If you’re doing the same thing that everyone else is doing, maybe the prime competitor you’re working against is yourself.

What are the hours of the other businesses in your area in your niche? If they are open only Monday through Friday from 9 to 5 (the same hours as other people who work office hours), what would happen if you opened Tuesday through Sunday and stayed open until 7? Would you be able to better serve the working people who can’t visit those other businesses?

Do your competitors offer services such as gift wrapping? What would happen if you offered services that your competitors no longer care enough to offer?

Do you competitors use environmentally friendly practices or products? What would happen if you made it known that you did?

Are you competing with DIY-ers? For instance, if you’re an accountant your competition is off-the-shelf accounting software. If you’re a landscaper, your competition is someone mowing their own lawn. What would happen if you offered an incentive to get people to switch from their DIY mindset?

Once you figure out how your competition operates, then you can easily be more and do more than they are.

Most real estate agents will tell you that when you’re selling your home you have to use neutral colors. The standard advice is to paint in shades of beige. Choose white appliances and carpet in browns. Buyers don’t want an art deco pink and black bathroom, or an avocado green kitchen. But what about the buyers who do? By putting your all-eggshell-all-the-time home on the market you’ve instantly lost all buyers who might be looking for a little personality in their homes. Let’s take this analogy to your website.

I’m not REALLY talking about the color you chose for your logo, or the dominant color in your header image. What I’m talking about is color as personality. Have you heard of Seth Godin’s book, Purple Cow? No one’s ever seen a purple cow before, so when you show people a purple cow, it’s remarkable. It stands out.

Do you want your business to be seen as shades of taupe? Shades that will match anyone’s furniture? Anyone’s carpet? Do you want your website–and by extension, your business, your products and services–to appeal to absolutely everyone out there? Probably not. You’re trying to reach a specific audience who wants YOUR art deco pink and black bathroom, so use your personality to your advantage.

The purpose of your website is to start a conversation with a potential customer. Then, lead the potential customer down a certain path. Maybe that path ends in them signing up for your newsletter or buying your carpet cleaning package. How do you start a conversation with a stranger? You have to give the conversation some personality. You have to tell them something about you, or else they have nothing to reply back to, nothing to ask you about. Consider the personality you’re adding to your website the color we’re talking about.

Tell Your OWN story. By using eggshell paint on your website walls, you’re telling the story of someone who is just like everyone else.

Add color to your website by using Testimonials, Case Studies and keeping an updated Portfolio.

Build trust by sending emails as often as you say you will, and not being irresponsible with the information you’re given.

We can’t stress enough that what people really want in business, no matter what it is, is a relationship with someone they trust. The color you add to your website gives them that.

​There’s so much pressure when you sit down to write an advertising piece or blurb for your website, isn’t there? Just google “how to write advertising copy” for gazillions of articles about how the copy has to be JUST RIGHT or you won’t EVER SELL ANYTHING. Well, we know it sucks! What will you do if you NEVER SELL ANYTHING EVER and it’s your copywriting that’s to blame?!

The truth is, the copywriting may be bearing too much of the marketing load. Here’s why…

1. Most people decide on a purchase or to hire a service provider based on a combination of elements. We wrote this last week, that buying a service is more emotional than logical. The customer has your social media, your email newsletters, all the “freebies” you’ve given them over the years (value added downloads or extras), your About page, your advertising, and all of the other content on your website to use to make up their minds about whether to buy from you or not. Are you really worried that the emotional resonance of the paragraph you’re toiling over is lacking and therefore YOU WILL NEVER SELL ANYTHING EVER? Allow your body of work to carry the weight of your products and services. The one thing you’re stressed about writing right now is probably not that important.

2. You want it to be “perfect.”

Here’s how we feel about perfection.

3. You fear sounding silly.

The great thing about the internet is that websites can be changed. Write your product description. Go back to it a couple days later. Ask a colleague or friend to read it over. If you’re not happy with it, change it.

4. ​You hate writing.

This one is legitimately hard to overcome. Some people just don’t enjoy writing. It can be hard to mentally get over starting at a blank screen or blank piece of paper and make any ideas come out. If that’s the case for you, there are website development agencies, like ours, that offer these services. There are also resources for finding freelance writers and editors who can take the information you want to present and craft it into something you can be happy with. Take advantage of these services and reduce the load on yourself for the things you really just don’t want to do. It’s ok!

Here’s what you need to remember….the offer is more important than the words. Make it truly valuable, and offer the customer service that makes people happy, and you’re golden. Maybe even, you’ll come to like copywriting someday!

How do you get your business on a fast-growing trajectory? Here’s one thing you don’t do…keep wishing. Wishing your business was on a fast-growing trajectory is not what it takes. Here are the three ingredients to rapid business growth.

1. Overcome your fear
Yes, you might fail. You might get some negative comments. Your attempts to connect with someone might not work. Everyone struggles with fear and anxiety. Think of a song or piece of art that you love. What if that musician had not written the song because she was afraid she would sound silly singing it?

We all have fear. How do you get rid of it? The only way to get rid of fear is to do things that will never have any possibility of failure. That’s not the path to be on. Tell yourself, “I’m scared, but I’m going to do this anyway.”

Things will change when you do something different. Make something happen. What is it you want to achieve? If you want a newspaper article about your business, reach out to someone in the press. Are you trying to find a blogger to review your product? Reach out to one. If you already did that and nothing happened, reach out again.

If you don’t like how things are going, imagine your business as a river with kids playing on its banks. Even moving a small rock can have a big impact on which direction the current flows. Something is going to happen because you have done something.

3. Learn from your mistakes.
It is not always possible to know what the outcomes of a decision will be. It’s not always possible to know HOW or WHY something happens, just that it DOES. Many times in business, you must act, then adjust. It is best to make an informed choice as best you can. Think things through, ask for advice, consider all possibilities. And then, see step number two, above. Take action.

If it doesn’t work out the way you intended, learn from that and revise your strategy next time. Obstacles will always appear and change shape and form. Sometimes they will disappear when you approach them. Setbacks will always be there in some form or another. Learn from them and keep moving.

I recently checked out the Facebook page of a new niche small business. Aside from the content being a little slim, which is understandable because it’s brand new, I noticed that every single post had 15 hashtags. Each post used the same hashtags in the same order. It got me to thinking: Are hashtags still cool? I think they are. But there definitely seems to a good, better and best ways to use hashtags.

Understanding hashtags

Hashtags are the pound symbol — # — that came to be used as a sorting device online in posts and comments. Hashtags were created for Twitter but expanded to Google Plus, Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram.

On Twitter, hashtags have become less useful than they were when they were first developed. For instance, “Enjoying this delicious cocktail!” will show up in searches for “cocktail” the same way that “Enjoying this delicious #cocktail!” will.  A hashtag is clickable and can help users sort out other posts with that same hashtag. But it doesn’t affect who sees your tweets or posts. One drawback with using hashtags is that they can seem like a grab for attention. Too commercial, in other words. Even though as a business you are trying to be commercial. The trick is to use them effectively in a way that serves your purpose but does not alienate people. Here are our recommendations for the good, better and best ways to use hashtags.

Good ways to use hashtags

  • Come up with a hashtag you use for your brand. If your juice cart is named “Island Juices” it makes perfect sense that a hashtag you would want to start using would be #islandjuices. First though, check to see if that hashtag is already widely in use by another brand.
  • Come up with 10 hashtags you think best represent your brand. Use them in your posts but not all at once. Three hashtags that are appropriate for the post seems cool. 15 hashtags that cover every single possible angle is overkill. Alternate these hashtags so each post has some coverage but is not too much.
  • Be specific in your hashtags. The more specific it is the more targeted your audience will be. For instance, if you’re crafting natural lotions and skincare products, #skincare will be a more targeted hashtag than #DIY.

Better ways to use hashtags

  • Use your #islandjuices hashtag in contests, such as asking your Facebook or Instagram friends to post photos of themselves with that hashtag so you can find it, and you’ll choose a winner each week to receive a free juice. Contests or promotions like this are an easy and free way to interact with your brand and costs you nothing other than the juice you give away each week. That goodwill, however, is priceless.
  • Keep them short. If you know your salon offers the best prices on manicures in the whole town, don’t choose the “#bestpricesonmanicuresever” hashtag because no one will type that many characters in. Instead, go for something like “#manitoday”.
  • Don’t have more hashtags than words in your post. There is room for using a LOT of hashtags as a joke, once in a while. But in daily practice this is not a good idea. For one reason, you might end up with followers who are spammers, because the overload of hashtags is seen as nothing but marketing promotion and the people who follow you are only interested in being followed back. These aren’t the quality followers you’re looking for.

Best ways to use hashtags

  • Not every post or comments needs a hashtag. If it’s not meant for a wide audience, leave them off.
  • Monitor them and respond. If people are using your hashtag, that’s great! Acknowledge them somehow so they get some kind of feel good reward to keep using it.
  • People search for common brand and product hashtags. When you’re posting your content, think like a customer and think about what they would search for. For example, if you’re a hair salon, post images of your hair cuts (with your customer’s permission) using the already-popular #hairstyles hashtag. If you only use certain styling products, use that brand’s hashtags.

It’s time to plan for 2017 and put together a marketing plan and budget to help you establish your business goals for 2017. Remember when we suggested you create a marketing calendar? Hopefully you’ve done that!

That calendar will lay the groundwork for your marketing plan for 2017. Also important is an overall business plan establishing your goals and how you will meet them.

Plan Your Budget

Experts state that 5 to 7 percent of your revenue should be spent on marketing. It is important to figure out ahead of time where that money will go and where it will come from. Do you underwrite a radio program? Do you focus your efforts on boosting posts on Facebook? How much money does that represent?

Do you need to make investments in infrastructure? Perhaps you need a new computer or a new phone. Try to be as specific as possible, including your monthly expenses for things like printer ink. If you’re making changes to your budget, list what is decreasing and what is increasing. Make sure that your team is aware of the changes and what your new focus is.

Create Your Business Plan

Begin by asking yourself where you want to be at the end of the year. Do you have a sales goal? Work backward and figure out your monthly goal to get there, followed by your weekly and even daily goal to get there. If you know you need to make X number of sales calls to get a new customer, plan to make enough calls each day to meet that goal. The key to this is identifying what you need to do to accomplish your goals and putting the structure in place to help you meet them. With a plan you will wake up each day knowing what you need to take care of that day to meet your near and far goals.

For the non-specific things like, for instance, improving customer service, figure out how you will achieve that. Does that mean holding trainings for your staff or hiring a consultant? Perhaps you will work with your staff to improve email etiquette. It’s fine to have abstract ideas like “meet sales goals” or “get more customers,” but follow those up with a concrete plan.

You’re working hard to make sure your customers find you online. Naturally, you want them to find positive and helpful info. For a new business, managing your online reputation may be as simple as monitoring Google Alerts for mentions of your name.

For business with problematic pasts such as legal trouble or negative reviews, it may take more concerted and focused efforts.

Here are six key things to do to get you started on managing your online reputation.

1. Search Yourself.
First, see what’s already out there. Search for your name and business name and look in all results, including images and news.

2. Use Google Alerts
Set up a Google Alert. Simply enter in a search term and receiving email notifications on Google’s easy-to-set-up Alert page (https://www.google.com/alerts). Also, monitor your competitors.

3. Buy Your Domain Name.
Even if you plan to just have a Facebook page, consider purchasing dot coms that relate to your business name so that no one else can take them. Add placeholder text directing people to the online sites you prefer. Avoid letting others take the domains that are closely related to your business.

Also, consider purchasing your personal name, such as JohnSmith.com. This will be easier if you have a less-common name than John Smith. This ensures your control over the content on the site and not someone else, even if it’s not necessarily negative.

4. Join Social Networks
You probably don’t have time to be active on every single social site. Unless you’re hiring someone to take care of this task, you probably don’t. Join the major sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube and Google+ and stake your claim to your personal and business names.

Social content is an increasingly large part of search results. Ensure that other people can’t get control of these channels and use them in their own way. This will help you put your desired results out there first. And, the platforms will already be in place if you decide you want to use them at a later date.

5. Monitor Your Own Activity.
Never assume that something you place online is private. Even if you have your settings set to show something only to your closest friends, screenshots might never disappear. Don’t share anything online that you’re not comfortable with the world seeing. Note what content you are “tagged in,” such as on Facebook, and remove the tags if it is content you are not completely comfortable with.

6. Build Your Brand.
The best way to make sure that there is positive, flattering content online about you and your business is to create it yourself and put it out there. Become well-respected due to your honest engagement and transparent business practices. Regularly create branded content, whether it’s blog posts or videos, and post them. Monitor the activity you get and respond if necessary, with politeness. Treat every online interaction with the same respect as if you were handing out your business card in person, because in reality, that’s pretty much what you’re doing.

Don’t ignore your reputation

Managing your online reputation takes some activity on your part. All of these things help keep you informed about what people are saying about you as well as your competitors. The worst mistake you can do is either ignore your reputation or not do anything to manage it. Keep yourself in the game by being proactive on what’s out there about your brand.

Starting a business can definitely be expensive. Extending yourself financially through taking out loans or buying equipment is stressful. The idea of spending another penny on one more thing is scary. You may feel you have thought everything through and you don’t need any more advice. But a small business consultant can help you in ways you might not think of.

With any business, it is ok to realize that you can’t do everything yourself at the expert level you may want. The right consultant can help you leverage specialized knowledge. They have been in your shoes before themselves. A good consultant has worked with other businesses in similar situations, whether just starting out or trying to grow. They can help you with information and experience that directly pertains to your needs.

How do you know you need a consultant?

  1. Are there opportunities you want to take advantage of but you don’t have the manpower?
  2. Are you falling behind in your marketing efforts because you don’t have time?
  3.  Struggling with decision making on the best path to move forward?
  4. Do you feel like you are juggling a lot but not making much progress?

If you answered yes to these questions, a consultant can help!

First of all, what does a consultant do? A business consultant is typically an outside expert brought in to help offer advice. Struggling with a sticky situation or have an issue with no clear solution? The consultant examines all the possibilities to give you the best advice. The consultant considers everything, from your goals to your finances, and make decisions that are not based on your personal relationships. For instance, because you are so close to your business, it can be hard to see the forest through the trees, so to speak. A consultant cuts through the clutter to find the right path forward for your business that is not based on emotions.

Sometimes, a business can not achieve their goals because they don’t have a staff member with the necessary skills or it is simply not what your company is good at. Consider hiring an outside expert, for instance, one to help you with your website development. This can give you a better result and save you time and money over doing it yourself. Imagine struggling with the look, the technical aspects and the message on your own. Plus, you’re busy working on your day-to-day issues, so making big changes to things you already have in place is time consuming. Using consultants means you don’t have to pull your employees away from their actual duties.

Many small business owners struggle with trying to solve all of their problems themselves. You may know you need a different advertising or branding strategy, or a completely reworked budget, but implementing it is difficult. Think about how you handle big decisions in your personal life. You ask your family members or closest friends or someone from your church, to help you figure out the best approach. An outside opinion really does help. Companies need outside opinions too.

Consultants are better than just asking your family members what to do because they typically have experience in many different industries and businesses. They bring in innovative ideas and successful past experience that they share with you.

A small business consultant helps by planning your business strategy and in some cases executing it. But not all consultants are created equal. At Build Your Dream Business, we are small business owners and entrepreneurs with several different businesses over many years. We know what works and we can help you find it for your business.

Claiming your business listings on such services as Google Maps means you can manage the information yourself. Once claimed, enhance your presence by updating your business hours and adding photos. You likely already have some automatically created listings. Find these listings and go through the process to “claim” or “verify” that the business is yours. Typically, it is a simple process. You may simply need to request a phone call or receive a postcard in the mail with a code, for instance. Then, take that code and enter it in the website to claim your listing.

Here are the top sites to look at and claim your business listings if necessary.

Google My Business

Google My Business lists your business hours, phone number and directions to your location on Google Search and Maps–these are key to making sure your local business can easily be found.

Facebook For Business

Given how popular Facebook is now, your Facebook Business page is likely going to be the first thing potential customers find when they search for your business. Even if you have a website that you direct your business traffic to (which is what we recommend), your Facebook page is your hub that includes basic information to help people find you.

Yelp For Business

We feel that Yelp has some flaws, particularly in what reviews they choose to weight heavily and what criteria they use when allowing people to post reviews. However, it is a popular and often-used site where a lot of people get their information to help them make decisions about what businesses to support.

Yellow Pages

The iconic print business directory has migrated online.

Yahoo Search

At the bottom of this page is a “Submit Your Site” button that allows you to submit your site directly to the Yahoo Search index.

This page above allows business owners to create a business listing on Yahoo, similar to the one Google allows you to create. While Google is the most-used search engine, Yahoo is no slouch coming in third, so create a listing on this search engine as well.

Bing Places For Business

Claim your business listing on Bing, the second most-used search engine in the world. It is likely already created, and just waiting for you to claim it and edit it.


Manage your listing on Foursquare and attract more customers. Foursquare lets people “check in” on social media platforms such as Facebook.

On each of these listings, strive to ensure that your business information is consistent. Use the same business name, same ZIP code format, same telephone formatting, etc. Keep a document of each listing, if necessary, so you can duplicate it.

Add logos and photos wherever you are permitted to. Add new photos once in a while, perhaps seasonally, to keep things fresh. If you have a brick-and-mortar business, encourage people to use an app such as Foursquare to “check in” and share their location with their friends.

Look for and claim your business listings on all of these sites, because the listings are likely already created automatically from other information that is online. While it is not likely that someone else could claim your business listing and use it as their own, not claiming it leaves you unable to manage the information that is out there and keep it updated.