Monthly Archives: March 2016

Linking In: Part II

We have been looking at social media for home-based businesses, and on Tuesday, we began looking at LinkedIn, and some of the basic features of the social networking platform.

There are some “advanced” features beyond just the basic profile, contacts, and status updates.

Groups. As with Facebook, you can start and/or join LinkedIn Groups, a collection of LinkedIn members in the same industry or discussing a specific topic. This is a good way to share insights and other links and information. As always, remember to be professional.

Recommendations. If you have worked with any of your contacts regularly or on major projects, ask them to write you a recommendation which can be added to your profile. Have them be specific. While it would be disingenuous for you to write a recommendation yourself and have them post it under their own name, it’s not uncommon to go back and forth a few times via e-mail to ensure that your recommender is emphasizing the kind of work you want to get more of. And, of course, be sure to return the favor and write a recommendation for a recommender, if they desire one.

LinkedIn Premium. The free “default” LinkedIn services limits the members whom you can contact. That is, you can only send messages to those to whom you are directly linked. But maybe you want to reach out to those beyond your immediate circle. LinkedIn has a variety of premium tiers (which start at $29.95 a month) that vary based on whether you are a job hjunter, a job seeker, a business seekling to grow your network, or are looking specifically for sales leads. A premium account let you send “InMail” to anyone on LinkedIn, and also give you more access even to those already in your circle. It’s worth reviewing the options here.

As with any social media initiative, it requires a certain amount of regular activity, diligence, and persistence to bear fruit. We may not like doing it, but it’s become a necessary evil today, and will likely remain that way, however much we may think it’s just a passing fad (it isn’t). Come up with a schedule for devoting time to social media activities—say, from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. This could also be tied into a set period of catching up on industry-related news; get into a habit of setting aside a time to read trade news, checking out links from our Twitter-mates, our Google news alerts, and other educational activities. While doing this, share interesting links and offer comment on them. Once this becomes a regular habit, it will become easier and more natural, and at the same time you’ll be increasing your presence among your social network. Relinks, retweets, and other “forwards” can help expand your network.

There are a tremendous number of ways of taking advantage of LinkedIn. If you have read our Greatest Strengths report and taken the evaluation, your results can be linked to your LinkedIn page, so visitors can get a sense of what it’s like to work with you.

Linking In: Part I

We have been looking at marketing the home-based business, with the last several posts focusing on social media. We last looked at Facebook and this week we turn to another increasingly important social media platform: LinkedIn.

LinkedIn is much like Facebook, but it is a better approach to social media for businesses. Users on LinkedIn are there specifically for professional networking, which keeps the level of conversation higher than on Facebook (which isn’t hard). There are several components to using LinkedIn effectively for business:

Profile. It’s worth devoting extra time to working on your LinkedIn profile, as this is the “ad” that will attract contacts. Describe what products or services you offer clearly and concisely, but avoid sounding like an ad. Pay special attention to a profile picture; do not attempt a self-portrait with a cameraphone (aka “selfie”) as they never look good. You may even want to spend a little money and have a professional photo taken. This can be used on LinkedIn as well as on your own website and for any other promotional purposes. Remember, the key word in everything you put out to promote your business should be “professional.”

Contacts. Naturally, you will want to add contacts, otherwise no one will see your profile. How do you get started? Begin with people you personally know; search for them on LinkedIn, and if they have a profile, send a request to connect. Once you start amassing contacts, LinkedIn will often suggest mutual contacts, and at the same you will start receiving connect requests. It’s tempting to add everyone who wants to connect, but as with Facebook and Twitter, you are searching for quality not quantity. If someone very far afield of your business sends a connect request, give some thought to whether you want to accept. Here’s a tip: as soon as you meet someone at an event, seminar, networking opportunity, etc., and get their business card, look them up on LinkedIn and send an invitation to connect. You may even find that they’ll try to connect with you first.

Messaging. Sending someone a message through LinkedIn is a good way of contacting someone if you don’t know their “real” contact info. (Truth be told, some people exclusively send email through LinkedIn Messaging.)

Status Updates. Here you can post any news about your business, such as projects you have completed, awards you have attained, new clients you have landed, personal appearances, and so forth. It is also helpful to share links to stories or other content you have come across online—related to your industry—and add a brief comment. Try to craft intelligent and helpful comments; this can be very good PR for yourself if you can demonstrate enough expertise in a subject to comment on it in an insightful way.

There are many other features to LinkedIn, which we will look at in the next few posts.

About Face[book]

Social media is perhaps synonymous with Facebook, and we expect that you have no doubt at least heard of Facebook. If you haven’t, it is a social networking site where users create profiles of themselves, add friends, post status updates, share photos and videos, and so on.

Some people live and die by Facebook, and tend to post every single trivial aspect of their lives. Some call 911 when it goes down (we’re not making that up). At the other end of the spectrum are those who hate it and refuse to use it, or who have an account but very rarely post anything. Most Facebook users fall somewhere in the middle of those two extremes.

For businesses, the most relevant aspect of Facebook is setting up a separate page for your company. That is, you create a profile, post status updates, and encourage others to become fans, often via links on other Web sites or blogs, or in your personal Facebook status feed. Once your friends “like” your business page, any news updates you post on that page will appear in their news feeds. This is a handy tool for keeping your social network informed of any awards, accomplishments, milestones, or events.

If you are planning an event—such as a workshop or some other appearance—you can also create an “event page” in Facebook that provides the logistic information on attending, and you can invite your Facebook friends as well as see who has accepted or declined your invitation.

Facebook also has Groups that you can join and then connect with other like-minded individuals. They are best thought of as clubs, the kind you would join in the offline world: go to meetings, participate in discussions, and meet and network with other members of the group. Facebook Groups function in much the same way; members discuss various topics more or less interactively. Facebook Groups aren’t necessarily as useful for business as LinkedIn Groups (which we will look at next week), but depending on the business you are in, can be good for building up a network of contacts and potential sales leads. As with anything in social media, it is best to avoid direct sales pitches or to seem like you are overtly trawling for business. The idea is to provide cogent, helpful, or informative comment and content.

Again, Facebook was not originally designed as a tool for businesses, but they have since launched new tools and services to make the platform more suitable for business users—and the platform is evolving all the time. Most prominently, you can create Facebook ads—but we would advise against that. No one likes ads on social media, and you are much better off building Likes and reposts organically. Still, Facebook ads have worked for some. Start here and explore your options.

How Tweet It Is

Last week, we started looking at social media for marketing a home-based business, starting with blogging and podcasting.

The blog evolved (or devolved, some would say) into what is called microblogging, or very short blog posts. Exemplified by Twitter, microblogging functions like a blog but posts can only be a maximum of 140 characters. That sounds like scarcely enough space in which to say anything particularly poignant, but you’d be surprised. Users who have a Twitter “feed” attract “followers” and in turn follow others. Twitter also fosters more or less real-time conversations, and “tweets” (as Twitter posts are called) can be “retweeted” by a particular user’s followers, which can attract other followers. Any respectable person or event these days has an accompanying “hashtag” (#) which indicates that it is something that can be followed on Twitter. Like other social media channels, Twitter is free, but does require a more or less substantial time commitment not only to do the actual tweeting, but also to monitor others’ feeds for mentions.

It is common practice and Twitter etiquette to follow those who have followed you. However, don’t feel obligated to follow everyone; some tweeters just seek to maximize their followers, regardless of how relevant or receptive those followers may be. Try to limit the users you follow to only the most relevant to your business.

Retweeting—sending a tweet from someone you follow to your own followers—can be good public relations, and if your own retweets get retweeted, it demonstrates a certain level of “influence.” It can be a good marketing gambit.

Twitter has evolved over the years (can you believe it’s about10 years old now—and in fact, next Monday—March 21—will mark the 10th anniversary of its founding) to handle images and videos. It is also not unusual for “Twitter wars” to break out, and a number of high profile tweeters quit platform after being inundated with negative or downright nasty comments.

Still, the average home-based business person is probably not going to fan the flames of the Twitter trolls.

Meet the Author!

Sue Lucey, co-owner of Page 158 Books, will interview Dr. Joe Webb about the new edition of the book The Home Office That Works! and strategies for working at home as an entrepreneur or as a telecommuter. Attendees can ask their own questions during the event.

Date/Time: March 14, 2016, 6:00 p.m.

Location: Page 158 Books, 158 S White St., Wake Forest, NC 27587, Parking is available in the public lots and on-street.

Admission: Free admission. Registration not required, but RSVP if possible. Call 919-741-9156 for more information

Pod[cast] People

Related to blogs are podcasts, which are audio recordings much like short radio programs or features that offer news, commentary, instruction, advice, interviews, or other content—the same sort of things you would put in a blog, except it is in audio format. These days, a podcast is easy enough to record; your computer or even mobile device like iPhone or iPad has a microphone, and software or apps can be easily found to capture audio and even edit it. We like Audacity for recording and editing audio.

Once it is recorded, it can be posted on your website or blog, or distributed through Apple’s App Store. A good reference for navigating the minutiae of podcast creation and distribution can be found here.

As with blogposts, there is an optimal length—5 minutes is the general rule of thumb, although if you have a more ambitious format in mind, like a talk show with news reports, guests, interviews, and so on, you can go longer.

Podcasts can have musical themes, but be careful not to just grab your favorite Pink Floyd or Beatles CD off the shelf and use a segment of a song you like—you’ll need to negotiate rights (and good luck getting or affording them). There are royalty-free music snippets that can suit your purpose, and if you are a dab hand at GarageBand, you can even create your own fairly easily.

Blogito Ergo Sum

For the past couple of weeks, we have been looking at ways of marketing a home-based business, and after covering various kinds of print and online options, we now turn to the broad topic of social media. Before we jump into what we usually think of as social media (Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn), let’s look at some “older” categories. The first is arguably where it all began: blogging.

Short for “Web log,” the idea of the blog began back in the 1990s as a kind of online diary, where techies would detail the minutiae of their lives which, as you can imagine, was utterly compelling. Since then, blogs have evolved into hybrid magazine articles/editorials. The best ones provide information, opinion, and perspective on some area of interest. For businesses, especially small businesses, blogs are excellent ways to demonstrate expertise and knowledge, provide advice, tips, strategies, etc.

There are at present three primary blogging platforms: Blogger (owned by Google), TypePad, and WordPress, although WordPress has really come to dominate the blogosphere. (The Home Office That Works Blog is done in WordPress.)

A basic blog is free and is easy to set up. Some of the blog providers have for-pay premium services (usually about $20 a year) that give you more control over the look and feel of the site graphics, as well as the ability to integrate the blog onto a parent website. This is important if you want the URL of the blog to have your own domain and not wordpress.com or blogspot.com. You can also have your website developer incorporate a blog into your own site, which can be a substantial cost. The downside to blogging is that it can require a substantial time commitment, depending on how easy or difficult you find writing. One option is to simply come up with the main points and farm out the actual writing to others, either for free (such as an intern or family member) or for pay.

There are many types of blogposts. Some are short comments on something the blogger read on another site, some are simply links to articles or other blogposts of interest, some are “listicles”—a combination of article and list (“9 Ways to Market Your Business” or “7 Ways to Use Facebook Profitably” or the like)—and some can be long features (what is sometimes known as “slow blogging”). There is no hard and fast rule as to what approach to take; sometimes the best strategy is to mix them up. If you are posting three times a week, make one a short listicle, one a long feature, and one a list of links or quick comment.

As for what you should blog about, essentially you want to provide useful information and not a full-on marketing pitch. Think about what your clients (or perhaps other colleagues) would find helpful, informative, or just plain interesting. If you are a graphic designer, sharing design tips, how font choice can make or break a design, software tips, or—and this is how you can work self-promotion into it—some successful projects you have worked on.

What is the target length of a blogpost? Unless you are just making a quickie comment, generally 200–300 words is the optimal length, although slow-blogging posts can go upwards of 800–1,000 words. Beyond that, you are really straining your reader’s attention span—unless you are writing something truly compelling. (This post’s word count, by the way, is 596.)

The key with blogging is to be consistent. If someone visits your blog and there hasn’t been an update in three months, they probably won’t bother coming back.

The Home Office Presents!

Continuing with his series of successful home office workshops, Home Office Guru Dr. Joe Webb has announced that Raleigh SCORE and Chapel Hill SCORE have teamed up to offer a new workshop in Durham, N.C. on Thursday, March 24.

At this workshop, you will:

  • Learn how to start your home office and avoid the problems unique to home offices.
  • Find out the key factors of a successful home office.
  • Learn how to be financially prepared, as well as navigate the pitfalls (and benefits) of taxes and insurance.
  • Get proven tips about how to avoid disruptions from family, neighbors, and pets.
  • Discover the habits that make or break home office success.

During this workshop we will also discuss how to save on furniture, computer resources, and marketing.

Copies of the 2016 edition of The Home Office That Works! will also be available for sale for $15, courtesy of Letters Bookshop.

Date and Time: Thursday, March 24, 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Location: BB&T Bank Building, lower-level meeting room, 505 S. Duke Street, Durham, N.C. 27701

Admission is free. Please contact Tom Laco at contact.raleigh@scorevolunteer.org or (919) 856-4739 to register or for more information.