What is Your Biggest Business Frustration?

Q & ARecently, the question, “What’s your biggest business frustration?” was posted on Linkedin. The question was posted in the small business / franchising Q & A section. Below please find several of the responses from a cross-section of small business professionals . As I have done in the past, the names of the responding individuals will be kept confidential. Instead, they will only identified by their Linkedin statement or profile.

A small business owner provided a brief response:

Three in order….
1) government paperwork
2) employees that do not work while at work
3) taxes…really…tax the rich? Don’t you know it is the rich that pay your paychecks?

An individual that describes himself as a “Marketing Visionary” responded:

a) workers that want a job, not an opportunity
b) prospects thinking your NOT capable because your an SMB
c) vendors offering solutions – a don’t know my business
d) Clients thinking 15 days means 30 days payable in 45

Another small business owner chimed in:

Being a small business owner myself I find it frustrating that clients continually will get ripped off and not get the most for their money because they feel more comfortable going to a ‘big name’ company.

A small business owner in the graphics design business added:

My biggest frustration is clients not taking my advise. My designs are not there to look pretty, I design marketing pieces to accomplish my client’s goals. Many times, clients have a set thing they want to say. Really, they need to think about what the customer wants to hear and how they can help them. Do you want to read a mission statement on a website or do you want to see if the company you are looking at offers the service you are looking for? I get frustrated when clients waste my time and their money. I want them to get something out of their marketing.

Really? Are these really our biggest business frustrations?

Let’s keep the conversation going and get some response from the franchise community. Franchisors, franchise executives, franchisees, franchise brokers, franchise consultants and franchise suppliers, let’s hear what YOU have to say. So, what is YOUR biggest business frustration?

Top Five Social Media Tips For Small Business

The following article was written by Guest Author, Linda Daichendt. Linda is Founder, CEO and Managing Consultant at Strategic Growth Concepts, a consulting firm specializing in start-up, small and mid-sized businesses, and a Strategic Partner of franchisEssentials. She is a recognized expert with 20+ years experience in providing Marketing, Operations, HR, and Strategic planning services to start-up, small and mid-sized businesses. Linda can be contacted at linda@strategicgrowthconcepts.com and the company website at www.strategicgrowthconcepts.com.

Top 5 Social Media Tips for Small Business
by Linda Daichendt
as posted on Marketing With New Technology July 16, 2009
(Please Note: some content in this posting is from an article by Mya Frazier for Bankrate.com)

A few years ago, using the Internet to market a small business simply meant to create a presence online with a simple, informational Web site. Then came the demands of search engine optimization to ensure Google and Yahoo searches yielded top-ranked results for your company. Was your business’s Web site chock full of the key search terms that would bring it to the attention of customers?

social-media-trendsToday, social media is transforming the small-business marketing landscape. Social media are Web- or mobile-based tools for sharing and discussing information. It’s not just for seeing who your high school sweetheart married. Businesses can tap into powerful networking sites and other social media to drive customers to their shops or companies.

If done right, small-business owners might even be able to slash their traditional marketing spending to zero. Writing blogs (short for “Web logs”) or on-going online commentary using social-networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube, can provide inexpensive but powerful online marketing.

Because it’s free, people think it’s easy to create a social media presence. But this attitude can lead to missteps. So before you dive headlong into social media, take some time to observe the customs and social norms of these new forms of communications, says David Spark, founder of Spark Media Solutions, a San Francisco-based firm that helps companies tell their story through social media. “Also think about your strategy for effectively utilizing social media before you jump in,” says Linda Daichendt, CEO/Managing Consultant of Strategic Growth Concepts. “It’s easier to avoid costly mistakes before you begin than to correct them after they’ve done damage to your company’s reputation.”

New_rules_of_marketing_and_PR“Think of social media as a cocktail party,” says, David Meerman Scott, author of “The New Rules of Marketing and PR” and “World Wide Rave,” books about how to create buzz online. “You don’t go into the cocktail party and go into the middle room and scream at the top of your lungs and say, ‘Buy my products.’ … What works is you have some meaningful conversation first. And that’s just how social media works.”

If you decide to take the social-networking plunge, here are five ways to harness social media to help your business.

1. Use free sites. Use free online services, such as the mobile short-message site Twitter, and popular networking sites Facebook and MySpace, to post significant news, specials or events. For example, you run a small Italian restaurant with a loyal following. You could create a Twitter account and upload the lunch or dinner specials via “tweets,” or short messages of up to 140 characters, daily to customers’ smart phones or to other Web sites.

“All you have to do is give a (Twitter) handle and start a conversation. You could put the Twitter handle on the menu or in the restaurant,” says Chris Abraham, Abraham Harrison LLC, a Washington, D.C.-based digital public relations agency. Granted, social networking sites are still for early adopters. “You aren’t going to get Aunt Matilda to tweet about the experience she had at dinner,” Abraham says.

Abraham considers Twitter one of the easiest ways for a newbie to social media to get started. “It’s more challenging to do Facebook,” Abraham says. “You have to create a personal profile, create a page and so on. With Twitter, if you’re Joe Smith with Motorcycle Emporium, you don’t have to create a page. And you can create Twitter updates via a phone or mobile device easily.”

“Don’t try to reinvent the wheel,” he says. “There are lots of people sold on really expensive solutions, but two of the best investments for reaching out to people and engaging with them are free on Twitter and Facebook.”

2. Shift marketing costs to social media. After learning how social networking operates, use social media to free up traditional marketing dollars for your small business by putting it online. You can quickly learn which of your Facebook or MySpace “friends” or online “group” members received and responded to your message.

Stanya Doty has cut her print marketing budget to zero. As owner of Simple Indulgences, a wine and high-end gift shop in Delaware, Ohio, she began using Facebook in December 2008 to communicate with her brother but quickly realized the online marketing possibilities.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, there are so many people here,’ ” she says. Indeed, Facebook boasts 200 million users worldwide. In April 2009, she began promoting monthly wine tastings via a Facebook page for the shop that quickly attracted 100 members. Combined with an e-newsletter created using the do-it-yourself, e-mail marketing Web site Constant Contact, she keeps enough buzz going about her shop that her advertising budget for local print ads no longer seemed necessary. She usually sends out about 700 e-mails, with the response rate sometimes reaching nearly 50 percent. It sure beats a postal mailing. “If I sent out a postcard with postage and paid for all that, I’d still have no idea who read it and who threw it away,” she says.

Indeed, unlike a print ad, Doty gets instant, measurable results. “On Facebook, you can see who has responded to invites,” she says. “It’s easy, it’s cheap and I’m actually appealing to people that at first know me from the store and then hopefully … pass the word along throughout their networks.”

google-yahoo-thumb23. Do your own social-media optimization project. Learn about the competition in your industry and geographic region that are tapping social networking. Spark recommends starting by researching the competition in the major search engines — Google and Yahoo.

“Type in keywords and phrases that people would use to find you, like ‘plumber’ and ‘San Francisco.’ If you don’t appear in the top percentage of pages, take a look at the Website of those plumbers that do show up,” says Spark. “Look at their pages, and usually they will have a lot of content on their sites.”

To increase a business’s presence on the Internet, Spark advocates companies create blogs, newsletters and other articles on their sites to bolster the number of keywords — terms that search engines recognize — to boost their ranking in all-important Web searches.

“That’s the way people discover you,” he says. “Take that plumber in San Francisco. The right search terms might just be ‘clogged toilet and San Francisco.’” “That tells me I should write … in my blog about how to fix a clogged toilet and mention that I am a plumber in San Francisco,” he says.

4. Take social-network marketing to the next level. Create and post richer content about what your customers would expect from someone in your business. Don’t view social media sites as a place to simply hype your wares. It’s a place for conversation.

“Social media is about earning attention,” says David Meerman Scott, author of “The New Rules of Marketing and PR” and “World Wide Rave,” books about how to create buzz online. “What’s most important is to forget about what your company does. Instead, think about the people who are buying your products. Simply hyping products and services online and in social media sites completely backfires. People are not looking for products but for something fun. They are looking to make connections,” Scott says.

So it’s all about having something interesting to say or show. It could be a blog, or a video on the video-sharing Website YouTube.

For example, if you’re a caterer, instead of talking about your service, create engaging culinary content. Imagine positioning yourself as a gourmet magazine on the Web, complete with links to a video you uploaded to YouTube.

“A caterer could create a blog with information about how to create a fantastic party, and each blog post or YouTube video could be another installment,” Scott says. “On the Web, you are what you publish and being on the Web is about publishing information.”

So back to that plumber faced with the prospect of dropping an expensive Yellow Pages listing but worried about customers not finding him if they have a burst pipe or a misfiring shower head. Scott recommends the plumber post a list of “the 100 home fixes for common plumbing problems.”

“All of a sudden you are going to get indexed very highly in the search engines, and people are going to share that content with their friends,” he says. “When someone puts an update on Facebook asking if anyone knows a good plumber in Boston, a friend might point to your content.”

blogging5. Use blogging to drive search results and help new customers find you. Lately, blogging has gained greater attention, with the advent of “micro-blogging” on Twitter. But consider the time commitment and strategy before launching an account.

Even with the spread of micro-blogging, Abraham remains a big fan of traditional blogs, which are lengthier and show up on Web sites. In general, no matter what form the blog takes, it should be consistent over time.

“If you can’t keep up one (blog) post a day or 12 tweets a day, do one tweet every Thursday. Consistency in blogging or tweeting will create a relationship of trust with your followers or readers. Do it once a week, but for the next two years,” Abraham says.

And don’t spend extra money on blogging software, technical help, or a ghost writer for your blog. To get started, sign up with WordPress.com or Blogger – both are free blogging platforms which are easy to use for beginners.

Additional opportunities within the social media environment include: online radio shows on platforms such as BlogTalkRadio, social networking sites such as LinkedIN, Plaxo, and FriendFeed, and a wide variety of additional tools as well depending on your type of business.

Following these social media basics for small business will get your company started on the right road to gaining new customers and increased revenue via social media.

Social Media to Franchise Sales: Fantasy or Reality?

Let’s assume you’ve followed the advice and quidelines in the first three segments of the series on Franchise Development via Social Media. You’ve established your “Virtual Meeting Room” as a Facebook group page and requests to join are submitted everyday. Customers of your franchisees are joining and posting comments about how much they enjoy the experience at the franchise locations. Franchisees have posted some testimonials that really do complement the Founder’s video about his passion and vision for the business. You’re even surprised at how many corporate and franchisee employees have participated and posted comments and photos. All-in-all, you’re proud of the Facebook page and proud of the effort put into developing and maintaining the page.

You’re now looking at you’re social media strategy and you preview the company blog. You feel the content may be all over the board, touching on franchise development, expansion into the Southeast, a new franchisee in Santa Fe, community activity at the franchise location in Seattle and even an article submitted by one of your franchisees about one of his long-time customers, but then you stop a realize how much this menagerie of topics, text, graphics and photos portrays the true face of the franchise concept. You make a note to have your social media administrator issue a press release on just that thought.

twitter imagesA quick review of Twitter puts a smile on your face as you see the number of people following the concept increasing everday. Then you recall the blog stats revealed a sharp increase in visits from Twitter. Wow, there’s a positive trend here we need to watch. Come to think of it, you’ve noticed an increase in franchise inquiries and wonder if there’s a correlation here. You then look closely at the new people following on Twitter and you backtrack to the company’s recent posts and discussions in several LinkedIn and Facebook groups that just so happen to consist of educators, and realize many of the new franchise inquiries have educational backgrounds. Hmmm, you decide to cross-check the names against LinkedIn profiles and smile again as you notice they’re members of LinkedIn, are in the specific groups you’ve targeted, and many have actually participated in the group discussions where the social media administrator posted some very interesting discussions about careers after teaching and about moms returning to the workforce or exploring career alternatives. It sure is coming together.

You note there are some qualified candidates frequently visiting your Facebook group page, checking out the same information repeatedly and posting specific questions about your franchise opportunity. You’ve even noticed some candidates posting comments about the customer testimonials and some personal messages about the Founder’s video. Now what? Certainly this social media thing isn’t magical that it’ll actually close a few franchise deals, right?

personaltouchJust like you’ve integrated traditional marketing strategies with social media strategies, you need to be integrating personal interaction as well. However, instead of an aggressive, focused sales approach, the interaction should be subtle and guiding. Use the social media tools to make your points and make the experience enjoyable and interesting. Your candidates will most likely marvel at the new technology and feel comfortable learning about the technology AND the franchise concept. And yes, they’ll be more comfortable with you and be fully at ease working through disclosure and the finer points of the concept itself.

The rest comes down to guiding your candidates towards making a decision as it will now fully be an informed decision that has been validated by the social media experience AND the franchisees the candiates have contacted. Hmmm, your franchisees actually feel more part of the franchise sales process than ever before. You smile again as you realize it did make the process easier than in the past. Yes, it’ll be very nice to achieve your franchise development goals once again. Maybe next year, you’ll actually exceed them!

Fantasy or Reality? Achieveable or Not? Easy or Hard? That’s up to you and your team. It comes down to personal accountability, diligent execution of your strategy and plan, professional handling of franchise candidates at all times and above all, NO SHORTCUTS!

Personal accountability is necessary in monitoring your social media activity, updating blog content and keeping things fresh. Nobody will stay at a dull party, right? Putting off things for tomorrow that should be done today is just not acceptable. It becomes a reflection of how you handle even the simplest things and the a lack of urgency and poor attention to detail will translate into how you’ll handle the franchise sale and ultimately, your franchisees.

Diligent execution of your strategy and plan is essential. Certainly, you’ll make adjustments along the way. But your plan is your roadmap. Follow it as closely as possible. Allow extra time and resources as necessary for roadblocks and detours, but stay on course. Monitor your progress. How fast did you get from point A to point B. How fast did a candidate get from point A to Point B? Is the process slowing down or speeding up? Why? Do you need to do some system maintenance to the social media vehicle? Maybe your videos aren’t playing correctly? Maybe the photos aren’t laoding fast enough? Maybe it’s time to bring in a technician so you can get back on the road as quickly as possible?

Professional handling of candidates means working with each candidate as you would want to be worked with and treated if you were the one on the verge of making a substantial investment, maybe putting your life savings on the line! It means converying a sense of urgency when asked for information. It means paying attention to detail in something as simple as pronouncing their name correctly all the way to something complex such as full disclosure of the franchise concept. And, it means having the right attitude and conveying the same at every moment of working with the candidate at every point of “contact” including by email, on the phone, in-person, and yes, in the virtual world. Keep in mind, at all points of contact, your attitude will shine through so make sure it shines bright and your franchise future will shine bright as well!

Thank you for travelling with me on this exciting, eye-opening journey. It will be an experience you should be able to relive everytime an individual expresses interest in your concept. At that point, it’s time to smile, focus on the resources you’ve invested, the time you’ve dedicated, and the vision and passion you had when you first started in franchising, and share it with your candidate just as you would share your life with a new addition to your family.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to submit them in the space below. If you would like to contact me directly, my email is segreto.paul@gmail.com. In any case, I will respond promptly.

Local Franchise Lead Generation Q & A

question-mark3aA few months ago, there was a discussion in one of the LinkedIn franchise groups about local franchise lead generation. The discussion was initiated by a franchise professional specializing in franchise sales and consulting. As we have done in the past when posting comments from a social network discussion, we will identify the individuals that submitted comments according to their social network profile.

The discussion opened with the following post:

Ideas for Lead Generation Sources. Anybody have suggestions for local lead generation? Looking for ideas from zors, zees, consultants & brokers on how to generate leads local to a specific area.

Here are some of the responses that were posted including my own which just so happened to be the initial response:

“[Name], I usually explore social networking groups specific to the area such as the inHouston LinkedIn group if I’m trying to generate leads in the Houston area. This type of group is realtively easy to target and expand beyond based upon member recommendations and suggestions. Work the crowd as if you were in a room.

In addition, I focus on networking groups that include individuals that best fit my franchise candidate profile. From there I drill down to individuals in the local area. Let’s say teachers fit my candidate profile. I would search out networking groups spefic to teachers, education, etc. I may participate in discussion groups to get a feel for the group and to be recognized within the group. There’s always a spin you could use. Next, I seek out members from the specifc area I’m targeting and communicate what I’m trying to accomplish. It’s been amazing how many times I’ve wound up with a candidate in California that is willing to jump at an opportunity in Texas. It happens.

I also focus on groups that can provide me with referrals such as insurance agents, realtors, financial planners and attorneys. Again, if you’re proactive within networking groups it’s realtively easy to enlist support and gather information.

Lead generation through online networking takes time and effort no doubt. However, once you’re proactive within the groups, you almost windup with a snowball effect as the leads come in bunches. Some leads start out as simple as posting a thought provoking discussion, some back and forth interaction with a responder and the responder saying,”what is it that you do?” Next thing you know, you’re discussing an opportunity and the door is wide open.

Most times it takes considerably more effort but I’ve found people are networking online and participating in discussion groups for a reason. They’re all looking to expand their business, improve their position, seek out opportunities and make money. It sure beats running an ad in the local paper and waiting for the phone to ring.”

An executive of a national franchise concept responded as well.

“Other sources of local lead generation include – classified advertising, seminars, the local business journal, and chambers of commerce. I also use industry specific sources (trade publications, trade associations) depending on the franchise. My favorite is PR. If you can can a story published at a local level – it tends to generate a good deal of buzz.

As you are finding – it is a bit more challenging to put together a local or regional campaign, than it is to promote a national effort.”

A franchise executive of a national foodservice franchise concept posted the following:

“I like to target existing multi-unit operators of non-competing brands in the same industry. For example, if I am selling full-service restaurants, I would seek out multi-unit fastfood operators in the area. Or if I was selling windshield replacement franchises, maybe I’d target muffler or brake franchisees in the area. Get your hands on some UFOC’s that list franchisees by state. It’ll give you the franchisee’s name, address and phone number and you can go down the list contacting the owners. You must size up the target market to your product. For example, you probably wouldn’t have much success targeting Subway franchisees for a TGIFriday’s franchise, as it’s a big leap from a $50,000 investment to a $3 million investment. But maybe the Subway UFOC would provide good leads for someone selling Baskin Robbins franchises. Get the idea? Last thing, by focusing on existing franchisees in someone else’s system, those prospects already understand franchising, know that fees are due and payable weekly, understand they must operate according to the franchisor’s standards, realize they must undergo training, particpate in the marketing co-op, etc. Hope this helps.”

Next, the foodservice executive and I exchanged the following comments:

Me: “[Name], excellent points. I utizilized a similar strategy with great success. Other key factors include the current franchisees’ knowledge of franchising and their lender’s knowledge and experience with the franchisee may be just the edge needed to secure financing in today’s tight credit markets.

Foodservice Exec: “Paul, you mention an important point in today’s economic market. Successful existing franchisees should already have relationships with lenders who have seen them perform over time. A well-funded prospect is worth his weight in gold! Any contracts that are “contingent on financing” may as well be thrown in the trash, as lenders are not willing to take the risk with an unknown, untested, unproven franchisee.

Me: “I absolutely agree with you. Just the mention of a brand new candidate exploring a franchise concept without the candidate having any experience sends a lender running for the hills. It really doesn’t matter how proven the franchise brand is and how long it’s been around. To that end, I see primary growth in franchising coming from current franchisees looking to diversify their business portfolio, adding new revenue streams and streamlining redundant expenses.”

It was an interesting discussion and I believe several good ideas and thoughts were presented. I know the information reached an audience that did not actually participate in the discussion because I received over thirty emails from individuals asking me to expand upon my responses, and those of the other participants. In addition, we shared ideas and thoughts, and discussed our own experiences. I’m proud to say that I also learned a few things myself. Proof again of the benefits of social networking!

Transitioning Interested Parties to Franchise Candidates

In continuing your journey of Franchise Development via Social Media, it’s important I point out that social media for typical business to business (B2B) or business to consumer (B2C) purposes is much different than social media for franchise development purposes. In a typical B2B or B2C scenario, social media efforts would be directed to the entity or individual you’re attempting to do business with. Your business with them may be a single transaction, or as with restaurants, it may include repeat business where you’re seeking customer loyalty. Regardless, your position is strictly focused on attracting and keeping your customer, and the transactions are usually relative to a specific, tangible product or service. They buy. You sell. And the cycle continues the same or it abruptly ends.

intangibleIn the franchise development arena, your social media efforts will be considerably different as your objective is different. The franchise sales transaction consists of a substantial upfront fee for an intangible item, franchise rights. The transaction is only the beginning of the additional cash outlay or credit commitment, that’s triggered by the initial fee and signing of the franchise documents. Yet, the relationship is not one that’s just based upon that one single transactional experience. Instead, it’s only a small step in an ongoing relationship where the new franchisee becomes dependent upon the franchisor and the concept. Buyer’s remorse is not an option. The social media efforts must progress and build upon each other with the objectives gradually changing and progressing “as” the relationship builds, and not just “because” the relationship builds.

Yesterday, we discussed establishing the Virtual Party Room. Today, we’ll discuss how to interact with the individuals within the room and with the new people we’re introducing to the party. Our objective will be to learn, through utilization of powerful Web 2.0 technology and tools, how we can transition interested parties into franchise candidates by just “holding their hands” and letting the experience guide them along until they’re ready to make a decision. Easier said than done? Well, it’s not rocket science, but I’ll still try to be as fundamental as possible in my explanations.

Transitioning Interested Parties to Franchise Candidates

When the interested party enters the Virtual Party Room, he or she is basically just tire-kicking. Oh, they may have expressed significant interest in your concept, or maybe they’re just inquisitive. It really doesn’t matter at this point. Your objective was to introduce the individual to the party. That’s it. It wasn’t to push them immediately towards the franchise sale. It’s wasn’t about discussing the fine points of the franchise concept. It certainly wasn’t about closing the deal. Your only objective at this point was to introduce the individual to the party so he or she could learn more, interact with others in the party and gather enough information to make an informed decision at their own pace. Remember, social media is not about selling!

hostessAs with any popular party, it’s important to have a host or hostess. In your party room, this person is essentially in charge of accepting member requests, posting new information, updating various features and keeping the “conversations” flowing. I think you now fully understand the party analogy so let’s transition to reality and make reference to specifics with respect to your franchise concept.

The host or hostess is the person you install as being in charge of your social media efforts. This person is key to making your social media efforts a success or failure as this individual must be on their “A” game. They must pay attention to detail and exhibit a sense of urgency when necessary. Starting at the very beginning, this individual will set up the company page in a specific social network. I highly recommend utilizing Facebook, but it can work in other social newtorks as well.

In Facebook there are general, basic information sections that need to be completed. Once completed, you’ll need to start building your site with information about your franchise concept. Videos, a strong Web 2.0 tool, work extremely well in conveying messages to individuals interested in your concept. The founder’s statements about vision and passion for the concept goes a long way towards generating excitement. A few video testimonials from franchisees, placed strategically within the site, provide a balance between the concept as a franchise opportunity and the concept as a consumer experience.

Photos, placed throughout the site along with comments, are a great visual affect as well. These photos may be of franchise locations, the equipment used in daily operations, the original locations from which the concept was derived, the founder, personnel, the product or service sold at the franchise locations, etc. All should include comments with each post explaining the photo. Additional comments from other group members will enhance the experience behind the photos.

A media section should be established to include press releases, audios and videos of important speeches, photos of company spokespersons, online and print news and feature stories, highlights of community events, etc. Comments about each must accompany the posts. Again, additional comments will further enhance the experience.

All individuals having anything at all to do with the franchise concept should be invited to join and participate in the group. These should include company executives, managers and personnel at all levels, franchisees and their personnel, franchise customers, company vendors and suppliers, and all interested parties in the franchise concept. In place, and participating, this group creates the buzz and excitement of the group.

Now, when individuals that have expressed interest in your franchise concept join the group, they may interact with group members, asking questions and seeking information. They’ll start to “experience” the concept from all angles as if they were at the franchise locations or within the corporate office. At any time they can jump into the conversations and add their own comments. Sometimes in the forms of questions and as they get more comfortable within the group, as their own personal comments and views.

Over a short period of time, and through monitoring the group’s activities, it’s relatively easy to “see” which individuals are interested in becoming franchisees of the system. Their questions and comments will dictate their interest. This is where the individual in charge of the social media efforts increases their interaction with the interested parties and provides even more information that moves them along in the process. This is usally done through site messages, or responses or comments to their comments. Ideally, the best way is a timely instant message as provided on the Facebook page.

The system basically moves itself up to a point. From there it needs to be guided and ultimately directed towards the latter stages of the franchise sale. Now, don’t get me wrong, an email or phone call throughout the process helps, but only as a guide or reference to a real person. Another Web 2.0 tool that works great in this regard is a video email (vidmail) program that brings a real person right to their desktop. It’s both a professional and effective use of Web 2.0 technology.

Okay, the site is up and running, you have interested parties joining the group, they’re interacting within the group and all is going according to plan. What next? Certainly there’s more to this social media thing, isn’t there? Yes there is. Ever hear about Twitter? Do blogs sound familiar? How about You Tube and Flickr? Ah, now we’re getting somewhere.

twitter-logoOn Twitter you’ll post frequent bits and pieces of information about franchising and entrepreneurship in general and along with a few “personal” tweets, yes they call them tweets, you’ll post links to various parts of your concept including the Facebook group page, your website which will have a link to your Facebook page and to your blog, which will also have links back to your Facebook page. So you see, all activity will ultimately be directed back to your concept’s Facebook page because that’s where you can monitor and control the flow of information and interest because it’s interactive. There, that answers the question of why shouldn’t everything be directed to the website? Let me clarify. Facebook is interactive. Websites are not.

Remember the videos you developed for the Facebook page and the photos you posted to the Facebook page? Well, you’re now going to post the videos on You Tube and the photos on Flickr. Each post will have a desciption, and guess what, a link back to your Facebook page! This way, you’ll be able to direct individuals from your Twitter and Blog to these sites as a redirection to your group page or you may be able to generate interest in your concept by individuals exploring these other Web 2.0 sites. Keep in mind, I’m only scratching the surface on the different Web 2.0 sites as there are hundreds. Using as many as possible in cross-referencing and click-throughs will enhance your efforts many times over. By the way, it won’t hurt your search engine optimization either.

Additionally, you will take your Facebook group identity and join other Facebook groups where individuals with interests in franchising, entrepreneurship, specific business type and that may have the criteria of your ideal franchise candidate, congregate and share information. During the course of discussion and sharing of information, it’s relatively easy to guide these individuals to your Facebook group page and the cycle begins on your “turf” with them. The same holds true with LinkedIn groups, Twitter groups and other social network groups.

As you can see, the limits of social media are endless and are only limited by discouraging imagination, holding back creativity and not dedicating ample time to administer, execute and monitor the process. The potential benefits are far reaching throughout the organization including creating brand awareness with franchise candidates and consumers alike, generating qualified franchise leads and subsequent franchise sales, and establishing an interactive environment of communications and information sharing at all levels of a franchise organization.

In tomorrow’s third segment of Franchise Development via Social Media, we’ll discuss how to integrate social media with traditional franchise marketing and development strategies, and some non-traditional strategies as well. In the meantime, please submit any and all questions below, and I will respond accordingly prior to posting the next series segment.

Establishing the “Virtual Party Room”

In the recent article, Enter the Fourth Horsemen, published in the April 2009 issue of Franchise Times, Mark Siebert, Chief Executive Officer of the iFranchise Group identified Social Media as the next internet [franchise] lead generation site. In the article, Mark wrote, “The problem is that far too many franchisors view social media like guerilla marketing on steroids – easy opportunities for free publicity that can drive leads. But marketing on social media is neither free nor easy – and the shear number of people using the social media will not dictate the size of the opportunity.”

Let’s see what else has been written about Social Media and Franchising. Actually, in the same issue of Franchise Times, where Mark’s article was published, Nancy Weingartner, Franchise Times Editor wrote about it in her article, Citizen Marketing. At the end of the article, was a text block with the title, “The Top Five Social Media Mistakes” from Nick Powills of No Limit Media Consulting. The mistakes, clearly with franchising in mind, but applicable to other business segments as well, were identified as follows:

Five1. Not changing your franchise agreement to cover social media. Just like franchisors took control of their Web sites a decade or so ago, now they need to control what’s being said about the brand in social networking sites. In addition, start now to secure your company’s name in conjunction with YouTube, etc., just like you did URLs just a few years ago.

2. Not maintaining and updating your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or blogs. Once you train the public to visit your sites for updates or to post a comment, you’re obligated to follow through. Nothing is worse than ticking off the new citizen journalists.

3. Thinking you can do social marketing on your own. While you may have a marketing team in-house, they’re also charged with traditional advertising, PR and marketing. “You need someone to do it daily,” contends Nick Powills. And you also want someone who knows what they’re doing. Social media is not just PR in a trendy wrapper. You need someone who knows franchising and the “social” lingo.

4. Overpaying to outsource this service. Since it’s still fairly new, it’s hard to quantify how much a lead from social media actually is worth. Are you looking for franchisees or long-term customers? Do your due diligence – sound familiar?

5. Thinking Facebook, etc., are just for kids. Facebook may have started as networking for younger people, but take a look at who’s on it now. Some of the original kids’ grandparents are living their lives on their Facebook pages. Powills describes it as “LinkedIn on speed.”

So, does all this have your head spinning yet? Well, it should unless you take the journey of Franchise Development via Social Media one step at a time. You see, the real beauty of social media is the ability to start slow and progress at your own pace. And, there’s opportunity to learn each step of the way. Unlike developing website content, where a mistake glares at you and is difficult to correct, a mistake or error in social media is relatively easy to correct, and usually provides enough time to make the correction. Okay, enough of that but I just wanted to put your minds at ease in case you’re phobic about new technology, and new methods and processes. As for the top five social media mistakes listed above, please keep those in mind and use it as a reference as you progress on the journey of Franchise Development via Social Media.

Franchise Development via Social Media – Part One

Most people believe the first step in social media is to start networking right away. That’s is not the case but is a mistake made by most individuals and companies attemting to use social media as a way to grow a business. The first step is developing the strategy to begin social media marketing of which networking eventually becomes an essential element of the same.

So, the first step is to establish objectives in what you’re attemting to achieve by venturing into social media. The common reason I hear from franchisors is their desire to generate leads so they have candidates in the franchise sales pipeline. Actually, the main goal is to increase franchise sales so let’s call it what it is. Let’s take it a step further and identify the primary goal and objective as “generating qualified franchise leads that ultimately will lead to franchise sales and at a level that makes the social media effort worthwhile.”

Step two then, would be to identify your concept’s ideal franchise candidate profile. Who would be most likely to succeed as a franchisee in your system? If your system already has a relative number of franchisees, a profile of the most successful franchisees would help in this regard. Once, it is fully understood what type of individual you’re looking for as a franchise candidate, we’ll need to explore where to locate these individuals online. Do not shortcut this step as identifying your ideal franchise candidate is critical to the process.

The next step, will find you exploring various social networks and establishing company pages and profiles. Remember, you’re not networking yet. You’re just working on developing your social media infrastructure. Establishing company pages and profiles are key elements to the overall strategy because one of these sites will ultimately be your concept’s “virtual party room.” This party room, or “meeting place” or “landing page”, as I’ve referred to it in the past (“meeting place” is not exciting and “landing page” is too technical), is the place where all your social media efforts will culminate and turn an interested party into a franchise candidate. (For another perspective, may I refer you to another article on this site “Franchise Sales & Space Mountain: An Odd Comparison?”)

Group of peopleIt’s in this virtual party room that you’ll encourage attendance and participation by interested parties, franchisees, franchisee personnel, franchise customers, franchise company executives and personnel, and the concept’s vendors and suppliers. The goal is to establish a party where conversations about the concept, and its products and services, are happening all over the place. For instance, a discussion is started by a franchise candidate and is addressed by corporate personnel. A question is posted by a franchisee and several answers are submitted by various individuals. A video by the CEO is posted and is viewed and commented on by various individuals with different interests in the group and concept providing distinct perspectives. Positive comments (testimonials) are posted by customers. There are a hundred, two hundred, four hundred or more members of the group. There’s an information section listing the concept’s website, blogsite and other pertinent links. There may even be a media section with recent press releases or news stories about the concept and the franchisees.

Imagine now, directing your qualified franchise candidates, one at a time, to this party room. Picture it in-person as opposed to virtual and think about the conversations, the buzz in the room, and the excitement generated. The same is true in this virtual party room. Except, the virtual party continues to grow and grow over time and franchise candidates can visit over and over again, interacting with group members, developing key relationships and sharing information. All key components towards making an informed decision about your franchise concept. Mind you, we’ve jumped ahead and explored what the party would look like down the road a bit. But for now, we’re just establishing the place to hold the party.

The next step is to locate where the ideal franchise candidates are congregating online. For example purposes, let’s identify your ideal franchise candidate as female, with mid to upper level management experience within the financial services industry, and with school-age children. Now, let’s assume a few things. Individuals meeting this criteria may be re-entering the workforce after five or six years as a stay-at-home Mom. She may be exploring entrepreneurship as opposed to working in Corporate America once again. By virtue of her mid to upper level management experience it’s most likely safe to assume this indiviudal is well-educated and may have an advanced degree. Using these assumptions and criteria let’s find your ideal franchise candidates.

facebook_v_linkedinUsing LinkedIn or Facebook, you can explore various groups consisting of executives and relating to the financial services industry. You can also explore groups that pertain to startups, entrepreneurship and small busines ownership. Now, you will join a few of these groups and monitor the discussion groups. Again, you’re not networking yet but you are starting to participate in discussions, answering general questions, getting a feel for the “land” and exposing the group to small busines ownership, entrepreneurship and finally, to your concept. Once, members in the group start to request to connect, that’s when the actual networking begins. This is key. The networking only starts when individuals request to connect with you or your company, not the other way around by you asking them.

As you connect with individuals, you have access to their profile which includes work experience, level of expertise, recommendations, education, hobbies, etc. This host of information will provide you with the missing pieces to the ideal franchise candidate profile. It will also provide you a snapshot of other groups they’re involved in and may even include other social networks. If not, a Google search provides a wealth of additional information that can be explored. (When you have an opportunity, perform a Google search of Paul Segreto and you’ll see 10-12 pages of search results with 8-10 results on each page – you’ll be able to determine how I spend my time, who I’m working with and where I’m involved)

Over a short period of time, you’ll start referring individuals to your virtual party, asking them to invite their connections and so on. Simultaneously, you’ll introduce these individuals to your website and ask them to follow you on Twitter because you’ll already have established a Twitter ID. They’ll see how you promote other people on Twitter interact with you and will be exposed to how you promote yourself and your concept in that social network. At some point, you’ll have established a blog and will be referring individuals to your blogsite, and be able to track their interest and activity.

You’ve now built this multi-level web of social media activity that connects from one point to the other, backtracks to other relevant points and eventually winds up at the party. While enroute to the party, you’re learning a great deal about these people individually and they’re learning a great deal about your concept. As all this is occurring, you’re also increasing your concept’s search engine optimization but that is another story for another day. But it is an added benefit.

Tomorrow we’ll discuss interacting with the individuals within the virtual party and explore various methods of generating further interest in your concept while basically just “holding hands.”

I encourage you to leave any and all comments and questions below. I will respond accordingly prior to posting tomorrow’s segment in this four part series that is scheduled to run through Thursday.

Social Networking and Business Growth: A Winning Combination

Social Networking is the perfect answer to growing your business, economic downturn or not.

networking-photosOver time, personal interaction within a social networking environment creates trust. In turn, it develops relationships, shares information, provides two-way communications, and provides points of reference for follow up. It creates a multi-tiered platform of information that benefits both business development and customer generation efforts alike. Often, simultaneously.

How are you using social networking (and Web 2.0 tools) to grow your business? Are you using LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to full benefit? Need some questions answered? Post them below and we’ll be sure to answer them. If we don’t have the answers you need, we’ll get them for you as soon as possible.

Has LinkedIn Lost its Appeal?

Is it just me that feels individuals are using LinkedIn more and more just to post job requests and sell services than to engage in discussions, meet new people, and develop relationships.

Have we become bored with LinkedIn?linkedin-logo2
Is LinkedIn a waste of time?
Why have we joined LinkedIn in the first place?
Are we achieving our objectives with LinkedIn?
Do we really need LinkedIn?

Personally, I find LinkedIn most helpful because it provides benefits and information that would be impossible to bring together under any circumstances except in a similar networking site. So why not use LinkedIn for all it has to offer?

Do you realize the wealth of experience at our fingertips on LinkedIn? Without LinkedIn we might never get to network with some of the world’s most intelligent people. Not just know them, but be able to tap their brains for information and share thoughts and feelings about any subject imaginable. I’m not just talking about the obvious contacts like leaders in our respective industries, or even famous people that we come across now and again.

Instead, I’m talking about the great minds of tomorrow, the leaders of tomorrow. Imagine having had the chance, 10, 20, or 30 years ago, at sharing information and discussions with Bill Gates. Or, being able to read Steve Jobs’ answer to a compelling question. Or, how about learning what’s on the mind of a young Donald Trump or Richard Branson. Or, from the franchising perspective, how about experiencing the passion and vision of aspiring entrepreneurs Bud Hadfield and Ray Kroc.

Imagine having been able to communicate one-on-one with one of today’s government leaders and being exposed to their thoughts and views at an early age. What was President Obama like thirty years ago?

The point is, if we take full advantage of LinkedIn now, today, we might be exposed to the leaders of tomorrow. Through discussions and sharing information we might learn today, what can benefit us tomorrow. We might receive some insight today that becomes essential tomorrow.

We just don’t know what might help us in the future. So, why not take full advantage at what we have right in front of us today? Here’s to engaging discussions, new and renewed relationships, and sharing of information!