Social Media has lowered the barriers for small and local businesses to enter the world of digital communication and engage with consumers in real-time regardless of physical distance. Popular platforms such as Facebook and Twitter promise a low-cost and supposedly effective means for companies, especially those running on tight marketing budgets, to reach out to a broad audience. Small businesses everywhere are embarking on this otherwise too-good-to-be-true trend in brand-customer interactions.
However, social media success is still a myth to both marketers and service providers. While Facebook have been struggling to roll out an ads placement strategy with enough ROI to calm investors after the disappointing post-earning calls, marketers are finding “Likes” less appealing as an indicator of social media success. Twitter is following suit with a new interest-based strategy, in a series of efforts to boost its “still nascent advertising sales.”
The question remains – How to measure success on social media? This article by Patrick Murphy on Business2Community provides some practical indicators beyond “Likes” and “Follows” to help refine social media strategy. The four metrics suggested by Patrick Murphy include Engagement, Share, Sentiments and Referrals – all aiming at a more meaningful and long-term relationship with customers. Simple as they may sound, these metrics lie at the core of sustainable branding strategy using social media.
However, there is no one-size-fit-all solution to this question and that is why SCORE is here to help. Come to us with any questions or concerns relating to your business and marketing strategy. Our volunteers/business veterans are happy to help you create a strategy that caters to your unique needs.
In the digital time, the website is one of the main points of contact between a company and its customers. The experience that a customer has with your online presence can determine not only the length of time that he/she would spend on the page but also his/her attitude towards your brand. This is why user experience (UX) is becoming an important ingredient for modern business success. A lot of companies nowadays hire professionals to handle UX. However, this poses a problem to small businesses that cannot afford to add an UX designer to the team. The good news is UX does not need to be some kind of specific knowledge circulated among professional designers and those working in the field. For the decision makers of small businesses, there are certain paths you can follow to refine your web presence and make the virtual interaction with your customers/visitors more fruitful. This article by Lisa Barone, VP of Strategy at Wed design and development firm, suggests the 25 questions that your website should address in order to create and maintain customer retention. From cyber security concerns to product demands and ease of use when navigating within the page, there are a lot of questions that a first-time visitor of your website may ask and you only have one chance to satisfy all of the possible concerns. When it comes to user experience, no detail is too small.
In 2011, SCORE posted a blog about how businesses can create and maintain company cultures of winning. In today’s post by Julianna Davies, a researcher and writer for the MBA resource, http://www.mbaonline.com, she further explores the subject of company culture and why it is an important, but too often neglected, key to success in business. As both Julianna and the SCORE post point out, although company culture is experienced by the organization at large, it is the responsibility of executive and management teams to spearhead the foundation of and adherence to a positive company culture.
* * *
Rise Above Any MBA by Paying Attention to Company Culture
Many businesses have achieved success in large part by building a strong company culture – and by the same token, businesses that overlook this aspect of workplace management are often prone to failure.
According to a recent Huffington Post interview with Executive Coach Meredith Haberfield, ‘company culture’ starts with leaders and ends with the entire organization. CEOs, managers and other superiors must be clear about company values and how employees are expected to represent them. But the workplace environment should also inspire creativity and innovation – not fear of one’s boss. Key intermediaries between employers and workers, she says, are ‘influencers,’ or key stakeholders within the company. Ultimately, the strongest cultures are built when every employee understands and respects their employer’s vision. Haberfield notes, “Where a company’s culture can go awry is if it has people in it who don’t value the things that the company esteems.”
Company culture is much more than just a buzz-term. According to a Harvard Business Review report titled, ‘What Great Companies Know About Culture’, companies with “effective culture” stand to outperform “unremarkable competitors” by a margin of 20 to 30%. There are several reasons for this strong performance. First, employees are much more productive when their company provides incentives like work-life programs, flexible schedules and health benefits. Second, companies that “communicate brand mission and provide career development opportunities” are seen as strong and financially viable by the individuals who work for them, a key consideration during an economic recession. Third, employers that recognize the importance of company culture also tend to fare well with employee recruitment and retention. Finally, a strong company understands that culture should ultimately cater to its audience, namely, customers, investors and other stakeholders.
Hewlitt-Packard is one example of a corporation that attended to its unsatisfactory culture after experiencing a series of financial problems. The company effectively changed its culture to cope with these losses. A key factor in this shift was a program that encouraged employees to formulate three personal goals and three professional goals each year. Two years after the program was launched, no losses had been reported and employee retention rates had increased.
In an article by Diana Ransom, she writes that culture-driven companies often succeed because they are able to connect with their audiences more effectively. She notes that recreational clothing supplier, Patagonia, appeals to a customer base best defined as “outdoorsy types,” a demographic, it turns out, that also works for the company. Vice President Rob BonDurant says individual time away from the office is essential for productivity; this led to the company’s implementation of ‘Let Me Go Surfing’ days, which are periodically available to more than 1,300 employees. “The time we spend outside the office helps us manage the storytelling process around our products,” he said.
On the other hand, some companies choose to either foster negative company culture or completely ignore the importance of positive culture. Both attitudes can lead to detrimental consequences.
For instance, clothing brand American Apparel has suffered in recent years due to a series of missteps based in the company’s culture. First, in 2010, the company was under fire for several sexual harassment lawsuits; allegedly, the CEO himself would often walk around the office in only his underwear and refer to female employees by derogatory names. The following year, a company employee made disparaging remarks about plus-size women. Despite these controversies, the company apparently took no action, and its ‘cultural’ reputation has remained tarnished ever since.
Investing in company culture is a process that takes time, energy and focus from company leaders – but the impressive returns make the whole undertaking worthwhile. For further reading, please consult the following resources:
- ’10 Ways to Build a Business Culture like Apple’ | A March 2012 Forbes interview with Jim Stengel, whose book, Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit, examines the world’s 50 best businesses.
- ‘Four Lessons on Culture and Customer Service from Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh’ | A Harvard Business Review interview with Mr. Hsieh, whose online shoe retailer is often touted as a shining example of strong company culture.
- ‘How to Build a Culture of Innovation’ | Jessie Scanlon of Bloomberg Businessweek interviews employees at Tata Group, an Indian company that has thrived for 117 years.
The economic crisis brings great challenges to small businesses. The most direct consequence is the limited to no access to the capital needed for business development. The recent survey by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York shows a 4.7% decline in microloans and reflects an overall hesitant and skeptical attitude towards taking out credit among small businesses. The poll also found that the decrease in credit application is due largely to a high denial rate among financial firms.
Amid this gloomy picture, what can small businesses do? This interview with commercial banking veteran James R. Coughlin revealed some insights to help small business owners make the best of the situation. From adjusting relationship strategy with financial firms to revamping your business presentation and tackling the problems that may have affected your credit application, there is a lot you can do rather than panicking.
Do not forget, you can always come to SCORE with all the questions and concerns that you may have. We offer free consulting services to small, local entrepreneurs on multiple aspects of business. Check out our website on ScoreLancaster.org for more information.
With the entrepreneur culture booming in the US and around the world, one of the biggest myths of our time should be “How to start and run a successful start-up?” If you went through the exciting yet thrilling process of coming up with a great idea and turning it into a successful business, you would probably know what I’m talking about. The multiple steps to success, many of them are mundane legal process and tedious strategic questions, can pose a great challenge to owners of small businesses.
Caron Beesley – an entrepreneur, marketing consultant and a member of the SBA.gov team, compiled a detailed to-do list to help guide small entrepreneurs in this long journey. Broken down into 10 steps, this guide will give you a much better idea of what to do and how you can do them in order bring your entrepreneurial idea to life.
And don’t forget, you always have SCORE by your side. We provide free consulting services from mentors with a wide range of experiences, who share a passion for entrepreneurship and effective business solutions. Did you hear our most recent success story?
At the SCORE 2012 National Leadership Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, Terry Weaver, president and general manager of USA Gypsum in Reinholds, Pennsylvania, was presented with SCORE’s Outstanding Green Small Business Award, sponsored by Office Depot Corporation. This is the first time a client of the SCORE Lancaster Chapter has been honored in this manner.
In presenting Weaver with the award at the organization’s 4th annual leadership conference, SCORE CEO Ken Yancey noted that “The SCORE awards celebrates and honors successful and innovative entrepreneurs who inspire us all, and the small business advocates who support entrepreneurship in America.”
Weaver pointed to the Lancaster SCORE Chapter – and, in particular, mentor Lou Davenport – as a significant factor in the growth of his company. “In our five year relationship, Lou has been instrumental in steering us to financial decisions that were absolutely right for us at the particular stage of our development. His background in all financial areas, including dealing with banks for financing, was invaluable.”
Davenport said that, from the outset of their relationship, Terry had a “clear understanding of the key performance indicators so necessary for the success of any company. He was very good at utilizing and benefitting from our counseling and consulting.”
USA Gypsum, established in 1998 by Weaver’s friend and agronomist Michael Brubaker (now a Pennsylvania state senator), recycles drywall, utilizing a proprietary grinding/separating process. One of the largest drywall recycling companies, it collects wallboard from sites in 9 states in the Mid-Atlantic, Northeast and New England. The resulting natural gypsum manufactured products are distributed for industrial, agricultural and home uses. Gypsum is a natural soil aerator and conditioner for lawns and gardens; it enhances fertilizer uses on farms and golf courses. It is also ideal for animal bedding, but it is most widely used in the manufacture of wallboard (drywall). USA Gypsum served more than 150 customers last year, collecting some 30,000 tons of discarded drywall from construction sites.
SCORE Lancaster congratulates Terry Weaver and USA Gypsum on receiving the Outstanding Green Small Business Award. And we are sincerely proud of SCORE volunteer Lou Davenport for his excellence in mentoring.
Article contributed by SCORE mentor and marketing/PR specialist Michael Finn. For more information about USA Gypsum and how SCORE Lancaster has helped the company, watch this video!