Category Archives: Marketing

Building Your Virtual Brand

5 Tips on Blogging for Your Business

Nowadays, it’s nearly impossible to run a company that has no online presence. Even if your business has yet to develop a website, chances are it’s been reviewed on Yelp, discussed in a message board or bragged about on Facebook. IMG Woman Business Online

Yet there’s a lot of value in taking your online appearance into your own hands and creating a landing page for yourself. Companies as small as your local laundromat have already jumped on board.

So what’s the next step in building your virtual brand? Many business owners are launching a company blog in order to humanize their product, connect with their audience and share new initiatives without spending a lot of time or money. The great news is that, with the right tools, they can make an enormous difference for you and your potential customers – or even go viral. The flipside is that they can also fall flat without an audience at all. It’s all about how you do it.

Here are five tips on blogging to grow your business’ web prowess and hit a home run in the virtual world:

1. Keep it short

Gone are the days of long, flowery descriptions and thorough evaluations. Today’s reader is looking for the meat of your article, and they want it now. Often, someone perusing a blog has five or six other tabs open on their browser while reading your words. Keep your sentences short. Limit your paragraphs to two or three sentences if you can. Try to keep your articles around 500 words. And write with passion!

2. Use numbers

A great way to keep attention on your blog is to use numbers. Create a list and number each heading (like we did with this one). Include the number in your title. “4 Ways to Go on a Greek Vacation”. “8 Activities Not to Do Before Bed”. “3 Things my Mother Taught Me”. For extra effectiveness, try making your sub-headings count down (5-1) rather than up (1-5).

3. Media is your friend

If you want to make sure your online article is never read, make it long, use big words, and don’t include any pictures. Fortunately, visual media is easier to get your hands on than ever. There are great stock photos available for cheap for small businesses. There are amazing videos that can be embedded from YouTube and Vimeo. Use them, and don’t forget to cite your source to keep your Internet karma intact.

4. Ask the audience

Nothing is more important than your audience when it comes to writing a blog post. Always keep the intent of your article in sight, and make sure it’s creating value for your readers. Engage them by asking a question at the end of the post and encouraging them to answer it in the comments section. Bonus points for giveaway items and contests. There’s a lot that someone will do for a free water bottle.

5. Join the community

If you really want your blog to be popular, make sure you know your community. Just like your parents taught you, you can’t make friends only talking about yourself. The blogging life is similar. Find your contemporaries and comment on their posts. Join social networks and retweet others’ articles. Make yourself a member of the community, and the community will reward you.

Want more tips on how to grow your brand using your blog? Join Go Girl Travel Network at the first-ever Women in Travel Summit for female travel bloggers and brands. Learn more at http://www.witsummit.com.

Beth Santos is Founder and CEO of Go Girl Travel Network, a resource and community for women travelers and the creator of the Women in Travel Summit. Beth is a current MBA candidate at the Kellogg School of Management and runs the monthly Chicago Founders’ Stories events with venture capitalist and social entrepreneur Pat Ryan at 1871. Visit her website at bethsantos.com for more information about her projects and to learn about her blogging classes and speaking engagements. 

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Gear Up for Growth – WBDC’s Child Care Business Expo Boosts Business in Chicago

Did you join the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) for our 15th Anniversary Child Care Business Expo on June 1st?  If you missed it, here’s a rundown of the inspirational and educational day:

Over 500 attendees…

Child Care Business Expo

visited 55 Exhibitors ranging from Illinois Action for Children to Dominick’s…

Exhibitors CCBE 2013

 and heard from 5 Deserving Award Winners.

Watch the video playlist below to meet:

– Arabel Alva Rosales, AAR & Associates, LTD., Child Care Champion Award Winner

– Lindsay Cochrane, representing Robert R. McCormick Foundation, Friend of Child Care Award Winner

– Peg Dunne Pavelec, Little Inspirations, Fast Track Award Winner

– Teresa Gomez, Wonderland Day Care Center & Wonderland Home Day Care, Unsung Hero Award Winner

Dr. Latrice Walker, Pre-Fit, Hedy M. Ratner & S. Carol Dougal Legacy Award Winner

Child Care Business Expo Legacy Award

2 Shift Into High Gear Afternoon Workshops taught entrepreneurs effective marketing and business finance.

CCBE Afternoon Workshop

2 Stellar Expo Chairs – Patty Kryscha, Southwest Airlines & Kimberlee Burt, A Child’s Space welcomed guests.

Expo Co Chairs

2 Dynamic Honorary Co-Chairs

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle & Illinois Lt. Governor Sheila Simon (not pictured)

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle opening the Exhibit Hall with WBDC co-president Hedy Ratner (w/ scissors)

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle opening the Exhibit Hall with WBDC co-president Hedy Ratner (w/ scissors) and Expo Co-Chair Kimberlee Burt (far right).

One powerful Luncheon panel shared their insights into the future of Illinois child care.

Luncheon Panel

(L-R): Kate Cozzani, Monique Draper, Janice Lopez and Arabel Alva Rosales

Did you experience the Expo with us?  Do you have any questions that didn’t get answered at one of the workshops? Ask them below!

To see more pictures from the event, check out the WBDC Facebook page.

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Filed under Business, Business Start-up, Child Care, Marketing, Small Business, Special Events, Uncategorized, WBDC

Social Media for the Professional Woman

Networking is key to building a successful business.  Not only should you attend networking events within your local business region, but also pay attention to online networking.  One of the top business networking sites today is LinkedIn, and with refreshed profiles, updated business pages and highly interactive groups, it’s here to stay.  Here is how you can efficiently and effectively maneuver through LinkedIn.

Profile Picture1. Update Your Picture!  Yes, this point is part vanity, part practical, mostly practical.  Make sure your profile picture is recognizable as you today – not ten years ago. A great picture shouldn’t be a glamour shot of what you look like touched up, unless you walk around with a makeup team on a daily basis.  Make it inviting, warm and add a hint of marketing by matching your attire with your brand colors or strategically post a logo in the background.

Connecting Picture2. Connect! It may seem like common sense, but you have to connect with people on LinkedIn to make it work for you.  When you send out invitations, keep it to people you have actually met or that you share a connection with.  In your invitation, explain why you’re connecting, unless you contact them on a regular basis, and then it’s okay to send a standard invite.  Be sure to check out who’s inviting you to connect; take a look at their profile, connections and groups.  Remember, once they’re a connection they can see your full profile and interactions.

LinkedIn Picture3. Join (and ENGAGE in) Groups: Explore all LinkedIn has to offer by joining groups relevant to you.  Search for your alma mater or one of your offline networking groups to join.  Active groups provide great information and events that can help you boost your business.  If you’re a woman business owner in the Midwest, consider joining the WBDC’s LinkedIn Group, Inspired Women, to engage with other professional women looking for advice, input and inspiration.

Resume Image4. Use It, or Lose It!  Make sure to update your not only your picture, but also your profile.  It’s a living resume, so keep it current.  You never know who’s looking for the skills and experience you have to offer.  Keep things interesting by making your headline relevant and engaging, with trigger words.  Learn more about headlines, and other parts of your LinkedIn strategies, in this free webinar recording.

LinkedIn Picture25. It’s About Business!  If you have a business, you should have a business page.  LinkedIn has come a long way in cultivating the business pages to better serve companies.  They now have header images, status updates, video advertising, product promotions and more for followers to interact with.

Spend 10 minutes a day implementing some of these tips, whether it be commenting in a group or updating your profile, and see what comes of it!  You never know what you’re missing out on until you try new strategies.

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Filed under Business, Business Leaders, Business Start-up, Entrepreneur, Established Business, Marketing, Social Media, Technology, WBDC, WBDC News

WBDC Retail Business Clients Share Their 2013 Business Strategies

Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday may have been a bonanza for many WBDC retail clients, but even before the December holidays were over, most had their eye on the New Year. Read their business-building strategies – and be inspired!

JulieJulie Horowitz Jackson, Owner

Virtu, 2034 N. Damen Av.

www.virtuchicago.com

One-of-a-kind gifts such as handcrafted jewelry and stationery are Julie’s stock and trade. In 2013, she’ll alter her buying plan by reducing inventory and adding new artists. In-store events will be bumped from six to ten. She still plans to write guest articles for gift and chamber of commerce publications, but her real focus will be on expanding her own blog, “Virtues,” with a precise editorial calendar.

 

Deborah Kramer

Deborah Kraemer, Owner

Abbey Brown Soap Artisan, 1162 W. Grand Av.

www.abbeybrown.com

Deborah’s new year begins with a bang on January 4 when she plunges in to the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program. She’ll handle the intensive curriculum, which requires two full days of weekly classroom sessions and plenty of “homework,” by turning over more duties to her two managers. Deborah will expand the number of on-site soap-making classes and maintain her level of involvement teaching high school students small business skills in the After School Matters program. For Deborah, January also means taking a complete business inventory and manning a booth at the Chicago Gift Show at the Merchandise Mart. Oh, and she’s designing several new products. Did we mention this is all BEFORE she begins the Goldman Sachs program? Stay tuned!

Laurel Stradford

Laurel Stradford, Owner

What the Traveler Saw, 1508 E. 55th St.

www.WhatTheTravelerSaw.com

Coming off of a successful 2012, Laurel says she’s bringing “a new heart and hope” to the new year. Her popular store will be open more days and more hours. She will amp up her marketing and regularly post information on her new blog and Facebook page. Sadly, the “traveler” was only able to schedule one trip in 2012, but that will change in 2013. Jazz festivals in Europe and a return trip to Turkey, as well as many invitations from other travelers, beckon.

Oh, the excitement, hope and promise of creating those New Year’s business-related resolutions! What plans do you have to take your business to the next level? Share your strategies in the comment section below!

Contributed by guest blogger Chris Ruys of Chris Ruys Communications.

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Filed under Business, Entrepreneur, Goldman Sachs, Marketing, Small Business, Small Business Saturday, Uncategorized, WBDC, Women Business Owner

8 Holiday Retail Business Tips from the Women’s Business Development Center

With holidays just around the corner, small business owners are prepping their businesses for what is hoped to be a prosperous season.  The Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) has no shortage of retail clients and to help them, and you, we’ve put together a list of 8 tips to heat up cool weather sales!

1. Email marketing – if you don’t do it already, start now!  Great template based tools like Mailchimp and Constant Contact are available at little to no cost.  Emailing is still the number one way to reach your clients online and create loyalty with your customers.  Have a plan for the holidays, schedule emails right up until Christmas, and even after that for any sales you might have!

2. Stay active – in the community that is.  Small Business Saturday is a nationwide event showcasing small business owners on November 24th.  It’s the Saturday between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, so be sure to encourage customers to save their spending for shopping local on Saturday. Make sure you’re active and take advantage of all the free business marketing tools you can find here.

3. Deck the halls- or at least the showroom.  Make sure your shop has a seasonal feel as it tends to make consumers more in the spirit of giving (read spending).  Think twinkle lights and cheerful music!

4. Prepare the troops – refresh your employees on procedures.  Giving your staff a run through of policies and procedures prior to the holiday rush is a good idea so they can handle any situation that comes their way.  Things to think about:

– discounts being offered

– how to deal with theft

– what to do with returns

– gift card sales

These are just a few of the basics that are often forgotten during the rest of the year.  A well informed staff makes a successful season and happy customers!

5. Party – reasonably and retail-ly.  If you haven’t already, hold a holiday open house.  Get neighboring businesses to participate through giveaways or staying open late with you; it’s a win-win for all. Make it special and offer exclusive deals.  If you’ve already had your open house, make sure your employees feel special by way of a holiday party just for them.

6. Give back. Rally the team and volunteer at one of the local shelters, food drives or other organizations that need assistance during the winter months.  Not only are you making a difference, you’re also showing the community that you are a socially responsible business.

7. Keep it social. As a B2C (business to consumer) business, you should already have a business Facebook page up and running.  If you don’t, here’s a free webinar recording from the WBDC on how to do right.  If you are active, don’t forget to post pictures of new merchandise, have a social media exclusive sale and engage your clients as much as possible!  And be sure to double check your reviews on sites like Yelp.com – nothing like a poor review to turn away potential customers.

8. Don’t forget about the men!  Although women are the purchasing decision makers for most households in the United States, don’t forget about their counterparts: husbands, boyfriends and sons.  Get your message out that you can help them find that perfect gift and offer a worry free shopping experience! This is particularly successful when you have a high number of return clients.  Nothing is better than unwrapping the perfect gift and not finding a gift card.

Try at least one or two of these ideas if you’re not already. Did we leave anything out? What do you do to make your business most successful during the holidays?

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Filed under Business, Entrepreneur, Marketing, Retail, Small Business Saturday, Special Events, Uncategorized, WBDC, Webinar, Women Business Owner, Women in Business

Your Business Website: The Open Sea or A Muddled Puddle?

Whether it’s reworking your current site or starting from scratch, building a website isn’t as difficult as it used to be.  It’s a challenge making a concise and effective website, but the initial investment will directly correlate with your return.  As the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) continues to redevelop our website, we are learning a great deal about ourselves and what are clients are looking for.  Take a look at these 5 tips to creating a better website for you, your business and your visitors.

  1. Make it easy: While the content you have may be amazing, it’s completely irrelevant if no one can find it.  Try the “grandma test” to know whether or not your site is easy to navigate. All your content should be available in two clicks or less.  Make it easy to digest by keeping the language simple and direct.  Often times, companies think they need to use a broad vocabulary filled with technical terms only insiders are familiar with.  This may not be the best idea as you never know what parts of your website may pop up for different searches and possibly open doors to new clients. Finally, make it easy to share.  When people can easily share an event or a story from your website, they are freely marketing your business.
  2. Keep it current:  Nothing is worse than a website with outdated content.  If your business is based on trends that change on a regular basis, be prepared to reflect that on your website.  While flashy buttons, zingy one liners and the like were trendy for television commercials and snail mail flyers, they just don’t translate to websites. Try to see your website as a window into your store; what do you want people looking through the window to see?  Certainly not 1970s shag carpeting, or in the internet world – clipart!
  3. Keep a clear voice throughout: The voice of your website refers to the tone in which your content is written.  This doesn’t mean all the content should be written by one person, but the manner of writing should be similar and reflect your business.  If you’re a toy distributor, you may have more whimsical wording, whereas a financial consultant maintains a professional tone.  On the other side, be comfortable with what your website looks like and how it works.  Stay true to your business and brand. On a more basic level, make sure there is continuity throughout with formatting – one font and standard colors for linking, headers, etc.
  4. Put the client first:  Often times business owners want to get ALL the information they know about their business and industry out on the website, making it a huge cluster of content.  This can be a mistake if the content is not well organized (see tip #1).  Make your website a great tease with more to offer once a relationship is developed. Keep it simple, and think like your client.
  5. Listen to the pros:  Whether you’re building your site on your own or having someone do it for you, make sure you take the advice of those who have done it before you.  If you’re using a developer/design team, take advantage of their expertise and lessons learned from other websites they’ve created.   If you’re building the site yourself, be sure to educate yourself on current site trends to have the most logical layout for your site.  It’s okay to look around at other sites and pull ideas from them, that’s the beauty of the internet: it’s open source!

What are some of your favorite sites?  Why is that?  Anything you think the WBDC should have on our site we don’t have already?  Let us know!

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Filed under Business, Marketing, Small Business, Technology, Uncategorized, WBDC, WBDC News

WBDC: Marketing to the Federal Government

Knowing your target audience is essential at any level and when your audience has nearly $100 billion to spend it’s critical to know what they’re looking for.  In partnership with American Express OPEN, the Women’s Business Development Center is hosting a free 3 hour workshop on how to market to the federal government on May 3, 2012 at Chicago’s East Bank Club, 500 N. Kingsbury Street.  If you’re a contract ready small business and eager to learn how to pitch your business to the government, then this workshop is perfect for you!

American Express OPEN Victory in Procurement “Marketing to the Federal Government” Workshop

Date: May 3, 2012

Cost: Free

Visit: www.WBDC.org for more information and to register!

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Filed under American Express, Business, Established Business, Marketing, Small Business, Special Events, WBDC

5 Tips for Attending Trade Shows & Government Fairs

On April 25th, the WBDC-Minnesota office will be working with the U. S. Small Business Administration Minnesota District Office and the Minnesota Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) to support a Government Procurement Fair.  Below are tips to make any procurement fair a success for you!  If you’re interested in registering for the free government procurement fair in Minnesota, click here.

    1. Do your homework.  Study the list of exhibitors
      from the trade show/fair brochure, identify prospects and create a targeted hit list.

      • The contacts that are most important to you should be your first stop.  People in the booths are more alert and patient in the morning.  In fact, if you can arrive early to meet with those key contacts, you may beat traffic.
    2. Budget sufficient time and resources. Trade shows/fairs often have many components, including workshops and matchmaker meetings, so be sure to block half a day or the entire day, and possibly bring your sales force.
      • Make sure to take note of already scheduled appointments – do not skip an appointment!  If you must miss your appointment, provide adequate notice to your contact to ensure they can fill the spot and maintain a good relationship.
      • Also include time for new opportunities when budgeting your time.  You never know what’s out there for you and your business until you explore!
    3. Bring lots of business cards.
      • Always overestimate the number of business cards you need.
      • Ensure your card includes all the essential information including: name, title, company, website, work number, business address, and if this information doesn’t explain what your company does, be sure a one line description somewhere on the card.
      • Before you hand your card over, put the date of the fair on it to give a point of reference to the recipient.
    4. Look and act professional.
      • Taking the time to do your homework will give you an edge, as knowing what different agencies do can help you act more professional.  Being able to ask smart questions, as opposed to “What do you buy?” is essential.  You should already know what the agency buys before approaching the table.
      • Dress in a manner that distinguishes you while still being professional.
    5. Don’t forget to follow up with your new contacts and act on items you promised.
      • By taking quick action and touching base with new contacts you show that you have initiative and take seriously what you discussed.  Keep in mind the people working at the fair see hundreds of individuals in one day – make sure they see you again a few days later in their inbox or voicemail.

What else do you find useful when attending procurement fairs?  What about business expos and conferences?  Take a look at our article on how to have effective outreach during those as well!

Contributing Author: Natasha Fedorova, Program Director, WBDC-Minnesota

Source:  Bradt, Judy “2010 OSDBU Tips Want More Government Contracts in 2010?” 2010 PDF file

For more tips on how to make the most productive use of your visit to a Procurement Fair, please visit http://www.summitinsight.com/blogviewd.asp?id=93.

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Filed under Business, Business Leaders, Entrepreneur, Established Business, Marketing, Procurement, SBA, Small Business, Special Events, WBDC, WBDC- Minnesota

Investing in Contracts – An Infographic

Join the WBDC May 3rd, 2012 at the East Bank Club in Chicago for American Express OPEN Victory in Procurement Event.

Learn more and register here.

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Filed under American Express, Business, Business Leaders, Entrepreneur, Established Business, Finance, Marketing, Procurement, Special Events, Uncategorized, WBDC, WBDC News, Women Business Owner, Women in Business

Small Business Getting a Boost in Chicago – Compliments of Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses

For those of you following this blog, you know that the WBDC is a proud partner of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program in Chicago.  As the first cohort of program participants heads toward graduation, we’ve heard incredible feedback about their experiences.  The business education is highly interactive and engaging, equipping business owners with the tools to take their business to the next level.  Key areas of education include:

–          Understanding business financials

–          Creating sales and marketing strategies

–          Becoming a “bankable” business

–          Developing true leadership skills

Additionally, through this program you have the opportunity to interact with other business owners looking to learn and enrich their businesses.  So not only will you be gaining valuable lessons on business from top business educators, you will also be networking with key connections in the Chicago area!

Are you:

  1. A business poised for growth?
  2. Committed to growing your business and creating jobs?
  3. Having a business model that could scale to create more jobs?
  4. Seeking practical business and management education, access to capital and business support services?

If you answered yes to all these questions, then you should APPLY for the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program today!

For more information on specific eligibility requirements and to hear from Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program representatives, attend one of the WBDC’s informational events March 20th at Illinois Institute of Technology or March 21st at the WBDC.

Mayor Emanuel visits with 10000 Small Business scholars

This great opportunity is offered in Chicago by partner organizations including the WBDC, City Colleges of Chicago, Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Chicago Urban League and Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

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Filed under Business, Business Leaders, Entrepreneur, Established Business, Finance, Marketing, Procurement, Small Business, Special Events, WBDC, WBDC News, Women Business Owner, Women in Business