Images for Business

I recently attended a morning session of Social Media Breakfast that got me thinking about images for business use. There are so many legal implications if you use a photo or graphic that you didn’t create (and don’t have permission to use) and this presentation gave some examples, not least of which included lawsuits against businesses.

I found it especially interesting that many attendees depend on Google images for any photos or graphics they might need for social media. A quick query using your favorite search engine will no doubt turn up thousands of fantastic images, but they aren’t necessarily okay for you to use.

When pondering the idea of how to use images legally and appropriately on social media sites or for blogs, some people suggest just taking your own photos to be safe. This is a fantastic idea that eliminates many potential issues…except it also poses problems of its own. What if you don’t have time to create perfectly posed, quality photos? What if you’re a travel blogger writing about tropical beaches and you need a photo of palm trees, ocean waves or sandy seashores…and you live in Minnesota? (And it’s March, when you look out your window and see snow or brown grass.) Or maybe your photography skills are just terrible (hey, it happens).

What then?

There are a few sites out there that allow you to subscribe or purchase images and grant you a sort of license to use them. There are also completely free sites you can use! While I’m no expert on copyright laws, I do know I sometimes just need a photo that I have permission to use and doesn’t require me to have to mess with fees. As a fellow business owner, blogger or person interested in the exciting topic of legalities of using other peoples’ images, I thought you might appreciate having a few resources to tap into the next time you need an image for your marketing efforts.

First, a disclaimer though. You need to read through and understand the licensing rights (or lack thereof) on each of these websites before using the images provided to you. I’m not advising you on anything legal (or otherwise) or telling you anything other than that these sites exist.

So, take a look through them now and do your homework on the licensing rights. That way, you’ll already know how you can or can’t use the images from these websites.

Happy image searching!

Are You Using LinkedIn? (Updated)

This is an updated post. Read the original blog. 

When it comes to LinkedIn, are you using it? And no, I’m not simply asking if you have a profile. Or if you’ve added any connections in the last year.

I’m wondering if you’ve followed up after connecting with anyone: have you commented on any articles or sent a private message to a connection? Even more daring–have you published any articles?

LinkedIn now has more than 500 million users, according to Fortune. That’s a lot of people that could potentially read your article! With regard to the number of user profiles on LinkedIn, relatively few users are actively utilizing it. This is definitely an advantage for you, or anyone considering posting a few articles. Just think of the connections you have currently: you could engage many of them with just a quick post about your business or other helpful information.

Need some help brainstorming? Start by thinking about some common questions your clients come to you with. Take one of those frequently asked questions and expand on it a bit. LinkedIn articles don’t need to be lengthy–in fact, short and to the point can be a really good thing! By using LinkedIn’s Publisher feature, you have the ability to educate potential clients about your business and your brand. Plus, if you consistently post you’ll start to position yourself as an authority in your industry.

What are you waiting for? Start writing, and make sure to post a link in the comment section below so I can read it!

One (Completely Free) Way to Increase Your Facebook Page’s Exposure

We’ve all heard it before: Facebook is now pay-to-play. While that is for the most part true,  there are still a few things you can do to help increase your business Facebook page’s exposure.

As you can tell by the title of this post, I’m going to focus in on just one of those things today. This one thing, if you keep it up, will help get your business’ name out in front of other businesses. Here it is, here’s the big tip:

Make sure you’re ‘liking’ other business pages as your page.

It’s quite simple, really. You’ve ‘liked’ business pages with your personal profile and this is the same concept. If you take a moment to ‘like’ pages that you’re interested in, have done business with or want to do business with, that’s a win-win for everyone. You provide that page with an additional follower and in turn they provide you with (hopefully) useful content to populate your page’s newsfeed.

Want to know how? Follow the screen shots below:

Facebook Business

Step 1: Head to your business page and click ‘See Pages Feed’ on the right hand side.

Facebook Business

Step 2: Click on ‘Like Other Pages’ Button

Facebook Business

Step 3: Search for the page you want to ‘like’

Facebook Business

Step 4: Click ‘Save’ button

That’s it! It’s as simple as these four steps. Now, go ahead and repeat for any other business pages you’d like to see in your business newsfeed. The more, the merrier!

Copy & Paste Social Media: Bad for Business?

As I was sitting at my desk this morning, sipping my coffee and scrolling through my LinkedIn feed, I came across a familiar post–a very familiar post. I’m not talking about a sense of deja vu either, folks. I’m talking about an identical, word-for-word carbon copy of a post from an insurance agent that I’ve seen on at least 10 other agents’ pages in the last month alone.

The funny thing is, these posts were meant to describe a recent award received by each person’s specific agency. Odd that multiple agencies owned by different people decided to write the same exact social media post, yes?

My question is, Why are they bothering to post this at all? 

I get it, using social media effectively for an insurance agency is hard. There are compliance issues along with state and federal regulations to contend with. More than likely, the insurance company (or companies) you sell for have their own brand standards that dictate what you can and cannot say about your award.

But think about this for a moment. LinkedIn is a place to connect with other business professionals, right? As an insurance agent, if you’re doing your job and connecting with others on LinkedIn and offline, you’ll have built up a decent network. Within this network, your connections have other connections, who have additional connections, and so on. Do you really think that your agency is the only one they’re connected with on social media? No, that is unrealistic. Why, then, would you choose to copy and paste a generic status update about an award (or anything, for that matter) that you know every other agent with your company has also posted?

By all means, share with your connections that your agency has been recognized. But do it in a way that is different than every other agent out there. Explain the recognition in your own words. Include a picture of your staff members who played an integral part in helping you win the award. Differentiating yourself through your social media post announcement, even though you won the same award as several other agencies, will catch more attention than an exact replica of a photo-less, text-only status update getting recycled on LinkedIn.

Social media and insurance agencies can be a tough mix, but there are ways to be successful with it. For starters, quell the urge to just ‘copy and paste’ your status updates. Your agency will benefit from it!

Local Networking Opportunities

I sometimes hear people comment on a perceived lack of networking events or ways to expand their business locally (in or near Willmar, Minnesota). While we aren’t quite a bustling metropolis like Minneapolis or St. Paul, there are plenty of networking opportunities within our community for businesses to take advantage of.

It can be somewhat difficult to find information on networking events, especially if you’re not very familiar with the community. In light of this, I thought I’d compile a list (which is by no means all-inclusive!) of regular events happening within Willmar and the surrounding areas:

Chamber Connections

The Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce coordinates Chamber Connections just about every Friday morning. Bring $1 and your business card and meet at a local business each Friday at 7:30am. You’ll learn about that business, drink some coffee and you’ll have a chance to network with upwards of 40 (we’ve maxed out so far at 153!) other business professionals. You’ll also have a chance to introduce yourself and your business each time.

Business Network International (BNI)

BNI is a referral group, filled with business people who intentionally help each other grow their businesses through referrals. They are always looking for visitors, and you’ll be able to check out each of the three Willmar chapters twice. Some visitors have been known to receive qualified referrals, but at the very least it’s a great way to introduce yourself and your business to others in the community.

Polka Dot Powerhouse (PDP)

Don’t let the name throw you on this one. This dynamic group for women is all about building relationships and empowering others to succeed. Building relationships is one of the best ways to create business and expand brand recognition, and while referrals are not the main goal of this group business most certainly happens. In fact, I don’t know that I would have been able to make the leap and take my business full time without many of the connections I made through PDP.

1 Million Cups

This networking event happens each and every Wednesday morning at 8:30 in downtown Willmar and focuses on the entrepreneurial spirit. Here you’ll meet business people, entrepreneurs, retired business people and even some of our local high school students. Entrepreneurs present their business and invite the audience to ask questions or offer advice. St. Paul is the only other chapter in the state of Minnesota, so Willmar is rather fortunate to have this.

As I said, this is only a partial list of the networking events offered here in Willmar. There are many, many more ways to meet business people and grow your business. These four earned an honorable mention since they offer up relatively easy–and highly effective–ways to get out and meet other business people and expand your business’ name recognition.

Happy networking!

Make 2017 the Year You Get Serious About Networking

Oh yes, I said it.

Networking.

It’s not as bad as it first sounds. In fact, it’s good for you to get a little uncomfortable; it means you’re growing.

You’ve tried it all, right? Blogging, social media, newspaper and radio ads. But you’re still not getting as many new clients as you’d like. If you’ve been wondering how to reach new prospects and earn more clients, but you’re not sure what else to try: networking may be the answer. One word of caution before we dive in too deep though…building your network takes time. And it takes even more time to see results. Stick with me a minute and we’ll talk about why that’s a good thing!

It may help you to think of networking as just getting to know people, because that’s exactly what it is. (Doesn’t sound as intimidating when you phrase it that way, now does it!) People generally don’t do business with you unless they know you, or their friend or family member referred them to you. Getting to know someone is all part of relationship building, which takes time. Eventually you build up a bit of trust with new connections; this takes even more time. The good news is that building relationships leads to creating trust, which will lead to business–over time. People who know you, like you and trust you will want to do business with you. They are also much more likely to refer their network to you once they feel they know you.

I know many people are intimidated by the entire concept of walking into a room full of people, especially a room full of strangers. If you’re one of those people, take a minute to brush up on a few tips to help you get the most out of networking.

First, realize you’re not attending a networking event to sell something. That may sound backwards to you right now but the point is you cannot immediately launch into your sales pitch at these events. If you do, you will turn people off and they won’t give you the chance to get to know them, let alone earn their business.

The next step is to locate an event that you will feel reasonably comfortable attending. By reasonable I mean you won’t be standing in the corner trying to disappear because you’re in a roomful of 500 people. If you hate large crowds, choose an event with limited seating and a more structured agenda so you have a better idea of what to expect during the time you’re there.

It will help you to prepare beforehand, so take a few minutes the night before to research the event. What kinds of people will be attending? Is it a business casual lunch or a more informal happy hour social? Dress accordingly and make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to get to the event. This should go without saying but do make sure you have plenty of business cards on you.

As you attend the event remember that you’re there to meet new people, so don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation. There will be other people there that are new and quite possibly as uncomfortable as you are; go talk to them! Ask for that person’s business card so you can begin building up your new network. You may know someone who needs the product or service your new connection provides, and they may know someone who could benefit from working with you and your business.

After the event, don’t just toss the business cards you collected into a pile to be forgotten. Look up the people you met on LinkedIn and send them a personalized connection request. Consider entering their contact information into a spreadsheet or another digital format you’re comfortable with. That way, when you think of a referral or have a question for that banker you met, you can easily pull up your spreadsheet and find his or her email address rather than slogging through a stack of unorganized business cards.

Don’t just stop at one networking event. Keep attending the ones that interest you and don’t forget to introduce yourself to new people. Always be expanding your network!

Is Video the Key to a Successful Marketing Strategy?

Now that the holidays are over and a new year is well under way, it’s time to get serious about your business and your marketing strategy. (Don’t worry, this won’t be as bad as you think!)

At the end of the year, I came across a post from TopRank Marketing detailing some content marketing predictions for this year. As you may have guessed from this and other articles you’ve come across, video is predicted to play an even bigger role in business’ marketing plans this year.

One major reason businesses are taking to video is because of the increased organic reach they tend to get on social media…so far. Live video especially tends to incur a little extra favoritism from popular social media channels (Facebook and Twitter come to mind).

Since so many businesses are planning their 2017 marketing strategy only around video, it’s very important that you diversify your strategy. Video and ‘going live’ on social media are definitely useful ways to reach your target audience, don’t get me wrong. You should definitely plan to incorporate plenty of video into your marketing plan. With a slew of predictions written up at the end of 2016 all pointing to video as the marketing tool of the year though, there will be lots more competition out there. Eventually, this could lead to video content receiving lower organic reach since social media will become saturated with it. Lower organic reach may mean you will need to budget a few extra dollars to put behind your video content as well.

Here are a few pointers on how to incorporate video into your marketing plan without going overboard and relying solely on video this year:

  • Start by reviewing your marketing plan. As you’re reviewing it, make sure you’ve planned several videos that you’ll create and share throughout the year.
  • Don’t be afraid to go live during an event or other exciting happening that pertains to you or your business. An open house or grand opening of a satellite location are perfect events for going live.
  • Do make sure you have plenty of written content paired with photos and graphics to share with your audience. Social media users tend to prefer visual content, whether that’s video or still photos.
  • Above all, make sure the information you’re creating and sharing is relevant to your audience and is of excellent quality.

Variety is the spice of life, or so the saying goes. This applies to marketing, too! Your marketing plan should have a healthy mix of a few types of content so your audience doesn’t get bored. You also don’t want to bet everything on only one type of content, because that’s what many other businesses are going to be doing this year. Happy planning!