that. The bank account used may be limited to a plain vanilla business checking that is really just a step away from a personal checking account. Interfacing with a business accounting system is a pretty easy matter, too. The larger online banking sites typically enable easy one-step download to QuickBooks/Quicken, the accounting system most often used by no-employee businesses. So interfacing with other business systems is a no-brainer for the no-employee business owner.

It's only when you get to larger small businesses -- those with employees -- that the challenges start. By the time a business gets to say, 10 employees, banking needs have outgrown the plain vanilla checking account. The business may require online banking data to interface with other business software systems. There are payroll accounts and tax withholding issues. Cash management tools take on added importance. Suddenly, online banking becomes more complex, requiring more effort to implement it and more staff time to manage it. It's no wonder that small businesses at this level have less interest in online banking, despite the lure of automation. Sometimes, the cure is worse than the disease, and I suspect that is how larger small businesses view online banking, rightly or wrongly.

I'm interested in reader views -- do you agree, or is there some other explanation?

UPDATE October 7, 2005: More discussion is over at the Small Business Trends Forum.
PowerBlog Reviews Grand Finale
Welcome, to the final edition of the PowerBlog Review series of reviews of other business blogs.

We go out with a bang -- a Grand Finale, if you will. For our last finale, we have written about three blogs. I hope you enjoy them -- all 86 Reviews. Please scroll down to see the final three.

UPDATE: A reader emailed me wondering why I was shutting down this blog -- well, I am NOT shutting down this blog. Small Business Trends is thriving and will continue. Only the PowerBlog Reviews are being "retired." In fact, I am looking forward to bringing you additional features, including more guest bloggers and guest posts, and more trends features.
Sunday, September 25, 2005
PowerBlog Review: Emerging Technology Trends
Read all the PowerBlog ReviewsEditor's note: Welcome to the eighty-sixth and final in our regular weekly series of PowerBlog Reviews.

Roland Piquepaille's Technology Trends blog has been one of my favorite blogs ever since I started blogging two years ago.

Roland Piquepaille is a computer consultant from Paris, France. Roland is one of those unique people you have to admire because of his dedication, his incredible range of interests, and the fact that he does it all writing in a second language (English).

For much of this PowerBlog Review I have to credit another outstanding site, Master New Media, run by Robin Good. Robin, who hails from Rome Italy, recently did an in-depth interview of Roland Piquepaille. Robin is in a class by himself when it comes to finding interesting subjects and conducting incisive interviews with surgical precision. There are few even in the mainstream media who can equal Robin's interviewing skills. Many thanks, Robin!

Roland's blog style is quite a thing of beauty, even though it goes against the advice of some blogging "experts" who suggest only short posts. All of Roland's posts are long by typical weblog standpoints (often around 500 words), and cover their subject in depth. Of course, this style of blogging takes considerable commitment. Roland says in the Master New Media interview that he spends the better part of a day per blog entry:
"Between reading the RSS aggregator news and the time I choose a story, it's probably three to four hours, and after that, let's say it's an additional one hour and a half to two hours or more to finally publish it. So overall, it's probably about six hours, yeah."
Recent topics show the range of interests, including such examples as "Self-repairing spacecrafts", "Why leaves change color", and "Algae to fuel our cars?" And because he tends to write about unusual topics, and not repeat what everyone else is blogging about, his blog is regularly linked to, including by the famous Slashdot site:
"Even for me, if a story is already covered by, I don't know, twenty magazines in the world, to me it is not a good enough subject. I want to have a subject which is not completely original but at least which is not covered broadly by the press. So, it is probably for this reason that in the last two years I have been Slashdotted between two and eight times per month (!!!), and yes, I do acknowledge that this is a good thing... though there are also lots of Slashdot haters which come after you after they discover you that way."
Roland is not content to just write a post and leave it at that. At the end of each post he lists links to related articles, which actually go to Del.icio.us bookmarks he has set up by individual topic. This is yet another way that Roland gives a very thorough treatment of his subject matter.

Recently Roland's blog became part of the ZDNet network of blogs, where it is now called "Emerging Technology Trends." This move in and of itself is part of a broader trend unfolding right now, where traditional media companies are now building channels of blogs. In some cases the blogs are new, and in other cases the blogs are existing sites -- like Roland's -- that are being "moved" over to the media site. In Roland's case, he posts a brief extract of the post on his original site, with a link to the full post on his ZDNet blog. In this way he avoids the problem of duplicate content (bad for search engines), but still serves his existing readers. Right now his blog gets 200,000 to 250,000 page views per month, so moving traffic over to ZDNet is significant.

Roland has demonstrated his leadership by stretching the boundaries of blogging for some time now, taking the medium to new levels. For more about Roland's blogging approach, please also read the Master New Media interview.
PowerBlog Review: Embrace Pet Insurance Blog
Read all the PowerBlog ReviewsEditor's note: We are pleased to bring you the eighty-fifth in our regular weekly series of PowerBlog Reviews.

The Embrace Pet Insurance blog is the blog of -- you guessed it -- a pet insurance business.

Embrace Pet Insurance is a startup company with an intriguing history. First, it is one of those rare businesses actually supported by venture capital and angel investors. Second, it got its start in the Wharton Business School, where it won the Wharton Business Plan competition a few years ago.

The blog is written by Laura Bennett, the CEO of Embrace Pet Insurance, located in Cleveland, Ohio, USA. Laura grew up in England and emigrated to Canada in her teens, and eventually went to work at a large life insurance company in Toronto. From there she and her husband ended up at the Wharton School and eventually in Cleveland. While at Wharton, Laura met her business partner, Alex Krooglik.

Although Embrace is not yet selling pet insurance policies (they are negotiating with an insurer to actually write the policies), Laura started the blog to provide education to pet lovers. She notes:
"We help pet lovers looking for pet health insurance to learn more about the products and companies currently selling policies. Pet insurance can be a complicated product, just like human health insurance, and we are helping people understand what questions they need to be asking themselves and the pet insurance companies, and showing them some of the options that are available. This information is not available anywhere else."
She does something very interesting for a pre-revenue company. She is using the blog to introduce the fledgling company to pet lovers, and develop prospects. As Laura notes, "Just because we can't sell any policies at the moment doesn't mean that people can't get to know us now."

The blog itself is a textbook study of how to blog to reach consumers in a niche business. Everything from the header image (a dog playing in the snow), to the writing style, to the images embedded here and there in posts -- it all is user friendly to consumers.

It also stays on topic quite well. Want information on keeping your home poison safe for pets? You will find it here. Want to know what questions you should ask when buying pet insurance? You will find it here. What you will not find, however, is a lot of off-topic posts. Virtually all posts adhere to pet-related topics -- and are quite informative at that.

You will also find a good blogroll of pet-related sites. There are eight pet blogs currently on the blogroll, and Laura says she is always looking for more ("...they must be out there."). The blogroll also lists a number of other pet-related, non-blog websites.

As for results from this blog, Laura sees them already:
"We are definitely getting stronger traffic numbers on both our blog and website and I am getting a number of inquiries every week from people asking about our policies -- too bad we can't sell them anything right now! In particular though, people are beginning to use the phone number posted on my blog. ...I am always open to chatting with people about pet insurance, entrepreneurship, women business owners, anything that's on anyone's minds. Those are generally very interesting phone calls and they get me in touch with people I would never have been able to connect with otherwise."
One of the things I find especially notable about the Embrace Pet Insurance blog is the way a pre-revenue startup is using a blog even during a stage when they are still developing the product. It goes to show that a company can never be too young to benefit from a blog.
PowerBlog Review: Warren Greshes Talking Success
Read all the PowerBlog ReviewsEditor's note: Welcome to the eighty-fourth in our regular weekly series of PowerBlog Reviews. This week's review is being guest-blogged by Lynne Meyer.

By Lynne Meyer

Warren Greshes multi-tasks as a professional speaker, author and talk show host who blogs from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA. He established his blog -- Warren Greshes Talking Success -- this past July with efficiency in mind. He says:
"I'd been sending out an email newsletter to thousands of subscribers every week for the past two and a half years. People are bombarded with emails, with more and more emails going into the spam folder. I want my information to be read. I felt a blog was the next step beyond email because it enables me to deliver information to my subscribers and listeners without having to email them."
Warren is part of that growing number of radio show hosts and professional speakers who also blog. In today's world, customers want it "their way." Offering his messages through multiple media is a way to touch as many people as possible, reaching them through whichever communication format they prefer: in-person, live radio, podcasts, emails, or the blog.

Warren's goal is to build his audience to the point where he can attract sponsors, increase his brand awareness and increase his speaking business. "I want to use it as part of a marketing mix to enable me to cross promote my radio show and upcoming book. I want to give my readers an abundance of valuable free information to help them be more successful in their lives, careers and businesses."

Warren successfully accomplishes these goals. In fact, I give his blog an enthusiastic two thumbs up for both style and substance.

Content wise, his postings are interesting and succinct. Even though he addresses many typical business concepts like customer service, attitude, preparation, motivation and persistence, he brings fresh insights to these topics with lots of practical tips and illustrative personal anecdotes to convey his insights. Two good examples are titled "Encourage Your Customers to Complain" and "What's the Best Return Policy?" He also covers topics like rebalancing your busy life.

Particularly fascinating to me is Warren's series of postings based on the teachings of former Chinese general Sun Tzu's 2,000-year-old "The Art of War" text and its relevance to today's business world.

In terms of appearance for readability -- something to which every blog should aspire -- Warren's blog is simply outstanding. That's because Warren's blog is very inviting to the eye. His postings occupy 2/3 of the page on the left side, and there's a continuous color bar on the right 1/3 of the page. Because there aren't a lot of individual ads or other graphics all over the page, the result is nice and clean. In addition, the line length and font style and size are comfortable for readability. He consistently numbers the specific points he wants to emphasize and puts them in boldface as well -- another plus for readability. I'm a fanatic about having adequate white space in anything written, and Warren gives readers generous white space with lots of paragraph breaks.

Another thing Warren does well is the user-friendly organization of his archives. The archives are listed on a separate page, in three separate lists -- by date, category and title.

One final point that Warren has done with his blog that every business blogger should do in order to attract and retain as wide a readership as possible: he has established a series of FAQs. These are posts that describe what the blog is about and how to use it -- something that those who are unfamiliar with blogs will find helpful and considerate. This is especially important for business blogs, whose readers may well be business owners who are unfamiliar with the unique features of blogs.

In summary, visit Warren Greshes Talking Success blog.
Thursday, September 22, 2005
Outsourcing Companies Target Small Business
We all outsource. Or subcontract if you prefer.

Guy Clapperton at Business Insight is quite right when he points out that most small businesses have been outsourcing things like accounting for many a moon.

On a personal level we all tend to outsource our plumbing, electricity or joinery needs once the toilet, the exploding socket or the new fitted wardrobe prove a project too far.

This is what you'd probably refer to as the outsourcing of expertise.

It's primary function is to do any given task far better than you could yourself. It may very well save you money in the long run, but that isn't its focus.

And we're all very aware of the outsourcing of call centers to Mumbai. It's not so much that these people don't know what they're doing rather than the corporations running them only glancing a cursory nod towards customer satisfaction for the sake of pinching a few pennies.

The Telegraph has an article discussing how small businesses are now the targets of firms which provide various backroom services such as payroll, human resources and communications.

However, the Federation of Small Businesses urges us to be careful:

"People should make sure they are getting the right service for the size of company they are. They should not have to shell out for blanket coverage. It's about striking a balance," said a [Federation of Small Businesses] spokesman.

I once worked at a place with only four employees that outsourced its ablution services. In other words, we had somebody come and collect the used hand towels and replace them with fresh ones. It would've been infinitely cheaper to buy new every week.

The company I'm currently associated with is often on the receiving end of much outsourcing. Yes, it's cheaper for the firms wishing to outsource as they don't have a dedicated workforce to pay on an ongoing basis. But, this is still an example of outsourcing of expertise. Subcontracting is also as old as the hills in the world of manufacturing.

It doesn't matter whether you outsource to your next building, next town, city, country or half way across the world - we all outsource if we don't have the in-house capabilty to deal with certain aspects of our business - whether it be a temporary peak in work we can't handle or certain things we don't have the expertise or inclination to do ourselves.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Visit Global PR Blog Week
If you want to learn more about the current trends in blogs and related tools, I recommend you head on over to Global PR Blog Week.

Global PR Blog Week is an online event that will engage public relations, marketing and business professionals from around the globe in a discussion about how new communications technologies are changing public relations and business communication. It is an online event taking place this week.

I was on the organizing committee and helped review a number of the articles. This year, unlike last year, I was unable to contribute my own article, due to some unforeseen time commitments the past few weeks on some other projects.

However, I highly recommend visiting Global PR Blog Week -- there are a lot of great essays about blogging from world-class practitioners.
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Business Owners: Recognize Changing Market Forces
Last Friday I heard small business expert Steven Little speak. He was in town for an entrepreneur conference, "One Inc.Redible Day."

A key nugget heard in his talk:
    Business owners need to recognize the forces of change around them, and adapt to changes in the marketplace. "Small businesses are lousy at external focus. We are good at internal focus," says Steve. "Big businesses are just the opposite."
Steven has long encouraged every business owner to read 50 magazines (or Web sites, blogs, newspapers, journals -- whatever) each month. He says he knows that's a lot to read. But it is so important to recognize when forces around your business are changing, that he says you need to find time for it. He wrote a guest column here on Small Business Trends about this very topic.

Steven Little graciously sat for a photo (above). That's him on the left, seated with Steve Rucinski, who writes the Small Business CEO blog and who live-blogged the event.
Monday, September 19, 2005
On Wal-Mart, Small Businesses and Business Ecosystems
Today's Wall Street Journal has an excellent piece by Gwendolyn Bounds about entrepreneurs getting their products into Wal-Mart. The article follows two entrepreneurs who have a new writing instrument -- a pen with an unusual shape -- and how they've dreamed of getting it on the shelves of Wal-Mart for years.

The article superbly captures the emotions and dreams of entrepreneurs and small business owners when Wal-Mart's buyers order their products for the giant retailer's shelves:
"Getting into Wal-Mart is an entrepreneur's equivalent of making it to Broadway. Even a short run on the shelves there can help transform an invention from niche product to household name. And while Wal-Mart certainly isn't the only retail path to commercial success, nor the right outlet for every product, for mass-market merchandise at a certain price point no other bricks-and-mortar retailer reaches so many shoppers. Today the company has 5,300 outlets world-wide, and gets more than 138 million customers a week."
This article illustrates an important point that Wal-Mart bashers all too frequently forget: it's not always a case of Wal-Mart and small businesses competing.

It's true that small retailers may feel competition from Wal-Mart, especially if they try to sell solely based on price and try to compete head-to-head with Wal-Mart (or any big retailer). But for small manufacturers and small consumer goods companies, Wal-Mart is the customer they pray for and the one that can propel their company into big-time sales. Wal-Mart is the "elephant" they dream of bagging.

For small manufacturers and consumer goods companies, the relationship with Wal-Mart is more akin to a business ecosystem. Business ecosystems are a key trend impacting small businesses that I wrote about over at our sister site, TrendTracker. Small businesses are likely to be more innovative in coming up with new products, but it is the large corporations that hold access to the marketplace. And as every small businessperson knows, the most innovative new product is worthless unless it can get to market. And often the route to that market is through a large business like Wal-Mart.

The Wall Street Journal's story is available here -- now open access on Startup Journal. You can also download a podcast of an interview of the journalist, Gwendolyn Bounds, in which she summarizes some key learnings for entrepreneurs from the article. The podcast is open access. It is an MP3 file -- about 11 minutes long.

(And as an aside, don't you just love this new media era, in which the journalist also gets interviewed?)

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Sunday, September 18, 2005
PowerBlog Review: Roberto's Nasdaq Trader
Read all the PowerBlog ReviewsEditor's note: Welcome to the eighty-third in our regular weekly series of PowerBlog Reviews. This week's review is being guest-blogged by Lynne Meyer. For a long time now we've wanted to review one of the stock trading blogs -- they are fast-moving, highly opinionated, and colorful. While we don't necessarily agree with all the viewpoints expressed in the following blog, and we by no means endorse any particular investment discussed in it, we respect it for being a powerful blog in many ways.

By Lynne Meyer

Roberto Pedone is an independent trader in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. Through five to ten daily postings to his blog -- Roberto's Nasdaq Trader -- he provides an abundance of stock market investing information on numerous fronts.

"I started blogging last October to share my trading experiences with the public," he explains. "My main goal is to inform people about the stock market and trading. Readers can see what I do right and what I do wrong in trading. As traders, we learn more from our mistakes, and my blog is a good place to learn about how to trade the markets."

Day trading isn't for those who are faint of heart or risk adverse. It's an extremely complex and demanding profession.

To be successful, independent traders must stay on top of global economic trends and understand sophisticated research and analysis in many different arenas. Roberto scours an amazing number of news sources, sharing information with readers and also using it to illustrate and explain his own trading decisions.

Since trading is technical by nature, Roberto's devoted readers are those individuals who are really interested in this kind of in-depth Bulls and Bears information about economic developments, stocks and investing. He addresses a multitude of topics -- everything from the Federal Reserve's monetary policy, bonds and hedge funds, housing starts, and retail trends, to layoff announcements, Wall Street rumors, technology and domestic and international political situations and how they affect the markets.

Roberto really mixes it up in terms of the topics and length of his numerous daily postings. Some are just one sentence, in which he reports a buy or a sell he made or a quick tip or recommendation. Lengthier posts report on crude oil prices, targets on gold, a military build up in China, problems in the pharmaceutical industry, Japan's economic woes, and what some of the Big Boys in investing -- Warren Buffett and T. Boone Pickens -- are up to. His posts are really his running commentary on what he sees out in the market.

But wait -- there's more! Roberto provides links galore in his blog as an additional source of information. His posts are peppered with charts supporting his analyses. Posts regularly are infused with raw energy and enthusiasm, like this one from an August post entitled Crude Chart:
"Take a look at this chart and I want to highlight the huge monster spike in open interest in crude contracts. We will see some powerful moves in the crude markets in the coming weeks as the speculators are really getting active. MAN IT'S FUN!!"
Very few businesses that I know show as much energy and enthusiasm around their work in their blogs. Perhaps more of them should.

In summary, Roberto does an admirable job gathering, distilling and presenting large volumes of information around stock trading. Whether you are interested in the high-flying world of independent trading, or whether you simply want to become better informed about markets and stock prices, make Roberto's blog -- Nasdaq Trader -- your first stop.
Thursday, September 15, 2005
Top Trends in Search Marketing
What do you think are the top 3 trends in search marketing?

Marketing Sherpa says they are:

  • Search Engines as TV Networks Jockeying for Audience -- 127 Million Americans use search engines, yet most of the activity is concentrated in a few search engines. Marketing Sherpa likens this to the domination of 3 TV networks in the 1970's. One interesting factoid is that the Ask Jeeves search engine has tripled its market share since last year, although it is still a mere fraction of Google's share. I wonder how much of that might be related to its acquisition of Bloglines, the popular RSS search engine.

  • SEO Still a Tiny Portion of Total Search Marketing Spend -- Most companies are pouring money into paid search (pay per click). A far smaller percentage goes to optimizing web pages so that they show up better in the organic search results. The reason? Search optimization is considered too complex and so apparently executives find it easier to ignore SEO. Sounds to me like an opportunity for the SEO firms to improve their marketing messages.

  • Search Marketing - A New Application for Press Releases -- The very reason that press releases are "dead" when it comes to getting media attention, is why they are great for search marketing. Because press releases get indexed in major search engines, media isn't interested in simply regurgitating them and has dropped them like a stone. However, press releases show up promptly and prominently in the search engines and bring Web traffic, if not media eyeballs.
The executive summary of the Marketing Sherpa Trend report is open access and can be found here (PDF). Read the whole thing.
Five Trends That Will Change Your Business
Warren Greshes has graciously invited me on his Talking Success radio show on Thursday, September 15, 2005. We'll be discussing the "Five Trends That Will Change Your Business." The show starts at 12:00 Noon, Eastern U.S. time.

Please join us! And if you can't join us, naturally the show will be available later as a podcast (Warren and Dean, his webmaster, are Web 2.0 kind of guys).

UPDATE: Join us! To listen live starting at around 12:15 PM, Eastern U.S. time (New York time) on September 15, click here. Please remember that the link only works once we are live. I look forward to having you join Warren and me.

(I've moved this post to the top of the site for easy access.)
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
TrendTracking: Small Business News Site & More
Welcome to the second edition of TrendTracking, a weekly feature that we hope will become a popular place for small businesses to see and be seen.
  • Be Excellent, the blog of Six Disciplines Corporation, has a new format. Skip Reardon, the Marketing Director of Six Disciplines, writes the blog. Part of the blog's purpose is to be a companion to the Six Disciplines book and methodology.

    But Skip has broadened the subject matter. He is writing about a variety of small business topics culled from different sources, not just about the book. I especially like his "Bottomline" summary paragraph at the end of each post, in which he emphasizes his point. He is planning to move to a more robust blogging software, because Blogger does not support categories, which are absolutely essential for a business blog.

  • News.smallbusiness.com (great domain name!) offers news aggregation channels just for small business news. News.smallbusiness.com pulls news stories and blog posts from many sources. It aggregates them into a single page, with six categories: economy, finance, management, marketing, policy and technology. Naturally there are RSS feeds for the main channel and for each category. The end result is a resource specifically designed around "small business" news, rather than the broader business news which would contain content not relevant to the small business market. News.smallbusiness.com is run by Hammock Publishing, whose CEO, Rex Hammock, happens to be a blogger, too.

  • Catapult is the entrepreneur's site of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. This is a fun site with a fresh take on being an entrepreneur. At first glance it looks pretty standard. But when you delve into it, you realize someone there has a wickedly funny sense of humor. In fact, Rebecca Martin, a journalist with the site, tells me that treating business subjects with humor is one of their goals: "Aimed at under-35 entrepreneurial types, we like to keep things light-hearted and humorous." Read the Smart Fabrics article and tell me if you don't agree.

  • Selling is Dead -- did you know that? That's the name of a new book by two authors from here in Northeast Ohio, USA, where I live and work. They have a blog as an online companion for the book, also called Selling is Dead. One of the posts caught my eye with these statistics: "50% of sales people do not meet their quotas"; and "3 out of 4 product launches fails to meet expectations." Those are wake-up-and-smell-the-coffee numbers. I haven't read this book yet, but just judging from some of the posts, I will probably recommend it to several early-stage, entrepreneur friends and colleagues. Sales is invariably the weakest part of any technology startup.

  • Technorati Blog Finder: Ever since I wrote last week about the Small Business Blog Directory, readers have been sending me links to other directories. One of those is Technorati's Blog Finder. I certainly appreciate and thank Technorati for all the free services it provides (and I appreciate the thoughtful email I got from Technorati Feedback -- on a weekend, too!).

    Unfortunately Blog Finder falls short. The main problem is that if a blogger designates a blog as having posts under a certain keyword, then the blog gets listed for that keyword. Sounds logical, right? Except: that leads to the questionable situation where a pop culture or politics blog may devote very few of its posts to "business" but still ends up being categorized under business blogs. For instance, one of the top blogs listed as a business blog in Technorati's Blog Finder has 1464 posts, of which a mere 23 posts over five years are categorized as "business." Yet, it is listed under "business," ahead of other blogs with far more business content. While Technorati's Blog Finder may be useful for some purposes, you will not get a good picture of the business blog landscape from it.

  • Google Blog Search: Speaking of blog search, just today Google introduced its own blog and RSS search engine. Search Engine Watch has a substantive post describing the features and how best to use it.
Monday, September 12, 2005
Pay Per Call Advertising is Growing
A few months ago a colleague asked my opinion of "pay per call" advertising solutions for one of his clients. I dashed off a quick email answer without researching it, to the effect of "pay per call shows promise but it is still pretty much experimental."


Imagine my surprise when not long afterward, I got an email from the folks at Ingenio, a company that offers pay-per-call. They wanted to be a sponsor here at Small Business Trends. See the ad at the top of the left column?

While pay per call advertising is still relatively new, it is not experimental. It is very real, and it is taking place now. Ingenio has been offering a solution for nearly a year now.

Pay-per-call is an advertising service that connects online searchers with your business by phone. You place an Internet ad, and Internet surfers who respond to the ad call you on the phone. You pay for the ads similarly to pay-per-click advertising, except you pay per phone call, rather than per click-through. As with any advertising, it is still up to you to convert the lead into a sale.

The image above shows a pay-per-call ad from a search I just ran a few minutes ago for "Cleveland web designer." Similarly, I found listings for "Akron mortgage," "Columbus home builder," "Toledo florist," and "Cincinnati auto repair." You see a listing on the search page, with a telephone number underneath. When you click on the listing, rather than taking you to a website, it takes you instead to a second page with information about the business, its products and services, a telephone number, and business hours to call.

It seems like an excellent solution for small businesses, because more small businesses are prepared to deal with a phone call, than with an Internet lead.
  • Consider that fewer than 50% of small businesses have websites. With pay per call, you don't need a website, just someone manning the phone.

  • Only a portion of small businesses have processes in place to effectively receive Internet leads and act on them in a timely fashion. Often it can be hard to find an email address or a contact form on a website. And when contact is finally made, sometimes it can take days for a small business to respond to emails -- if they are ever answered. Yet, virtually all small businesses are set up to handle telephone inquiries promptly.

  • Pay-per-call can be locally-focused, and since the majority of small business is local in nature, it means that callers are going to be highly-targeted, well-qualified leads. I note that with the Ingenio system, you can even tell it what time of day for ads to run so that you are attracting calls during regular business hours.
With the growth of local search, and the rapid pace of technology adoption that we are seeing today, new solutions like pay-per-call advertising are taking hold much faster than they would have a few years ago. Pay-per-call looks like a promising entrant on the advertising lineup.
Sunday, September 11, 2005
PowerBlog Review: Captain's Blog
Read all the PowerBlog ReviewsEditor's note: Welcome to the eighty-second in our regular weekly series of PowerBlog Reviews of business weblogs. This week's review is being guest-blogged by Lynne Meyer. Lynne Meyer, APR, is president of A Way with Words.

By Lynne Meyer

Green is my new favorite color! And I owe it all to Shea Gunther's Captain's Blog at Skye Creative. Shea is the founder and ceo of Skye Creative, a full service eco-design and communications firm in Boulder, Colorado.

What the heck is eco-design? As explained on the Skye Creative web site, it's doing "graphic design that adheres to an environmental ethic that includes cutting down on waste and pollution." We're talking about using soy inks and environmentally sustainable paper products for their own work and their clients' communications needs, whenever possible. "But," the web site assures, "not at the sacrifice of first and foremost delivering cohesive design strategies that drive our clients' bottom line."

Shea says he started his "Captain's Blog" in June because "I wanted to convey both the human and professional sides of Skye Creative to our clients and prospective clients while being a resource for information on green design. I also have a lot of fun doing it."

I like the Captain's Blog because it has three blog attributes I value: good information, fresh insights, and humor.

Like all well-done blogs, the Sky Creative Captain's blog has interesting titles, lots of links, varying lengths and ease of navigation. In an unusual departure from other blogs, Shea arranges his blog postings by his day's thoughts, rather than by topic.

The reason this blog is different, however, is its substance -- green business. Doing well by doing good. The emphasis here is clearly on how businesses can help replenish rather than deplete the environment. I devoured the information Shea shares about green business. Did you know that there's now a new email list for green-business people (www.GreenBusiness.net)?

Even though he has only been blogging for a few months, Shea's green-business blog is already starting to bloom into opportunities to bring in "greenbacks."

"I met with a guy who contacted me about a possible strategic partnership with his firm. We sat down for lunch, and, after some small talk, he just said in a calm and level voice, 'Zombie dogs scare me, too'." Shea was puzzled by this remark at first. Then he recalled that, a few weeks before, he had made a post titled "Zombie dogs scare me," referring to a news story he had linked to in the post. "When he made that reference to what I said in one of my blog posts, I just started laughing. It was a great way to break the ice and we subsequently signed a partnership."

This blog is one of a growing number of company blogs that are seamlessly incorporated into the company's website. The blog pages look almost the same as other pages in the company's main website. For instance, the header and footer are the same. And the blog is part of the company's main domain.

Skye Creative clearly fits into a special niche -- eco-friendly design -- and Shea clearly states their mission across the board. In marketing parlance this is known as UPS -- unique positioning statement. If you enjoy the enviable advantage of a UPS for your services or products, your blog is one more valuable way you can position yourself.

While Shea says he hasn't yet received many postings or input from others about his blog, I predict it won't be long.

Go get yourself some green at Skye Creative's Captain's blog.
Friday, September 09, 2005
Capitals of Small Business
Fortune Small Business offers up a list of towns and cities that are the capitals of certain industries in the United States, dominated by small businesses:
"Everyone knows which industry dominates ... Detroit and Houston. But how many could name the capital of socks? Or medical imaging technology? Or firearms? These are among dozens of hidden capitals of vital U.S. industries, each populated by and dependent upon dozens of small companies that both compete and collaborate.

This idea of industry capitals, or "clusters," as academics call them, might seem like a quaint tourist draw for small towns, an excuse, say, for Gilroy, Calif., to throw its annual garlic festival. But they serve an important function in the economy. Overlapping businesses in the same region gain a number of advantages, drawing in more suppliers and customers along with financial institutions that understand the industry. Meanwhile, the labor pool grows to include more workers with special skills and experience."
Despite the trend toward working virtually, there are benefits from businesses of the same type or in the same industry, working in proximity. The "capitals" of small business include:
  • Virtual Reality Software -- Central Florida

  • Light Aircraft -- Wichita, Kansas

  • Orthopedic Surgery -- Birmingham, Alabama

  • Weight-Loss Centers -- Durham, North Carolina

  • Firearms -- Sturgis, South Dakota

  • Cardiac Devices -- Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota

  • Medical Imaging Technology -- Central Massachusetts

  • Helicopters -- Phoenix
I am sure there are other capitals not covered here. Do you know any? (They don't have to be in the United States -- we'd like to hear about any capital of "small business" anywhere.)
Thursday, September 08, 2005
Entrepreneurship is Not What Many Think
Rob, the BusinessPundit, tells it like it is. His piece "Entrepreneurship: Don't Drink the Kool-Aid" is a realistic look at small business and entrepreneurship. He writes:
"I was having coffee with my friend Deborah last week (who has proven to be an endless source of inspiration for blogging ideas) and I told her that I had finally written off my old views of entreprenuership. You see, I was in b-school in 1998 and 1999, so I was indoctrinated with certain ideas that weren't necessarily true. For instance, I thought GE and Proctor and Gamble would soon be washed up has-beens. I thought everybody would soon do everything via the web. And when it came to entrepreneurship, I thought that you had an idea, or invented some new thing in your spare time, wrote a business plan, and VCs gave you money. I told Deborah that I didn't believe that anymore -- that so much 'conventional wisdom' about entrepreneurship was a lie. It just isn't what people think.

'So you're not drinking the kool-aid?' she asked. I just laughed. 'Not anymore.'"
Go read the whole thing, including his list of the seven "real" ways businesses get started.
Tuesday, September 06, 2005
UK to Go Bonkers for Business Blogs?

It's been a long time coming, but this week sees a couple of interesting developments with regards to business blogging in the UK.

Today sees BBC Radio 4's Shop Talk dedicate a full half hour to business blogging and even dares to pick the brains of a couple of small business bloggers on the programme - Thomas Mahon of English Cut and Heather Platts of The Soap Blog. (Don't worry about missing the original broadcast as you can always listen to it again at a later date.)

Then, if you're so inclined, you can trot along to the Our Social World conference in Cambridge this coming Friday to gain a deeper insight of those new-fangled methods that enable you to communicate your business more effectively online.

Whilst business blogging has been embraced by some of the broadsheets, it hasn't received any real interest from the broadcast media and hasn't been the primary focus of a conference thus far.

Now I have a theory or three as to why we're dragging our feet over in the UK, but I'd be far more interested to hear your thoughts.

Monday, September 05, 2005
TrendTracking: Government RSS Feeds, Soap Blogs, More
We start a new feature this week, called TrendTracking. It will take the place of the popular PowerBlog Reviews being phased out at the end of the month.

Once a week we will have a roundup of short comments on new, remarkable or interesting items in the small business market. Items might consist of new blogs or websites, upcoming events, under-reported news items, business books, or other items of interest to the small business market.

OK, here goes:
  • The U.S. Secretary of Labor, Elaine Chao, was on Fox News earlier today and announced various assistance programs for victims of Hurricane Katrina. Among them: 10,000 temporary cleanup jobs, and disaster unemployment insurance, covering employees and self-employed individuals. So even if you run your own single-person business you may be eligible for these special unemployment benefits if you are from an affected area.

  • The Soap Blog is a blog of Eie Flud, a small company that makes and sells luxury handmade toiletries and natural botanical perfumes in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, U.K. In one recent post, Heather writes "From my dining room window I can see grazing, the very cows that within minutes provide the milk for these soaps - still warm and frothy and completely natural." Now that's something you don't read in a blog everyday -- go check out the Soap Blog.

  • Speaking of business blogs, Denise O'Berry has started the Small Business Blog Directory as a great way to find small business blogs. It is relatively new but already has 264 small business blogs listed as of this writing.

  • The U.S. Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy is now offering RSS feeds for news releases and announcements. Let's hope more government agencies and organizations serving small business start RSS feeds. Are you listening, NFIB?

  • Psychotherapist-entrepreneur George Anderson, whose Notes from the World of Anger Management blog we reviewed earlier this year, has made the cover of the Los Angeles Times magazine. Congrats, George! And read our PowerBlog Review to see some of the innovative ways George uses a blog for public education and advocacy.
Changes in Store for PowerBlog Reviews
This autumn we will be "retiring" the PowerBlog Review series. The series will end on September 25, 2005.

Yesterday's PowerBlog Review marks 81 weeks for the series. That's over a year and a half of reviewing a notable and interesting blog each week.

The purpose of the PowerBlog Review series has to a certain extent been accomplished. When I started the series in early 2004, I felt there was a need for a voice to talk about how small businesses were finding value from blogs. Business blogging was a new and growing trend.

Since then, small businesses have taken to blogs like Seattle-ites to cafe mochas. Small businesses have used blogs in countless creative ways: to provide resources to customers and prospects; to bring traffic to their websites; to chronicle the growth of their startups; to sell online; to connect with other like-minded businesspeople.

It's been great having a front row seat. But our mission here at Small Business Trends is not to focus on blogging. Instead, we evaluate a much broader sweep of issues affecting the small business market. Now that small business blogging has matured to become an accepted online strategy, it is time for us to turn more of our attention to other trends.

In place of the PowerBlog Reviews we are launching a new weekly feature, called "TrendTracking." TrendTracking will highlight not only blogs, but also websites, new products and services, books, events, and other items of interest to the small business market. See our first edition of TrendTracking.
Sunday, September 04, 2005
PowerBlog Review: DuctTape Marketing Blog Channel
Read all the PowerBlog ReviewsEditor's note: This is the eighty-first in our regular weekly series of PowerBlog Reviews of business weblogs. This week's review is being guest-blogged by Lynne Meyer. Lynne Meyer, APR, is president of A Way with Words.

By Lynne Meyer

Duct tape is terrific because it's readily available, and it works!

So does the Duct Tape Marketing Blog Channel. The blog channel is a group blog or blog network, that latest of blogging trends that we have talked about here before. It is the brainchild of John Jantsch, a business marketing coach, author and founder of Duct Tape Marketing in Kansas City, Missouri, USA.

We previously reviewed the Duct Tape Marketing blog when it was an individual effort of John Jantsch.

He developed his blog channel in June 2005 as an extension to his own initial Duct Tape Marketing blog. "I view the channel blog as an extension to our own blog in that it carries the same brand and still incorporates my blog as the jumping off point," John explains.

John explains that he initially started blogging because:
"I love to write and had been writing articles for publication for years. Blogging just sounded like a great extension of that. My goal is for this to be a place where small business owners come and find lots of valuable but simple tips."
The Duct Tape Marketing Channel says it is a network "featuring 9 of the best and brightest small business marketing minds." All nine are assigned to a specific area of content around small business marketing.

Networks of multiple blogs are becoming more popular because of the old adage "there is strength in numbers." It is easier to generate traffic where there are multiple writers, especially those with acknowledged expertise.

If you're at all familiar with the marketing blogs out there, you'll agree that John has, indeed, assembled an impressive group of bloggers for his Channel:
  • Zane Safrit -- Business Life

  • Georgia Patrick -- Customers Count

  • Dan Janal -- PR Leads

  • Troy White -- Word Wealth

  • Martin Jelsema -- Buzzworthy Branding

  • Jill Konrath -- Selling To Big Companies

  • Don The Idea Guy -- The Idea Department

  • Mark Beck -- Internet Marketing Unleashed
John has arranged things to make it extremely easy to check out what each person has to say about their topic. You arrive at an entry page that has each blogger's channel listed, along with name, topic, and even a photo of each individual blogger. "You can choose a blog from the list and start reading. Jump from channel partner to channel partner."

If you want the whole shebang, you can subscribe to the Duct Tape Marketing Blog Channel in one comprehensive RSS feed. Or, in common with a trend we have noticed recently toward specialized RSS feeds for specific portions of a blog, there are individual RSS feeds offered for each channel. That means you can subscribe with your favorite feedreader program to individual channels, rather the entire site, if certain topics interest you more than others.

There's good substance and style to the Duct Tape Marketing Blog Channel, and everything about it is convenient. The result is a wealth of great information for readers -- all within just a few keystrokes!

If you haven't already discovered the Duct Tape Marketing Channel blog, let your fingers take you there right now.
Friday, September 02, 2005
Business Leadership: Donating to Katrina Relief

Americans are in need right now as a result of the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina.

There are plenty of things businesses and business owners and managers can do to help. Here are a few:
  • Donate personally. The Instapundit blog has a huge list of links to charities. Take your pick. Or you can give to the Red Cross by clicking on the donation banner above in this post.

  • Ask employees to donate (also, they can consider skipping a 401K contribution or two).

  • Pledge to donate a percentage of revenues from sales of some or all products sold.

  • Add a line to your email signature suggesting that people donate with a link to a charity of your choice. It is a gentle reminder to everyone who gets your email.
The idea here is to leverage your position as a business leader, because you are in communication with many people. Sometimes this gentle reminder is all people need to write a check.

(This post was adapted from the new blog of Robert Levin, Editor of the New York Enterprise Report, a publication serving New York small and midsize businesses. Thanks for letting me know, Robert! Great idea.)

UPDATE: The Truth Laid Bear site is tracking individual contributions and also linking to blogs that are helping raise money. Go here for more information.

Technorati tags: ; ;
New Orleans Needs a Leader
Where's Jack Welch when you need him?

I'm not one to rant and rave on a blog, but you can't help but remark on the lack of leadership in New Orleans up until today, because it has been painfully and horribly evident.

Like many Americans, I have been glued to cable new shows at every stolen opportunity, watching the plight of the victims of Hurricane Katrina along the United States' southern coast on the Gulf of Mexico.

News reports show the telling signs of leaderless police and demoralized emergency and medical workers, who are doing the best they can under awful conditions.

The victims of this horrible tragedy, who for the most part have had no communication whatsoever, and have seen no leaders visibile anywhere on the ground in the midst of this crisis, have reacted predictably. They have cried and begged for help. They are frantic, panicked, incredulous, desperate. They are taking matters into their own hands. And that's just the ones who are not looting.

Anyone with any kind of business experience immediately recognizes the problem with the relief efforts.

The problem is a total absence of leadership on the ground -- no communication, no direction, and no visible leadership.

In this case I do not fault the mayor or even the governor. No official at that level can be prepared for an event of this magnitude, with a major American city becoming uninhabitable literally overnight. They don't have the staff, the resources, or the experience to deal with a natural disaster like this.

FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), however, is a different matter altogether. It's their job to be prepared and to manage relief efforts in natural disasters like this. While I think it is important for everyone to reserve judgment until we get through the current crisis and all the facts come out, at the same time what we are seeing unfold hour by hour cannot help but raise questions.

Someone like a Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, or Rudy Giuliani, or another strong leader would be welcome in a situation like this. Someone to take charge immediately and in a visible way. That's simply been missing.

President Bush himself stated this morning that relief efforts have been unacceptable.

Since he made that criticism, things seem to be turning around dramatically and quickly.

The past few hours (it is currently 2:00 PM Eastern U.S. time on Friday) have seen a major influx of visible emergency personnel and supplies, at least judging from cable news reports. (And thank goodness for the television news channels and their dedicated reporters -- without them we would have no idea about the real situation on the ground in New Orleans.)

After this situation is stablized, let's hope President Bush has a serious chat with the FEMA Director about "pursuing other career opportunities."

More importantly, let us all hope and pray that the victims can be evacuated from New Orleans safely as soon as possible.
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