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In the News: Updates from Snapchat, Instagram and More

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2017-04-21 13:30

For businesses looking to advertise, connect with customers or organize ideas on social media, there are no shortage of options out there. This week, small businesses got even more options thanks to some new updates from popular platforms.

You can read more about the new advertising options from Snapchat, the Pinterest-like feature added to Instagram and more in this week’s Small Business Trends news and information roundup.

Social Media Snapchat Adds New Advertising Options

In an effort to make its platform more enticing and rewarding to advertisers, Snapchat (NYSE:SNAP) has launched two new tools that enable advertisers to retarget users who have previously engaged with their ads, and to target app-install ads to users based on machine-learning.

Instagram Steals a Page from Pinterest — But Not Really

A new feature from Instagram takes a page out of Pinterest’s book. And while it could potentially help businesses in a small way, it doesn’t offer the potential marketing punch of Pinterest just yet. The feature is called Collections and it allows users to save and organize posts that come across their feeds.

Starbucks Unicorn Drink Serves as Great Lesson for Small Businesses

What if you created a special product for your business that customers just couldn’t stop talking about? That’s exactly what Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) has done recently with its special edition Unicorn Frappuccino.

Instagram Influencer Marketing Hits the $1 Billion Mark (Infographic)

Yes, you heard it right! Instagram’s influencer marketing is now a billion dollar industry. This is according to Mediakix, an influencer marketing agency that connects brands with socially-engaged audiences, or, if you like — influencers.

One in 5 Facebook Videos is Live

Facebook’s (NASDAQ:FB) bet on live streaming is beginning to pay off. One-fifth of the videos shared on the site are now Live videos. The insight was shared by Facebook’s head of video, Fidji Simo, in a Facebook post recently. Facebook Live Stats Demonstrate Growth It has been a year since Facebook made it possible for all its users to broadcast live.

Economy New ‘Buy American, Hire American’ Order May Do Little for Small Businesses

President Donald Trump just signed an executive order that could potentially have an impact on small businesses — but not necessarily right away. The “Buy American, Hire American” order includes several components. Here’s a basic breakdown.

A Simple Economics Lesson for United Airlines

If Milton Friedman were alive today and active on social media, he might have “liked” the videos showing United Airlines (NYSE:UAL) forcibly removing a passenger from an overbooked flight. Don’t get me wrong, the Nobel Laureate would almost certainly have been as disgusted as everyone else at the harm done to the passenger.

Green Business Your Trucking Firm May Soon Be Going Greener — with Zero Emissions

The transportation industry is booming. But as more and more large players enter the market, it’s becoming increasingly important for small businesses to differentiate themselves from the competition. So how do companies accomplish this? Well, if you ask Toyota, the next frontier for transportation businesses may just be environmentally friendly trucking.

20 Ideas for Earth Day Promotions

Earth Day is just around the corner. And for businesses, the holiday offers some unique promotional opportunities. Whether you sell eco-friendly products in a retail setting or run a service-based business online, there are things you can do to promote your business and celebrate Earth Day. Here are 20 unique ideas.

Marketing Shocker! Only 27 Percent of Marketers Use Data to Adjust Strategy

Across industries, organizations are adopting a data-driven approach. But many small businesses are not leveraging data to adjust their strategy, a new study reveals. Few Using Iteration in Marketing According to TrackMaven’s 2017 Marketing Leadership Survey (PDF), most marketers (47 percent) use data after-the-fact to find out what worked and what didn’t.

Small Biz Spotlight Spotlight: SalezShark Helps Businesses With Sales and Marketing in the Cloud

The cloud can be a powerful tool in many different areas of business. But it can be especially helpful when it comes to sales and marketing. SalezShark is one company that offers a cloud platform that’s made to help businesses manage their sales and marketing efforts. Read more about the company and what it offers for business clients in this week’s Small Business Spotlight.

Small Business Operations Tax Season Has Come and Gone: Should You Rethink Your Business Structure?

Are you breathing a sigh of relief now that another tax season has come and gone? Now that the 2016 tax filing deadlines have passed, this is the perfect time to consider your business structure. For example, in the early stages of your business, you may have preferred to keep things simple with a sole proprietorship.

Most Small Businesses Spend $1000 or More on Tax Administration Alone

Small businesses are spending way too much time and money on federal taxes, a new survey has found. According to the National Small Business Association 2017 Small Business Taxation Survey (PDF), federal tax burden is one of the biggest challenges facing small businesses.

Small Firms, How Will Merger of These Two Giant Trucking Companies Affect You?

Two of the nation’s largest trucking companies announced plans to merge Monday, creating a trucking behemoth worth more than $5 billion.

Startup Lessons Small Business Can Learn From The College Admissions Crisis

There is a college admissions crisis, and for once it is not because of a scandal. In fact, in this instance, it is the colleges and universities that are suffering and we can all learn from their plight. The issue is pretty simple: technology has empowered college applicants to apply to as many schools as they want, so they have all the bargaining power.

Spacious Transforms Restaurants into Coworking Spaces for Freelancers

Not all business owners need a dedicated office space. Some just need a laptop or mobile device and a quiet place to work. Now, a new startup in New York City is aiming to help those business owners, freelancers and other professionals find that last part.

Technology Trends Eversign Offers a Paperless eSignature Alternative for Large and Small Business

Eversign is a cloud-based digital signature software that allows large enterprises and small businesses alike to securely sign, approve and digitally deliver legally binding documents. Whether you’re a Fortune 500 company or freelancing solopreneur makes no difference.

DIY App Builder Como Changes Name to Swiftic

Remember Como? The mobile app maker? Well, it has changed its name to Swiftic and even changed its url to www.swiftic.

10 Things You Need to Know About the Latest Windows 10 Creators Update

After months of speculation, Windows 10 Creators Update is finally here. The previous update from Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), dubbed Anniversary Update, fine-tuned the interface and added Cortana interaction from the lock screen, Digital Ink input and more Windows Hello secure authentication possibilities.

Snapchat, Instagram Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "In the News: Updates from Snapchat, Instagram and More" was first published on Small Business Trends

KFC enlists Rob Lowe for the next colonel

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-04-21 13:20

Rob Lowe is going to send a Zinger into space.

The actor will be the newest version of KFC’s Colonel Sanders in ads featuring the Zinger sandwich.

In the ads, the veteran actor and funnyman will wear a spacesuit, talking about sending KFC’s Zinger out into space. The ads are set to start on Sunday.

“My grandfather was the head of the Ohio chapter of the National Restaurant Association in the 1960s and took me to meet Colonel Harland Sanders when I was a kid,” Lowe said in a statement. “It was a big deal. I thought this would be a nice homage to both Colonel Sanders and my grandfather.”

KFC has used a series of advertisements featuring various actors and comedians playing its iconic founder over the past two years. The irreverent ads have helped reinvigorate sales at the Louisville-based chicken chain. Several actors have taken turns playing Sanders.

The latest ads come as the chain has introduced its Zinger to the U.S. The sandwich is popular in KFCs around the world, and the chain is finally bringing it stateside next week. It’s served with lettuce and mayonnaise on a toasted sesame seed bun. 

First introduced in Trinidad & Tobago in 1984, the sandwich is marinated chicken breast, double-breaded in the chain’s Extra Crispy breading with a proprietary spice blend. 

It will be available as part of KFC’s line of $5 Fill Up boxes, along with potato wedges, a cookie and a drink. An individual sandwich will be priced at $3.99.

KFC is promising more details about its campaign to send one of these sandwiches into space later this spring.

“I have no idea how we’ll launch a chicken sandwich into space, but the marketing team thinks they can do it,” Kevin Hochman, KFC’s U.S. president and chief concept officer. “What I do know, is the Zinger is the best selling KFC chicken sandwich in 120 countries, and it’s now available in America.”

Contact Jonathan Maze at

Follow him on Twitter at @jonathanmaze

Viceroy Hotel Group To Open Viceroy Kopaonik Serbia In 2018

Hotel Interactive - Fri, 2017-04-21 12:38
LOS ANGELES--Serbia’s largest mountain range, Kopaonik, will soon be home to an unprecedented modern luxury hospitality experience. Today, Viceroy Hotel Group ...

Dan Miller of Opus Research: If Bots Take Over for Humans We Only Have Ourselves to Blame

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2017-04-21 12:00

Before most of us knew what a bot was, Dan Miller, lead analyst and founder of Opus Research, was already looking at the potential impact the nascent technology would have on customer service and engagement. Now that bots, intelligent digital assistants and other conversational interfaces are becoming daily parts of all our lives, businesses of all sizes are expected to invest close to $5 billion by 2021, according to a new report from Opus Research – Decision Makers’ Guide to Enterprise Intelligent Assistants; The Brave New World of Bots and Virtual Agents .

Dan shares some of the key findings from the report, including what is driving the current bot/intelligent assistant craze, how businesses are approaching things, the role of “metabots”, and the role artificial intelligence/machine learning is playing (and will play) in bot adoption.

Below is an edited transcript of our conversation. Click on the embedded player below to hear the full conversation.

* * * * *

Small Business Trends: So tell us about this report.

Dan Miller: it’s our second look at what’s going on with what we call Enterprise Intelligent Assistants. Everybody’s got their own term for what a bot is, but we were calling it intelligent assistants, or intelligent virtual assistants, and it’s the combination of technologies that fall into two domains. One, I’ll just call the smart UI or conversational front end, that lets people input information, questions, whatever through text, through speaking, which then gets transcribed as text. We’re seeing emotion detection in that category, and we’re seeing biometric coming into that as well, because if you have strong confidence that an individual that’s talking, is who he or she claims to be, you can then make a more individualized and personalized experience.

So, that’s what goes on in the front end. There’s a back end, which is often associated with contact centers, or e-commerce websites, and that sort of thing… It’s natural language understanding. So, people can use their own words to accomplish things in a self-service mode.

We observed, three years ago, and answers “why is this all happening now?” Is around that ability to just let people talk to stuff, or type stuff in their own words, and accomplish what they’re trying to get done. Net-net, it’s made self-service less of a dirty word. We used to think of self-service as people reaching … Or companies basically just trying to save cost by automating as much of the interactions they have with customers through their support resources.

Now, we’re finding a growing number of people really want to self-serve. It’s more like an electronic game now, and hence, here we are. You dial in, use your own words, and you take command with them. That’s why it’s so interesting right now.

Small Business Trends: You talk about two broad technological domains that encompass this whole area. Conversational technologies and intelligent assistant technologies.

Dan Miller: I spoke a bunch about the conversational front end, so let’s move to the intelligent assistant technologies. I just know that people need to map these terms into the words that they use. We see it covered in a lot of magazines as artificial intelligence. Meaning, that there’s in addition to this natural language understanding, which is you use your own words, there’s knowledge management, which is the organization of all that big data that we read about all the time. There’s intelligent search that takes place. There’s analytics, the categorization of all that information that companies have.

So it’s really relevant for large enterprise, who have made investment in CRM with the voluminous records about their customers. We’re into knowledge management. It’s sort of an all-encompassing term, but it’s data management stuff. That’s where your marketware is, where your product descriptions, where training materials, where marketing and advertising are. That’s all machine readable now, and in this dream world of artificial intelligence, the ability to find the right answer, and establish a truth to provide to customers, can be done largely in automated fashion. And where that used to support how an agent answers a question in the contact center, be it screen pops and stuff like that. Or, how a speech-enabled IVR would provide correct answers over the phone in an automated environment. That’s all the resources that we call AI in the enterprise.

The answer, it’s sort of like Dorothy in Oz, right? We’re largely already there. We’ve made investments that are very close to moving to real-time responses to our customers, through these automated needs.

Small Business Trends: One thing that is obvious when reading the report, and there’s a lot of great things in this report, but the investments being spent in the forecast you guys put together. It really looked like it started almost from next to nothing, generally speaking, in 2015, to now you’re projecting 4 and a half to 5 billion in spending on enterprise intelligent assistants by 2021.

Dan Miller: Right, and what’s in that investment does encompass a lot of those technologies that I just talked about, the knowledge management, the natural language understanding. We see that there’s 20 or so vendors with intelligent assistant platforms. Some are household names. IBM would be there with Watson, Nuance, going up with Nina. I don’t want to offend anybody, but trying to rattle these off and then forgetting one or two. Some of what goes into our forecast is investment in the existing resources that are providing good answers to people contacting a company.

Then, some of it is packaged by firms with the platforms for developing virtual agents, and that becomes a very interesting way of looking at the world. That, if you’re in customer care, how do I hire one of these virtual intelligent assistants? That’s why we used the report to list the 28, or so companies and give the criteria for having a look at them.

Small Business Trends: How does what’s going on, on the enterprise side, when it comes to the intelligent assistants and conversational technology – How does that compare and contrast with what the more larger, general audience of consumers is seeing when it comes to, they’re using it on Alexa, or on Siri and things of that nature?

Dan Miller: Right, and we have a term for those unbranded, free-floating intelligent assistants. It could be on your smart phone, it could be on your television. We’ve heard it could be on your microwave, and all that sort of stuff. We call them Metabots. There’s two ways to look at this. One is, as a consumer, you’re going to encounter more devices that have microphones and other sensors that can respond to you, and in some cases anticipate what you’re asking for. You’ll notice Google Assistant has access to your calendar, probably reads your email if you’re using Gmail. It knows a lot about what your intent is, and can support that.

So, these free-floating metabots are the sources of the first point of contact for reaching the companies that you indeed want to do business with. So, that’s the consumer perspective. Now, for companies that invest in their brand, in their own marketing efforts, in ways to reach these customers, in the world of intelligent assistants, they need to regard each of these emerging metabots basically as a channel, and try to minimize the amount of customization, or what I call is exposure to stranded investment, that comes if there’s a lot of effort that has to be made to conform to Alexa’s API, or to make a Google skill, a skill for Google assistant, and that sort of stuff.

So, my long-winded way of saying, whether you’re a large company, or a small business trying to figure out how to reach people through these general purpose metabots, I feel like we’re reliving the world of mobile apps all over again. Or making a decision about how you end up driving traffic to your business in a world where there’s so many alternatives. So, you just regard these metabots as,’ hey it’s just one more channel’, one more digital channel that I should exploit in order to drive feet to my store, or do business online and that sort of stuff.

Small Business Trends: It’s funny, because I had a conversation, this has to be probably close to two years ago, with Dennis Mortensen over at With Amy, calendar scheduling assistant, and I asked him “do you feel that once the big guys get onboard, the Alexas, the Cortanas, the Siris, is that going to cut you out. You guys that do one thing, and do one thing good?” And he said “no, what I think is going to happen, is those kind of “megabots”, or mega AIs, as he referred to it “they would actually be the ones who would orchestrate the usage of the various bots and assistants that one person will have.” And so, instead of taking over everything, they’ll be the conductor and be able to help an individual leverage bots in a more structured way. Do you see that as something that could possibly happen?

Dan Miller: Oh, absolutely. If you look at what’s going on with Alexa, for instance right now, I can say “Alexa, ask Capital One what my balance is” and …

My friends from the automated speech business are experts in dialogue design, and now we’re trying to figure out how you deal with a “trialogues”, because there’s a person, his or her bot, and then the business you want to talk to.

What we have right now, is an unsteady state, meaning I can do it. I can have Alexa talk to Capital One, I invoke these skills, and one of the first things you’ll see Amazon’s development folks doing, is getting rid of that step. So, the neat thing about these intelligent assistants, is that they’re learning.

Machine learning is a big part of that. Learning in general, is as well. So, we keep worrying about the bots replacing people, or they’re going to be our mechanized overlords, but the way they learn, we teach them. If we can’t teach them to be better at serving what we want to do, then shame on us.

This article, "Dan Miller of Opus Research: If Bots Take Over for Humans We Only Have Ourselves to Blame" was first published on Small Business Trends

10 reasons to attend the 2017 ICX Summit - Fri, 2017-04-21 11:59
If you are responsible for improving customer engagement for your organization, here are 10 reasons you should make your way to Texas for the ICX Summit.

Zoho SalesIQ: Awesome Live Chat and Website Tracking

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2017-04-21 11:00

Today there’s a lot of live chat app software available on the market. As a shopper you may have noticed a live chat button on just about every major retail or B2B site today. The category seems to be growing.

And it’s no surprise why. As more and more customers shop online, businesses are finding value in communicating with live visitors while they are right there on their website.

The better live chat apps also offer website visitor tracking as part of the package. Website tracking allows the website owner to see data about visitors in real time.

This is valuable because it helps a sales or customer service agent see information such as what country the visitor is from and the browser he or she is using (helpful in troubleshooting technical issues, for example).

But beyond that, website visitor tracking can provide data intelligence that helps the agent know when to step in and greet the visitor to offer help — say, if the visitor has been on your product page and has now moved to your pricing page. This could be invaluable to help close sales. Website tracking also can help with other valuable information, such as identifying paths in your site that visitors take. This helps you learn, for example, if shoppers are abandoning your site at a certain page which might indicate a problem with that page.

So as you can see, for a business, website tracking provides valuable data that can help in sales and in customer support situations.

Recently we’ve been using Zoho SalesIQ as our live chat app and website visitor tracking. In the following review I’d like to explain why we chose it, and what it does for us, as well as the pros and cons of using it.

Zoho SalesIQ Review Key Zoho SalesIQ Features and Benefits

Zoho SalesIQ has the basic features you’d expect with live chat. Features include:

  • a live chat box you can easily embed on your entire site, or as we do here, just on certain pages (such as our media kit page);
  • a back end dashboard so that you can see how many visitors are on and other information;
  • the ability to assign agents to handle live chat;
  • the ability to automate activity to engage visitors.

There’s a lot more with ZohoSalesIQ live chat, including the ability to be “offline” and capture inquiries that you can answer later. This is a big concern of small businesses, because if you’re like us here at Small Business Trends and have limited staff, you don’t have the ability to monitor live chat around the clock and on weekends. But don’t let that concern hold you back, because you can put up a message that says you’re not there and respond via email later. Or you can even automate responses to direct visitors to your FAQs and support materials if you are not available.

As far as website visitor tracking, this is where we actually get the most use from Zoho SalesIQ.

  • SalesIQ gives you the ability to see valuable data. I love how you can see data that helps you understand how people interact with your most important pages. For instance, we can see the paths that visitors take through our site and how they reach our sales pages. That has already led us to plan for significant changes in our site navigation and the content on the sales pages. Without the Zoho SalesIQ website tracking data, it would not have been possible to see visitor paths as clearly.
  • SalesIQ has a unique way of displaying visitor tracking information.  While you can see it in basic list form, it also displays in a helpful concentric circle form (see accompanying image).  The circles can be set up to help you see certain behavior in your site visually.
  • SalesIQ helps you score leads. If you’re not a marketer, you might not be familiar with the concept of “scoring leads.” This simply means that you use data intelligence built into Zoho SalesIQ to assign a score to a sales lead. You can give a higher score to visitors who exhibit certain behavior or have certain characteristics. For example, if someone has visited your site or a certain page multiple times, or downloaded one of your lead magnet pieces of content, you might conclude they are more serious about possibly buying than a visitor who has visited just once. You would give the repeat visitor a higher score. And you could take it further and set up “triggers” to proactively initiate contact with a higher scoring visitor.
Zoho SalesIQ Pros

In addition to the above features, SalesIQ offers some other benefits.  First, there’s a Zoho SalesIQ plugin for WordPress. I tested it extensively on a smaller site of ours and it works great. It is very simple — the plugin makes it easy to install SalesIQ on a WordPress site. You can even control the widget so that the live chat box doesn’t show, and only use the website tracking feature. If you want more control, such as the ability to put SalesIQ only on certain pages of your site and not every page, then you can grab embed code directly from SalesIQ and insert it manually.

Perhaps most importantly, SalesIQ integrates almost perfectly with Zoho CRM. So if like us you use ZOHO CRM, you’re able to have leads placed into your CRM system without needing to do a separate integration project or downloading spreadsheets or other clunky methods. You can also identify Zoho CRM leads that happen to be on your site, as well, so you can proactively communicate with existing leads.

The integration with Zoho CRM is in my opinion where SalesIQ really shines. In fact, Zoho sells several of its products including CRM and SalesIQ bundled up into a suite called CRM Plus. If you opt for Zoho CRM Plus you get favorable pricing and products designed to integrate your sales, marketing and customer support efforts. And it all works together nicely. Zoho CRM, which I will review separately, is incredibly powerful for what it does.

Zoho SalesIQ Cons

We get tremendous value from Zoho SalesIQ and consider it essential to our sales efforts today. But no live chat app is perfect, and there are some things that I look forward to Zoho correcting or enhancing. Here’s what I would like to see done better:

  • More focus on reporting from the website tracking, as well as the ability to export data such as pages accessed. While the data is available in the app, it’s not necessarily convenient to get to because it requires multiple clicks. And it’s nearly impossible to extract some of it for deeper, longer-term analysis. Zoho offers integration with Google Analytics, but I’ve found that to be of limited value. The only data I seem to get in Google Analytics from SalesIQ is how many times people clicked on the live chat button. I’d urge Zoho to focus development resources on taking their website tracking reporting to the next level, to really outshine their competition.
  • Make the app more intuitive and less subtle. In places it feels as if the development team went overboard trying for a minimalist approach. Even after many hours of using SalesIQ, I suddenly will discover new features, because I never clicked on some tiny little icon that I barely noticed before.
  • Make the website tracking play better with touchscreen tablets. I love to check SalesIQ in the evenings on my Surface tablet. However, there’s an important five percent that I can’t seem to do because perhaps the Zoho technology requires a mouseover to see and access some of the tracking data, such as the referral source.
  • The graphics for the live chat box are somewhat outdated looking. You can customize the look of the live chat box, but only to a degree. Spiffier standard graphics and more customization control would help. If your live chat app looks like it’s from 2010, it doesn’t make a great impression.
Who Zoho SalesIQ Is Best For

Zoho SalesIQ is for businesses of any size committed to maximizing their website to increase sales through engagement with visitors and capturing visitor information.

I consider Zoho SalesIQ especially good for small businesses, because the automation and data intelligence built into it allowed you to scale and grow your business. And you can do so without overwhelming existing staff or adding a lot more staff. Automation truly is a friend to small business.

Zoho SalesIQ shines when you use it as part of the CRM Plus suite which includes Zoho CRM because the integration is already built in. One of the things that frustrates small business owners like me is being promised that an app will “seamlessly integrate” only to find out later that you really need to hire a consultant for $10,000 to make it integrate and worse, you have to spend 40 hours writing out everything you want in a detailed requirements document because the consultant demands it. Not so with Zoho CRM Plus — other than pressing a couple of buttons, it is already integrated.

I strongly recommend ZOHO SalesIQ and along with it the Zoho CRM Plus suite for any small business owner or marketer that is serious about selling and serving customers. You will be amazed at how your sales increase when you get the right tools in place.

Image: Zoho

This article, "Zoho SalesIQ: Awesome Live Chat and Website Tracking" was first published on Small Business Trends

Is your restaurant in compliance with recent fire code changes? - Fri, 2017-04-21 10:13
The standard for ventilation control and fire protection of commercial cooking operations (NFPA 96) now requires increased amounts of staff training on fire suppression systems and fire extinguisher operations. Check this list to see if you are in compliance.

10 Easy Ways Small Businesses Should Track Competitors

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2017-04-21 09:30

One of the most important yet often unvalued requirements when running a small business is to track and monitor competition. Having a clear understanding of competitors’ business operations, such as what they are charging, what clients they have, and what new products and services they are offering, can help a company develop their own successful business models and strategies.

It is vital that businesses monitor competition in order to stay abreast of changes, and keep up with price fluctuations and demands within a specific market. Monitoring competition ultimately helps small companies maintain competitiveness amongst their business rivals. Failing to track the habits and movements of competitors can mean a business is held back, becomes regressive and eventually loses out to their more progressive and competitive rivals.

How can small businesses track and monitor their competition? Small Business Trends caught up with Mike Tinz, VP at Money Mailer, a leader in direct marketing, which offers local businesses a unique portfolio of marketing solutions. Mike Tinz provided insight and tips into how small business owners should track their competition.

How to Track Competitors Review How Your Competitors are Reaching Consumers

Small businesses reach out to consumers through specific ways and it’s important to have an understanding about how other businesses are reaching and finding consumers. Mike Tinz spoke of the importance of reviewing the media competitors are using to reach consumers.

“Review the competitive landscape and the media your competition is using to reach consumers.  This includes where they are advertising and what offers are being leveraged.  This will give you significant insight on how to plan your own marketing efforts,” said Tinz.

Review Competitors’ Websites

The World Wide Web has made it easier than ever for businesses to track and monitor their competition. Spend some time looking on competitors’ websites, clocking what services they offer and products they sell, which might be different to those your own business offers and could provide a profitable income.

Compare Your SEO Efforts

Do a quick search on Google using the keywords your customers are likely to use. Does your business appear on the first page, or is it predominantly your competitors? If it’s the latter, you may want to work on the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) of your website, implementing the competitive keywords that your competitors are using to rank higher.

Check Out Customer Review Sites

What are others saying about your competitors? You can find out with ease by looking at review sites in your industry. Are there any common complaints or compliments amongst your competitors that you can either adapt or avoid to benefit your own business?

Understand Pricing and Special Offers

Mike Tinz noted the importance of tracking competitors’ pricing and special offers.

“Understanding the pricing and special offers that your competition is advertising will also help you determine how to create a compelling proposition to drive traffic into your business.  It will also help you better understand if you are under-priced or even overpriced,” said Tinz.

Use Google Alerts to Your Advantage

Setting up Google Alerts to arrive in your inbox is a good way to help small businesses monitor and track what their competition is doing. Setting up a Google Alert for a specific company or industry will ensure you remain up-to-date on any news stories related to your competitors.

Follow Competitors on Social Media

Social media provides a great platform to spy on competition. Follow your competitors on the likes of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, to learn about their strategies and social media following. If your competitors have a large social media following, you can aim to implement some of their strategies to boost your business’s own social media presence and success.

Learn How They are Communicating with Customers

Mike Tinz advises using the internet to learn how competitors are communicating with consumers.

“Another way to understand your competition is to utilize the Internet to search for marketing activity in the industry and how specific brands are communicating with consumers,” says Tinz.

Buy from a Competitor

An old-fashioned way small businesses can track competition is to buy from them directly. Visit their physical store or their website and chat to members of staff to learn about their products and services. You can then utilize the information you have learned from a competitor to advance your own business.

Speak to Your Own Customers

The value of your own customers shouldn’t be underestimated when it comes to gathering information on competitors. Ask your customers what they like and don’t like about your competitors to learn ow to improve your own business.

In an increasingly competitive business landscape, it is imperative small and medium sized businesses stay abreast of changes and advancements in their sector. Some healthy spying on competitors through these easy to implement techniques can ensure a small business progresses. Failing to track competition can be a downward spiral to failure.

Businesswoman at Desk Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "10 Easy Ways Small Businesses Should Track Competitors" was first published on Small Business Trends

KFC makes it fast food at your word

Topix - Fri, 2017-04-21 09:12

Fast-food chain KFC launched a new interactive ordering system in English or Cantonese yesterday that is said to be the first of its kind in the world.The HK$5 million allows customers to reduce waiting time and pay by Visa payware, android pay or apple pay.The system has only been rolled out in Admiralty. It will be available in 10 stores by year-end.Separately, FedEx Express said yesterday that... Fast-food chain KFC launched a new interactive ordering system in English or Cantonese yesterday that is said to be the first of its kind in the world.

Categories: Today's Food News

Small Businesses Learn from IKEA: Build a Complementing Side Business

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2017-04-21 08:30

When it comes to securing your business’ future and increasing its profitability, diversifying your business is key. Diversifying essentially means to vary your business’ range of products or field of operation — a strategy that small businesses can learn a thing or two about from IKEA.

Why You Should Have a Side Business Lessons for Diversifying Your Business Portfolio

IKEA, a multinational furniture retailer headquartered in the Netherlands, recently revealed it is considering opening a chain of standalone restaurants.

The furniture retailer that designs and sells ready-to-assemble furniture, kitchen appliances and home accessories, has always had restaurants in its stores since the 1950’s when it launched. The restaurants serve bargain meals and snacks, a carefully crafted diversification and customer acquisition strategy that helps to lure in customers for more furniture sales.

“We’ve always called the meatballs [sold in restaurants within their stores] ‘the best sofa-seller,'” Gerd Diewald, who oversees IKEA’s food programs in the U.S., told Fast Company.

“It’s hard to do business with hungry customers,” Diewald added. “When you feed them, they stay longer, they can talk” about that wardrobe, sofa or bed and make a decision to buy there and then.

IKEA Food and Restaurant Business

IKEA reportedly serves some 650 million diners a year, across 48 countries around the world. Of these diners, 30 percent visit IKEA just to eat.

Annual food sales for IKEA added up to around $1.8 billion in 2016 and about $1.5 billion in 2013. While these sales figures pale in comparison with IKEA’s main home-goods business’ revenue, which topped $36.5 billion last year, the company welcomes the additional revenue generator.

The retail chain’s executives say they plan to expand IKEA’s food business further and have standalone restaurants dot cities around the world in coming years. Already IKEA has opened temporary standalone restaurants in Paris, London and Oslo.

If you are a small business looking for ways to increase revenue, you might want to follow IKEA’s lead and develop a complementing side business hustle. For a small café, that might entail expanding your offering to include meals or baked foods. For a small restaurant operation with a specialty item like ice cream, it might mean starting to sell your own brand of ice cream retail.

The results of your side hustle and the extra revenue generated can open up new avenues for growth.

IKEA Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "Small Businesses Learn from IKEA: Build a Complementing Side Business" was first published on Small Business Trends

Oxford Hotels & Resorts Appoints General Manager and Operations Manager of Chicago’s Upcoming Hotel Versey

Hotel Interactive - Fri, 2017-04-21 07:41
CHICAGO—-Hotel Versey, Chicago’s latest lifestyle hotel to open in late spring 2017, announces the appointment of General Manager Stefanie Hrejsa and ...

What Is Integrated Marketing?

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2017-04-21 07:30

At first glance, the statistics seem like they’re at odds with each other — as though someone had mixed some generational marketing numbers up and accidentally placed ones that spoke to Boomers’ shopping preferences beside stats for the Millennials.

Consider the chart from The NPD Group that states 81 percent of Millennials’ retail purchases take place in a brick and mortar store.  Another statistic from Valassis seems to muddy the waters further. It states that 51 percent of respondents between the ages of 18- 34 reported the newspaper was the top source where they spotted deals.

What is Integrated Marketing? Tech Savvy Generation

It may seem odd to find out that the most tech savvy of all the generations jumps from digital to traditional when they shop, but the concept is old hat to marketing gurus like Mark Schmukler. In fact, Schmukler and other forward thinkers have long championed a concept called integrated marketing that mimics the preference for something old and something new as a preferred way to market both on and offline. Schmukler started his career in engineering and switched to marketing over thirty years ago, so he understands the nuts and bolts of this specific tool.

“I’ve worked in the older ad agencies which practiced outbound marketing and the new digital agencies which are really inbound,” says the CEO and Co-founder of Sagefrog Marketing Group. “We have always believed in optimizing across all available channels.”

Smart Philosophy

It’s a smart philosophy and one that works perfectly with the definition of integrated marketing as a method that combines outbound traditional marketing with inbound marketing. It’s a bridge between older styles where ads on television, print, radio and flyers and brochures got a message out to potential customers. Inbound marketing is primarily digital and designed to draw clients in.

The Inbound version took hold with the introduction of search engines generally and Google specifically in 1998. HubSpot was one of the companies that helped to define inbound marketing in the new digital age.

Those Twitter hashtags that appear during commercials are one common example. They entice people watching television to interact and engage with the brand online.  Most recently, big names like Porsche have used pop-up events at football games and geo-targeted mobile friendly content to let people know these events are coming up and get them sharing the message.

Pendulum Swings

Schmukler is quick to point out there have been a few trends over the years as the pendulum swings back and forth between the marketing techniques.

“What happened was the trend went from traditional to digital and now I see it starting to cycle back. The common thread is about optimizing across all channels. It’s not an either or world.”

For small businesses that listen to the integrated marketing gospel preached by people like Schmukler, the payoffs of integrating inbound and outbound techniques can be large. Core Solutions is an EHR provider that used Integrated Marketing to triple its traffic in less than five months and increase leads by more than 700 percent in only one year.

Good Measure

They did this by combining content marketing with email marketing and social media with measures of more traditional public relations added in for good measure.

Still, there are some things that don’t change when small business is looking to mesh the marketing types together into these integrated platforms. One is the desire to find the best leads and Schmukler has some advice for small businesses on one of the best foundations to start out with.

“You find the highest quality, highest value leads with live venues, tradeshows, networking and conferences in your industry. Digital marketing is good for getting quantity leads and live venues are good for quality,” he says.  “If you’re looking for high value client leads, the live venues are where you’re going to get the most bang for your buck.”

Integrated Marketing Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "What Is Integrated Marketing?" was first published on Small Business Trends

She Never Met a Business Acronym She Didn’t Like

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2017-04-21 06:30

Sometimes the business world makes my job so easy.

Take ‘SaaS.’ It’s a nice little acronym with some odd capitalization and a palindrome for fun. And as soon as I saw it, this cartoon wrote itself.

I’m assuming this is software as a service as a service, but I think you could make that last “s” whatever you’d like.

Any other ideas what it might stand for?

This article, "She Never Met a Business Acronym She Didn’t Like" was first published on Small Business Trends

4 Reasons Freelancers and the Self Employed Should Consider Individual 401k Plans

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2017-04-21 05:00

“Save your money. You’re going to need twice as much money in your old age as you think.” — Michael Caine

If you’re self-employed and trying to boost your retirement savings, Solo 401(k) plans are a potential option.

Solo 401(k) plans are qualified retirement plans for self-employed professionals and business owners with no employees other than a spouse. These plans have gained popularity because of investor-friendly features and higher contribution limits than traditional retirement accounts.

The biggest limitation on a Solo 401(k) plan is its eligibility criteria. You must have some sort of partial or full-time self-employment, and you can’t have any full-time employees — except your spouse — working in the business. Having such eligibility criteria rules it out for business owners with employees.

For an owner-only business, it presents an option for ensuring your savings are sufficient to fund your retirement years.

Benefits of Individual 401k Plans

Is a Solo 401(k) is right for you? Here are four reasons it’s worth considering.

1. High Contribution Limits

Unlike individual retirement accounts, which limit contributions to $5,500 (or $6,500 for those age 50 and older), you can contribute up to $54,000 to a Solo 401(k) account in 2017 ($60,000 for 50 and older).

2. More Investment Options

Relying on the stock market for retirement, as many retirement plans do, may not sit well with investors who prefer to have more flexibility and freedom to choose different types of investments. With a specific kind of Solo 401(k) called a self-directed Solo 401(k), you can invest in alternative assets including real estate, tax deeds, tax liens, mortgage notes, private equity, personal lending, precious metals and even regular stock-bond investments. Make sure to ask your Solo 401(k) provider about the availability of these investment options upfront.

3. Roth, Minus the Income Limits

According to the current IRS regulations, if you’re a single filer earning more than $132,000 in a calendar year, you’re not eligible for Roth IRA contributions. The phasing out starts at $117,000, limiting your options for after-tax contributions. A Roth Solo 401(k), which doesn’t have income limits, allows you to make annual after-tax contributions of up to $18,000, or $24,000 if you’re over 50, giving your money an opportunity to grow tax-free.

4. Ability to Borrow

The IRS allows borrowing from a Solo 401(k) plan, just as it allows borrowing from 401(k) plans. This means no one can turn you down and you can spend the money the way you want. Just make sure you follow IRS rules about repayment to avoid taxes and penalties. And loans from a Solo 401(k) hold one advantage over loans from a regular 401(k). With a 401(k), if you leave your current employment, the loan will become due in full. That kind of job change is not a factor with a Solo 401(k) loan.

401(k) Folder Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "4 Reasons Freelancers and the Self Employed Should Consider Individual 401k Plans" was first published on Small Business Trends

Eight KFC outlets in south-east London now deliver straight to your door

Topix - Fri, 2017-04-21 04:21

The American fast food giant is now part of the Just Eat platform, meaning it can now be ordered for delivery through the Just Eat app and website. 30 different KFC restaurants in Greater London have been included in the original rollout, with more to be included this year.

Categories: Today's Food News

Amici Italian Café Awards 20-Unit Development Deal for the...

PR Web - Fri, 2017-04-21 03:30

Georgia-based Amici Italian Café has awarded a 20-unit franchise deal to Stonemont Financial Group, a private investment firm headquartered in Atlanta. Stonemont will open new Amici restaurants...

(PRWeb April 12, 2017)

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Solo Mississippi Canoe Trip Calls Attention to Forgotten Vietnam Gold...

PR Web - Fri, 2017-04-21 03:30

Winona Search Group President to Start Mission of Honor for Gold Star Families and Veterans

(PRWeb April 12, 2017)

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