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Google Business Listing Secrets – Picking the Right Keywords for Categories

Since April 2009 Google has been serving local listings in its search engine results pages. Although the layout has changed a bit and the number of business listings it provides has varied, what has remained consistent is a local Google map and listing of local businesses that are relevant to the keywords entered by the individual searching on Google.

For local small businesses this has been a tremendous boost when it comes to competing with large national franchises since it gives precedent to the small business in local markets. And the price is right, too! Google provides a business listing to small businesses for absolutely no charge. However it is important that the small business know a few key points so that it leverages its business listing to the fullest.

Choosing the right categories for your Google business listing

One of the most important factors to a successful business listing is choosing the right categories for which your business appears in the local search results. To date, Google allows businesses to choose five (5) categories. One of the categories must be a current Google category, and the other four (4) can be categories that you choose for your listing.

The categories typically correspond to keyword phrases that an individual searching for your type of business would enter as a search term. For instance, if you are a plumber, typical keywords that someone searching for your business might use would be “plumber” or “plumbing.” To determine the existing Google category all you need to do is start typing the keyword in the Category section of the Google Business Listing (called Google Places) and Google will automatically suggest keyword terms that are relevant to your business. Just pick the one that suits your business best. That satisfies their requirement for using one of their existing categories. Now the other four (4) are up to you…and it’s important that you get this right as it can mean the difference between receiving multiple leads for your small business…or none at all.

Choose Popular Keywords as Categories

As mentioned before, you want to use keywords and keyword phrases as your categories, but which ones do you choose? You’ll want to choose the ones that people search for the most, of course. Those most popular keywords will put your business in front of the most prospective customers and give your business the most visibility. And, guess what? Good ‘ol Google helps you with that, too. Just go to the Google AdWords Keyword Tool, enter a keyword in the “Word or phrase” box that describes your business, enter the letters displayed by the “captcha” security code and hit the “Search” button to get the list of keywords Google suggests. Pick the keywords with the most monthly searches that are also relevant to your business.

But don’t stop there…

Unfortunately for many (but fortunate for you), many businesses pick the four most popular keywords that are relevant to their business from the Google Keyword Tool, use those as their remaining categories and stop there…but that’s where they make a critical mistake because not all of those keywords result in a local search.

Now this is a very important point so let’s be very clear. The key to identifying optimum categories is to make sure that the keywords that you pick are popular plus they must also produce a local search, too. Let’s look at an example -

Let’s say you are a piano teacher, and you use the Google Keyword Tool to find the most popular keywords associated with your business. Google suggests the following keywords as popular keywords – “piano lessons”, “play piano,” “lessons piano,” and “how to play piano.” That sounds reasonable enough, but it isn’t until you check Google Search that you find some very important information. Only two of the keyword phrases produce a local search – “lessons piano” and “piano lessons.” The other two keyword phrases do not. Interesting!

Keyword Lessons Learned

So the lesson to be learned to get the most visibility for your local business is to choose popular keywords that are relevant to your business but also make sure that those keywords deliver local search results. If they don’t, you are wasting opportunities for your business listing to be shown and not fully utilizing the the visibility that Google wants to give you and your local business.

Growing A Small Business – A Strategic View

Growing a small business is a topic that any business owner should be interested in. The difference between growing a small business or just floundering around comes down to a few different aspects.

How much planning do you do? Growing a small business takes a lot of planning, A lot of regular planning. The most successful businesses all take planning very seriously.

From day one you should set aside time on a regular basis for strategic planning. I recommend having a formal planning session. I might be biased, but if you hold at least quarterly preferably monthly board meetings you are forced to do strategic planning. By holding regular board meetings growing a small business will happen. You also gain the advantage of looking critically at your business on a regular basis. Which bring us to the following question.

What kind of measuring system do you have in place? Being able to have access to the vital metrics of your business on a regular basis is how you stay on track. What metrics to monitor is something that is different for every business. There are some core items like your P&L and balance sheet that all businesses should keep an eye on. Others might be profit per customer, profit per employee, referral rate, complaints per customer and complaint resolution time. This is a very short list. Start figuring out what metrics will be most beneficial to your business. Don’t worry about finding them all out at the beginning just start with a few. Growing a small business is going to take a lot of measurements. Make sure that you are measuring the key aspects of your business.

What kind of systems do you have in your business? How scalable are they? Small business systems are critical to growing a business. If you’re holding regular planning sessions (board meetings) you need to have systems get consistent results from your actions. Systems are the central nervous system of your business. Systems relay all the information to and from the board. Your business board is where all the key decisions come from.

Small business systems take a lot of time to develop and should constantly improve. A desirable system will create consistent results regardless of who is performing the task. An example, give the system to a new employee and they will complete the task with the same result a seasoned employee delivers.

Working as a business broker I see that an average business that sells for 1-2 times net profit has no formal systems. The businesses that fetch higher multiples always have formalized systems in place.

When you’re not doing business planning working on business systems is one of the best ways to spend your time.

Take action! Taking action is vital. I see so many aspiring business owners who attend seminars, read books, attend networking events and even claim to be a business owner. The one thing they are lacking is action. All the planning in the world isn’t going to mean anything if you don’t take action preferably massive action. Growing a small business doesn’t happen over night. If there is no action it’s never going to happen.

There is a lot more to growing a small business than this short article contains. If you set yourself up correctly from the beginning, or make the appropriate changes to your current business. You will find one of the most personally and financially rewarding things you do is growing a small business.

How Important Is a Business Plan?

At least half of the many small business owners that I work with do not have a written business plan. When I ask them why, they most often reply by stating their belief that a business plan is only useful when a company is looking for investors. Others believe that their business is so simple (for example, a taco stand), that it doesn’t even need a plan.

This is untrue. Although a written business plan is a vital prerequisite to securing financing, a well-thought out plan can be an invaluable tool, because writing one requires you to focus on where you are and where you want to be. Did you fall short of your first year income forecasts? Writing a plan after the fact will help you determine why you didn’t meet that goal. Was it a problem with your marketing? Did you underestimate your competition? Are your costs out of whack? All of this information will greatly influence how you continue to run your business.

Many business consultants argue that a business plan is simply a resume for your business, and should read like a resume. However, I believe that when written well, a business plan should read like a novel; a narrative with a beginning, a middle, and an end, complete with defined chapters, engaging characters, and a powerful message.

Keeping with the novel analogy, a business plan can be further categorized as a work of fiction (if the business hasn’t yet been started), or a biography (if it’s already in operation). A fictional plan tells the story of a man or woman with a vision; a dream that will change the world in some way, and what the protagonist must do in order to make that dream come true. It describes the many challenges that need to be overcome, the sacrifices that need to be made, and (naturally) must include a happy ending in the form of financial success. A biographical plan tells the fascinating history of a successful company and the people who made it possible. It describes the challenges they overcame in bringing their dreams to fruition, their vision of the future, and what they must do to achieve that vision.

Of course, we’re not all Stephen King, but the good news is that outlines for the really important chapters have already been prepared. All you have to do is flesh out the story. Be certain to include a table of contents separated into sections and chapters. For purposes of illustration, I’ve provided samples sections and chapters below.

PART ONE: EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Here you’ll be introducing all of the major characters and the vision that united them. If the story is a biography, it helps set the stage by making the reader familiar with the history of the company; where and when it was born, and how it grew up. To tell the story properly, an Executive Summary should include the following chapters:

Chapter 1: Mission.This a paragraph that sums up what the business is, or what you imagine it will be. It needs to be focused and concise, and leave the reader with a basic understanding of what the story that follows is going to be about.

Chapter 2: Background. The next few paragraphs should include some background facts. Things like where the company is or will be located, the names and history of the founders, how many employees it has, the products it sells, and who it sells them to.

Chapter 3: The Industry and Target Market. Briefly touch on your industry. If you sell pizza, tell your readers something like “Pizza is an iconic American favorite, enjoyed by millions of people all over the world. Quality pizza is always in high demand regardless of age, ethnicity, wealth, or education. Everyone loves great pizza.”

Chapter 4: The Key to Success. You’ve already described your vision, your company, product, your industry, and the people you sell to. Now state why you’re the best.

PART TWO: THE INDUSTRY

In Part Two, you’ll be discussing your industry in considerable detail, to both highlight your knowledge of your market and to help educate your reader. To properly write this section, you’ll need to undertake a bit of research, and an excellent place to start is the official website of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Chapter 5: Industry Description and Outlook. In this chapter, you’ll describe your industry in terms of its size, historic growth rate, trends, and general characteristics. For example, if you’re in the dry cleaning industry, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that your industry employed 320,160 people in 2009. An interesting fact that provides the reader with a greater understanding of the size of your industry.

Chapter 6: Target Market. Now that the reader understands your industry, you should talk about your target market, which is the specific group of customers that you want to focus on. Sure, you’d probably sell your product to anyone willing to buy it, but in this section it’s important to narrow it down and describe a specific type of “ideal” customer. In the case of a dry-cleaning business, you may want to focus on the hotel and restaurant industry, rather than consumers, or maybe a certain type of consumer. Be certain to discuss why you’re focusing on that particular target, and what distinguishes your target market from the overall pool of potential customers.

Example: “XYZ Dry Cleaning Services focuses its efforts on a target market that consists of young, upwardly mobile professionals (doctors, attorneys, accountants, stockbrokers, etc.). These occupations require formal business attire, and, because younger workers have not yet accumulated the financial resources necessary to purchase a large wardrobe, they have a greater and more frequent need for our services.” Go deeper and discuss the size and the specific needs of this target segment, and how you address them.

Example: “Younger professionals frequently work longer hours, and have less free time to visit the dry cleaner to drop off and pick up clothing. We have therefore structured our business hours around their schedule, and are open 24 hours a day to ensure accessibility”.

PART THREE: THE PRODUCT

In this section, you’ll discuss the product or service you provide in great detail.

Chapter 7: Description. Describe what it is you’re making or selling in greater detail than did in the Executive Summary. If it’s a new or unique product or service, discuss its origin, and whether it’s protected by patent or copyright. If you own a pizza restaurant, add a paragraph that fleshes out the origin and history of your core offering. People like to learn things, so take this opportunity to educate them.

Example: “In one form or another, pizza was a popular peasant meal in Italy for thousands of years. Ancient Romans would often have meals consisting of flat bread topped with sauces and other food items. The invention of the pizza that we’re familiar with today started in Naples in 1830, at a restaurant called the Port Alba, which remains in operation to this date. The original modern was the Margarita, made with flat bread, pasted with tomato and topped with cheese.”

Note that this information is not necessarily vital, but it helps add depth to the story of your product and demonstrates your passion for it.

Chapter 8: Manufacturing and Distribution. Discuss the raw materials that go into its manufacture, and various aspects of the supply chain. For a pizza place, this will be a few basic sentences, but for more complicated products, this may be the longest section of the Plan.

PART FOUR: SALES AND MARKETING

This part of your story talks about what you’re doing to reach your target market, and what you do after you reach them.

Chapter 9: Marketing Plan. You need to have a plan that discusses how you’ll be reaching your target market. What type of tactics will you employ to reach your customers? Direct mail, e-mail, print ads, Internet promotions, public relations, brochures, catalogs, and flyers should all be a part of your strategy.

Chapter 10: Sales Plan. Marketing is one thing, but sales are another. Who’s actually interacting with your customers? Do you have an internal sales force, and if so, how are they managed and trained? Are there particular scripts or selling methods that you endorse? What sort of customer management and follow up tools do you use? Talk about historic sales, and what you’ll do to increase them.

PART FIVE: ORGANIZATION AND MANAGEMENT

In this section, you’ll discuss your company’s organizational structure (corporation, LLC, etc.). You’ll talk about who owns it, who manages it, and who works for it. All of the moving parts that make up the living entity that is your company.

Chapter 11: Ownership and Organizational Structure. Describe the legal structure of your business entity, locations, and the number of employees you have. Have you incorporated your business? If so, is it a C or S corporation? Is it an LLC, a general or limited partnership, or are you a sole proprietor? Be certain to include the names of the owners, their ownership percentages, etc.

Chapter 12: Management Profiles. This is one of the most crucial chapters of your plan- the people behind the logo. Let your readers know who they are; discuss their backgrounds and qualifications, their track records and education. If these are not very impressive, then focus on what a manager has accomplished at your company. Discuss how their efforts have increased sales, or contributed to the company’s growth. If you can’t think of anything to say about a member of your management team, then this is a pretty good opportunity to reassess their position.

Chapter 13: Officers and Directors. People like to know that there is more to a company than one or two people. If you don’t have a board of directors per se, you may want to consider forming an unpaid advisory board, to enhance your company and your plan by including a group of successful businesspeople that understand your business and believe in it.

PART FIVE: FINANCIAL INFORMATION

The financial information you provide should be clear and assembled in accordance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).

Chapter 14: Historical Financial Data.

If your business is already established, you should supply historical financial information in the form of income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements for each year you have been in business (usually for up to three to five years). Be certain to include hard assets (real estate, equipment, and inventory).

Chapter 15: Prospective Financial Data.

In this chapter, you’ll discuss how your business will grow over the next five years, based on the background and plans you’ve already discussed. Each year’s documents should include forecasted income statements, balance sheets, cash flow statements, and capital expenditure budgets. For the first year, you should supply monthly or quarterly projections. After that, you can stretch it to quarterly and/or yearly projections for years two through five.

PART SIX: FUNDING REQUIREMENTS

If you need money to start or expand your business, here’s where you get into it. However, you should never ask for money in your plan. Instead, structure your sentences in a way that leaves the reader with the impression that he or she is being given a special opportunity to participate in a unique and profitable business. In other words, you’re going forward regardless of whether the reader contributes a penny, and if they miss the boat, it’s their loss.

Chapter 16: Current and Future Requirements. Outline what you need now, and what you’ll need over the next few years to meet the goals you’ve already detailed in the plan. Discuss how you’ll allocate every dime. Will you be making capital expenditures? Is it for working capital? Marketing? A key acquisition? Make certain to spell it out.

Chapter 17: Nature of Investment. Discuss what kind of investment opportunity you’re offering the reader. Are you looking for a loan, and if so, what sort of collateral can you provide? What interest rate are you offering, and how will it be paid? Are you looking for an equity partner who will share the risks and rewards of the business? In either event, make certain that you know what kind of investment you’re asking for.

PART SEVEN: CONCLUSION

Always wrap up your story with a positive summary of your business, together with its accomplishments and goals. This will be structured along the lines of the executive summary, except you’ll also reference your funding requirements and what your business will look like after the capital infusion. The conclusion serves to reinforce the value proposition you discussed in the previous funding requirements section.

If writing a plan along the lines set forth in this article seems like a daunting task, you can always hire a professional to assist you.