Motivation and Start-Ups

I recently returned from my yearly volunteer work at America’s Camp. The experience always leaves me excited, charged up for more work, and ready to start fresh.

This year, I left camp with more than just a bit of exhaustion and a finger tired from taking pictures 24/7 (and I love that feeling). I left with lessons on motivation. You can read more about my Motivation Lessons from Summer Camp at the Inc. Start-Up Toolkit.

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)

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 which lets you read feeds on mobile, in windows or mac, and even within your Outlook inbox. 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

Help A Startup Find the Right Marketing Solution

Sometimes I get reader questions, and this seemed like a good one to share with readers of the Toolkit. Today I’ll put forward the case, and during the next week, several marketing experts will forward me their opinions and I’ll deliver the results next week in part 2.

Matt Pollitt, CEO of PTE Golf told me “We run a golf company that sells tournament enhancement items to country clubs for their first tee area such as embroidered table covers and special tournament cases for their starters areas. We have never done any marketing with the company, only doing 1-3 trade shows a year. Otherwise, all of our business is word of mouth.”

He also noted “We’ve never marketed to past clients and I think that is a big mistake. We do get reorders, but our contact info has changed over the years.” So unless customers actively look for his website, they can’t reorder via the old phone number.

Matt wanted to know the best way to connect with his old customers. Some of the contacts at the golf clubs may have changed. One thought he had was a post-card mailer, since he has the addresses and contact info for all his previous customers.

Whatever method he chooses should allow him to make customers aware of new products, while also generating inquires and reorders.

How would you help Matt reconnect with old customers? And Marketing folks? Feel free to weigh in via the comments below.

(Originally published at the Inc. Start-up Toolkit part 1) and (part 2)

Two weeks ago, I put forth the case of Matt Pollitt of PTE Golf and his challenge — lack of follow up marketing with his customers, and a change of phone number and address.

I asked several marketing experts to comment, and here I’ve provided some of their responses.

Hart Hooton, President of suggested,

“Matt should send a ‘We’ve moved and forget to tell you’ mailer — done in a format that keeps it fun. Then come up with a humorous way to follow this up. Try getting a temp or intern to follow up the mailer with calls to everyone on your list. Don’t forget to get the client’s email address. And, do something on the website that references the mailer so that if people go to look it up, they’ll recognize the visual.”

When I contacted the Direct Marketing Association, Neil C. O’Keefe, V.P. Multichannel Segments, gave Matt more than a few ideas.

“You have an advantage over a typical start-up in that you already have an existing customer base. Since you have their contact information, whether you realize or not you now have a database – albeit a very simple one. Add the date of the event and the dollar amount they spent with you and how long ago? If you have their email address, add that too. And by all means ask for the email going forward and be sure to store that information. If your budget allows – do that mailing you considered to your full file of contacts. If resources are tight you can prioritize by dollars spent and how long ago. A recent customer and a high dollar customer are more likely to respond.”

Neil had a lot more to say, including suggestions to advertise in the trade magazines around the trade shows PTE already attends “Advertising here would also spread the word and allow you to more broadly communicate your 800#, Web address, email, and potentially LinkedIn/Twitter/Facebook pages. Also consider making a Golf blog, where readers contribute to the conversation without turning it into an infomercial. You have a wealth of experience and there are many people who can benefit from what you have to say.”

Finally, Belinda Lang, VP, Marketing Strategy at American Express tells Matt,

“As you put together your plan to reconnect with former customers, thank them for the business in the past, and if you have the information, include some reference to what they had purchased, and for how many years they were a customer. Tell them about something new added to your product lineup, and add an incentive for coming back and buying again from you. Finally, let them know you would love to hear from them with any feedback or suggestions. Like any good relationship, you want to recognize them, give them a reason for engaging with you and demonstrate that you are listening. They may even end up talking about you with their friends.”

Matt, hopefully these 3 experts have given you some things to think about as you reengage with your customers. Check back and let us know what you did, and thanks for letting me use you as a case study.