A small business owner’s guide to using social media

This is the first part of a two-part series by Phoebe Netto, the Managing Director of Good Business Consulting, a marketing and public relations consultancy for small-to-medium businesses.

Phoebe has a background in public relations and marketing, and takes these skills that are often reserved for big businesses with big budgets, and uses them to help good small businesses grow and meet their objectives.

www.goodbusiness.net.au (be sure to sign up for the Good Business Consulting newsletter and check out the blog while you’re there)

@Phoebe_Netto

phoebe@goodbusiness.net.au

In marketing yourself and your business, you should aim to be at every watering hole where your ideal clients congregate. After all, if people do not know that you exist and what you can offer, how else will they become clients? For many of you, one of those waterholes will include social media.

Social media opens up a whole new audience to you, provides a means to make new connections, and gives you the tools to introduce yourself and your services in a subtle way to your ideal clients.

It allows you to extend the reach of your thought leadership and gives you the opportunity to share examples of your work and testimonials. Social media can also provide you with a constant flow of advice, ideas, and links to resources that are focused on your area of expertise or interest.

Regardless of what social media platform you decide to use, there are universal principles or golden rules that you must adhere to. You will notice that these rules are not much different to society’s rules for social engagement offline.

1.        Do things on purpose

If you are on twitter, know why you are on twitter and let your tweets reflect your purpose. The same rule applies for every social media platform. For example, I help small-to-medium businesses and sole operators grow with marketing and public relations. I need to ensure that the majority of my tweets on twitter are about small business, marketing and public relations. My twitter followers should know what to expect of my twitter content.

One of the mistakes that many small businesses and sole operators make when using social media is that they do not choose the right platform. This results in busy activity rather than productivity. Only focus on social media platforms that are a gathering place for your unique target group.

For example, young pet owners would be more inclined to interact with you on facebook than on LinkedIn. If you are a freelance journalist, twitter would be best as there are countless editors to interact with there and you can share links to examples of your work.

2.        It’s called SOCIAL media for a reason

Always remember that social media is not a foreign land speaking in another language. It is real life with real people, real relationships and real conversations.

This is why many of the same social etiquette principles that we value and operate by in business and in life, also apply to social media.

3.        It is better to give than to receive

In my business there are a couple of principles that lead to successful marketing and public relations. In media relations if you give others (journalists, editors and the publication’s readers) what they want, you will get what you want. For example, if I help a journalist by giving them a great piece of news or a well-written bylined article, I will get what I want which is great coverage for my client.

Similarly, marketing is most successful when it is focused on meeting needs and making life easier and more pleasant for others. When a small business addresses the deepest concerns and desires of both its clients and potential clients, and makes them feel special, they will attract leads and repeat business.

These principles are also golden rules of social media. Zig Ziglar summarised it by saying, “You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”

Part Two of this post will continue with the four final golden rules of social media use for you and your business. Make sure you drop by on Monday

Flipboard – best social media and RSS reader

Yesterday, I posted a summary of the ins and outs of RSS and why journalists need to be across this important, time saving technology. I mentioned in that post that one way to access your RSS feeds was to use a special piece of software called an RSS reader or aggregator. If you’re an iPad user, one of the best apps for this task is Flipboard. That’s not a compliment I give cheaply.

Flipboard grabs data from different sources such as RSS, Twitter and Facebook and presents them in a magazine style format. For example, let’s say you’ve created a Twitter list from the TV shows you like to watch. You can create a new section in Flipboard that grabs all tweets and any included links and pictures and presents them in a visually appealing and more engaging format.

Below are images from Feeddler, an RSS reader for the iPad, and Twitter for iPad. Both are well regarded applications that present new information neatly. However, you’ll see that both present data in a linear form.

Flipboard completely discards this paradigm. It takes the same content but presents it in a magazine-style format.

See the difference? There’s nothing wrong with Twitter or Feeddler but in Flipboard, the experience is far more engaging. Also, because Flipboard pre-fetches content from links for me, and not just a link to a page, I don’t have to tap as many links or wait for things to arrive. When I want to move to the next page, I simply swipe a finger across the screen and the page turns, just like a magazine.

It’s only been in the most recent update to Flipboard that RSS integration, for Google Reader accounts has been added. Also, content is now cached so that you can view content when you’re not connected to the Internet.

Flipboard is free from the Apple App Store.

What is RSS and how does it work

As a journalist, keeping up with what’s going on in the world is an important part of your work. However, it can be challenging. Between websites, blogs, YouTube, social media and other online services, the volume of data journalists need to process each day is way beyond the amount of time we have available. That means we need to find ways to access and filter information in a time effective way. One such tool is RSS, or Really Simple Syndication.

In order to understand how RSS works, it’s a good idea to cover some basic background. This won’t be super technical but will give you a brief primer on how websites are built today. I promise this will be a technobabble-free zone.

A bit of history

In the olden days, when the Web was just a babe, websites were made up of a collection of pages. Each page was hand-crafted so if you wanted to change the look and feel of a site you had to visit each page and make the changes. As you can imagine, that got old fast. As sites became larger and more complex a different way to maintain websites was needed.

Some smart folks worked out that you could separate the look and feel of a website from the content. That meant that all the data (posts on blogs for example) could be held in a database. When someone accesses a page from your blog, what they are really doing is grabbing some specific data from the database of all your content. Then, it’s assembled into something attractive that uses some specific programming using stuff like HTML, CSS and other acronyms that are only meaningful to those who design website.

The important bit for us is that most websites store their data in a database. That means that if can find a tool that can grab content from the database automatically, without having to visit the site, we end up with a way of accessing content from lots of places without having to go to a bunch of different websites.

How RSS works

With the web-world having embraced databases, a subscription system became easily possible. It wasn’t long before a set of standards (which is the nerd word for rules) emerged so that software could be designed to grab content from website databases. This software is called either an RSS reader or aggregator.

Costs

One of the words that often scares off those new to RSS is “subscription”. As journalists, we’re accustomed to a subscription equating to a paid service. With RSS subscriptions are almost always free.

The only money you might outlay in using RSS is for the reader or aggregator software. However, there are so many excellent free options that we can’t see any reason to pay.

Start using RSS with Google Reader

Google Reader is a free service provided by Google. One of the great things about Reader is that most modern RSS readers can use a Reader account so that you can have a single, central collection of RSS subscriptions that can be accessed using just about any computer. If you’re happy using a web browser, Reader will work just fine. If you prefer to have a specific application installed to your computer, then it can access your Reader account.

Although the next little step-by-step guide uses Google Reader, most of the same steps apply to every RSS reader. At the end of the step-by-step there’s a gallery of screenshots for each step in the process.

Step 1 – Set up an account with Google. If you’ve got a GMail address (or Google Apps) account, this part is already done.

Step 2 – Go to Google Reader and sign in with your Google account

Step 3 –  Let’s add a subscription. Most websites have some sort of Subscribe option. With Journo Advice it’s in the top menu and on the right side of every page. Click that link. A new page will open in your browser that looks like a slimmed-down version of the website. Highlight the web address in your browser and copy it.

Then, in Google Reader, click on the “Add a subscription” button. Paste the address into the small box that appears and hit the “Add” button.

Almost instantly, the new feed will appear in your Subscriptions list. The number and length of the items that are available through the site’s RSS feed is determined by the author. Some sites provide a full feed – all of the site’s content – while others only provide an excerpt of the full article. This is so you visit the main site, enabling the author to potentially derive some income.

What happens next?

As you add more feeds to Reader, you can categorise them into folders by using the “Feed Settings” button to create a folder and move the feed into it.

So, that’s a primer on RSS. Is there more you’d like to know? Ask your questions by sending a comment. It’s free!

Evernote – a must for mobile journalists

Evernote is one of the most used apps on my iPad and Macs. Used on any one device it’s a great piece of software but its cloud backend, allowing notes to be synced between devices with no effort, makes it a great way to work in both the office and when on the road. Here are three reasons why, if you’re not already using Evernote, you should be.

1. It’s an invaluable research tool

Whether you’re in the local library, working online or just putting together ideas, Evernote is incredibly useful. Start by creating a Notebook for the project you’re working on. If you’re surfing the web and find something, you can use a browser extension to either send a link or the complete contents of a web page into an Evernote note.

Of course, there’s the obvious application of being able to quickly type notes as you’re doing your research.

2. Evernote is multi-platform

The reality is that we don’t always carry our laptop or iPad with us everywhere. It’s more likely that when a spontaneous idea or unexpected piece of information comes your way that it’s your smartphone that will be on hand.

The mobile version of Evernote can run on iOS devices, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Palm and Android devices. Simply run Evernote and make your note or record some audio. Then you can sync back to the cloud and access the information from any other device you’ve installed Evernote to.

3. Templates

Although one of the great things about Evernote is that it can capture unstructured data easily, templates can be a great way to keep things organized.

On the Mac desktop version of Evernote, create a note that has the headings and structure you want to re-use and go the File menu. Choose Export and save the File as an Evernote XML. When you want to use it, simply import the template and you’re ready to go.

Saasu – cloud-based accounting

A few years ago, when I first started freelancing, I needed to get some basic accounting software so that could raise invoices and track payments. My needs were modest as freelancing was a sideline to a fulltime job. But when I decided to become 100% self employed earlier this year, it was time to look at a more comprehensive solution. That’s why I went to Saasu.

Saasu is a cloud-based accounting solution that works on any platform including the iPad. Although I’m predominantly a Mac user, I need to be able access my accounts from several systems. Traditional, locally installed accounting systems rely on me having the computer with my accounts with me all the time. This just isn’t practical for me. Although I typically carry a laptop, I don’t like the idea of having my accounts on a computer than can be stolen, lost or damaged. I could keep the software on a computer in the office and remote into it but that’s a pain. While remote access software is pretty good these days it’s still not perfect.

Also, when I travel for just a couple days I travel with just my iPad. I needed a solution that was multiplatform. That meant a cloud-based solution was likely to be the best way to meet my requirements.

My shopping list of functions is fairly basic but I think typical of small businesses or sole traders.

  • creating and sending invoices
  • entering expenses
  • creating my Business Activity Statement for the tax department
  • running payroll
  • bank reconciliation
  • basic reporting

What I’ve found over the last few months is that Saasu can do all of this.

The first step in using Saasu is to go to the home page and create a user account. That gives you access to a test account so you can try things out as well as the opportunity to create your own business entity.

Once the account is set up, you are confronted with Saasu’s Dashboard. This is a snapshot of your cashflow, profit and loss, outstanding invoices and upcoming payments. You can see each of the main elements of the screen by clicking on each of the images in the gallery below.

Entering invoices and expenses is very straightforward. All of the onscreen forms are nicely laid out. When entering data, fields are automatically populated where it makes sense. For example. when entering a sale, if you need to enter the payment at the same time, simply clicking in the payment date field will result in the date being instantly populated from the invoice date. Similarly, the payment amount is automatically filled in with the invoice amount.

If you need to run payroll, Saasu is already set up with Australian tax tables. Once an employee is set up in the system, all you need to do is enter the salary amount and all the tax, superannuation, Medicare levies, Fee-Help and other deductions are automatically calculated.

Reporting is well executed. For those who need to complete a Business Activity Statement for the tax department, Saasu generates the worksheet with just a couple of clicks, making it easy to complete the monthly or quarterly statement.

Now, I’m aware that many people are skeptical of cloud services. There are concerns around security and backup. Saasu provides information on how they backup data and how you can do your own backups. Saasu has 7 backup processes across 4 locations and it’s possible, using the Saasu API to have your own bespoke solution developed.

Saasu certainly isn’t the only cloud-based accounting solution. Xero is another, popular option. However, over the last six months I’ve come to rely on Saasu as an integral part of my business.