Check Out Alabama Extension for Business Help

As you may have noticed, we occasionally take a trip to one of our Extension programs found across the country. Today we are headed to Alabama to check in with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES).  Gary Lemme, Director, is our guest blogger.

Alabama Cooperative Extension SystemOne of the components of ACES is it’s Economic Development Unit.  There you will find help on business growth and development , careers, community engagement, and tourism. The help offered comes through education and training, publications, videos, and a collection of resources.

One of the more recent efforts has been business round tables held at the county level. These are for both current and new businesses. They are done over the noon hour, a time when business owners can get away.

The round table programs use material from their YouTube Channel found in their Virtual Entrepreneur Center.

Gary comments that ACES views economic development reaching from the farm to Main Street and on to the industrial parks. All of this is viewed as a whole, as a continuum of economic growth and development.

The noon meetings have been well attended and have had great interaction.

If you live in Alabama, these meetings are a great opportunity to network and get answers to your questions. And if you are just traveling through, they would welcome your attendance.

Similar efforts can be found in other states. Of course, you also will want to attend the monthly Power of Business First Friday Chats, a 15-minute opportunity to learn and share each month at 11:15 am CT. Our first chat for 2016 will be February 5th .

Check out PowerofBusiness.net for more information.

Online and E-commerce for Your Small Business

social-media-graphicsThe answer is, “Yes, your small business needs to be online.”

That means having an online presence and considering e-commerce operations. E-commerce typically means selling products online but I tend to think of it as something bigger. There are service companies that allow you to schedule your appointments online. And paying your bill has long been an available online activity.

If you are like many small business owners, you first need to understand your options and then select and put one or more options into action. To help you with this, Extension across the country has developed resources for you. Check with your local Extension office.

You can also check out the powerofbusiness.net website. Information on these topics can be found in several locations including our blog, the archived “live chats,” in the “tips” section, and in past issues of the newsletter.  And don’t forget to check out the three online marketing free workbooks found right on the front page.

Another useful site is the National e-Commerce Extension Initiative. A variety of short information briefs are there to introduce you to various online possibilities.

Examples of the kind of help Extension provides include:

So as we close in on a new year, make this your year for starting and expanding your online presence. 

Adding Facebook to Your Marketing

The use of online marketing tools is rapidly growing.  And the largest, and still growing, is Facebook.

If you haven’t thought about how online marketing can be a part of your world, you need to take action. The time to think about it is over.  Oh, not everyone needs to be online but the list of who might not benefit is getting smaller and smaller.

Facebook is the largest player in this arena. James Barnes, Assistant Professor, Mississippi State University Extension, is actively studying it, along with it capacity to place Facebook ads.

Watch the First Friday chat as James talks about the experiences of companies he has assisted in using Facebook and Facebook Ads. Listen to the stories and tips he shares. And check out his program, Mississippi Bricks to Clicks.”

 

You can also find short informational briefs James has prepared at:

Barnes, J. and K. Coatney. 2015. “Facebook ‘Farming’ for Rural Organizations“, The Daily Yonder: Keep It Rural, March 30th.

Barnes, J. and K. Coatney. 2014. “Regional Economic Development and Marketing Rural Tourism Events Using Facebook: The Woodville Deer and Wildlife Case“, Mississippi State University Extension, Publication 2855.

Barnes, J. 2014. “Social Media Marketing: Facebook”, National eCommerce Extension Initiative, eBiz: Tips for Marketing Your Business, Southern Rural Development Center.

Make sure your marketing plans are reaching your intended audiences. Today that includes Facebook and other online tools.

Shopping Small, Shopping Local

Shop Small logo

Shop Small

 

 

Much is being said and written about Small Business Saturday, Nov 28th. It’s a time to celebrate small businesses and what they mean to our communities and our economies. It’s also a time to recognize how much we, as individuals depend on them.

So on Sat, Nov 28th, head to your small businesses for holiday shopping. As this article from the Small Business Administration notes, an estimated 88 million people did that last year. Let’s go for 100 million or more.

And take the time leading up to then to include it in your social media posts. Post about the unique products others can find or places to eat. And check out the posts from others. Maybe you will find that hidden gem you have always wanted. untitled2

So what are you waiting for???

 

PS – Remember that shopping small does not need to be just a once a year event.  Make it a daily habit. 

Cyber Security and Your Small Business – Part 2

Mary Peabody, Univ of Vermont, and Steve Hancock, Cornell, offer more tips on how small businesses can keep their online data secure. 

In this episode, Mary and Steve discuss how to protect your customers. Businesses need to build trust with clients. It is that trust which then allows the client to provide his or her credit card and personal information when you ask.

There are four strategies a small business owner can use to build such trust:

  1. Have and follow a privacy policy
  2. Know the data you are collecting. What is it? How will you use it? How are you storing it? Who has access?
  3. Keep what you need and delete what you don’t.
  4. Protect the information.

It is not uncommon to hear business owners express concern about the perceived cost of keeping data secure. That cost is made up of two things, software and time.

The software can often be obtained for free. Companies are increasingly will to share it as data security is in everyone’s interest.

As Mary identifies, there will be time involved. Yet the time spent upfront will be much less than what would be spent should a data breach occur. And it is not only the issue of fixing the data breach but the time and energy you will spend in re-establishing trust with your clients. Recovery is much more expensive than time up front.

Another thing business owners can do is to help their customers stay safe when online. A tip sheet was provided that business owners might share with their customers as a place to start.

As a business owner, you want your customers to feel comfortable in engaging with you and your website. Take the time and make the effort to ensure your work does not disappear because of an online security lapse.

Social Media: An Effective Tool for Rural Businesses

This week’s blog information comes from work done by Dr. James Barnes and Dr. Katlyn Coatney, both of Mississippi State University. They are working to look at how online marketing tools can be effectively used by rural, small agribusinesses. Part of the work of Dr. Barnes includes examining how Facebook ads can be included in the marketing mix.  All of this work is part of  the Mississippi Bricks to  Clicks program

social media channels

Photo (CC) by mkhmarketing, on Flickr
mkhmarketing.wordpress.com

It’s no longer should  you use online marketing, it is how soon can you start.

The idea of online marketing is not new to any business owner.  If the owner isn’t already doing it, they have probably been approached by someone encouraging them to start.  Just in their daily lives, business owners see the idea in action as they go online themselves or even pick up a newspaper or magazine and see advertisements directing them to an online site.

If you look at the data, more and more businesses have begun to include use of online marketing in their overall marketing strategy. Somewhat research finds that businesses in rural places and agribusinesses have been somewhat slower in instituting such practices. To encourage business owners, Drs. Barnes and Coatney have authored a case study, The Economic Value of Social Media Advertising on Mississippi Agribusiness: The Case of MG Farms, Inc. 

Through their work with MG Farms, it was possible to show the economic benefit of using Facebook and Facebook advertising as a marketing tool. Focusing on an upcoming sale, MG Farms made an effort to increase the number of people who liked their Facebook page and who became engaged users during a three-month period.

Such likes and engagement forms a valuable intangible asset for a business.  In the case of MG Farms, that value was worth around $122,000.

Yet Facebook and Facebook ads also had tangible benefits to the business. When the sale was held, attendance increased by 20 percent and gross revenues increased by 33 percent, both based on 2015 as compared to 2014. The social media effort was the only thing MG Farms changed during the year.

The cost for MG Farms for the advertisements was only $735 thus making for a strong return on investment.

The report from Drs. Barnes and Coatney provides a research on the effectiveness of social media marketing for rural businesses. If done with guidance on its effective use, it has the potential for substantially growing your bottom line. 

 

Networking: Where You Can Find Answers to Your Questions

Networking

Photo (CC 2.0) by USDA, on Flickr

I had the opportunity yesterday to attend a meeting sponsored by the Prairie Family Business Association. It was a great reminder on how much information you can learn by networking with other business owners.

While in the hallways and during the breaks, you could not help but notice small groups or even just a couple of individuals having good conversations.  If you listened in, a lot of information about management practices was being exchanged.

Yes, some of the conversations dealt with current events and sports but that’s okay. Those conversations help build relationships and trust between individuals. It also gave insight into trends and future changes impacting your business, something crucial to you as a business owner.

Effective networking is a key in business success.  Effective networking helps you get answers. It helps brand your business and it is a great marketing channel.

There are lots of opportunities to network. You should join organizations such as your Chamber as well as social organizations. You can also find trade organizations and industry organizations. I would also urge you to consider organizations such as the family business meeting I attended.

Many of you probably operate a family business. They are unique ventures that blend both the business system and the family system. Merging those two systems requires some special management and operational considerations. The best place to learn those skills is in working with other family business owners.

Effective networking can make a big difference in your business. Make the effort and you will find lots of benefits.

For more tips on networking, check out our video and tip sheet.

 

Checking In – Oregon Wood Innovation Center

carousel-item-1[1]At times we check back in with a previous blogger to see what’s new.

Our guest blogger, Scott Leavengood is the Director of the Oregon Wood Innovation Center (OWIC). As part of Extension and the College of Forestry. their mission is to connect people, ideas and resources in the wood industry.

In 2013, Scott highlighted a wooden bicycle helmet that one client was working on.  The client, Coyles Design and Build, continues to manufacture and sell the product.

The Center’s website provides stories from other clients. You can read about them here.

Scott noted that they have also produced a wood-based entrepreneurs toolkit.  That can be found at: http://owic.oregonstate.edu/publications. Several of the resources come in a Flipbook version.

OWIC is just one example of small business support that Extension and land-grant universities offer. If your in business and haven’t checked out this resource, it’s time to do so. Here is a list to find who is available in your state.

Being Effective Online

Online tipsHaving an effective online presence is as important as simply being online.

Being online will bring some likes and friends, but that  activity will come from people who already know you or from your family and friends. What you want is an online presence that creates awareness of your business, or educational efforts in our case, and keeps that customer coming back for more. The goal is to make your customer a lifetime ambassador for your business.

Part of our Power of Business effort has been to get first-hand experience on reaching those goals. This video is a first report on our initial efforts as we develop platforms and writing titles that sell. Examples of what we learned are shared plus you get a peek at the on-going effort where we look at the power of Facebook and the Facebook ad.

Online is huge and it matters. Getting found though is often the issue. Just today I read that 2 million blog posts are put online each day. Add that to all of the tweets, posts, pictures, and videos posted, you can see why you need to focus on being efficient and effective in your online efforts.

In the video various types of content formats are discussed. Here at Power of Business we curate content, offer videos, do our monthly chats, provide some short fact sheets, and, of course, our blog.

Admittedly getting online is a scary undertaking. This is where a team can help you out as can a personal learning network. Dipping your toe into the online world may mean finding people you can learn from. There is nothing wrong with lurking and learning.  In time, you can begin to ask questions.

An effective online presence means you need to write, think and act differently. People want information quickly and they are typically focused on one problem at a time. You also need to offer some fun and flair. At times you may feel more like an entertainer than an educator. You also need to be flexible and be able to change quickly.

So get online. Engage and network with your customer base. Enhance their online experience. It builds your bottom line!!

Find the Powerpoint slides here at “Are We Entrepreneurs?”