Small Business Internet Marketing – “It Ain’t Easy”

Small business owners have the difficult challenge of not only managing their day to day operations to ensure their customers are satisfied, but also deciding how to best market and advertise their company to attract new customers. Before the Internet arrived, the choices were primarily limited to print media such as yellow pages, newspapers or local magazines. Perhaps we all yearn for a simpler time, but you can throw that notion out the window in our 24/7 new media tsunami.

Local businesses need to be highly efficient with their time and money to be successful in today’s challenging economic environment. Larger companies may have the luxury of hiring an advertising agency or employ full time marketing staff that are tasked with implementing a cost effective marketing plan. The typical local business does not have this option and often times the founder or owner is solely responsible for the marketing direction of the company. Owners face the daunting task of navigating through a constant barrage of marketing advice, new services and fancy jargon and trying to determine what makes sense for their company and budget.

All too often, local business owners end up trying out a variety of marketing services that are sold to them by companies using aggressive sales tactics. The local business owner may try out a service for a few months and if they do not see immediate results, they can become frustrated and stop using the service. When the next marketing company comes along touting their service is different and special, the small business owner may decide to try them for a while and the cycle continues.

This “hit or miss” mindset is not a winning formula for the small business owner, as effective Internet marketing plans encompass a few basic areas and can take time to yield results. Many marketing companies that sell services to local business owners typically focus on a specific marketing expertise or service (such as Pay Per Click, SEO, Email software, Directory, Leads, etc,) and either do not offer a full service option or such an option is too far out of reach of their budget.

As a result, it can be extremely difficult for a small business owner to make informed decisions and attempting to research all of this on their own would be too time consuming. A balanced marketing plan that includes a website that converts browsers to potential customers, a steady stream of targeted traffic to your website and web listings around the web and a methodology to consistently communicate and cultivate your existing customers and prospects. It should be easy, but the problem is the tools you need to pull this off are scattered around the web.

The one thing that every business owner should do, even if you do not have a website, is take control of your local business listings on Google, Yahoo, Bing and other directories and review websites. Local Business listings on the Internet can generate traffic and attract new customers. Business owners can claim and manage their listings on most major sites at no cost. Recent estimates suggest that only around 10% of local business owners have claimed their business listings on Google, so there is a significant opportunity for local business owners that are willing to invest a hour or so of their time.

There are four categories of websites that local businesses can get free traffic from:

  • Search Engines: Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.
  • Local Internet Directories: Yellowpages.com, Superpages.com, Citysearch.com
  • Review Sites: Directories that have developed a reputation among users to be a good source of consumer reviews. Yelp, Citysearch, InsiderPages, etc.
  • Niche Directories: Websites that are authoritative resources for your particular industry

What exactly is a Local Business Listing or “LBL”?

The LBL is a listing that contains the basic information about a business. Information can include the business name, address, telephone number, business category and other information. All of the above mentioned sites are really just big online directories, databases full of business information. The LBL, simply defined, is your business page or listing within these big directories. Local business owners may not realize that their business is probably already listed in some of these directories,especially if the business was formed more than a year ago. These sites collect information from a variety of sources and information can find its way into these sites.

How do Local Business Search Results work?

All of these sites operate in a similar manner. A user types in a few keyword for a particular location or city and clicks search. The site will display a page listing the results of the businesses that “best” match the search request. Then a user will review the results and may decide to click on one to view additional information. This will take the user to a page dedicated to the specific business.

Business owners can increase the number of times their business is discovered by web searchers by claiming their business listings. There are also many simple things that can be added and edited in the LBL that can dramatically help increase the ranking of the listing for various search terms. The bottom line is these listings can help create a steady stream of potential customers for your business and is quickly becoming a primary source for potential customers to check to see if your business is reputable.

It’s a good idea to have a say in how they are judging your business!

Connor Logistics – A Case for Direct Marketing on a Multi-National Scale

The Problem
Connor Logistics is a film industry logistics firm with over 45 years in business and operations in the United States, Canada and Mexico. Connor’s sales for logistics relied solely on Account Manager sales efforts, limiting the firm to the size and time of their sales staff. With the recent business climate changes, Connor’s yearly sales dropped by 15%, a total of $35 Million. The firm’s marketing team was only focused on creating marketing collateral for the Account Management staff with little efforts in customer acquisition marketing other than sponsoring a few industry events every year.

The Solution
Marketing Director for Connor and their CEO planned customer acquisition campaigns by targeting 250 film studios located in 4 countries. These firms held a potential revenue stream of $40 million for Connor Logistics. The acquisition campaign involved a robust variable-data direct marketing campaign that included customized marketing materials for each studio, with specific messaging that was relevant to the individual firms. Connor sent out postcards and brochure materials to key executives in every film studio, along with personalized calendars for secretarial staff. The investment in this marketing material was not cheap, Connor spent over 4 months generating the materials and nearly $2.5 Million to produce and mail it.

The Results
Connor’s Account Managers would follow up after ever marketing piece was mailed with a phone call to schedule an onsite visit with every studio. Over a period two years, 185 of the original 250 targeted studios had signed contracts with Connor Logistics. This produced a net increase in sales of $37 Million. 

Connor’s results are a clear example of the potential of personalized marketing campaigns. Studies show that personalized direct mail pieces produced using variable-data equipment raise response rates by nearly 55% over non-personalized materials.

Maximizing Your Options – Self-Directed IRAs and Real Estate Investing

The perception of retirement savings is that the money has to be invested in traditional avenues like CDs, bonds, stocks, and funds. However, there are a large number of non-traditional investment options that are available through an increasingly popular type of retirement account, called a self-directed IRA. Self-directed IRAs let the individual investor decide where to invest their money based on their own expertise – and one of the most common investments is in the opportunity-rich real market.

How Real Estate Investing through an IRA Works

Individual retirement accounts (IRAs) make up more than $2 trillion of investment assets, about 20% of the total assets in retirement plans. While about 98% of these IRAs are invested in traditional areas like mutual funds and stocks, a large number of IRA holders are switching to self-directed IRAs, which let them decide where to invest their money. In fact, the amount of assets held self-directed IRAs has more than doubled in the last five years, representing tens of billions of dollars in assets.

Most self-directed IRA funds are spent in real estate, and virtually any kind of property is allowed for investment: land, commercial properties, office buildings, shopping and retail centers, single family homes, rental units, condos and multi-tenant buildings. The only limit for real estate investments is that they cannot directly benefit the account holder or a near relative (such as buying an investment property and then using it as your primary residence).

There are three different ways that IRA funds can be invested in real estate:

o By purchasing the property outright. In this case, the assets in the IRA are used to buy the property entirely.

o By supplying a deposit or down payment. The IRA fund can be leveraged to get a mortgage on a property, with the property used as collateral. This minimizes personal risk and can greatly increase the overall value of your investment.

o By buying a property as part of an investment group. As long as the property deed shows your undivided interest in the property, it’s available to your self-directed IRA for investment.

When using a self-directed IRA to invest in real estate, you select the property, negotiate the price, and find the lending institution, while an escrow account is created in the IRA trustee’s name and the IRA trustee performs the actual transaction. The property is then held as part of the account’s assets. This is analogous to picking a stock with great dividends and instructing your IRA advisor to purchase a certain number of shares.

What an IRA Trustee Means

The structure of self-directed IRAs provides a balance between independent real estate investment control and experienced investment professionals. For any self-directed IRA, there has to be a qualified custodian, or trustee, for the account. The trustee understands all legal and tax prohibitions on investments, manages the actual retirement account, handles administrative tasks and carries out all of the actual transactions. The trustee also offers professional advice as you plan your investment strategy, which is particularly important for long-term investing in real estate. All account funds are held in an escrow account managed by the trustee.

The self-directed IRA trustee has an integral role in whether you successfully invest in real estate with your IRA. Even major investment companies may not have experience with self-directed IRAs or real estate investing, and knowledge matters. For example, the profits from a self-directed IRA may be subject to unrelated business income taxes (UBTI) because of the nature of the investment, while depreciation and expenses for the property are calculated differently. (This is in sections 511-514 of the IRS tax code.) An experienced IRA trustee will know all the liabilities and incentives available.

Most importantly, ask about investment goals and options; get involved and be willing to take control of your investments. The most important asset the IRA trustee offers is strategic, experienced planning. Trust Administration Services specializes in IRA-funded real estate investing, along with other self-directed IRA investment plans, with billions of dollars in assets.