Take Paper Forms Out of Your Business

One of the big challenges in any work place is paper. When many entrepreneurs leave a big company and start their own shops, they vow to cut out paper. It is always easier said than done. Where’s the IT department to create the form in a start up business? Where’s the quality assurance team to test it?Anyware, a company in the mobile application development space for over 12 years understands this problem and has developed a package called “reformXT” that lets your employees fill out forms on their mobile devices. They currently support Palm (runs on Palm Classic on thePRE), Windows Mobile, Blackberry, and, in about a month, iPhone.

Acting product manager Mark Jones and marketing manager April Sailsbury shared with me an example of a pizza chain who wanted employees to efficiently be able to order supplies from the distributor. An employee with a mobile phone or wireless device could go into the kitchen, freezer, and stockroom and analyze the inventory, clicking on different items he feels need to be ordered. When the order is done, it is submitted and can be retrieved at chain headquarters as a separate order, or as one line in a spreadsheet. The central group could then bulk order their products and have the appropriate ingredients sent to the individual stores.

I gave them a different example. Say a saleswoman is out in the field and wants to rapidly take orders based on inventory already available — how could she do that? Jones told me “If you want real time inventory you can work with the “reformXT Companion” to update form information from your own database.” Our saleswoman could fill the form on her blackberry and submit it while still on the customer site. As she looked through the specific items, she could see updated inventory numbers to let the customer know what is in stock and what might take longer (or offer a substitute product).

Small companies shouldn’t fear creating their own forms — if you can fill out a basic web form, you can create your own form with reformXT. The product runs as “Software as a Service” — on their website. Your employees mobile phones access their servers for the forms, and you get the data via email.

The reformXT software is free to try out and create forms, but costs per transaction of forms can range from a few cents to a dollar per form submitted, depending on your usage package. You buy batches of transactions and can save when you buy in bulk.

Cost out how much time it takes when employees are filling out paper and then retyping it — could you make the switch to mobile, on-the-go entry? Comments are welcome below.

(I published this originally at the Inc. Start-up Toolkit blog)

Blog talk radio interview with Michelle Batten

I met Michelle Batten at the 140 Characters conference, and we had some great discussions. This week, she asked me to be on her Blog Talk Radio show.

I resumed our series about brands and consumers in the digital world this week with Howard Greenstein, a fellow Social Media Club organizer and Principal at the Harbrooke Group…. In addition to being a participant, Howard was also one of the featured Characters and gave an excellent presentation on the “Wisdom of Twitter”…The first part of our discussion explored the culture of Twitter and it’s uniqueness from other social media computing platforms.

iMediaWorksConnect: Michelle Batten, Lead Marketing Strategist’s stories on digital marketing and integrated interactive communications: Episode 6: Twitter: One Big Social Block Party

Michelle asked me about what makes companies successful on Twitter, and also about the differences between Twitter and Facebook as platforms for end users as well as marketers. You can read the summary above at Michelle’s site or listen on BTR.

Sharing Content Using RSS can improve Your Marketing

‘ve been writing about having a small business website in 8 Options to Quickly Build a Web Presence for your Startup, about using a blog to promote your business in Building Success By Blogging: An Architect’s Story and even about Smart Blogging Strategies. Today we’re going to explore the magic of a technology called RSS, which stands for Really Simple Syndication. RSS lets you publish content on your site, and have other people easily view it on many other sites. For example, you could add this column to a program called a “feed reader” and then every time it is published, you would see it in your feed. You’d click on the “Feed button.”
Start-Up Toolkit

You’ll be presented with choices — you could add the feed to your Google,Yahoo, or AOL custom home pages, or take the ‘raw’ version of the feed and add it to a program like News Gator http://www.newsgator.com/individuals/default.aspx which lets you read feeds on mobile, in windows or mac, and even within your Outlook inbox.
Inc.com RSS Feeds - Small Business - Starting a Business - Entrepreneurship

If you added the feed to your Google homepage it would look like this:


Or to your Google reader, it would appear like this.

Google Reader (3)

As an entrepreneur, using a reader can help you control your information flow and find useful content. As a marketer, creating feeds can amplify your marketing efforts.

PRESSfeed is a company that specializes in helping PR and Marketing people and small business owners who are not technically oriented get fresh content on their own sites easily, and distribute their content it to other sites. Sally Falkow, Co-Founder of PRESSfeed, told me “Our system makes their content more visible and gets their messages to more audiences which they may not have reached. For example, for a construction industry client that does water-scapes, paving and pool surrounds, PRESSfeed got them onto the first page of Google for their search terms. When they added content regarding a new geographic location, these showed up in the targeted searches.”

In another case, a phone integrator client’s feed got added by other site, a Hispanic business site, and soon they got called by journalist from a different business magazine. Once content is in a feed, it is easy for customers who like your product to share it via sites like Delicious, Twitter, StumbleUpon, and even post links in Facebook.

According to Falkow, within 3-6 months, the feed can be a top driver traffic to website. And Google software engineer Matt Cutss has said many times that adding fresh content in a feed helps get a site better search engine ranking. “It is such an easy way to spread and distribute your content — why wouldn’t you put your content in a feed?” asks Falkow. She also notes from recently conducted research she performed that only 14% of top entrepreneurs are using feeds on their news content — so there’s an opportunity to differentiate.

Besides PRESSfeed, an easy way to have your content available in a feed is to have a blog — you can find out more about how to do that in 8 Options to Quickly build your web presence.

This originally appeared in the Inc Start-up Toolkit

All That, and a Bag of Chips

This is a “full disclosure” post of sorts. Today’s NY Times ran a piece about bloggers being influenced by Sponsors. I have no sponsors, but I felt it important to be more clear about an experience I had recently. (I’ve also added a disclosure page here and at http://howardgreenstein.com/blog/bio/disclosure – I used the template at DisclosurePolicy.Org to do so – quite useful.)

Recently, I visited the Pepsi campuses in Valhalla and Purchase, NY. As I blogged about Pepsi Innovation Day, I was a guest of Bonin Bough, invited by Stephanie Agresta. I know Bonin via work I had done for his former employer, Weber Shandwick, in the past. Stephanie has consulted with me under the Harbrooke Group banner, and I’ve worked for her firm as well (she’s now working at PR Firm Porter Novelli, and I’ve been asked to do work for her there of a confidential nature). I respect both of them as marketing professionals who understand the value of relationships in business.

During the day the group received access to Pepsi executives, received lunch, access to more chips and soda than any human should be allowed, and a chance to, among other things, make our ‘own soda.’  Upon leaving, we were given gift bags that had chips in them from other countries, soda, a small flash drive from Gatorade, and some schwag with the Pepsi logo (a hat and scarf). Maybe $25 worth of stuff. The chips were fun – I did taste tests with my kids to see if they could identify flavors of chips from places like England, Argentina and Japan.
Bottom line, I wanted to disclose this experience from Pepsi. They’ve put up YouTube Videos of the event, and I appear in them, so it is fair to mention this on the blog.

I do believe this visit was useful because it showed me a company the size of Pepsi is interested in hearing from Social Media practitioners face to face. I don’t think they were buying us – quite the opposite – it was a costly day for me in terms of time away from clients. But it was positive in that I got a chance to meet some other blogger/influencer types and get to know them better. I also got a chance to meet Pepsi staff and hear some of their marketing challenges – a great learning experience for me.

I won’t let this experience significantly influence my work. I’m not here shouting that you should buy Pepsi instead of Coke. I strive to maintain my independence as a blogger. I don’t take anything of significant monetary value from anyone for my writing or my various blogs (including my Inc.com blog). If you happen to think I’m fronting for someone, feel free to let me know.

Social Media Crisis Communications Case Study – United Airlines Breaks Guitars

“Markets are Conversations.” 10 years after the Cluetrain manifesto, it is more true than ever. Take the following conversation. A person has an “experience” with a brand. This experience moves the person so much that they decide to create a YouTube video – not just a talking head one either. A fully produced song, telling the story of that experience. And within 12 days, that video has generated over 2.3 million views, exposing that brand and its story to the public. The story even made the LA Times, and AdAge.
Ok, now imagine the story is bad, and everyone who sees it thinks your company and its representatives (called out by name in the song) are idiots. Ok, stop imagining, and welcome to United Airlines’ waking nightmare – a Crisis Communications Case Study and a case for Social Media consultants to share with brand managers for years to come.
Dave Carroll, a musician, sees his $3500 guitar being THROWN by airline baggage handlers on a stopover in Chicago. He tries to alert airline personnel, but they don’t listen. He confirms the damage when he arrives at his destination but doesn’t file a formal complaint till his trip back one week later. (Because, hey, maybe he’s busy trying to make a living and you’ve just damaged the instrument he uses to make said living.) Continue reading

Listening With More Than Two Ears

The Roman philosopher Epictetus said “We have two ears and one mouth so we may listen more and talk the less.” On the Internet, the sentiment is the same – in this age of conversation, we need to listen to hear if our customers or our market is speaking to us. Many firms forget this, but listening is (or should be) the first part of your marketing or sales cycle. However, we don’t only have two ears online – search and other tools can help you listen more effectively for markets or potential customers.
Google, Yahoo, Bing, and other search tools can make it easy to search for your company or brand name, and see what people are saying. It makes sense to regularly run searches on your company name, as well as things like “company stinks”, “company sucks”, “company bad” “company service” and variations.
Of course, you can’t search all the search engines all the time. One nice tool to help you is Google Alerts. Simply go to http://google.com/alerts and type in a search term, tell it how often you’d like to receive and alert (as it happens, once a day, or weekly) and Google will do the search for you and alert you in email when something matches.

This  YouTube video of Google Alerts step-by-step does a pretty good job of explaining it, but I suspect the example search for “Motorcycles” will generate too many pages of search results per week. You might do a test search on Google first to see the kind of results you’re getting. Google Advanced Search may help you tailor the query before you make it an alert.
Of course, blogs and web pages aren’t the only place your customers may talk. Twitter Search may help you find other relevant discussions. Search MySpace and Facebook via your own accounts to see if there are groups talking about your company or industry. Better yet, set up your own spaces on these services (a topic for another column.) Another place people talk about companies is a website called Get Satisfaction. Go search and see if anyone is looking for help on that site too.
Finally, once you’ve done your listening, don’t forget to respond. if your “company stinks” search turns up something, go talk back. If a blogger or commenter somewhere has an issue with your company, don’t be afraid. Think of this as an opportunity to win new customers by fixing the issue. It is also a face-saving tactic – maybe you can’t save the day, but perhaps you can apologize and people who find the post will see that you pay attention.
What are your favorite tools for listening? Leave a note in the comments. (We’re listening for you.)

(Originally published at the Inc Start-up Toolkit)