Month: April 2014

The Year Ahead: 5 Social Media Trends Every Entrepreneur Needs to Know

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Technology is transforming how modern entrepreneurs stay connected to their business, their team and their industry. In this series, learn more about the cutting edge tools and thinking allowing innovators to stay ahead of the trends.


The social media landscape is evolving rapidly, and therefore, your social media marketing strategy cannot remain static. Instead, it’s important to reevaluate business goals, social media campaigns, platform results and revise your strategy at least once a year — if not quarterly.

Being aware of trends in the social sphere can help you design better strategies, apply the most effective tactics and choose where to invest your staff as well as financial resources. Here are the top five social media trends every entrepreneur needs to think about for 2014 and beyond:


1. Diversify. You’ve probably seen headlines about Facebook’s algorithm changes. If you currently operate a brand or business page, one study found that only six percent of followers currently see your posts. Experts suggest that that number will continue to plummet, eventually reaching one percent.

This bid by Facebook is aimed at increasing advertising dollars. But it highlights a potential weakness in many business’ social strategies: overdependence on any single platform puts you at the mercy of that platform’s whims. Whether it crashes or simply changes its rules, too much is at stake.

2. Google+ is for real. If there’s one social network businesses should pay specific attention to, it’s Google+, which is already playing a more important role in Google’s organic ranking algorithm. I expect this trend will continue.

To the surprise of many across the SEO industry, Google’s Matt Cutts confirmed in a recent video that Facebook and Twitter have no impact on SEO rankings as a result of crawling and accessibility issues. So it stands to reason that if Google wants to use social signals for organic search rankings, it could easily mine Google+ data, where its crawler access is unhindered.

Google+ is also the best way to get access to Google Authorship, which will play a huge role in SEO by the end of the year. Google Authorship helps the search engine identify your content, attribute it to the correct author and build a portfolio for each author that may include what many are calling “Author Rank” — algorithmic scoring based on author expertise and publishing history.

In most cases, an image of the author appears next to their content in search results, which also increases visibility and click-through rates.

3. Integration of social media, SEO, and content creation. The online marketing industry is moving away from the idea that social media, SEO and content marketing happen in isolation. Social media marketing decisively impacts how content is seen and shared.

Content creation and marketing have direct implications for your SEO performance — especially in light of Google’s latest algorithm updates. It’s important that you think of the three pillars of online marketing — SEO, content and social media — as a system that works synergistically to increase visibility, build your brand and ultimately garner customers and sales.

4. Visual content will win. An estimated 63 percent of social media comprises imagery. As such, visual platforms are playing an increasing role in social media for businesses. One study found that 29 percent of Pinterest users bought an item after posting or re-pinning it on the network.

Video content is also hotter than ever, with the addition of networks like Vine and Instagram featuring microvideos. Infographics are another effective promotion tool for businesses with both a bounty of data and absorbing stories to tell.

Not every platform will be right, but spending the time to find the visual angle to your business’ story and experimenting with different content formats can help revitalize your social media marketing strategy.

5. Social media as a brand builder. Social media channels should be managed according to a brand-oriented approach. Building your brand on any platform impacts your SEO and improves sales over the long term.

Are the visuals of your social media accounts consistent with the rest of your visual branding? Is your account name or any other copy branded? Are you regularly filtering your status updates to ensure they’re on-message and consistent with the overall brand that you’re building? Focusing on building your brand through your social interactions should be a key focus this year.

If evolutions in social media have taught us anything so far this year, it’s that entrepreneurs with flexible and engaged approaches will have the highest ROI. Take the time to understand general trends and focus on core goals, but also take action to experiment with specific tactics that will grow and change as your business evolves.

What major trends are you seeing at play in social media? Let us know in the comments below.



A One-Page Business Plan in 5 Steps

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A business plan is essential for every entrepreneur, but if it’s your first time approaching one, it can feel daunting. Business owners will argue both sides of the coin when it comes to how long a plan should be, but usually a one-page business plan can cover all your needs at the beginning and get you organized enough to get started.

Don’t worry — you can’t go wrong starting with a one-page plan and adding onto it from there. As your business grows (and if you ever need capital) you’ll certainly add to it down the road. Just remember that right now, the worst business plan is the one you never bother to write. Don’t let analysis paralysis keep you from getting started.

Here are five easy steps to a one-page business plan:

1. Start with your vision. Begin the plan by thinking of the end. You have to communicate up front where you want to go with your business to set the tone for your plan. Do you want to grow this business to sell? Do you want the business to be a legacy that will last your lifetime? What’s the big vision for the end goal? It’s important to start with the end in mind. Your vision should summarize that well.  

2. Formalize your mission statement. You know what your vision is, now you need to describe what you’re going to do to accomplish that vision in a brief, accessible way. This is the statement that you’ll want to display somewhere you (and your staff, if you have one) can see to remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing every day.

Related: How Do I Build a Business Plan? (Infographic)

3. List your objectives. Think of your objectives as the bullet points of deliverables you plan to achieve. For example, “dominate at least 10 percent of the market of my niche by 2016,” or HR objectives such as “hire one full-time graphic designer by year’s end.” These should be the big goals you want to achieve with a timeframe attached to them.

4. Form your strategies. Your strategies describe how you plan to achieve your objectives. What’s the marketing plan? Sales strategy? Will you devote your time to research and development? What are the overarching strategies you will follow to achieve your objectives?

5. Create an action plan. You have the objective, you’ve decided on a strategy, now what actionable steps will you take to make sure your business maintains the momentum to achieve your objectives and reach the manifestation of your big vision? These should be short-term actions and daily tasks — things that you can start doing now to work toward the end goal.

Tackling a business plan can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be overly complicated. Simplify the process and start today by following these five easy steps to a one-page business plan.


Richard Branson on Learning by Doing

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Richard Branson on Learning by Doing

Q: Virgin works in a variety of industries — you jumped from magazines to records to air travel, and from there to soft drinks, space flights and so on. Do you need to have prior knowledge of the industry you want to start a business in? How have you started up one business after another and succeeded again and again? — Hernan Gaytan

Successful entrepreneurs tend to be insatiably curious about almost everything, and often they are good at learning by doing. Their open-minded, can-do attitude is among their best assets. Hernan, if this describes you and you’re thinking about starting up a business, you’re already on your way!

Please don’t get hung up on this question of whether you need to have experience in an industry before you launch your startup. Instead, think about changes you’d like to see as acustomer — even if you’ve just noticed little details that need tweaking. An amalgam of those changes may add up to a big idea that leads to a new and truly disruptive product or service.

This is essentially how we at Virgin launched our first successful businesses. We were very sensible when we started out, setting up connected enterprises like most other companies do. We went from running a small record shop to starting up a record label with recording studios and then added our large music megastores to our portfolio.

Though we were music fans, we knew little or nothing about any of those businesses, but we learned that this wasn’t necessarily a drawback. We were young and stubborn, and we liked to do things our own way; paradoxically, our enterprises thrived as a result. It turned out that our customers welcomed the changes that we were making, like inviting music lovers to spend hours in our record shops, hanging out and talking about music, rather than pushing them to make their purchases and get out.

The big leap came when I decided that it was time to start a new trans-Atlantic airline. I took the same approach: I knew nothing about air travel, but as I’d flown back and forth from Britain to the United States on business for Virgin Records, I’d become convinced that there had to be a better way. The prices were high and the service was dreadful.

When I showed my partners in the record company the proposal for a new airline, they thought I’d gone mad. So did our bankers, who dumped us. As we went ahead with the launch, the experts and our rivals said it was the wrong idea at the wrong time, and that Virgin Atlantic Airways was doomed to failure.

We proved them all wrong. We succeeded because we didn’t just create another “me too” airline, but took the same creative, customer-focused approach we had with our music businesses. We added all kinds of little service extras, the greatest of which was hiring cabin crew members who were actually nice to passengers — a detail that our competitors had overlooked! Thirty years later that company is still setting the standard in terms of the value and service excellence we offer.

By the time we started up businesses like Virgin Mobile in Britain, that approach was in our company’s DNA. We believed that we could improve the service and the value offered to mobile customers in Britain, so we did. One change we made was to let our customers buy a SIM card without a phone; this was very different from other companies, many of which required that their customers buy expensive phones.

Since we created the Virgin brand in 1970, we’ve launched something like 400 businesses. Though not all of them did well, we learned a lot from our failures. The common thread to our successes is our desire to do something better: Our teams of engaged, passionate people always have highly collaborative fun together as we upset our competitors’ ideas of what customers want.

These days, when we sail into uncharted waters, we try to hire CEOs and management team members who have worked in the industry and who know what to avoid. Such people frequently join us from a dominant player in the sector, where their ideas and ambitions were stifled by practices that are hierarchical, blinkered and focused on the bottom line. We look for people who want to bring radical change to an industry, give them the freedom to get creative and the backing of our brand, and then we step back and watch them fly.

People often remark to me that it’s great how Virgin thinks outside the box. They are genuinely surprised when I tell them, “Actually we don’t! We just never let the box get built in the first place.” It’s a great approach, and no matter where your business is based or which industry you’re tackling, it’s likely to work for you too.