Saturday, February 6, 2010

Five New Year's Resolution for Small Business Owners

1. Reflect on Industry Trends

Whatever your industry or niche, now is the time to take stock of the major trends that helped shape and define 2009 for small businesses in your sector.

Your research methodology should be multifaceted and involve your entire social network. So turn to trusted editorial and data resources for year-in-review pieces and predictions on upcoming trends. Involve staff members and ask for their take on what’s happening now and what they expect in the year ahead. Use your website, Facebook Page, Twitter() account, or other social media distribution channels to gauge what your customers and clients think.

Use the feedback and resources, pool the collected information, and look for commonalities. Group similar ideas into categories, and make notes about whether or not your business, products, services, and processes are relevant to the trends you identify.

2. Set New Social Media Goals

Once you’ve had time to reflect on and absorb the trends that pertain to your business, you need to switch gears and start setting new goals. Given that 2009 was a breakout year for brands using Twitter and Facebook(), now is the time to think about a 2010 social media action plan.

Take stock of your social metrics. Instead of looking at how many followers, fans, retweets, and replies you have, calculate your growth rate per month per data point for 2009. If your growth rate is accelerating month to month, set a projection for the coming months and identify ways to keep your content fresh, your community engaged, and interest in your social presence strong.

If your growth rate is slumping, use the first few months of 2010 to fix the problem. Test() different scenarios in January and February and measure whether or not your efforts are making a positive impact.

The same holds true for Twitter and social media content analysis. Hopefully you’ve been using various tools to document types of feedback – think positive reviews, friend recommendations, constructive feedback, and negative mentions – that flow in through social media channels. If so, set realistic expectations for improvements in each area.

3. Go Local

Location-based services and social networks finally found their footing in 2009 with mobile applications like Foursquare() and Gowalla() driving home the value of location-sharing. Twitter certainly helped the movement when they implemented location-aware tweets.

Ultimately the coming year will highlight how important location data can be. Applications will bring context to status updates in and around city neighborhoods, and smart businesses will find ways to leverage the location data to offer special deals, promotions, and local-only fare.

4. Master Twitter Lists

If used correctly, Twitter Lists can be both an educational tool and a means to demonstrate your leadership in your niche. While the premise is simple – group Twitter users together by subject, topic, or theme – the practice can be quite rewarding.

Master Twitter Lists by investing time and energy into finding great lists to follow (try Listorious) and building great lists of your own. In fact, if you act fast you can create a list that your peers may look to as the default list of experts on a given topic or subject. Build a great list and you’ll become a thought leader and a credible resource.

You might find success with Twitter Lists that highlight a very niche category, lists to pool together the media folks that cover your beat, or lists that include the best businesses in your space. You could even build lists to recognize employees, customers, fans, or clients. You might also apply the local logic from resolution number three to build a list of locals.

5. Experiment with the Experimental

Use the New Year as an excuse to try something new. Every year the web offers up hundreds of new experimental services and ideas, and while you don’t have time to try them all, if you’re able to pinpoint the applications with the most traction, your early adopter status will come with long-term rewards.

As an example, Google Wave(), which is still in preview mode, was an instant hit upon release, until people started using it and getting confused by its purpose. Wave isn’t washing out to sea anytime soon. So, as Google() perfects the new communication channel, you have an opportunity to dive in and get creative with ways to use Wave for business or pleasure.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Proposed bill would ban debit card surcharges in California

In the interest of protecting consumers, Sen. Jenny Oropeza today introduced legislation to stop retailers from imposing surcharges on those who use their debit cards.

“During these difficult economic times, it is more important than ever to protect consumers and ensure they are not nickel and dimed out of their hard earned pay,” Oropeza, D-Long Beach, said after introducing Senate Bill 933. “Regardless of whether you’re buying milk for the kids or gas for the car, having an additional fee piled on just for using your own debit card is unconscionable.”

Oropeza cited figures showing that since 2005, more than half of total transactions nationwide have been paid with a credit or debit card. Beginning in 2006, more purchases were made with debit cards than credit cards, she added.

While charging consumers for using a credit card is currently prohibited, no similar protection exists for consumers using their debit card.

Consumers Union, sponsors of SB 933, agreed with Oropeza’s goals. “Especially at a time when more consumers are moving toward using debit cards to be more financially responsible, they should not be made to pay an extra fee for using a debit or prepaid card,” said Michelle Jun, a staff attorney in Consumers Union’s San Francisco office.

A date for the first policy hearing on Oropeza’s measure has not yet been set.