About Me

Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Len focuses on helping small and new businesses succeed through developing appropriate marketing and sales strategies. Len enjoys mentoring, relishes in getting both arms and feet wet in addressing technology, marketing and sales issues. He understands the drivers impacting business results for today and tomorrow including time-to-market, time-to-revenue, marketing, sales channels and social media.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Lessons for Start Ups Seeking Money in Perilous Economic Times

The recent market meltdown presents challenges for entrepreneurs with new business start ups. Where will they find customers prepared to buy from them if prospective customers are cutting budgets? How will they capitalize their businesses when suddenly angel and other investors begin husbanding their money rather than funding new ventures? How will they deal with banks that suddenly change the rules about lending? Here are some practical tips to overcoming the obstacles of a challenging economic climate.

1. Keep your costs to operate as low as possible. If you can operate your new start up virtually, do so for as long as possible. There is no need for opening an office when the tools of the Internet allow you to be virtual. There are web meeting places, conferencing tools, business centers with boardrooms that can be rented, and lots of other ways to carry on your business without tying up precious cash in leases. I use Skype as much as possible because I can place calls through the Internet using a headset and microphone and even setup teleconferencing. There are many inexpensive web tools like Glance and Go-to-Meeting for doing online presentations. I recommend these all the time to the start ups I work with.

2. Make the product you are launching a "killer application." "Nice-to-have" applications will not fly in these economic times. So choose what to work on with that in mind.

I recently came across a Canadian company that has created Pipe Shield, a water pipe rehabilitation technology that applies a non-toxic epoxy to the interior of pipes in buildings, industries and municipal water systems extending their usefulness for years without requiring replacement. This by anyone's definition has the potential to be a killer application.

How about a technology that combats chemical spills by shutting them down quickly using a simple, yet sophisticated device that acts like a drain plug? ChemiGreen has developed just such a device and software to eliminate environmental consequences from these types of industrial accidents. This is another potential killer application.

Web 2.0 applications seem to be a dime a dozen these days. What constitutes a killer application in the software world? Recently I began working with a company that is trying to address a growing social problem, high school dropouts and their societal impact. How can software play a role? This company, Enable Consultants, came up with the idea for an academic social network that engaged kids, teachers, parents and schools in the after school time period. The product, Recess, includes reward points for student contributions to the network and for academic achievement. Points are converted into products or services provided by corporate sponsors, from banks to sports teams to consumer electronics suppliers. In addition, the software integrates a mentor network that matches students to successful individuals in business, sports, entertainment and politics. It does all of this in a private network that is secure from the potential bad behaviours that can occur on public social networks like MySpace and FaceBook. This is more than a nice to have Web 2.0 application because the consequences to society of disengaged youth are enormous.

These are just three examples of killer applications or products that are compelling to an angel or private investor even in tough economic times.

3. Check out all sources of funding, not just angels. Here are 3 methods of self investment:

a. In the U.S. and in Canada, retirement savings in government registered plans can be reassigned to become a personal investment in a business. 401K or RRSP rollovers shouldn't be done lightly but the means to do them is available. If you would rather invest and believe in yourself rather than the current stock market, you may want to explore the potential of this type of financing. There are a number of U.S. companies who can expedite this type of self investment. One is Guidant. Canadians can use RRSP savings in novel ways without tax penalty. Ask an accountant who understands the ins and outs of RRSP usage in loaning money to your business. Not all accountants know what can and cannot be done.

b. Tax credits, small business incentive grants or labor subsidies provided by government, are other ways to capitalize your new business. In Canada, the Canada Revenue Agency or CRA offer orientation meetings on claiming Scientific Research tax credits. A company can recover as much as 70 cents on the dollar invested in research and development this way. There does not appear to be an equivalent program currently in the U.S., the last similar tax credit program having expired in 2006.

c. Small business loans, backed by government assistance are still available even in these tough economic times. Canadian and U.S. programs are typically managed and administered by local banks. In many cases these types of loans are partially guaranteed by the government so that your self-investment risk is somewhat mitigated.

As I think of additional ways for new business start ups to find the money, I'll post them to this blog. In the meanwhile, if you, my readers, have discovered novel ways to fund your businesses, please feel free to share.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

My Small Business Radio Interview is on YouTube

You can listen to my Small Business Radio interview and comment on it.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Ten Tips for Using Social Networking to Help Market Your Business

How can involvement in a social network benefit your small business? I joined Facebook recently to test its potential benefit to me as a consultant to small business. I have joined some discussion groups that are focused on marketing and have met people with expertise that I can use to extend my services under an associate relationship. One recently sent me a referral payment for introducing a client with a particular need I could not fulfill. So so far, so good.

But beyond networking in discussion groups or with friends, you can do so much more in public social networks, let alone what can be accomplished if you were to create a social network that embraced your employees, customers, suppliers and prospects.

Here are 10 basic strategies to create awareness of your business using public social networks:

  1. Your approach to public social networks should employ a broad marketing strategy. When you join your first social network, let's say Facebook, save your profile contents to a document file so that you have the content ready to cut and paste in to any other social network you join. That will save you a ton of time.

  2. In your social network profile talk about your business and your brand. This can be done subtly or very openly. There are lots of business people doing this today whether on Facebook, MySpace or such business-oriented social networks like Xing, SalesSpider, LinkedIn and their like.

  3. Place mini applications on your social network page, such as widgets. If you want to understand what a widget is, there is a great article on the subject published in a blog written by Jeremiah Owyang, a Social Computing Analyst at Forrester Research.

  4. Create a video that you can post to You Tube about your business. It's easy to do with the web cam you may have with your computer or one that you buy. They are really very inexpensive these days.

  5. You can also create slide shows using inexpensive web presentation tools such as Flypaper.

  6. You can create photo presentation shows with video, words and music using tools like Smilebox.

  7. Create a group focused on issues related to your business and brand, and invite people to join it. Start with your friends and encourage them to let others know about the group.

  8. Post Notes or create a separate blog and put the link on your social network profile page. On my Facebook profile, I have a link to this blogspot in the Info section. Keeping up a blog can be time consuming so choose to write about issues that you know will resonate with customers and prospects. If you find 3rd party content and want to incorporate it into your blog always ask permission first before posting.

  9. Link your company website to your public social network profile. And mention your social network presence on your company website. The more cross marketing you do the better.

  10. Get on as many social networks as you can. One is great but 5 or more is even better.

Our next blog on social networks will explore inside-the-firewall social networking strategies for small business.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

More Evidence of Social Networks Impacting the Business World

When I joined LinkedIn over two years ago it was to me a novelty, a business-to-business social network from which I occasionally received a query from another member asking a business question or, often, a question related to my hobbies and non-business interests. I was ambivalent about the value it represented.

Last year I joined FaceBook and setup my profile. I was curious to see what kind of business-to-business value I could gain from being on a social network, not a business social network. I was surprised to find so many business people seeking similar value in FaceBook.

This year I joined SalesSpider, and Xing, two business social networks. On Xing I have made business connections. On SalesSpider I have been deluged with promotional emails but have yet to get excited about the business value.

But there is no doubt in my mind that business users are buying into social networks. The numbers tell the story. In 2007, U.S. businesses spent $15 million in placing ads on social network sites. In 2008 that number has grown by 169% to $40 million. This is a drop in the bucket when compared to the total value of online advertising placement, but it reflects the growing opinion of business people that social networking has business value.

The chart below comes from the eMarketer U.S. study from which I have quoted the numbers that appear in the above paragraph. This study forecasts significant growth in business advertising on social networks, projecting advertising spending of $210 million by 2012.

This report has garnered a lot of electronic and traditional print coverage. If anything it underlines the value business is starting to see in using social networks to interact with employees, customers, prospects and the public.

There are hundreds of social networks on the Internet today. When you look up this topic on Wikipedia the numbers are constantly being updated. When you do a Google Search on B2B social networks blog commentaries dominate the results. And what is being talked about today in blogs varies from the inappropriateness of social networks in the business space to concerns about security and employee productivity, to discussions about how social networks can be used for knowledge sharing, collaboration, feedback, and as a support strategy to meet corporate objectives.

Evidence of the emergence of business social networking is pretty significant. There are growing number of software vendors building corporate social network applications. Lotus Quickr is IBM's latest foray into binding social networks with Lotus Notes applications. Microsoft SharePoint provides social networking tools that integrate with the Office Suite. Google has GoogleSites, designed to integrate with Google's application suite of online tools. And companies like ONEsite, Jive and Igloo, to name just a few, have developed proprietary business social network applications.

So what is the role of social networking in the business-to-business world? Well that depends on what the business goals are. In my next blog we will delve into those roles in some detail.

Friday, July 25, 2008

An Update on Using OpenOffice Applications – Remember They are Free

I have just been writing a white paper for a client in OpenOffice Writer. Last week I created a business plan spreadsheet using OpenOffice Calc, and I also created a slide deck using Impress. It’s been an interesting learning curve. Because I use Microsoft Office I first saved these documents in OpenOffice native form and then saved them as the equivalent documents in Microsoft Office.

Generally speaking if you are accustomed to the Microsoft interface for Word, Excel and PowerPoint, these products are enough alike that with an occasional jump into help, you’ll have them mastered in no time. They all are feature rich and provide more functionality than the average person needs.

There is a problem however when you take finished documents saved in Microsoft formats and open them in Microsoft applications. Some characteristics do not seamlessly carry over to Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Often frames created in Writer get skewed when they are moved to Word and you have to readjust them.

But it is much worse if you try and take a Microsoft Office created document and bring it up in OpenOffice. Then you can really see the consequences of Microsoft code wreak havoc on an OpenOffice document. And it doesn’t seem to matter too much what format you choose in saving the document. I’ve tried saving as Word 6.0/95, as Word XP, as Word 2003, only to see my formatting go kaboom when I open the document in OpenOffice. Similarly,.PPT files created in PowerPoint don’t come out the same when opened in Impress.

But one feature of OpenOffice is truly fantastic. You can save files as PDFs, the format of Adobe Acrobat. This is a format unsupported by Microsoft Office. Adobe Acrobat is, for the most part, a pretty good way to send shared information that is unalterable. That is why I do all of my money and contract documents with OpenOffice.

For someone who is counting their pennies and looking for a powerful set of business productivity tools, you cannot go wrong with OpenOffice. Just be willing to accept some of the warts that come along with the product. OpenOffice is supported by Sun Microsystems and by the open source community. You can download it at http://www.openoffice.org/.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Blood, Sex and Money – Doing Presentations That Inspire, Motivate and Get New Business

If you do presentations using computer generated slides then you need to read this blog before you create one more bullet point.

I had the pleasure of taking in a webinar this week that was entitled “How to Deliver a Presentation Like Steve Jobs.” If you do not know who Steve Jobs is then you can stop reading this article right now. If you do know who he is then you are aware of the cool technology presentations that have been Steve’s forte at every MacWorld event. Whether talking about the latest MacBook or iPhone technology, Mr. Jobs knows how to get his audience excited.

Creating presentations on the computer is a common task. Most of you who have Microsoft Office have worked with PowerPoint creating slide deck after slide deck so that you can wow your customers, impress investors, and explain your company’s products and services to prospects. In OpenOffice you would use the product called Impress. In Google’s on-line application platform the product is called Presentation. Essentially all of these products are similar in functionality. You can choose template backgrounds or create your own custom artwork, choose fonts for headers and bullet points, insert images, shapes, animations, launch video clips.

But this blog isn’t about the functionality of these presentation tools. It is about getting your message across and what Steve Jobs does that makes his presentations so effective that audiences jump to their feet and applaud. Because Steve Jobs doesn’t worry about the functionality. His goal is to inspire, to motivate, to get people to act.

So let’s get started yielding some of the “Steven Job secrets” of great presentations.

1. The first and most important rule of good presentations is not to open your presentation software until you have created your storyboard. You can use drawing paper, post-it notes, a note pad, just DON'T TURN ON THE COMPUTER. First answer the questions:

What’s the story you want to tell?
Who is your audience?
What pain are you trying to remove?

A good presentation is just like a good news article. It answers who, what, when, where, why and how.

2. Every presentation should have a theme. The theme of this blog is its headline because headlines make for arresting themes that garner attention. And when you state your theme keep your message simple and clear and make it 30 points or better. (Oops, I said I wasn't going to talk about formatting and functionality. Well this will be the last time.)

3. Your personal presentation style is more important than the messages displayed in your slides. I am talking about the level of energy you bring to a presentation. Enthusiasm, passion, humour and commitment all play well with an audience. You have to step out of character when you put yourself on stage. You are a performer, so learn to act.

Always provide a roadmap. When Steve Jobs begins a presentation he says something like “I’m going to tell you about three things today,” and then he proceeds to tell you what these three things are. A roadmap gives audiences a sense of where you the presenter are going. They know the beginning, the middle and the end. They are clued in and ready to listen.

5. If you use a lot of numbers, graphs and charts in your presentations, make the numbers meaningful. It is one thing to put a big number on a slide, such as:

400,000 sold in the last month

It is quite another to show the meaning behind that number by showing its relationship to the bigger picture. This can be done in a chart such as pie or histogram that compares previous months' sales to this month or the total market against your market share for the month. A great technique for hardware sales is to equate the volume with linear distances such as we sold 400,000 units this month. If you were to pile them end-on-end that pile would extend from here to the Moon.

6. Bring theatre to your presentation. When Steven Jobs introduced the latest MacBook at MacWorld he had it delivered in a manila inter-office envelope and proceeded to pull it out. In the process he demonstrated just how thin this new computer was. The audience was wowed. You can get a wow factor not just from physical displays. You can show a video. Tell a story. You can conduct an instant poll. The key is to raise the level of involvement and interaction between you and your audience.

7. The single toughest issue for presenters who use slides is to keep their slides simple. ONE IMAGE PER IDEA SHOULD BE THE GOLDEN RULE.




cannot read because to get all that information in we have to

make the fonts smaller and smaller.

It is like reading an eye chart. Don't do it.

And don’t make your audience sit through 40 or 50 slides. As a general rule you should have no more than 10 slides for a 20 minute presentation, and 15 slides for 30 minutes and so on.

When you present please don't read what's on the slide. Too often presenters do this. The reason seems to be all about not knowing the content well enough which speaks to the point two down from this one. For this type of presenter the slide is their script. This is hard on any audience. It is a wonder that people sit through these types of presentations and actually pay attention.

Another golden rule is DON’T TALK OR LIST FEATURES, TALK AND SHOW BENEFITS. If you are like your audience then you know that making a buying decision has as much to do with emotions as it has to do with rational logic. Benefits equate with emotions. How does this product make you feel? What pain is resolved? How will I benefit?

9. REHEARSE, REHEARSE AND REHEARSE AND DO IT ALOUD. Too often presenters walk into a presentation unrehearsed, or having walked through the presentation at their desk, and in silent mode. You can tell those types of presenters and presentations in a minute. What a turn off.

10. Finally, don’t go more than 15 minutes in a presentation without creating some kind of break. That break could be:

Show a video clip
Have a 2nd person join the presentation
Do a a straw poll with the audience
Encourage interaction by posing a question to the audience and getting people to respond.

So now you know Steven Job’s secrets of great presentations and can start working on your own storyboards and presentations that will help you inspire audiences.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Is There Business Value in Social Networks?

As a business person who is trying to find as many ways to create sticky customers you owe it to yourself to ask the above question and investigate the potential that is represented by social networks on the Internet.

You may have heard of one or more of the following: MySpace, Second Life, FaceBook, LinkedIn, Spoke, Sales Spider, Classmates, and Xing.
There are so many of these websites that you need to keep a scorecard. In fact according to Wikipedia the list is well over one hundred in total. What all of these networks have in common is a shared on-line community.

Maybe it's the word "social" that makes us all think that there is no business to be had here. But the truth is, social networks are great places to let those who know you, and those who discover you, learn more about what you do. It's no different than joining a Golf and Country Club to network while enjoying the game.

I'll give you a couple of examples of experiences I have had. I recently joined FaceBook and Xing. I filled in my profile on both without telling things that I felt were too personal to reveal to the virtual world. I posted my website. I posted this blog. I posted a picture of me at the piano with my dog, Maya. I put a caption with it that said, "two things that are important to me other than my work and family, music and my dog."

People who I had never met responded to that picture and caption. Some sent me pictures of their dogs. Some contacted me to talk about their love of the piano. One of them asked to learn more about my business to see if I could be of assistance to them. How neat is that?

I also posted in my profile that I new telecommunications and that I was a history major with a degree in Islamic Studies. That led to another contact from a person who told me that her husband's background was history as well and that she and he lived in the country and were trying to determine what technology to use to get data to their farm house. They were far from any cable provider and were looking at point-to-point or satellite. Could I share my opinion?

I was able to help them make a buying decision. And in that process I also found out that her business was an on-line one and I visited her website. That gave me an opportunity to show her my skill set as a web content specialist and copywriter. Again, how neat is that?

There is another good reason to participating in social networks that can prove invaluable to your web marketing. When you join a network and put your website or blog links in your profile you are making yourself more visible to search engines. That has a huge added benefit when someone is looking for the kinds of services or products you provide.

This week I attended a trade show in Toronto focused on computer networks. One of the speakers talked about this very subject and led an interesting debate with people in the audience. I was surprised at how many young people in the audience with their own businesses were skeptics about the value of social networks. They separated the social networks from their business web presence. All of them belonged to one or more social networks and they all shared lots of personal information on these sites. They did chat, swapped pictures, posted even embarrassing information about themselves, but didn't see the business value of the community in which they were daily players.

One person at the conference made a very interesting observation. When you are in business and on the Internet, those people who may do business with you will Google you. If your social network sites come up and you have inappropriate posting there could be consequences to your business.

So is there value as a business person in joining and using social networks? Absolutely, but here are some take aways from this posting:
  1. You have to go into these networks with a plan. Put information on your profile that will serve you best. A picture of you drunk with a beer in hand is not a smart posting.
  2. You have to keep the information on your social network sites up to date. The more times you make changes the more visible you are to those who have links to you.
  3. You have to link whenever possible your social network sites to your business web presence. The more links you create to your other web locations will yield better search engine results.
You'll soon see the value that social networks can provide as you meet more and more business opportunities through them.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

It's Tough to Get Found On the Web - Some Shortcuts to Try

So now that you have created a website you need to make people aware of your web presence. There are free ways and more expensive ways to do this. Since I am going through that process with my own website I thought I would share with you some of my efforts.

The key is to get results on generic terms. For example I would want my site to appear in a Google or Yahoo search using terms that included words like "small business marketing consulting."

If you think you have it rough try a search on “marketing consulting.” That brings up only 33,400,000 results in Google so you can imagine how easily you can be buried deep in those results. So how do you get into the top 10,000, let alone the top 10. Well without professional and sometimes pricey assistance you don't. Of course you can always buy preferred positioning with a paid for site. In Google that would put your site at the top of the page or on the right-hand side.

But if you are a small business and living on cash flow here are some ideas for improving search results that you can implement for no cost to you other than your time.

  1. Find local search engines and local directories and make sure you are listed. For instance in Toronto where I live you can list on www.toronto.net, or www.ziplocal.com just to name two. You probably have similar local search engines in your area. When you list on these these sites you get more exposure to the Googles and Yahoos of the world because they use sites like these to do quick compilations for generating search results.
  2. Another approach is to ensure that your website has local references in its page titles so that it is optimized for local searches. And make sure that you have lots of local references in page content scattered throughout the site.
  3. In Canada check your InfoCanada (www.infocanada.ca) listing and in the U.S. check InfoUSA (www.infoUSA.com). Make sure your company information is up to date so that search engines when they poll these sites has access to the right information about you. InfoCanada and InfoUSA are affiliated so in visiting one you may gain the benefits of both.
  4. Lots of web experts talk about the importance of blogging in improving search results. It should be filled with content relevant to the business and it should be incorporated into your web site content.
  5. Get listed on other related sites to link back to your site. You can figure out what sites would be most relevant. Don’t use your company name for the link. Use a descriptor to drive the link, for example, “Toronto's best small business marketing consultant.”

Once you have achieved all of these wait a couple of weeks and test your search results on Google and Yahoo. And never stop finding new ways to get your company name in front of your web audience. It will pay dividends.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Creating a Website on a Small Budget

I first must confess that until last week I had started creating a website on many occasions using a variety of tools only to give up each time as I became frustrated by my lack of time and ability to get it done right. Well all that is in the past.

I came across another freeware tool available through, no surprise, Google. There are other freeware tools out there for web page design. For example, you can check out sites like Webweaver to name one where you can find all kinds of free web design stuff. But for this article the tool we chose to use was Google Page Creator which you can find at Google Labs, a site well worth exploring.

Google Page Creator turned out to be quite easy to use. From start to finish the steps were laid out logically. See the Create a New Site opening page below.

You start by choosing an address, then a layout and finally a look. You are now ready to build your pages. It’s easy to experiment with looks, create links, and build a professional looking site in no time at all.

My site, Len Rosen Marketing, took me an evening to conceptualize and a day to design and write. I started by thinking about a logical organization for the site. What did I want to say? What were the logical headings for organizing my topics? I came up with a common header for each of my pages that expressed my main selling messages. And voila, this was the end result.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Creating a Newsletter to Communicate with Customers and Suppliers

There is a challenge in creating a newsletter that will be read by audiences today. That challenge is standing out from all of the other words that crowd people’s electronic inboxes or regular mailboxes. How do you create something original that stands out, that gets read and invites a response?

In this article we will show you:

  1. How to create a one-page newsletter design using the tools you already have purchased or acquired when you bought your computer.
  2. How you can use on-line newsletter services and create targeted newsletters to meet different reader requirements.

Before we show you some simple design tricks, let’s talk about newsletter messages. Too often you want to tell everything when you publish a newsletter and as a result you end up with 2, 3, 4 pages or more. You then have to figure out a design that gets your messages on the front page so that readers can see them. The trick to effective newsletter communication is not to go that route at all. It is better to publish one idea for each newsletter and publish with higher frequency than it is to put all your ideas into a multi-page publication that creates more noise than effect.

When I create newsletters I try to keep my designs simple. I start with the premise that one good idea is better than many and that one page is better than multiple pages. Take a look at the sample below:

This newsletter contains 3 elements:
  1. a banner header
  2. company background information and contact points (sidebar)
  3. one story featured on a single page

The newsletter template in this case is in Microsoft Word with the artwork brought in electronically and positioned on the page using text frames. This type of newsletter is not difficult to create.

In this particular example the newsletter has been saved in an Adobe Acrobat file, a PDF. There are a number of PDF document generators on the web, priced from free to $40 so you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars purchasing Adobe Acrobat. I tested two of these packages, PrimoPDF and Win2PDF and both were able to generate PDFs with ease. When I used PrimoPDF it provided document security allowing me to password protect the file I created, restricting the reader to being able to view and print only.

It's easy to attach a PDF to an e-mail because PDF files are much smaller than Microsoft Word DOC files. Just to show you the difference, the sample newsletter above as a DOC file was over 1.1 MB. The equivalent PDF file was only 119 KB, one-tenth the size. So in creating PDF newsletter files you won’t be jamming up your readers’ in boxes.

Now let’s talk about a second way you can create and do mass mailings of newsletters using on-line newsletter services. In our last blog entry we introduced you to Google Groups. Just as you can use this free application for sending e-mails, you can also use it for newsletter mass mailings. Just create your message as a newsletter or send it as an e-mail with an attachment.

Another method is to use dedicated on-line messaging services. I triediContact. At this site I could create mailing lists, select a newsletter pre-built template (see illustration below), write my copy, send it and then track responses.

If you want to try it you can test drive iContact for a week, a great way to find out if this gives you the results you are looking for. iContact has a plan to fit almost any budget, starting at at $9.95 a month for mailings to 500 subscribers.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Creating Mass Mailings by Letter or E-Mail

The challenge to creating mass mailings is to choose the right tools to do it effectively and inexpensively. In this first decade of the 21st century you need to have lists that serve multiple purposes. Let’s talk about two of these:
  1. Lists for doing normal mail.
  2. Lists for doing e-mail.

1. Normal Mail and Mailing Lists

If you have been following the thread of articles in this blog site then you have read about creating letter templates for mailings. These templates can contain mail merge fields so that you can create a list and import it to populate your letters by placing the appropriate inside address information and even salutations in the body of your letter.

Microsoft Word in all its different recent versions features a wizard that can guide you through the process of creating a letter and populating it with a list taken from the Contacts that you have stored in Microsoft Outlook. The screen below gives you one of the steps in preparing your letter for a mail merge using a Microsoft supplied letter template.

This is the distinct advantage of an application suite like Microsoft Office, where you have integrated tools that talk to each other.

For users of the free software, OpenOffice, this application provides a wizard that gives you options for importing existing mailing lists or creating them on the fly for a specific letter. The illustration below shows an example of how the OpenOffice Writer allows you to enter mailing list information this way while creating the letter.

2. E-Mailing Lists

There are many ways to create e-mail lists. With the Microsoft Office suite you can organize lists from existing contacts in Microsoft Outlook and use these lists for common e-mails. But I’d like to share with you a different technology for communicating through e-mail using on-line free resources.

One of these is Google Groups. This is an application that allows you to create on-line groups for e-mail and discussion. It is simple to use and highly effective. I’ve captured my version of the home page here for you to see.

It took me less than 5 minutes from start to finish, creating a contact group list and sending out my first invitation and e-mail. The beauty of an application like Google Groups is its ability to allow you to create different group lists for different products or services that you may want to write about. And of course the other beautiful thing is the fact that Google Groups is free.

So let’s summarize what we have discussed in this article today.

  1. You can create conventional letters using a word processing software application and its built-in wizard help features to merge mailing list information with letter content. Whether you are using a purchased product like Microsoft Office or free software like OpenOffice, the capability to generate this type of communication is fairly simple if you follow the steps.
  2. You can create mass e-mailings using the contact management tool that comes in a product like Microsoft Outlook or you can use an on-line tool like Google Groups to achieve similar results.

In this article I have used specific tools. I am not in any way suggesting that these are the best tools to use. They are ones that I have tried successfully. There are many more out there and an on-line search will find them for you.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Using Your Computer to Communicate with Customers Part One

There are many ways to communicate with customers and prospects using a computer. Here are a few:

  1. You can write letters that can be used for mass mailings.
  2. You can use e-mail for mass mailings.
  3. You can create newsletters and mail them or post them to a website.
  4. You can create a blog just like this one.
  5. You can create a website.
  6. You can create on-line events such as webinars.

Over the next few weeks we'll address all of these ways of communicating. But in this blog posting we'll focus on letter writing. It is the simplest of the tasks described and involves creating letterhead, letter copy, mailing lists, learning how to do a mail merge and how to print envelopes. If you are using a product like Microsoft Word, there are shortcuts available to you for doing many of these tasks. Word features a wizard that can guide you through the process and pre-built letter style sheets to choose from.

A Microsoft Word FREE alternative is OpenOffice Writer. It too provides wizards and style sheets for creating letters. In fact, this article has been written using OpenOffice Writer.

On-line FREE applications such as Google Docs on the other hand assume you have familiarity with products like Microsoft Word and know your way around designing and formatting a letter. Google Docs, therefore, doesn’t provide wizards or style sheets. You can, however, easily create standard letters and mailing lists using a product like Google Docs. You just have to experiment more.

In the example below, I have accessed the wizard in OpenOffice Writer to help me with my letterhead design.

The Writer wizard guides me through the selection of styles and lets me view the results before choosing one that is acceptable to me. The Writer wizard can be used to determine your logo placement, the position of the return address if using a window envelope and many other features. You can create default salutations and complimentary closes. You can create mail merge fields and select a mailing list file to merge with the letter.

You can do all of this with Microsoft Word as well but you won't be doing it for free.
We'll talk about creating mailing lists in my next blog filing. For now what we can take away from this article is that there are many different applications available to you as a small business operator with little computer knowledge to be able to communicate through letters without having to know the intricacies of the software applications you have purchased such as Microsoft Office or downloaded from the Internet for free such as OpenOffice. And if you are feeling pretty comfortable about your own ability to experiment with design without a wizard or other help features, you can always use an on-line document creator such as Google Docs to generate letters.

Friday, March 7, 2008

What You Need to Know About On-Line Office Tools

Once you have your computer hooked up to the Internet you will soon become quite familiar with Google Search. But there is much more to Google than just their search engine. Google sees the Internet as an environment not just for finding other people’s information, but as a place for Google users to create their own content. And Google is not alone. There are other companies with similar strategies, companies like Zoho. For this article, however, we will talk about Google.

What kind of applications are we talking about? If you currently use Microsoft Word then you probably have:

Microsoft Outlook with its e-mail, contact management and calendar tools
Microsoft Word with the ability to produce documents of all types
Microsoft Excel with the ability to create spreadsheets
Microsoft PowerPoint with the ability to create presentation slideshows

These are the core tools of office suites. The applications have to be installed on your computer and you create your documents and save them on your computer. Google and others like Zoho provide an alternative. The software applications are on-line. You access them through the Internet. You can store what you create on-line or save what you create on your computer. If you don’t want to spend a dime on software applications, Google provides its equivalent to all of the above at no charge. If you want technical support you can pay a modest annual fee. So what are the Google equivalents to the applications described above? The product is Google Apps and it consists of:

GMail and Google Calendar provide e-mail, contact management and a calendar
Google Docs provides applications for word processing, creating spreadsheets and developing presentation slideshows

In addition, Google offers applications that go well beyond the capability of the Microsoft Office applications described above, and offer these, again, at no cost. These include:

Google Sites, a collaboration environment where all of the people in your small business who have computers, or your customers who have computers, can interact with you on-line.

And then there is Google Gears, a new application that Google is testing (you’ll find it on-line as a Beta version, which means Google is still working out the bugs). What Google Gears lets you do is work with all the documents you created using its software when you are not connected to the Internet.

It doesn’t matter if your computer is a Windows PC or Mac or a computer running Linux. Because these applications are on-line, you can use them with any computer, from anywhere, anytime. You can be away from your computer and visiting a friend and use the friend's computer to access anything you have created.

So why would you buy Microsoft Office over just using what is available to you free on-line? If you believe that what you get for free is not worth anything, then you are probably better off purchasing a Microsoft Office or other office productivity suite. You’ll feel that you are not getting something for nothing.

But for those of you in small business with a limited budget to invest in computers, the Google alternative is very attractive. All you need is the basic computer and access to the Internet to harvest a rich set of free tools.

How can Google do this? Google makes its money not selling software applications but in harvesting revenue from advertisements embedded into its Google Search tools. Every time you do a Google Search and click on a sponsored link Google makes money. What Google wants is your presence on its sites so that you will from time-to-time click on one of those links. Google has built a multi-billion dollar business using this model and you can take advantage and use the remarkable tools they have created to help you build your business at no cost to you.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Why you needed the Word Processor in that Office Productivity Suite

Whether you have a Windows-based, Linux or Mac PC, you probably have an office productivity suite that came along with it as part of your bundled purchase.

These tools go from basic to professional and usually feature 4 very useful software applications:

  1. Word processing
  2. Spreadsheet
  3. Presentation tool
  4. E-Mail, Calendar and Contact Manager

In this article we’re going to show you the power of the word processing application you have purchased and how you can use it to advertise and promote your business.

If you are my age you may remember when dedicated word processor workstations populated a few desks in offices right next to electric and manual typewriters. This was the mid-1970s and the seeds of the electronic PC revolution were being planted. I was a road warrior and sent in tapes and lists to my very able assistants and they pulled up letters and made changes and fired them off to clients and prospects.

The word processor has come a long way since those days. In fact products like Microsoft Word or Word in OpenOffice are far from being word processors. They are publishing tools that can be used to create letterhead, newsletter and other promotional templates. They can be integrated with applications that have mailing lists (spreadsheets and contact managers for example) to generate conventional mass mailings. They can integrate addresses on to envelopes.

If you are trying to create a distinctive look for your brand and you don’t have resident designers in-house or more sophisticated publishing tools, your word processor can be a very effective tool for creating logos and advertising messages. The easiest thing to try is pick an unusual font, for example Eurostile and apply it to your company name. Now enlarge the font to make it bigger. An 18 point font can be a good size for a logo on a letterhead. You can vary the inter-character spacing of the letters to stretch or condense the logo.

Now experiment with colour.
Most word processors let you change the colour of the font based on preselected colour chips or through the mixing of custom colours.

Add a line in a second colour. Your word processor gives you the flexibility to vary the thickness of the line so that it can be proportioned to fit with your font style. You can create terrific logos this way.

Your word processing application has the capability of generating style sheets, letterhead, proposal templates, price lists, menus, advertising collateral, newsletters and almost anything else you can think of for print. You can even create web pages using your word processor.

Here’s an example of a single page advertisement created by modifying an existing template provided in Microsoft Works Picture It. Total time to create – 5 minutes.

So you can see just how much you can do for basic advertising and promotion just using the word processing application within your PC.

In our next article we will show you the power of on-line word processing tools (accessible through your Internet connection) that can cost you absolutely nothing. The proliferation of these tools is changing how we perceive and use software.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Reason for this Blog

Many small businesses start without a computer and then add one later. When asked “why a computer?” the usual answer has something to do with a way of helping the business.

So you have bought a computer, now what? What are small business computers good for?

Think of the tasks you need to do to keep your small business making money.

  1. Advertising and promoting your products and services.
  2. Communicating with customers.
  3. Retaining customer information.
  4. Researching, prospecting and creating new opportunities.
  5. Managing the books.

The computer you bought probably is a Windows-based PC unless you are one of those arty types. Then you probably bought a Mac. Most retail computer stores offer you a package when you buy a computer. This package always includes the computer operating system. If a PC, the operating system is Windows XP or the latest Windows release of Vista. For the small budget purchaser, the operating system may be some form of desktop Linux, (Ubuntu is very popular). For Mac purchases the latest operating system is known as Mac OS X Leopard. Your bundle probably includes some kind of productivity suite. For the budget minded PC buyer using Windows, Microsoft Works may be the tool. For other PC buyers some form of the latest version of Microsoft Office may be pre-installed on your system. For the Linux user some open-source productivity tool such as OpenOffice may be installed. For Mac users the system may come with MacOffice or a version of Microsoft Office for Mac.

Every new computer sold comes with the ability to access the Internet and e-mail services through a telephone hookup. If it is a PC the Internet browser that comes with Windows is Microsoft Internet Explorer. For more adventurous users and Linux PCs, Firefox is a free download once you are connected to the Internet. For Mac users there is Safari.

Windows XP, MacOS and even Linux desktop systems come with lots of little tools and accessories, some highly useful, others colossal time wasters.

Some packages include a bundled printer with cable. The printer can be an inkjet or a laser. It can be colour or black and white. The printer can be an "all-in-one" tool that includes the ability to scan and copy, print and fax single or multiple page documents.

So with little knowledge or forewarning you suddenly find that you have to make a whole bunch of decisions about how to get value from these boxes that you have carried home or had shipped to you. It can be pretty intimidating, pretty confusing, and wasteful of your precious time when you have to put everything together, hookup your telephone, configure your computer system and then once it all works, figure out what you intend to do with the damn thing.

So that's what this blog is going to address: what is essential to help your small business get a return on your computer investment.